A Hundred Gourds 4:1 December 2014

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page 4    

Australian Haiku in the Global Context

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 | page 5 | page 6 |

As a poet seeking publication, it is entirely appropriate to modify one’s writing to suit the particular selection criteria of an editor. To be fair, very few haiku editors seek anything that resembles ‘national poetry’. Nor do they usually request poems typical of a country or region. A recent exception to this is the Australian haiku journal, Windfall, which began publication in 2013, and seeks “haiku which are relevant to the experience of urban and rural life in Australia. Observations that celebrate landform, seasons, and our unique flora and fauna, are welcomed.” Some examples which have appeared in these pages:

Cabbage Tree Creek . . .
a goanna passes
from time to time

space — Lorin Ford
space      (Windfall 1, 2013).

  evening hush -
the sound of a wallaby

space — Nathalie Buckland
space      (Windfall 1, 2013).

    summer holiday
a wonga pigeon
counts the seconds

space — Quendryth Young
space      (Windfall 1, 2013).

beach cricket –
a border collie
at silly mid on

space — Lorin Ford
space      (Windfall 2, 2014).


Each of these poems contains a clear, and even named, reference to the Australian landscape, distinguishing them somewhat from the haiku often appearing in local journals, such as paper wasp, Famous Reporter and the Creatrix online journal, to name a few. The question is whether this adds to the resonance or the ‘local cultural merit’ of the poems. The perceived lack of local identity in Australian haiku has been noted by some Australian haiku poets, including John Bird, who cautioned haiku poets’ growing fascination with ‘world haiku’:

Writing haiku that are relevant to, and understood by everybody, everywhere, can lead us from the ‘here and now’ into a haikuland where we forgo connection to our real world. (Haiku Dreaming Australia Awards, 2009).

The poems in Windfall illustrate the opportunities for poets who engage in their local surrounds in the way Bird advocates, suggesting that it is possible for haiku in this country to simultaneously retain its local flavor and meet its broader ‘haiku obligations’.

Bird’s comments specifically relating to the advance of international haiku in the early twenty-first century, echo the sentiments of Bostok many years earlier, when she was concerned about the dulling effect locally of the inappropriate emphasis on Japanese seasonal references:

The persistence in continuing to mirror Japanese haiku can be clearly seen when writers stubbornly use cherry blossoms and Buddhist temples in their Australian haiku. The English language is a beautiful language. We should be using it in exciting and modern ways. We write haiku about kookaburras, kangaroos, rotary clothes hoists, holdens, akubras, and the mountains and terrain of our own country. . . .We do not claim to write Japanese haiku (Dean, 2011).

These sentiments reflect the bind Australian haiku has found itself in since it first appeared over a century ago, and the struggle it has faced to display its own, distinctive character.

The Rise of Non-Australian and Australian Haiku

If it is true that the loss of Australian identity in Australian haiku has been assisted by the globalisation of the form, then the origins of this confluence might be traced back (ironically, given Bird and Bostok’s comments above) to the release of the First Australian Haiku Anthology (FAHA) in 2003. The FAHA was conceived and edited by both Bird and Bostok “in an effort to bring Australian haiku to the world stage”, (FAHA, 2003).

Cognisant of global trends in haiku, and with a clear intention to promote a local seasoning, the editors stipulated that to have work considered for the anthology, poets:

Had to be Australian by nationality or residency or have written their haiku while resident in Australia. There were no constraints with respect to form or the inclusion of seasonal references and no distinction between haiku and senryu. Selection was a trade-off between quality and our desire for broad representation of haiku written in Australia (FAHA, 2003).

Despite the lack of place names, there are still plenty of Australian themes to enjoy in this collection, including references to beach life, hot summers, drought, bush tracks and local flora and fauna:

old ute
a bow legged Blue
master of the tray

space — Jacqui Murray
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 33).

                                eucalypt saplings
filling each shade patch
                              one kangaroo

space — Sue Mill
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 32).

    crescent moon -
fruitbats streaming into
the mango grove

space — Bob Jones
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 23).

a sweltering night:
pale moonlight falls cool
across my pillow

space — Joy Hutton
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 21).

a flock of lorikeets
louder than the neighbours

space — Sue Wilson
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 59).

    drought again –
I paint the house fence

space — Joanna Preston
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 36)

The poems above rely on a degree of cultural attachment for their effect, through the use of idiomatic language and references to local landscapes, underscoring the depth that cultural associations can bring to haiku. The smattering of senryu in this anthology reflects the more recent interest in this form, characterised by a mix of concrete and abstract images, with an emphasis on humour and urban themes;

invites me
to his fourth wedding
my first sweetheart

space — Carla Sari
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 45).

  graffiti swears from the grey wall

space — Rosanna Licari
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 41).

    tv turned off the room’s colours deepen

space — Lyn Reeves
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 40).

neighbour’s arm signals too tired to gossip

space — Jacqui Murray
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 33).

  my old shirt
so comfortably resting
on your young breasts

space — Ross Clark
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 7).

    full mailbox
feeling the weight
of your silence

space — Rob Scott
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 46).

out of hospital
it’s such a pleasure
to swear at him

space — Gloria B. Yates
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 60).


The anthology purports to be a ‘snapshot’ of Australian haiku at the end of the 20th century and we must be mindful of the place of Australian haiku in the global haiku movement at that time. Haiku in Australia was just emerging from a period of relative slumber, firmly ensconced in a traditional Japanese conceptualisation of the form, with an unbending emphasis on nature and the seasons. Most poets saw haiku only in terms of how to make insightful connections between natural phenomena and the human experience of them, either with ‘one-image’ haiku or by use of the juxtaposition of concrete images.