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ALPHATo Kigo or Not to Kigo

ALPHATo Kigo or Not to Kigo

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Published by Robert D. Wilson

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Published by: Robert D. Wilson on Jul 26, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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To Kigo or Not to Kigoa crane screeches,its voice ripping the leavesof a banana plantMatsuo BashoTranslated by Makoto UedaA friend asked me recently after reading a Japanese haiku journal, whymuch of the haiku she’d read, composed by Japanese poets, were similar tothe haiku she reads in various Anglo-English language haiku publications,some even excluding kigo. She posed a solid question. This essay is myanswer.
“Space and time are like the two lenses in a pair of glasses.Without the glasses we could see nothing. The actual world,the world external to our minds, is not directly perceivable;we see only what is transmitted to us by our space-timespectacles. The real object, what Kant called the ‘Thing-in-Itself’, is transcendent, beyond our space-time, completelyunknowable… Perceptions are in, in a sense, illusions. Theyare shaped and colored by our subjective sense of space andtime.”Martin Gardner, Mathematician
Before time existed, when poetry was a way, and time was a bamboo leaf hanging from a marmot’s mouth, there lived a little boy whose mother andfather were lowly servants for the rich man who owned the land that lookedlike a school of fish, an archipelago of stones that stretched across rainbows,off the coast of China, the land that later was christened, Japan. Although the boy didn’t attend school due to his lowly rank, he was a very intelligentchild who asked questions about everything he saw and touched. The kindlyrich man took a liking to the young boy and taught him in the earlymornings, while his parents were cleaning his house, how to read and write.“When I was your age,” said the rich man to his pupil, “I, too, askedthousands of questions. Remember this: memorizing the answers is
meaningless. What you do with the answers is the proof of your learning.”Every morning, the old rich man, with few exceptions, save for sickness or aan occasional royal visit, taught the young boy to read and write. It wassomething they both looked forward to. The boy was a fast learner, with theheart of a poet. His was a world of experience versus subjective aha’s anddefinitions that change as often as the tides, a blob of paint yielded by themoon. The rich man was a wise teacher and taught the boy, who now hadreached the age of puberty, to seek out the wisdom of the clouds, the rain,the wind, and the other forces in nature that were continually reinventingthemselves in a continuum of time without beginning or end, an oil paintingthat never dried. The servant’s son saw all of these forces as teachers, andthrough them, learned to think beyond human experience and subjectivethought; the latter, a wide path that changes like a drunk man walking incircles in a square room.The day came when the boy, now a young man, longed to see what was beyond the rich man’s kingdom. He asked his father for permission totravel into the unknown, a canvas of white space his parentshad never traveled. His father took his son to see his master to seek out hiscounsel and obtain his permission.“My son,” said the young man’s father, “has reached the age where mirrorsare no longer relevant. “He wants to travel beyond your kingdom into thewhite space that has no name. I’m uneducated and have not been there. Ihumbly seek your counsel, oh Lord.”The rich man smiled, then asked his young protégée a question.“How do all things come into being?”“What is, isn’t; and what isn’t, is. I must find out for myself,” answered theyoung man. With that answer, the rich man clapped his hands and said,“You are ready to go. Follow the pipes of heaven.” Introduction:In the wild west before dawn, when the moon was full, and women weregiving birth to babies in corn fields, white men, who came to North Americafrom Europe, were up late thinking of ways to steal land from of those they
labeled heathens, not knowing that many brown skinned people didn’t believe in owning land, it belongs to the deity’s that came from below. Theysaw themselves as caretakers using earth, flora, and fauna to exist, not toreinvent the world into their own insecure images. There is much the Anglocan learn from the indigenous peoples of this earth.Is kigo and nature important to the integrity of haiku composition?Why are some in the Anglo-West advocating a haiku-like poetry, they labelhaiku, that doesn’t see a necessity for kigo, let alone resemble the genre theJapanese shared with the Anglo-Western world over a century ago? Why aremany justifying this stance by declaring that American haiku is a distinctgenre apart from haiku? Is Japan and the Anglo-West as different as some posit, to justify the stancetaken by some American haiku poets that Western English language haiku isa separate genre from Japanese haiku, and, therefore, necessitates a differentset of rules? Take note, this is a stance taken by a vocal, well organizedminority of Anglo-Western ‘haiku’ poets, who don’t speak for the majorityof haiku poets in North America; a majority who don’t belong to haikuorganizations or read North American haiku journals, blogs, and e-zines.This vocal grassroots minority has trouble defining their so-called ‘break-away genre.’ Disagreement and confusion are rampant. Some say metaphorsare taboo; others say they should be used sparingly. Some pontificate anecessity to jettison the S/L/S metric schemata indigenous to haiku, sayingthe English language is structured differently, and doesn’t have to follow theaforementioned metric schemata. To do otherwise, they claim, would be theJapanization of Anglo-Western ‘haiku,’ negating the Anglo-Western culturalidentity, which in itself, is a mixing pot of cultures and sub-cultures, so vastand interwoven, one wonders how they can claim that haiku as the Japanesehanded down to us long before the Anglo-Western colonization of Japaneseuniversities, is unsuitable for English language usage.Writes veteran American haiku poet, George Swede, regarding the use of kigo in American haiku:"
 I believe they are not necessary
, but neither do I think that they should beignored. Many fine haiku clearly indicate the season and many do not.” Hefurther iterates, “. . . of the “elements absolutely vital to the definition of haiku, the conclusion is unavoidable—season words are not necessary,

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