A Hundred Gourds 4:1 December 2014

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Australian Haiku in the Global Context

by Rob Scott

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

The days when we could just write haiku and enjoy it are over. We are all part of a worldwide organisation. We have been globalised.      – Gloria B. Yates

The history of Australian haiku is a history of literary contortion. For the past hundred years, Australian poets have been writing poems in a genre that has been imported from a foreign culture, translated by people with, at best, limited knowledge of the original Japanese texts, and written by poets conforming to broad approximations fashioned by those translations, or to a range of Western poetic sensibilities, or a mix of both. From its earliest sighting to the present day, Australian haiku has been characterized by a concoction of emulation, bold variation and recreation.

Two great tensions have characterized haiku’s progress in this country – the early, well-intentioned but misguided translations of Harold Stewart and the modernized, global-minded sentiment of Australia’s first and primary haiku educator, Janice Bostok. The conflation of these two forces placed haiku in a stasis which slowed its early progress and bestowed encumbrances on the achievement of a truly local genre, from which Australian haiku is only just beginning to emerge.

Despite this, haiku is currently enjoying unprecedented prosperity and vitality in Australia. The recent burgeoning interest is reflected in the growing number of poets and journals (both online and print) dedicated to the study and enjoyment of haiku, and of course the profound impact of the internet which has not only increased poets’ access to the form, but to each other. It has been claimed that haiku is the most popular form of poetry on the web (Barlow and Lucas, 2005). These days, haiku by Australian poets can be found in an increasing number and variety of locations, from dedicated small press haiku journals both here and overseas, to online anthologies, at poetry readings and workshops, in exhibitions on commuter trains, even on fruit juice containers (The Age, 1 Nov, 2004).

Australia now boasts its own haiku society (HaikuOz) which has produced three anthologies featuring the work of over 150 poets. But Australian haiku is not happening in isolation. It is developing in a truly global context. Indeed, haiku has become a multicultural global phenomenon. “As we enter the 21st century, haiku has become one of the most widely written and enjoyed international literatures” (Higginson, 2001). Trends in world haiku, and in particular, English Language haiku (ELH) are felt strongly in Australia, and have had arguably more influence than Japanese haiku1 on the writing of haiku in this country. Moreover, Australian haiku poets have made a considerable impact on the international haiku scene, regularly appearing in acclaimed international journals and anthologies of haiku, and winning and judging haiku competitions. Haiku has never been more popular in this country and the haiku being written now is far removed from its origins. This article will examine whether its exposure to the international haiku movement, which has added diversity, dynamism and scope, has helped or hindered the emergence of a distinctive voice.

TBD image

Platypus, watercolour & gouache drawing by John Lewin,1808 or 1810.
State Library of New South Wales. (public domain)

‘Australian Haiku in the Global Context' is an abridged version of Rob Scott's book manuscript and thesis, The History of Australian Haiku and the Emergence of a Local Accent, submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Masters by Research at Victoria University, March, 2014.

1. ‘Haiku’ (in italics), for the purposes of this article, refers to the ancient short form of Japanese verse, and ‘haiku’ refers to the ‘western equivalent’ of haiku.