Thursday, July 1, 2010

Me and Japanese Poetry: Part 1

Japanese Poetry and Me: Part 1

Dear Friends:

I have a long association with Japanese Poetry. It has had a strong influence on how I write and how I view poetry in general. My views regarding Japanese Poetry have changed over time. They have evolved. At this time my views on the topic differ to a significant extent from those widely held by many practitioners in the U.S. of Japanese forms (Tanka, Haiku, and Renga). I have wanted to write something about the views I hold, why I hold them, and why I think they are plausible interpretations. But I have hesitated. Primarily, I do not want to get into an esthetic dog-fight with those who have a different perspective. I have no wish to change their minds, even if I could do so, which is highly doubtful. At the same time, I have wanted to offer a defense, or apology, for the views that I do hold. How to balance these two considerations has been a conundrum that I have had difficulty solving.

The solution I have hit upon is simply to tell my own story and allow that story to speak for itself. Having come to this approach I plan on offering a series of posts detailing the unfolding interaction of Japanese Poetry in my own mind and heart.

I first learned about Japanese Poetry in High School. I read about a form called ‘Renga’ somewhere in the writings of John Cage, though I can’t locate exactly where it was at this time. The passing reference to Renga intrigued me and I followed up on it as best I could. At that time, the mid-60’s, there wasn’t a lot available. Hardly anything was translated and the material I was able to locate spoke in terms of passing references and emphasized the complexity of the Renga form.

Nevertheless, the seed had been planted in my mind. And this seed took root, for some reason I tended it carefully so that over the years as new material appeared I would read and absorb it. Looking back it strikes me as significant that my introduction to Japanese Poetry was through the form of ‘Renga’, rather than through the more widely known and accessible Haiku. By the mid-60’s there was already a sizable body of translated material for Haiku, there were Haiku Societies, and there were a number of American Haiku Poets. All of that went right by me. In the way that adolescents can be amazingly single-minded and focused, I simply didn’t take into my mind the presence of the western world of Haiku and remained focused on Renga. I think this focus on Renga has colored my how I view Japanese Poetry ever since.

More to come,



Dan Gurney said...

It's interesting that you heard of Renga first. I had not heard of Renga until I learned about it through you when I was in my mid fifties. I first learned of Haiku, I think, at age 7 when I was in second grade.

I look forward to your future posts on the topic.

Jim714 said...

Thanks, Dan. I don't recall having poetry taught to me in school. If it was, it didn't sink in and I'm confident they didn't have Haiku in the curriculum.