A Hundred Gourds 4:1 December 2014

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page 5    

Australian Haiku in the Global Context

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

A small number of poets were being influenced by more adventurous progress in other countries, particularly the US, experimenting with new styles and reconceptualisations. Bostok is instrumental here, being the first modern Australian haiku poet to gain international recognition and, in so doing, bring a sense of rediscovery to the form. Her haiku, ‘pregnant again’, which features in the first Australian anthology, is probably the most recognized haiku in Australia. It first appeared in the minutes of a meeting of the Haiku Society of America in 1973. It comes from the following sequence, which leading American haiku publisher and critic William Higginson described as ‘one of the finest short sequences – and most heart-breaking – that I know of in literature’ (Dean, 2011).

pregnant again . . .
the fluttering of moths
against the window

  foetus kicks
the sky to the east
    tiny coffin
the long winter’s

space      (Bostok, cited in Dean, 2011, p. 293).

‘Pregnant again’ is a significant haiku in that it highlights the potency of the contrasted image, now a commonplace technique in ELH, exploring the depth that can be achieved, sometimes surreal, in the relationship between two images. This type of haiku, without nature or the seasons as its predominant sensibility,1 exploring simple truths in straightforward language, is typical of the modern era. Echoes of it can be heard in the following haiku, also taken from the FAHA collection.

grandmother’s rings
too small
for my little finger

space — Vanessa Proctor
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 37).

  for an hour
the moon hangs
with the singlets

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

    at the dentist
new apartments
filling the sky

space— Denise Davis
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 10).

the shadows
on the book –
more beautiful than words

space — Matt Hetherington
space      (FAHA, 2003, p. 19).


While these are not haiku ‘of Australia’ or even relevant to Australia, they are considered haiku of standing in the community because of their use of new techniques characteristic of modern ELH. Moreover, the absence of Japanese imitation and the lack of focus on nature as a subject represents a clear shift in the Australian haiku course, mirroring trends in ELH elsewhere, and arguably meeting Bostok’s call for ‘exciting and modern’ haiku.

Perhaps Bostok’s greatest contribution to the recreation of the haiku form in this country is her pioneering one-line haiku which has emerged over recent years as a popular alternative to the mainstream. One-line haiku is typically written without punctuation, capitalisation or line breaks in one horizontal line. There are some variations within this, with some one-liners managing to maintain the classic haiku rhythm, divided into three parts but written in one line instead of three, such as in the following:

chilly night the sound of a macadamia dropping on the roof

space— Janice Bostok
space      (Wagtail, 25, 2003, p. 4)

  silent dawn the oak trunk glistens with cicada shells

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

    eagle at dawn no shadow on the salmon

space — Greg Piko
space      (paper wasp, Vol. 14, No. 3,
space      winter 2008, p. 4)

after the rain the eucalypt’s white trunk fleshed pink

space — Lyn Reeves
space      (Walking the Tideline, 2001)


The lack of breaks and spacing produces a subtle difference to the rhythm of the poems, reconceptualising the notion of the ‘cut’. Another variation is to include spacing within the line to emphasise a break in the poem, as in:

cows in the shallows        drink themselves        slowly

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

None of the above methods manage to subvert the juxtapositional structure of the poem, despite the absence of breaks. But other, more disjunctive one-line techniques have the effect of eliminating spaces, intending the poem to be read as an unbroken line with no forced pausing and often presenting a single image, such as the following poems;

ten minutes approaching wheat silos seeing them no closer

space— Janice Bostok
space      (Wagtail , 25, 2003, p. 13)

  a loose sheet of roof iron flapping ravens

space — Lorin Ford
space      (paper wasp, Vol. 14, No. 1, summer, 2008, p. 13)

    clear day turns stars stare back

space— Rob Scott
space      (Roadrunner, Vol. 9, No. 1,
space      online, 2009)

There is greater ambiguity to these poems owing to the multiple pauses and stresses. The hesitancy this creates allows for different interpretations, thus enhancing their dramatic effect. The stops and stresses vary from poem to poem meaning there is no formula to this, rather a choice of emphasis and cadence. The poems are driven by a faster internal rhythm which rushes the poem to its conclusion, thereby subverting the concrete image. Haiku in this vein, lacking local themes yet reflecting the growing variety and divergence from traditional haiku practices can be found in numerous journals both in Australia and overseas. Pick up any copy of leading international haiku journals, such as frogpond, Modern Haiku or UK counterpart, Presence, since 2000, and you will find numerous haiku by Australian poets, writing a mix of styles including both Australian and non-Australian themes.

1. Although, in his description of the haiku on the Haiku Dreaming website, Bird suggests, ‘From my first reading I assumed the moths were Australian bogongs, part of the tens of millions of their kind who head south in late spring from breeding grounds in southern Queensland on their 3,000 km journey to spend summer in cool caves of the Southern Alps. This haiku became famous without most people knowing the incredible “bogong story" but for me it enriches the haiku (Bird, 2008).