Editorial – July 2002, Volume 2, Issue 2
The World in a Grain of Sand
In my Editorial for the March issue, I began with my critical views on the world haiku community, and ended on a very optimistic and hopeful note about its future. I wish to continue building on that optimism and hope.
World Haiku Festival 2002 will take place late September this year in a place of rustic beauty, Yuwa Town of Akita Prefecture, located in the north west of Japan. Among the Festival’s main characteristics, there are two particular ones which symbolise the aim of it and can contribute to underpinning such optimism and hope as are referred to above.
One is the fact that the Festival is in celebration of the 130th anniversary of the birth of Ishii Rogetsu (1873-1928), who was born in Yuwa Town, spent most of his life and died there. Rogetsu is not too well-known, even inside Japan, and virtually unknown outside it. The significance of the Festival, therefore, lies partly in the very fact that it is dealing with such a relatively obscure haiku figure. Why? That is the question.
The World Haiku Club not only encourages new talent but also endorses those poets who may not be as well-known as they deserve to be. The obscurity of Rogetsu is mainly due to the fact that he cut short his activities in Tokyo, and returned to live the rest of his life in his hometown, many hundreds of miles away from Tokyo and its influence. His reputation was virtually “buried” there, until, that is, it is now resurrected by WHF2002. Shiki had a high opinion of Rogetsu and there is no doubt that the latter would have attained a high place in the history of Japanese haiku had he stayed in Tokyo and gone on mingling with the likes of Kyoshi or Hekigodo. His poems are just as good as those written by these two masters and other renowned poets, if not better.
What, then, does this all mean to haiku poets around the world? It means that reputation is not always a necessary or sufficient condition of quality haiku. “All that glitters” is not a golden haiku poet. It also means that to lead a worth-while haiku life, one does not necessarily have to hobnob with luminaries of the centre stage. Moreover, as genius will out, so will a good haiku poet wherever he or she may reside. At the same time, just as Rogetsu will from now on steadily be known in the world, one’s work in one particular part of the world could be appreciated one day by someone else in a totally different part of the world, even if it may take over a hundred years for it to be so appreciated. This is the beauty and blessing of us having the world haiku scene, which was unthinkable in Rogetsu’s days and not even until relatively recently.
The second characteristic of WHF2002, which symbolises the aim of the Festival and underpins the optimism and hope for the future of world haiku, is that Rogetsu is the epitome of the importance of a region, or local soil, from which haiku poems emanate. Capitals and large cities have played a dominating role in many countries in almost all human endeavours including literature, and Japan is no exception. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Tokyo has played an especially dominating role and the haiku hierarchy looks like a huge pyramid with Tokyo at the top. Such extreme centralisation is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it tends to lead to an efficient, dynamic and thriving haiku activities. However, it also leads to all kinds of ills (negative haiku politics, domination by bosses and elders stifling the young and meek, harmful rivalry, corruption or decadence) on the other. The dominance of the centre also often means negligence of regions and provinces.
Rogetsu can be hailed as a champion of individual quality and regional excellence, i.e. individualism and regional diversity. A quiet haijin in a small village of a remote country from the central stage of haiku should be equally respected as someone showered with awards and accolades in Chicago or Tokyo. We should also be aware that there are haiku poets out there who do not belong to any haiku associations, but who write creative and original haiku poems nevertheless, or often because of it. Rogetsu was strong and daring enough to express opposing views to those of Shiki. This may well have been partly because he kept a strategic distance from Shiki by living so remotely from Tokyo.
Thus, Rogetsu will be the central theme of the three-day Festival for world haiku and Yuwa Town; his hometown, will be the focal point as a regional centre of haiku composition. Rogetsu and Yuwa Town will be connected to the world through WHF2002, on the network of the World Haiku Club and through WHC to other similar initiatives which have been linked with WHC by friendship and co-operation. The linkage is both vertical and horizontal: vertical of time dimension, starting from the rippling effects of the WHC’s call for co-ordination and friendship on Haiku North America 1999, international haiku conferences in Japan, the Global Haiku Festival in the spring of 2000, linkage with the Matsuyama Declaration movement, then the World Haiku Festival 2000 in August of the same year, HNA Boston 2001, the World Haiku Festival 2002 and onto Haiku North America – New York next year. Horizontal linkage is WHC’s simultaneous exchange and intercourse between and among organisations and individuals with similar aims and aspirations.
This is a stupendous development for world haiku to move itself forward. As I emphasised in the March Editorial, we find ourselves “on one of the richest and most fertile grounds of haiku creation in terms of its form, style, contents, scope, variety, depth and width of coverage.” We are not talking about standardisation or homogenisation of haiku, as some comment wrongly. It is in the diversity in terms of different individuals, different regions and different cultures, that the new optimism and hope mentioned at the outset will prosper. This is the message, which WHF2002 with its Rogetsu and Yuwa Town dimensions, will try to convey to the rest of the world in September. Thus, the world of haiku and the haiku world are on the fertile soil of unprecedented size and diversity. In spite of the harm and confusion inflicted upon by ill-willed haiku villains, the majority of the haiku fraternity is likely to forge ahead and outdo such negative forces by a big margin. At the same time, helped by the emergence of a long-waited dialogue with non-haiku poets, the haijin could advance that much closer in making haiku a more well-established genre in the world literature.