september, 2016

otata 9

tokonoma

Write the story of a contemporary cured of his heartbreaks solely by long contemplation of a landscape.

CamusNotebooks: 1942-1951

Justin O’Brien, Trans.

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i

A Formerly United Kingdom — A Formally United Kingdom

title uk poets image

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John Phillips, David Miller, Erica Van Horn, Simon Cutts, Thomas A. Clark, Alec Finlay, Lila Matsumoto,
Malcolm Ritchie, Julie Johnstone, Gerry Loose, JL Williams, Ian Storr

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Click on the link below to open the anthology.

A Formerly United Kingdom — A Formally United Kingdom

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ii

John Levy, Sonam Chhoki, Chris Poundwhite, Lisa Espenmiller, Billy Antonio,
George Swede, Guliz Mutlu, Helen Buckingham

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iii

Scott Watson, Making the New Santoka

(from the Santoka Book)

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ii

 

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John Levy

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my mother chose an inexpensive
cookie jar for her future
ashes

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taking photos of the clouds
a slower
cloud

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wild plans

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In Lorine Niedecker’s
Wintergreen Ridge

she writes that when Basil
Bunting visited her she
“neglected to ask”

                what wild plans
have you there?

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and in her poem she
chastises herself for
being dark and

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inconsiderate

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I had to reread the
passage
to see her reproach of herself

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was completely in
character
because she wished

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she’d asked
about wild
plants

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under and surrounding one tree thousands
of bowed praying devotees at a mosque face
the earth under which the roots stretch

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searching for something to write with, the raindrop

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Ξ 

 

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Sonam Chhoki

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willow fronds move old boots in the gutter

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the wind worries lone horse puddle

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prayer flags in the hedge plastic bags

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blue moon
age-veined hands
write outside the lines

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river mist rising cremation mound

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Ξ 

 

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Chris Poundwhite

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sparrows in the atrium all Vivaldi

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shoes
back on

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end of
lunch

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a new
place

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every

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day

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– you’ve grown

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weed &
wild

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flow
er

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a hard
world

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stone
under
sole

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bare
foot

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then
comes

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a bee

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&
every
thing’s

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right

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pull out
the sandwich

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in a
few
minutes

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gone

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sun
still on
head &

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wind in
hair

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close eyes &<

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still
see things

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glowing
shapes

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patterns
fad
ing

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that
bee

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pulls
the

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whole
flower

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down

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‘hello
mate’
says the
man
w/
his
dog &
walks on

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how
light

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how
light

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on yr
feet

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sparrow

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just
me

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&
all
this

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Ξ 

 

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Lisa Espenmiller

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seamless grey sky
watching her
unravel

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Ξ 

 

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Billy Antonio

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family history
the scars and stains
on the dining table

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weathered vane

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returning geese
home scribbled
on a postcard

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Ξ 

 

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George Swede

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the game with
seven billion players
one ball

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Ξ 

 

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Guliz Mutlu

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halicarnassus at night
honeysuckles
blown with the sand

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Ξ 

 

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Helen Buckingham

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dawn chorus
the owl
bows out

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iii

.iii

Scott Watson

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MAKING THE NEW SANTŌKA

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Most of us are aware that labels such as Romanticism, Modernism, etc. are scholarly constructions and that individual poets do not go around with “I’m a Modernist” in their head while making a poem. At the same time some of them don’t want to write in the way writers in a previous century wrote. They sense a duty to push their art forward. Some of them. Those are the ones labeled “Modernist.”

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Meiji was an age in which much was different from before the opening of Japan to Western thoughts, technology, and gadgets. Novelty was fashionable. Novelist Natsume Soseki could have his own ice cream making machine.

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Modernism in Japan, though, was not just a desire for novelty. New national pride was involved as well. Many Japanese, since their nation was newly on stage in an international environment, wanted an identity as a modern and powerful nation. They did not want to think of themselves as citizens of a backward, undeveloped country still rooted in feudalism. Keep up with the Joneses. Keep up with the times. The Meiji emperor was photographed in a Western uniform.

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Certainly with minimalist brevity we can place Pound’s dictum “Make it new” upon much that was attempted in writing. Though even EP’s “Make it new” itself was ages old. Scholars tell us it comes from a long ago Chinese injunction, which might move us to wonder just what new is under the sun. It’s relative.

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Santōka, though, was indeed looking for something new. That is what brought him to Ogiwara Seisensui. But “Make it new”: how is that said about a person who decides to live out his days as a Zen Buddhist poet-monk, wandering the land or practicing simple living in a cottage? It is difficult to catch hold of what Buddhism, or Zen Buddhism, is at a particular moment in the flow of Japan, and then what was it for Santōka?

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After Japan’s modernization begins, Buddhism in general is seen as old fashioned and as inconsistent with logic and science. It’s seen as superstition (by the intellectual, international, elite). As things proceed there is a jostling for position in society, and Buddhism, including Zen, engages in self-renovation. Making it new.

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Eventually war comes. What’s new? The Buddhism in Japan, including the Zen sects, available in Santōka’s day was supportive of imperial wars and explained away aggression’s injustices with old time karma so that it is the victims, due to their own bad karma, who are responsible for being mistreated. Old and new coexist.

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The haiku form Santōka’s early Meiji predecessors inherited was centuries old, dating back, as a form independent from renku linked verse, to Bashō in the 17th century. Buddhism, as mentioned, was seen as old fashioned. So with the haiku form. And much else, I suspect. Masaoka Shiki pulled the haiku, dusty and old, out of its “tradition” condition. He brushed it off, made it good as new looking at real life scenes. Shiki is said to have opened the way for something different with this form, something new.

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Ogiwara Seisensui (there are others too but OS stands out as representative) took things further than Shiki by dropping–and urging other poets to drop–all the (what seemed to him as) tedious and unnecessary rules governing, or constricting, haiku making. Let Haiku Be Fresh and Alive. The result is called free-style haiku. That is the style Santōka adopted after his encounter with Ogiwara.

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Santōka says A Poem Is Born. Not “born of …..”–BORN. It may be impossible to know if that statement comes as a result of his reading a particular Western or ancient Chinese author or if it’s because he read something by a Japanese poet and said it in a new way. It’s more likely a visceral response to poem making. But the fact that a visceral response is recognized as a valid take on poem-making is maybe due to exposure to Western influence and telling of the changing times The fact that he expresses the matter as originating in his being’s own bowels sets it apart from what we might hear before the Meiji opening when a reference to the raw act of giving birth might have been frowned on as not being in good taste.

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The point is that various poets of the new age were responding to developments each in his or her unique way, and they each had different takes on what they were doing, whether it was Yosano’s “jikkan” (“feel of the moment” is my inept rendering), Hagiwara’s “shiseishin” (poetic spirit), or Ogiwara’s “Listen to nature”.. . . Their responses were unique, but good artists have always been about being unique. At times (more often that not?) they did not agree with or appreciate what another poet was doing, so it impossible for a modernist movement to be called a unified field.

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Neither was what they were doing necessarily new in all aspects. Yosano Akiko continued writing her tanka poems in classical, Heian era, Japanese. Ogiwara, after scraping off centuries of whatever it is that accumulates when one is a poetry god, returns to vitality he finds in Bashō. “Follow nature and return to nature”

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These were not close-minded people and they knew there was still much from the ancients that was usable just as they found inspiration through imports they could adapt to express something vital through their Japanese language and culture.

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It was the POSSIBILITY for their different responses to have a venue, a presence (in a literary world), that came with the changing times. …

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~~~

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Japan’s traditional forms are said to have bothered some of its modernist poets. Hagiwara Sakutarō (1886~1942), whose years pretty much coincide with Santōka’s (1882~1940), wrote that “It is no wonder that in an age of anxiety like ours such a poetry of elegant beauty and leisurely pleasure has begun to bore readers.” [Eng. by Ueda Makoto] Hagiwara is referring to especially haiku.

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Santōka obviously saw it differently. In his free style haiku there is an absence of elegant beauty and leisurely pleasure. Nor is his poetry filled with modern life anxiety and despair. Despite whatever manifested as his actual life, there is no “sickness of modern life” to the poems–only natural, healthy dying. In his poetry there is what can’t be labelled. To label something we must bring it to a standstill to be boxed and stamped, and that is not possible with Santōka’s flux.

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Dropping a few nuisances that plague traditional haiku, this form, in his hands at least, is able to embrace Westernization in all its permeations and permutations.

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Santōka, in priest robes is in town standing chanting sutra holding his iron alms bowl begging. Jazz music pumps out from inside a building. Santōka writes of it:

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お経届かないジャズの騒音

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Which, in one dimension, in prose, could mean something like “This jazz is too loud for a sutra to be heard.” (I can’t hear myself not think.)

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Are Jazz and sutra set in opposition? Is something from the modern age set against tradition, drowning it out? That is the standard interpretation of modernity versus tradition. As modernity advances, many traditions disappear, are not preserved. Not eating meat, for example.

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Is Santōka lamenting the influence of Western cultural imports? Or are each manifestations of non-divisive mystery? If Santōka’s words are merely the explanatory prose mentioned above, where is the poetry? What’s the poem?

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We might wonder, too, if Santōka had some kind of affinity for jazz because, like his own freestyle work that abandons rules for traditional haiku, jazz is, according to a music aficionado, at times improvisational and can be performed comparatively freely, based on a performer’s sense of the number.

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Poetry is music beyond measure.

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For Santōka the fecund is anything anywhere. Anything can be poetry–even nothing. It depends. Santōka’s sutra chanting witnesses jazz, lets jazz be. Jazz lets the sutra/chanter realize their own power to go on, even though it might seem they are powerless. Through his haiku both flow as one (not Pure Land but) poem-land place. East and West can never meet because of the fragmentary nature of our minds. But Santōka takes us beyond East and West.

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Buddhist tradition is brought into contact with the materialistic modern age (jazz) and is renewed through his poetry. The materialistic modern age is brought into contact with Buddhism, made spiritual–though not made traditional–through his poetry. Buddhism is set free from predetermined boundaries for what the spiritual is. Jazz is set free from predetermined boundaries for what materialistic music is.

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And he does this with a poem based on the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern Hagiwara tells us are unusable by modern Japanese. Eye of the beholder, it seems. Depends on how the eye is conditioned. Or unconditioned. Or ear.

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When he journeyed north to the Tohoku region, visiting some of the spots Bashō visited and visiting members of Layered Clouds, he went as far as Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture, which was the northernmost spot Bashō visited. A place of historical significance as well as literary importance mainly because of Bashō.

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ここまでを来し水飲んで去る

Come all the way here drink water leave

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Not to dwell, but it absorbs both ancient and modern.

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From the All Flowing Cottage 万流庵

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Ξ 
 

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Otata will come again
one day
late fall in the mountains

— Santoka as translated by Burton Watson

Otata mo aru hi wa kite kureru yama no aki fukaku

As Watson notes, “Otata was a woman who went around selling fish in the area of Santoka’s cottage in Matsuyama.”

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All works copyright © 2016 by the respective poets.

Address submissions to otatahaiku@gmail.com

—John Martone

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