James W. Hackett

May 2001

James W Hackett

by Susumu Takiguchi

Anyone can read R. H. Blyth. However, how many of them could meet the great man? Still more rarely, how many could become his disciple, and in a manner similar to the Japanese way at that? James W. Hackett is one such person.

R H Blyth

I want to show people, I mean Japanese people that there are Americans who can outdo them in their own field. Or to put it another way, I would like to get rid of nationalism in culture, as well as in other things.

This somewhat bold remark by Blyth, so fitting to print in the inaugural issue of World Haiku Review, may not ever have been heard by us had it not been for Hackett. It is found in one of his letters sent to Hackett between 1958 and 1964. Today we might wish to replace “Japanese people” with “American people”, and “Americans” with “people of all nations”. We may also wish to add to “nationalism” at least a few other shortcomings of the human race, such as “sectionalism”, “self-aggrandisement” and “negative haiku politics”. Blyth would have done so had he still been with us.

“World haiku” was coined to establish the World Haiku Club and its initial marathon project “World Haiku Festival 2000”, currently in its May 2001 finale. Although we apply this phrase for use in the 21st century, Blyth used the very same term in his ‘History of Haiku’, Vol. 2. Predicting with uncanny accuracy the days when haiku would be written in many languages outside Japan, he rejoiced at this pleasing prospect with an exclamation, “…what an Earthly Paradise it will be….” According to one estimate, haiku is now written in over seventy languages. Can we now look at the state of world haiku and say Blyth’s “Earthly Paradise” has been well and truly realised?

Hackett is not likely to acquiesce quite so easily. As one of those most conversant with Blyth’s innermost thoughts, he will not readily approve of what is going on in today’s haiku community. To satisfy Blyth, namely Hackett, far higher quality and standards must first be sought. Some people may not agree with Hackett on a superficial level. That is fine, but at deeper levels they cannot disagree to his voice which so ardently aspires that haiku be elevated in order that it may be recognised as a serious branch of literature. This is the same voice we have heard before – the voice of Basho and the voice of Shiki.

Concerning the first contact with Blyth, Hackett has disclosed an interesting episode to World Haiku Review. Early in his writing, Hackett decided to send some examples of his haiku poems in English to Blyth. If this was late 1950s, Hackett was still under 30 years old and the great man was around 60 years old. These haiku poems were accompanied by his note that read approximately as follows:

I am sending my haiku poems to you because of one sentence you wrote in your book of haiku translations. Your sentence was: ‘There is more significance in the sound of the nib I’m now writing with than anything I could ever say.’ 

Hackett says that he knew from this enlightened remark by Blyth that despite their differences in age and learning, they shared the same old soul, and that Blyth could therefore truly understand why Hackett chose to write, and live a life of Zen and haiku.

Hackett is a seer and seeker in the way of haiku. In his search for the way, he will not make easy compromises nor weaken his critical mind. At the same time, once he makes a friend his friendship is rock solid. Thus, while we have in Hackett a stern critic of WHC, he is one of its greatest friends as well. We are fortunate to have such a rare person as our Honorary President. Each time he nods, which may not be so frequent, WHC will have made progress. Each time he shakes his head, we know we need to mend our ways.

J W Hackett

J W Hackett

Hackett has kindly accepted the creation in World Haiku Review of a new and unique way of teaching and appreciating haiku which he chooses from submissions. Instead of conventionally selecting the best three or top ten, he will be selecting only one haiku poem per issue, which may not necessarily be even what he judges as “best”. Rather than the usual praise and commentary, the chosen haiku will serve as an example by which he will expound his own ideas and points. In other words, we will be hearing his own voice through the poem he chooses.

As a tribute to World Haiku Review, he has graced WHC by contributing the concluding chapter of the book he is currently writing. For the magazine and the World Haiku Club as a whole, James W. Hackett is a guiding light.

~ Susumu Takiguchi

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