We come together in many different groups to share haiku:
friends, region, state, nation, hemisphere, language, world.
Small groups suit me. For many years a weekly ginko with my mother in the Brunswick Valley was my haiku highlight. More recently it’s been the local Cloudcatchers haiku group of about a dozen poets. Our activities centre on seasonal ginko where we write about things within the immediate range of our senses. We are fair dinkum, grounded in the here and now, and products of the same physical and social environments. We sympathetically complete each other's haiku.
These haiku include words like: Wollumbin, banksia and pademelon. These make for nice distinctions and let us say much in few words. Our haiku is intimate, rich in connotation.
When we move, as we do, from local to world stage the poet count becomes enormous and we have the thrill of sharing an art with all of them. But what accommodations we must make to do so. Those local bonds are lost. We give up Bunyip, Bradman, Bondi and scones. We leave behind Ned Kelly wearing Nolan’s black squares, and Phar Lap with his huge heart. Anzac, Uluru, swaggie.
As I argue elsewhere, kigo (seasonal references) do not and never will provide haiku written in Australia with the richness and depth which that form of allusion brings to haiku in Japan. If we then forego Australian ‘keywords’ loaded with local connotations then our haiku will be an arid version of what it could be.
Most Australian haiku poets delight in world haiku-fellowship and seek to make their mark on the international haiku stage. This engagement is as it should be, but an unintended consequence of writing to satisfy overseas editors and judges is, to my ear, some loss of identity.
Often, I suspect, Australian subjects are consciously avoided and as a result Australian haiku is the poorer, less fun to write, and less relevant to Australian readers than it could be. Words like 'foreign', ‘factory’ and ‘homogenised’ come to my mind.
If our haiku refer to nature surely the nature they address should be that where we live, that which we know and routinely interact with, and not that of a foreign country or some virtual haikuland. And I would expect any humans in our haiku to be the real people with whom we live, work and love, and not a generic international editor or some abstraction of worldperson.
[Haikuland n. tacitly agreed homeland for haiku; a construct of old poems; esp haikai no renga]
The problem of homogenisation of haiku has been recognised by various poets and scholars, including Australians, over recent years. However it continues to grow unabated and in step with the internet.
Our ambition and vanity make us vulnerable to world seductions: how many haiku published in how many magazines, countries, languages? So if, as I claim, haikuland does exist and it lures poets from their real worlds, then what is to be done?
Nothing drastic – we wish for our haiku poets a real poetic environment, not cultural internment, so overreaction is to be avoided.
An awareness of haikuland seems important. As does encouraging all poets' efforts to locate their haiku wherever in the world they write them.
Ginko (nature walks for composing haiku) oblige participants to write about the ‘here and now’. This December when we Cloudcatchers meet in our villages there will be no haiku about ‘chipmunk tracks in a fresh snowfall,’ yet most of us will have haiku currently under consideration by editors and judges outside Australia. The local colour in poems written on a ginko does provide an antidote to homogenisation.
One-off promotion of haiku about specific local events would help. An example is the Australian Haiku Society's collation and web-publication of haiku about the 2009 bushfires in Victoria.
Various poets have addressed the lack of Australian identity in haiku — Janice M Bostok’s ‘Gumnut Conversations’ in the old Hobo Poetry Magazine comes to mind. However such efforts have been fragmented. Haiku Dreaming brings the prospect of a co-ordinated and continuous effort to encourage haiku relevant to our nation.
And in Australia’s case, nation is a sensible level to look to our haiku: a balance between size (a hundred or so poets) and the distinctiveness that results from being an island-continent where isolation has shaped landscape, flora and fauna, and, at least until recently, people. Advocacy of action at a national level is not jingoism, nor is it a rallying call against cultural colonialism. It is simply pragmatic.
At the national level we look to the Australian Haiku Society to make the running. Perhaps it could encourage discussion on this subject and promote a haiku response to occasional Australian events, as it did with the the 2009 bushfires in Victoria. Further, it might consider dispensing with state representatives in order to work directly with and encourage small groups likely to focus on their local scene.
My contribution has been to provide a showcase where the best of Australian haiku can be sympathetically displayed and studied:
The Dreaming Collection.
Editor, Haiku Dreaming Australia