April 26th, 2006

Egrets Reading

Shasei - The Sketch from Life

I've been reading through Seeds from a Birch Tree,Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey by Clark Strand. This is the book the Yuki Teikei Society used in their teahouse workshop in San Jose earlier this month.

Reading through the chapter on Shiki and the shasei haiku movement (late 19th Century Japan), it made me think of a comment Laverne Frith made at the CFCP, Inc banquet Sunday night. Laverne told a story of a Japanese man he met in Yosemite who had spent the last seven years traveling to Yosemite to see the light hit the face of El Capitan at a particular time of day. He came seven years in a row at the exact same time of year to write a haiku that has been escaping him. He told Laverne that he'd written a couple of good haiku about it but had yet to write the one that really expressed the moment he experienced there at that time. A couple of women at our table looked puzzled but Laverne nodded to me and said, "You really have to understand haiku to understand why he does this." They, of course, then looked to me for further illumination. So, I sat there thinking of Shiki and shasei style haiku and finally said, "There are some people who believe you have to write a haiku in the exact moment you are experiencing the haiku." Unfortunately, they didn't look like they were convinced. I'm sure they were thinking that they could write poetry about anything, not just the banquet dishes on our table at that particular moment.

Tonight, I was reading a chapter in Strand's book called, "The Sketch from Life," where he says, "Shasei stressed direct observation in the manner of a landscape painter who carries his sketchbook to the field and draws exactly what he sees." I wish I had thought of this analogy on Sunday night.

This, of course, is the main problem a large number of the mainstream haiku community has with "scifaiku" or science fiction haiku. Obviously, if I write a scifaiku about Mars, I cannot be writing from direct observation unless I am writing my poem while peering through a telescope. This is an impasse that is hard to bridge when trying to promote scifaiku in the haiku community.