From the archives: previous essays on the haiku of Ban’ya Natsuishi.

Adam Donaldson Powell’s preface to the haiku collection “Flying Pope”, by Ban’ya Natsuishi:

A MODERN MASTER OF HAIKU PAINTS THE COLLECTIVE CONSCIENCE.

A gong sounds somewhere in the distance, and in the silence that ensues the reverberations of the collective conscience precipitate a collage of impressions that are at once familiar, and yet far beyond the accepted structures of perception. In this impressive collection of contemporary haiku, Ban’ya Natsuishi expertly challenges and coaxes the reader to join him in a flight of fancy – in and out of reality and illusion – not so unlike the great surrealist Salvador Dali. Both the reader and the flying pope take to the air, suspended above the Earth like an out-of-body experience … observing from afar, and yet experiencing the dream-like state as if it were totally real – as a sort of déjà vu recollection of the fringes between zazen and newspaper headlines … or perhaps the CNN rolling news texts, floating across the bottom of the television screen. While it may be tempting to point out Natsuishi as l’Enfant terrible of contemporary haiku writing, his impudence is not intended to shock. It is, in fact, this sense of detachment in the author that binds together the childlike, the serious, the sarcastic, the humorous and the reflective – resulting in a splattering of surrealistic images that pose far more questions to the reader than give blatant commentary. Because of the masterly free flying construction, the reader is just as easily won over to the haiku of Ban’ya Natsuishi as he/she might be to adventuresome comic books and animated films.

True enough, there is much observation embedded in these pearls of writing: sparkling semi-precious jewels singing, dancing, and jabbering now and then about such themes as politics, haiku writing without seasonal references, the loneliness of papal responsibility, and the burden of conscience. However, the real artistry of this work is perhaps the succession of painterly haiku frescoes, all variations on the same theme: the illusion of consciousness.

Do read this book several times – forward and backwards, and even starting in the middle and proceeding in any direction … sometimes dancing back and forth. There are many hidden levels within the poems, the silent connections in between the poems and in the work as a whole.

  • Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2008 (based upon the English version of “Flying Pope”). “Flying Pope” is published by cyberwit.net.

 

 

ESSAY ABOUT THE HAIKU OF BAN’YA NATSUISHI.

CONTEMPORARY HAIKU: the renaissance and the transformation.

Literary criticism (2008) by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “Right Eye in Twilight”, published by Wasteland Press, USA, 2006, ISBN13: 978-1-60047-016-5 and ISBN10: 1-60047-016-5, 62 pages, paperback, US$12; and “Earth Pilgrimage” (Pellegrinaggio terrestre), published by Albalibri Editore, Italy, 2007, ISBN 88-89618-52-3 and ISBN 978-88-89618-52-3, 146 pages, paperback, €10).

As I sit before the screen of my laptop computer, the fat of my palms resting on the flat area of the keyboard and my fingers poised to attack – I close my eyes and begin to breathe rhythmically, as a concert pianist. I feel both certain of the notes that are about to flow through the tentacles of my body-mind-spirit machine, but immediately become encapsulated by the poetry of my own breathing. And in the cello-like dark mellow tones, underscoring the inevitability of one breath following another, I am at one with the driving impulse behind the art of Ban’ya Natsuishi. That impulse, that drive has many names but is perhaps best described as “satori” (meaning a state of spiritual enlightenment … but also quite simply ‘insight’).

The haiku of Natsuishi have many dimensions, and forms of expression. Perhaps the most common factors are the renaissance and transformation of duality, and the exposure of illusion caused by the folly of spiritual separation. Natsuishi has the uncanny talent of presenting perspectives from all angles – and yet, never contradictory in spite of individual or collective social experience. True insight, and effective artistic communication, is never exclusive or preaching … but rather expanding and questioning. It is exemplified by the ability to combine perspectives of the ‘external looking inward’ and the ‘internal looking outward’, the left side of the brain in tandem with the right side, the virtuosity of a well-trained and natural violinist on an equal footing with the exquisitely understated harmonies of a monk choir.

And still, Natsuishi does not cheat us of a glimpse into his own humanity – in fact, in “Right Eye in Twilight” he takes us along on his own personal journey, which both literally and poetically describes a search for vision (‘insight’). Here, the author invites the reader to accompany him in his rapturous process – ascending toward a state of satori that had nevertheless always existed in each of us from the very first times we opened (and closed) our eyes. It is this nakedness that reveals the childishness in us all – the fear, the frustration, the wantonness, the infatuation with the process itself – and that creates sublime poetry, in balance with our adult, intellectual and rational expression.

From “Right Eye in Twilight”:

A black horse

slowly getting white

in the wood

 

and

 

New York –

the terror of dust

toying with sundown

 

and

 

Water is a white nebula

within me

blown by winds

 

and the very beautiful

 

On a morning swamp

I see

the Palace of Versailles

 

For me, the very essence of the ‘satori’ of Ban’ya Natsuishi is exemplified in the most delicate and sensitive haiku found in the collection entitled “Earth Pilgrimage” (Pellegrinaggio terrestre). Each of these multi-faceted diamonds express both intimacy with oneself, one’s surroundings and with Spirit – free from separation. And yet they do not seek to deny the harshness of living on Terra, but rather allow the reader to see the effects of turning the face of the diamond – just slightly enough to get lost in the momentary light capturing us, our blindness giving true vision for an instant.

A few priceless examples follow:

Shoved off the stairs –

falling I become

a rainbow

 

and

 

From the reed marsh

New York appears

like an old UFO

 

and

 

A new moon –

the sublimity of the orchid

not yet achieved

 

and

 

An almond in bloom

leaning against

cactuses

 

and finally

 

Even in the clouds

a mute and a deaf person

arguing with each other

 

Contemporary haiku art simply does not get any better than as expressed in “Earth Pilgrimage”. It is both a renaissance and a transformation – of the essence, and the ever expanding and contracting nature of the haiku.

And my breathing continues in empathetic harmony, at one with the insight and vision of Ban’ya Natsuishi.

— Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2008

 

BAN’YA NATSUISHI (JAPAN) which is the pen name of Masayuki Inui, was born in Aioi City, Hyôgo Prefecture, Japan. He studied at Tokyo University where he received a Masters of Arts in Comparative Literature and Culture in 1981. In 1992 he was appointed Professor at Meiji University where he continues to teach. In 1993, he gave lectures at Jilin University in China, and was invited to a haiku meeting in Germany in 1994, and also in Italy in 1995. From 1996 to 1998, he was a guest research fellow at Paris 7th University. In 1998, and together with Sayumi Kamakura, he founded the international haiku quarterly “Ginyu”, functioning as its publisher and editor-in-chief. In 2000, after attending the Global Haiku Festival in USA, he co-founded the World Haiku Association, based in Slovenia. He currently works as the association’s director. In 2001 Natsuishi attended the Vilenica Poetry Festival in Slovenia, in 2003 the Struga Poetry Evenings in Macedonia, and in the same year he worked as the Chairman of The Steering Committee for the 2nd World Haiku Association Conference, which was held in Japan. In 2004 he was invited to the poetry festival at Porto Santo in Portugal. In 2005 he attended the 3rd World Haiku Association Conference in Bulgaria, the 3rd Wellington International Poetry Festival, and presided over the international haiku session of Euro-Japan Poetry Festival in Tokyo. In 2006 he was invited to Poetry Spring in Vilnius, Lithuania and the Ohrid P.E.N. Conference in Macedonia. In 2007 he visited Inner Mongolia and promoted haiku writing there, and also in that year he held the 4th World Haiku Association Conference in Tokyo, functioning as its chairperson. In 2008 he will preside over the Tokyo Poetry Festival 2008 (functioning as the director of the festival).

Among his many awards can be mentioned:

in 1980 he was recommended as Poet of the Year by Haiku-hyôron

in 1981 he won First Prize in a competition sponsored by haiku monthly Haiku-kenkyû

in 1984 he was awarded the Shii-no-ki Prize

in 1991 he was awarded the Modern Haiku Association Prize

in 2002 he was the recipient of the Hekigodô Kawahigashi Prize of the 21st Century (Ehime Haiku Prize)

Main Japanese publications:

Poetics of Haiku, Seichi-sha, 1983.

Dictionary of Keywords for Contemporary Haiku, Rippu-shobô, 1990.

Poetic Spirit of Genius, Yûshorin, 1993.

Haiku: A Century’s Quest , Kôdansha, 1995 (edited).

Contemporary Haiku Manuel, Rippu-shobô, 1996.

Haiku Is Our Friend, Kyôiku-shuppan, 1997.

Haiku Troubadours 2000, Ginyu Press, 2000.

Collected Haiku Poems by Ban’ya Natsuishi: Crossing Borders, Chûseki-sha,2001.

Chibimaruko-chan’s Haiku Class Room, Shûei-sha, 2002.

A Guide to World Haiku, Chûseki-sha, 2003.

World Haiku 2005, Nishida-shoten, 2004.

World Haiku 2006, Shichigatsudo, 2005.

Right Eye in Twilight, Chûseki-sha, Japan, 2006.

World Haiku 2007, Shichigatsudo, 2007.

Renku: A través do ar/Through the Air/A travers l’air, Shichigatsudo, 2007 (co-authored with Casimiro de Brito).

Tenbo Gendai no Shiika vol. 10, Meiji Shoin, 2007 (co-authored).

World Haiku 2008, Shichigatsudo, 2008.

Overseas publications:

Haiku: antichi e moderni, Garzanti Editore, Italy, 1996 (co-authored).

A Future Waterfall―100 Haiku from the Japanese, Red Monn Press, USA, 1999 & 2004.

Romanje po Zemlji, Društvo Apokalipsa, Slovenia, 2000.

Цветята на Вятьра, Matom, Bulgaria, 2001.

Poesia Sempre NÚMERO 17, Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, Brazil, 2002 (co-authored).

Haiku: Poetry Ancient & Modern, MQP, UK, 2002 (co-authored).

Haiku: the leaves are back on the tree, Greece, 2002 (co-authored).

Ombres et Lumières, LCR, Bulgaria, 2003 (co-authored).

Haiku: Poésie anciennes et Modernes, Édition Vega, France, 2003 (co-authored).

Странный Ветер, Иностранка, Russia, 2003 (co-authored).

The Road: world haiku, Ango Boy, Bulgaria, 2004 (co-authored).

Ribnik tišine: slovenska haiku antologija, Društvo Apokalipsa, Slovenia, 2005 (co-authored).

L’Anthologie du Poème Bref, Les Dossiers d’Aquitaine, France, 2005 (co-authored).

Right Eye in Twilight, Wasteland Press, USA, 2006.

ÎMBRĂŢIŞAREA PLANETELOR (THE EMBRACE OF PLANETS), Edidura Făt-Frumos, Romania, 2006.

Endless Helix: Haiku and Short Poems, Cyberwit.net, India, 2007.

Le bleu du martin pêcheur: Haïkus, L’iroli, Beauvais, France, 2007 (co-authored).

Madarak / Birds: 50 Haiku, Balassi Kiadó, Hungary, 2007.

Pellegrinaggio terrestre / Earth Pilgrimage, alba libri, Italy, 2007.

 

 

ESSAY ON BAN’YA NATSUISHI’S WORLD HAIKU: 

EXPRESSION OF EMOTIONS IN THE INTERNATIONAL / MULTILINGUAL HAIKU OF BAN’YA NATSUISHI.

Some old-fashioned “experts” still insist that human emotions in haiku are only to be expressed in figurative ways through depictions of nature, while others are venturing into somewhat more obvious analogies. I – myself – am a bit wary of the pitfalls of falling prey to reading too much into the subtleties of haiku, or to limit the usage of such expressions of subtlety to Japanese culture and tradition.

There are many opinions circulating regarding the mechanics and functions of haiku-writing, as well as some individuals who would seem to maintain that the only good haiku-writers are those who follow strict Japanese tradition. As I have written elsewhere, contemporary haiku – and perhaps especially international haiku and haiku adaptations into other languages – must address many cultural and linguistic differences that may challenge traditional Japanese rules regarding classical haiku, including but not limited to meter, linguistic and culturally-associated rhythms and sounds of words employed, expansion of time beyond “the moment” etc.

I was impressed to read the following in Natsuishi’s essay entitled “Composing Haiku in a Foreign Country” (A Future Waterfall, 2004, Red Moon Press, ISBN 1-893959-46-5, USA):

“[Nevertheless,] not many Japanese Haiku poets have been open to foreign experiences … The main reason is their idée fixe about nature … This situation has effectively prevented Japanese haiku poets from looking at a foreign land from a non-Japanese perspective. Foreign landscapes remain largely alien and incomprehensible.

“A haiku poet in a foreign country has many occasions for inspiration. Many things provoke him to look at them from new and different angles — provide him with a new insight and a different sensibility. This is the way it should be. After all, one principal purpose of haiku is to discover something new in everything and to reveal it to the world …

“More than three hundred years after Bashô, I am trying to create in my haiku diverse, astonishing traditions and phenomena of the whole world.”

It occurs to me that the cultural associative expertise required in international haiku and haiku in translation is perhaps especially significant in regards to communication of emotion – both viscerally and figuratively. While classical Japanese haiku expresses emotions more figuratively than directly, modern forms of haiku and international / non-Japanese haiku forms would appear to be experimenting with and stretching the “old and the traditional” into more “liberal” expressions of emotion and usages of kigo.

Ban’ya Natsuishi is classically-schooled and does employ many traditional Japanese forms in his haiku-writing, but he is also constantly exploring the haiku in literary evolution. His work with World Haiku presents special challenges and many new possibilities in regards to the internationalization of contemporary haiku-writing.

Some outstanding examples of innovative contemporary haiku by Natsuishi follow:

from “A Future Waterfall”, 2004, Red Moon Press, ISBN 1-893959-46-5, USA:

page 13:

From the future

a wind arrives

that blows the waterfall apart

 

page 18:

Cherry blossoms fall:

newspapers

suck in a great deal of blood

 

In Tokyo

the angry flower is

a snow crystal

 

page 23

Into the Sea of Japan

lightning’s tail

is plunged

 

page 31

On my tongue

a temple appears

allegro

 

page 43

Above the sea

lightning violates

the Galaxy

 

Tunisian

blue lightens

the swindling

 

and from “Endless Helix”, 2007, Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-81-8253-072-0, India:

 

page 42

Perfection

is the symphony of the valley —

a stray sheep

 

Parfaite est la symphonie

de la vallée —

un mouton perdu

 

Sinfonía perfecta

en el valle

la oveja perdida

 

page 48

A cloud beyond any shape —

we have lost

our memory

 

Un nuage au-delà de toute forme —

nous avons perdu

notre mémoire

 

Una nube que tiene

más que todas las formas …

¿ perdimos nuestra memoria?

 

page 50

The sea of tears

always waiting

for our haiku

 

La mer de larmes

attend toujours

notre haiku

 

El mar de lágrimas

siempre espera por

nuestro haiku

 

page 53

Under the scorching sun

I have forgotten

how to love myself

 

Sous le soleil brûlant

j’ai oublié

comment je pourrais m’aimer

 

Bajo el abrasante sol

he olvidado

como amarme a mí mismo

 

Page 87, Dream no. 10

One after another our soldiers bleed to death.

We have lost any reason to press ahead.

We make up the blood pressure readings of our king,

the balance so to speak, of his rivers underneath.

Yet, we raise lances, dash forward,

And my voice is drowned out trying to hold us back.

 

Page Dream No. 12

Scratched.

Beaten.

Cut.

Ice sheds tears.

A beauty dances over this frozen swell.

She falls down by its caprice.

 

It is my premise that expression of emotions in art is not merely a question of perspective of nature, but concerns color, form, verb form, sound, meter and time as well.

In the above examples Natsuishi plays with the “rules” most creatively, experimenting with time (“a future waterfall”), direct and less direct references to emotions, sometimes more liberal approaches to the usage of kigo, and purposeful liberation from 5-7-5 meter in favor of culturally-effective adaptations in English, Spanish and French (I cannot comment on other languages which I do not understand). Successful adaptation of haiku from Japanese (or another language) to other languages is not merely a question of cultural and linguisitic translation but perhaps also entails a oneness in expression in the original language that at times surpasses literary and cultural norms in the mother tongue in order to achieve a more universal expression.

The ability to successfully make creative decisions depends on the artist’s understanding of tradition (where artistic expression norms have hailed from) as well as the understanding of how to employ intentional techniques to achieve desired new forms of expression. Decisions regarding usage of meter, form, sound, suggestion, time, length etc. should be conscious and intentional, and yet give the appearance of evenness and technical ease and dexterity. A technically or emotionally difficult passage in a work of music, literature or art should appear as effortless in execution as a technically or emotionally easy one. Here Ban’ya Natsuishi unabashedly shows his mastery of artistic execution and suggestiveness and his intelligence in decisionmaking and planning — resulting in a natural feeling recognizable by readers from various cultures, traditions and in many languages.

Despite his intellectual and technical expertise, Natsuishi has loftier goals than merely to find new ways of expressing emotions. He says himself: “My concern is not expressing emotion in a new way, but something deeper than emotion is my target.”

— Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2009.

 

 

A SHORT ESSAY ON PRESENTATION OF WORLD HAIKU.

An essay based upon the following multilingual haiku books by Ban’ya Natsuishi:

MADARAK / BIRDS, 50 HAIKU, including aquarelles by Éva Pápai, translations by Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jack Galmitz and Judit Vihar, published in 2007, Balassi Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary, ISBN 978-963-506-743-5; and VOICES FROM THE CLOUDS,

translations by Leons Briedis, Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jim Kacian and James Shea, published in 2008, Minerva, Latvia, ISBN 978-9984-637-42-5.

World haiku books are generally characterized by bilingualism or multilingualism, i.e. haiku books published with translations or adaptations in one or more languages in addition to the mother tongue of the haiku writer. This is also true of the world haiku books of Ban’ya Natsuishi. Mr. Natuishi’s literary adeptness is well-established – both by fans and reviewers such as myself, and by the international and Japanese literary communities at large. What I would like to address in this essay is presentation — the function of haiku with translations / adaptations in the same book, and the function of haiku together with and in competition with art / photography. In other words: the aesthetic dimensions and considerations.

I have previously commented upon the now-popular combination of haiku with photography: “I have written elsewhere that I prefer photography books without captions and titles … this is often a sensitive and over-debated question. However, I do not believe that it is solely a question of aesthetics or subjective ‘likes and dislikes’ / personal preferences. There are also the questions of functionality, total artistic impression as well as technical questions such as ‘when is more actually too much?’ Are the haiku captions or poetry? Do they serve a complementary function or an interpretative function, and are they (in fact) essential to understanding the photographs? Is the placement of these haiku optimal, or would another approach to combining photography and haiku have a stronger effect? These are all questions that strike me in my own personal experience …” It is important to me as reader and reviewer that presentation of haiku in book form satisfies the underlying aesthetic values of simplicity, space for thought and reflection, and maximal visual interpretation by the reader himself / herself. Furthermore, it is important to me that the haiku and the artwork function both on their own as artistic expressions AND together as complements, but not as explanations or rationalizations of each other. They should not be in competition with one another, and not too interpretative of each other.

This applies as well to presentation of haiku translations and adaptations alongside one another. The number and placement of haiku in translation / adaptation must not create a sense of constriction in regards to space, or be too overwhelming in terms of text. There are many possible solutions to these challenges, including: separating haiku and photography / art into different sections in the book, limiting the number of translations / adaptations, utilizing artistic imagery that is less concrete (eg. abstract imagery, painted calligraphy which gives a simple visual presentation, etc.) or watercolors or another medium that mimics the lightness of haiku to name a few possibilities. Of course, another possibility entails combining haiku with imagery that does not attempt to comment directly upon the visual imagery created by the haiku artist but rather explores the underlying “feelings” in other visual expressions. These suggested solutions might allow the reader / viewer to experience the visual, intellectual and emotional openness of both artistic forms of expression — both independently, and in “indirect” comparison, without the one form competing with, overshadowing or directly leading / affecting the experiential and interpretative process of the reader / viewer.

The Hungarian book MADARAK / BIRDS, 50 HAIKU is a very attractive hardbound book (12 x 18,5 cm), with fine illustrations by visual artist Éva Pápai. The illustrations are aquarelles, sensitively executed and without too much direct interpretation of the contexts expressed in the accompanying haiku. The illustrations are consistently placed on the pages adjoining each haiku in English and in Hungarian, and the original Japanese haiku appear under each illustration. Although this attractive book is not of a standard coffee table book size, the excellent presentation enables it to function both as a work of art and as a small inspirational book that may be carried in a bag or in one’s pocket so as to be read on the bus, the metro, the train … or during a break at work or in between appointments.

One reason that the presentation achieved in this book is so successful is that the illustrations are more than mere illustrations — they are works of art which function both independently and together with the haiku, they are simple in execution and style — thus mimicking and accentuating the lightness and spontaneity and “space” of haiku as an art form, there are only two haiku translations / adaptations to the page — giving a feeling of time and space for personal reflection in a way that the language that is unimportant to the particular reader can (in fact) disappear on the page, and also because the Japanese original haiku are tastefully reproduced with calligraphy in red — thus giving a sense of writing as visual art, as well as writing and art balanced both on the illustration pages and also together with the haiku in English and in Hungarian (on the opposing pages).

In “Voices from the Clouds” (11 x 19 cm, softcover), there are no illustrations or works of art accompanying each haiku. There are however haiku in original Japanese, Latvian and English on each page. In my view, this small book works quite well in terms of presentation. This largely because of the excellent paper quality, the sequence and placement of haiku on each page (starting with the original haiku in Japanese in one line across the top of each page, followed by the Latvian translation / adaptation, and then with the English version on the bottom of each page), as well as the feeling of “airyness” and space created … all of which give the book a sense of completion.

There are many memorable haiku in these two books which are both beautiful and thought-provoking. I will mention a few from each book:

from MADARAK / BIRDS:

 

Old women, pigeons,

winds and gossip

gather in this square.

– page 16

 

A wild eagle

is invited to

the room of mirrors

– page 24

 

Every thing will disappear:

even the rice paddy,

over it a white heron dancing

– page 54

 

To the goldcrest

every water drop

smiles

– page 106

 

and from VOICES FROM THE CLOUDS:

 

In Tokyo

The angry flower is

A snow crystal

– page 23

 

Long, long ago

A fountain

At the bottom of the sea.

– page 39

 

Walking is philosophy’s

Best friend —

Voices from the clouds.

– page 80

 

Wisteria flowers

Suck in our

Sweet nothings.

– page 120

 

If I were to point out one thing that I would criticize with either of these books, it would be the consistent starting of each line with capital letters in the book VOICES FROM THE CLOUDS. Sometimes initial capital letters feel natural and at other times (as in these haiku) they can (in my opinion) tend to disrupt the flow and music of short literary works where lines are supposed to both function on their own and as a continuous flow. However, this is my own personal opinion and experience.

All in all, I would recommend lovers of world haiku to purchase these books, as they are quite worthy of inclusion in one’s permanent collection … for re-reading time and time again, at one’s leisure.

— Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2009.

 

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