Maruyama Kaido and Kobori Hiroshi
Although I must begin this essay by commenting that I believe
the English translations of the Japanese works in In
memoriam a whirligig have seriously jeopardized my
ability to correctly interpret and understand the artists,
I also must comment that I do believe I have gleaned some
insight, provisional though it may be. Perhaps even more importantly,
however, I have enjoyed the works immensely, and whether the
responses Ive gathered from them are genuinely cultural
or merely due to the influence of the translations, I do think
Im somewhat richer for having read them.
It seems to me that the haiku included in this work, as well
as the sort of fanciful imagined poetic paragraphs that accompany
them, are far more concrete and imagistic than most English-language
haiku I have read. While poets in our country write haiku
that contemplate their relationships or their mortality, Kaido
writes haiku that are quite simply moments. Something like:
oh, my aged dog!
gentle and blind
still looking to cherry blossoms
does not attempt to add the colorings of personal feeling
or significance to the moment. It is pure and simple. In carrying
on the image of the dog, the student Hiroshi is perhaps more
personal (using pronouns "I" and "my"
even), but no less in the moment. The thoughts he assembles
all seem to be the result of a single Zen meditation on the
poem in question. The youth of Po the dog, his love of doting
boys, and his blind stare at the blossoms are linked in a
way that is not quite linear but more almost hypertextual.
These are associations we see here, and all the result of
one quiet, personal moment.
Of course, at the same time, it would be wrong to characterize
these poems as "simpleminded" in addition to "simple."
The poems have some interesting layers to them that bear further
explanation. The final page of the packet describes Kaido
as having worked with "three phases or tri-strata in
its literary expression.
Firstly sharp observation, secondly symbolism, thirdly yugyo
or freeness in mind." Certainly the works in question
here display those characteristics. Let us consider the dog
example again. The image is sharply observed, with plenty
of detail, giving us a very good picture of both the dog and
his surroundings, to which he is of course oblivious.
But there is also a nice symbolic level. Consider the dog
as a metaphor for the universal human experienceperhaps
he does not realize he is blind, and he continues to believe
that if he keeps looking he will see something. Or perhaps
he thinks that the cherry blossoms are still not there. Or
perhaps their lure is simply so powerful he cannot resist
it, even in blindness. In any of these scenarios, the gesture
becomes immensely human. We all look for things we cannot
see, or things that are not even there. Our lives are characterized
by intense and nameless longing. We want things we cannot
have. We are in essence blind dogs.
Finally, the work shows freeness of mind. It does not cleave
to any traditional patterns (other than the obvious dictates
of the haiku form) and it makes new connections between its
two images. Chances are that a dog and a cherry blossom would
not normally end up being associated, but here they are brought
together memorably and realistically. A certain freeness of
mind is necessary to make this happen.
It is perhaps not surprising that the student does not fall
far from the teacher in terms of poetic theory. In writing
his accompanying work for the haiku, Hiroshi shows the same
characteristics as his sensei. In the afterword, Hiroshi describes
his task as "an common way of appreciating haiku, then
the appreciation naturally and freely transformes [sic] into
a pilgrimage, a pilgrim around the cosmos of poesy, somewhat
different, often original, still stays to the core of the
cosmos of Kaido Haiku." The reverence in which he holds
the older poet is clear, and the work is very much an extension
of the lines contained in the haiku from which it springs.
Consider this Kaido haiku:
a screen play, by mom?
a fox cry left
and the text that Hiroshi comes up with in relation to it:
"In the corridor I sensed the rustlings of kimono.
A shadow has just passed across the screen, that of my late
mothernever. The shadow whosoever could it be other
than my mothers, that I used to identify
she disappeared without notice. Unlike the old white fox,
of the Forest of Shinoda."
Indeed, Hiroshi works in all of the elements of the original
work: the season, the mothers shadow, and the fox. He
broadens, opens each image for further exploration. Again,
I must refer to this work as hypertextual, because it pulls
in all the references from the poem and takes them in different
directions, allowing for all sorts of connotational passages
through the work. A Buddhist poem, a long-ago quiet day, a
lost parentall become part of the tapestry. Its
a fascinating work.
Hiroshi also employs sharp observation, symbolism, and freeness
of mind in his work. Consider the clever clarity of a statement
like "No chirps of birds. No ding and dong from the street
for a while." It is just an incredibly strong insight,
a perfect encapsulation of the moment. The symbolism of the
passing shadow, too, cannot be ignored, for in the long run
all human lives and aspirations are merely passing shadows
dancing on a screen. Finally, in the free association mentioned
in the previous paragraph, the young poet matches the older
in terms of freeness of mind The two are certainly a well-matched
pair, displaying many characteristics in common.
But since this is intended to be a study of global haiku,
let us look to the commonalities and differences between the
haiku of Kaido. It is perhaps important to note that all of
the haiku included in this collection include some sort of
image of nature, whether animal, vegetable or mineral. Generally,
it serves as a source of calm, emotional reflection, whether
the slow change of a river (presumably reminding the speaker
of his or her own changes) or the emptiness of a crabshell
(here pointing to lifes losses). These sort of Zen moments
seem to be an enormous part of the works. Never are conclusions
drawn for the readers; instead, open-ended observations are
made which allow readers to head off in multiple directions
and reach their own states of enlightenment.
The overall sense of these poems is one of loss, of an awareness
of lifes fleeting nature. Although many of the poems
we have already discussed fit with this mold, it is perhaps
no better embodied than in this haiku:
ah, waves over waves
the hawk, alone
Though the hawk may be mighty he is alone. Waves pass repeatedly
beneath him relentlessly, never stopping, never turning back.
Time will pass no matter what, and in the end, we all die
alone. There can be no certainty in this life. But the attitude
expressed in these poems is certainly not one of anger or
sadness, but rather resignation. The author seems to have
a profound understanding of life, and a sense that its patterns
may not be perfectly within our grasp (or certainly not within
our control), but they are nonetheless part of lifes
pattern and therefore worth resigning oneself to. This is
poetry with a real weight and philosophical importance, if
certainly not blatantly so.
Overall, the work of these writers serves primarily as a
reminder of cultural differences. Just as the things we read
here seem foreign to us and perhaps a little bit disjointed,
so must our works seem strange and uncomfortable, perhaps
not even fully in keeping with the traditions of haiku. It
is important for us to recognize that difference is the result
of non-matching cultural paradigms, not of any sort of ignorance
or mistake. Kaido and Hiroshi serve as a fine introduction
to international haiku, for even in their difference, they
somehow manage to reach across cultural barriers and speak
volumes. In their clarity of voice and purpose, these writers
are truly international.