Poetry Prompt 11 – Haiku #2
Let's Write an Issa-style Haiku!
We have studied Tanka, and Basho-style Haiku, so now we can move on to the other great master of Japanese Haiku, Issa Kobayashi.
While in Tanka the poet can have free range to explore the subjective with words like "I" and "me," Basho's Haiku strives to be totally objective and simply paint a scene with words. His Haiku assume the reader will feel the same emotions the poet did from simply reading the scene.
Issa approached it from a different perspective. His Haiku are almost a perfect blend of detached witness speaking from an "I" POV, while focusing on showing (and not telling) the reader about an event.
Here's an example:
The dog's kindness shows
as he moves aside for me
on this path of snow.
Or, here's another wintry one:
Hey, it's in his look,
that guy right in front of me,
right down to his chill.
Now for some background: born in 1763, and trained firmly in the Basho tradition of poetry, he wrote more than 20,000 Haiku but only a few hundred Tanka. When he was 52 years old, he decided to start writing a poetic journal, whereby he would chronicle a year of his life. He called it Oraga haru, or My Springtime. His wife had borne him a daughter recently, and their child turned two years old as he began this project. He dedicated his newfound joy in living to the fact that she brought hope and a fresh outlook to his existence. It proved tragic, because as he was writing this work, his daughter contracted smallpox and died.
Issa recorded it all – his happiness, his despair, his grief, and finally, his determination that a higher purpose exists. Oraga haru became a landmark when he published, and it's arguably one of the greatest poetic works you'll be able to find. Do check it out in Hamill's translation.
So, intimacy reigns in Issa's Haiku. He does not shy away from being a poet telling his side of things, as long as he keeps it simple, and adheres to the basic requirements of the Haiku as a form. Those are, the inclusion of a seasonal word – like 'snow,' and 'chill' in the examples above – and a structure of three lines arranged in syllables of 5-7-5.
The question is, how does he do his magic? Answer: I do not know. It's just one of those things that works or fails to work, so I can simply give you more examples to see how he balanced the objective with the subjective.
The great lord is now
from his horse dismounting like
cherry blossoms fall.
You butterfly, fly –
I see already on me
too much earth-bound earth.
At mid-summer's height,
my umbrella disappeared;
hard-core thief, perhaps?
There are moonlit flowers,
forty-nine years' worth of them,
beneath whom I've walked.
Perfect form, oh, snail,
bit by bit, unflagged you climb
Mount Fuji's great heights.
Old dog lying there
ear on the ground as if to
hear Worm's lullaby.
And his most famous poem, the one for the loss of his daughter:
Tsuyu no yo wa
tsuyu no yo nagara
The way of the dew,
the dew's way of departing,
brings and takes so much.
The Prompt: write one or more Haiku based on an animal observation. This can be an inspirational moment, like a snail climbing a mountain, or a peaceful moment, like a dog napping on the grass. Just anything you see from the animal kingdom that makes you pause and reflect. Keep a seasonal word, and maintain three lines of 5-7-5 syllables.
 In Japan, he's simply known as Issa, which is highly unusual. For in Europe, many important people, like Michelangelo and Galileo, are remembered by their first names; in Japan that's almost unheard of. I would speculate it's the intimacy of his poetry that makes people feel close to him; close enough to simply think of him as "Issa."
 See: The Spring of My Life by Sam Hamill, Boston 1997.
 Oftentimes the simplest things are the most difficult to translate. Case in point, the word oraga is a masculine form of 'my,' but it carries a certain, forced crudeness to it. It's a spoken work, the kind you're likely to hear in informal settings, like a bar, and its inclusion in the title of a collection of poems must have shocked early readers. I almost toy with the idea that the accurate rendering in English for this book is My Damn Spring.