A Hundred Gourds 4:1 December 2014

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page 6    

Australian Haiku in the Global Context

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

The Emergence of a Distinctive Voice?

The above discussion and sample of poems is just a snapshot of the variety of techniques haiku poets have at their disposal, which has created a dynamism in the haiku genre not previously seen. The question remains, however, whether Australian haiku poets have been able to forge an ‘Australian’ identity within this turbulent environment. John Bird, who raised concerns about the lack of Australian identity in haiku, would be encouraged by the recent emergence of some significant Australian haiku poets whose poetry is evocative of their native surrounds while consistently reaching an international audience. One of these poets is Lorin Ford, who has become a central figure in both the local and international haiku communities. Writing haiku that has the stamp of international trends as we have seen in many of the poems above, Ford’s haiku also has a characteristic local voice, rich in the imagery that takes us ‘smack dab to her native Australia’ (Ferris Gilli – cover notes to a wattle seedpod, 2008). Her first collection of haiku, a wattle seedpod, shows a poet clearly engaged in the art of haiku and drawing on her native surrounds, both urban and rural, furnishing her poetry with both local and international appeal. a wattle seedpod was awarded first place in the Haiku Society of America Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Awards, 2009 and includes the following poems:

clear water
a magpie’s song drops
into the pond

space — (Ford, a wattle seedpod, 2008, p. 6)

  flooded road
a soft drink bottle
turns left

space (Ford, 2008, p. 12)

    parked utes –
kelpie ears point
to the pub

space (Ford, 2008, p. 12)

red moon
the calligraphy
of charred trees

space (Ford, 2008, p. 19)

  heat haze
                       the miles
                                              of boundary fence

spacespacespace (Ford, 2008, p. 16)


Similar to the poems appearing in Windfall (cited earlier) there is a perceptible sense of the Australian landscape, both rural and urban, in these poems. A wide-open, harsh Australian outback is a well-told tale in Australian literature, its imagery familiar within and far beyond its borders. Yet Ford’s poems manage to avoid cliché or conventionality, providing freshness and new insights without detriment to her cultural attachment to it. The Australian outback is a potentially rich source of Australian kigo, or kigo substitutes. But without poetic treatment such as in Ford’s poems, it can also be the locus of a hackneyed phrase. ‘Heat haze’ and ‘flooded road’, which transport the reader directly to the exasperating vastness of Australian rural life are poetic declarations of Australia’s dichotomous and dangerous beauty. Ford displays a deep connection to this. She also exhibits a profound connection to the art and history of haiku. In ‘clear water’ we have another artfully sketched and overtly Australian rural scene. Intentional or not, Ford’s reference to ‘the pond’ echoes the famous Japanese haiku of Matsuo Basho:

old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

The similarities in setting, sound and mood of the poem are striking. The movement of the song, ‘dropping’ into the clear water, almost provides a mirror for Basho’s leaping frog, creating an intriguing intertextuality across the poems. Ford’s haiku is almost homage to Basho’s, in which a simple and truthful scene is adorned with an elegance of composition. ‘Red moon’ goes beyond providing a mere relationship between texts and creates a stunning and unexpected coherence between genres. Using the striking expression ‘the calligraphy of charred trees’, Ford draws on all aspects of her haiku education and creates an unimaginable connection across three ‘genres’ of haiku (Japanese, ‘world’ and Australian haiku). This poem powerfully evokes the native Australian bush and employs the popular ELH technique of the internal contrast for its effect, but goes beyond that to produce a haiku of great resonance. ‘The calligraphy of charred trees’ connects the Australian poet inextricably to the Australian landscape, but also by way of a metaphorical umbilical cord, to haiku’s motherland. It is a dramatic association and one which places Ford and Australian haiku at the core of its reality as an imported and transforming genre.

Ford has become very active in international haiku circles, editing online journals, judging competitions both in Australia (including the Haiku Dreaming Awards) and elsewhere. She has become an international haiku citizen but not at the cost of her local sensibility. Ford’s writing is informed by a clear sense of her local environment which she has been able to pay homage to without jeopardising its general appeal. As well as Ford, a growing number of Australian haiku poets, such as Cynthia Rowe, Quendryth Young and Ron Moss, consistently bring a localised perspective to their writing, composing haiku that reflects Australian culture and history. This ‘balancing act’ between local and international awareness is a reality of a modern, globalised genre and Ford’s and others’ success demonstrates that sacrificing local bonds is not an essential ingredient for guaranteeing an international readership.


Australian poets should expect to live in a world free of unnecessary rules and restrictions on their writing. Their international success is something that should be commended and acknowledged for its contribution to the haiku movement as a whole. But the emergence of poets such as Lorin Ford, whose haiku strikes a genuine balance in sensibilities between Australian and world haiku by containing vivid reflections of her native homeland, has demonstrated the depth and resonance to which haiku can aspire if attachment to local culture is encouraged and nurtured. Whether or not the example set by Ford, Moss, Rowe, Young and others translates into the establishment of something approximating ‘true’ Australian haiku will be determined by the value that poets, both in Australia and elsewhere, ascribe to it. But until such time as the criteria for what constitutes Australian haiku are settled, Ford’s work and that of many other Australian haiku poets will continue to be regarded more in the context of their contribution to the global haiku movement than, specifically, to the haiku movement in Australia.


Rob Scott has been writing haiku since 1997. He is currently based in Sweden where he lives with his wife and daughter.

Rob is a travelling school teacher whose unfathomable career includes four and a half years at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague where he worked as a Court administrator. He has taught in Australia, The Netherlands, Sweden and Japan.

Rob has just completed his Masters on the history of Australian haiku at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.

Rob's haiku have appeared in many publications in Australia and overseas, and his popular football haiku can be seen at .


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