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Supplemental to my column in the online haiku magazine Simply Haiku

h a i k u    i n    c o n t e x t


drawings of  the well-known ku by buson:  "monsoon rain: facing the swollen river, houses, two."
samidare ya taika o mae ni ie ni ken

by twenty of a hundred students surveyed in the cafeteria of the university of tokyo (komaba) by me in 1998


1. This, by a freshman, is picture-perfect unless you look closely and notice one house has square windows and one round ones and all are closer to modern Occidental-style windows than Japanese ones!


2. This is much closer to the angle I imagine, though I have some doubts as to whether such boat docks were used.  This sophmore, like the freshman confessed to more interest in senryu than haiku.


 3. This by a freshman (who confessed to being ashamed to know so little about haiku “as a Japanese”  as he was familiar with only Basho and not the other seven poets I asked about – drew one of the rare left-side-up rivers.  The ridge-poles on top of the roofs are far more common than the crossed beams shown in pic. 1.


4.  This freshman, a design student,  unlike the previous three, prefers haiku to senryu and was a visitor from an arts college.  As was the case for a double digit number of respondents, she added keys.  I think we can tell the rain from the houses and the rivers easily enough, but how strange to show the swollen flood down-river above the higher reaches, to have the horizon at the bottom of the picture!


 5. This junior literature major had excellent adjectives for five of the eight poets I asked about and, as was usually the case for the women polled, preferred haiku to senryu.  Outside the picture she adds that she is watching from the window of her own home.  Now that is a new approach! The “bat-style” (Occidental) umbrella is anachronistic.


6.  This freshman literature student was forthright about why he hated haiku: “because they have to have a season” (kigo ga nai to ikenai kara) and liked senryu: “you are free” (jiyuu dakara).  I cannot tell if the houses are on top of little mounds or slanted stilts, but his simple lines are pleasant.


7.  This, too, pleases me. It is by an asistant lecturer in the chemistry dept. who is not very interested in haiku because “they are so short it is unclear what is being said.” (mijikai de nani o itteiru ka fumei na koto mo arimasu) but likes senryu because “ it is good to be humorous.” (yuhmorasu na hoy ga yoi).  He knew only half of the eight poets surveyed and described Issa as “an innocent child.”

8. This sophomore literature major points out in his illustration that the river is small but with the rains will grow to flood.  Looking at the houses I would have guessed he liked haiku but his only comment about the eight poets was that Shiki was depressing (kurai) and that he prefers senryu to haiku because the former is easy while the latter is hard. 


9. The words say the houses are liable to be swept off.  I think they were on the near side of the river, but the flooding river has cut around them. This freshman law student likes haiku for its brevity and had mixed feelings about senryu for sometimes being out-of-order (ii kagen na mono mo aru). He describes Bashou as subdued, Issa as warm and Shiki as having an interesting perspective.  Such an understanding of Shiki is rare and shows thought.


10.  This freshman, finds haiku mor interesting than senryu, which isn’t surprising if he can see drama like this (a veritable tsunami!)  in Buson’s ku!  He describes Issa as good, Shiki as Mr. Sick and Kyoshi as Mr. Clean.


11. This freshman who liked both haiku and senryu was apologetic about his slipshod survey.  I cannot say where I have seen houses so resemble mushrooms.  This is one of the (barely) left-side up rivers.


12. This freshman said she liked haiku for being deep and disliked senryu for she felt it was on the wrong/dangerous path (chotto jadou na ki ga shite-shimau), something true for a good part of traditional senryu was black humor every bit as obscene and mean as Martial (or rap music).  In the margin she wrote that she was observing from the far bank of the river and that the row of lines was “grass.”


13. This freshman likes haiku for having “a good rhythm” and senryu for being “interesting.”  She finds Buson good in an undescribable way and Issa thinks Issa had it all together (matomatteiru), whatever that means! She is the only person to set one house far back from the river.   I have seen rivers expand many times over, so I guess it is still “by the river.”


14.  This freshman in education likes haiku for opening up an infinite world from within a restricted space (kagirareta hani no naka ni mugen no sekai ga hirogaru) and senryu for being more approachable.  Her words respecting Buson, that they she likes the feeling as images explode outward from his haiku (haiku kara imeji ga paatto hirogaru kanji ga suki) are fine.


15. My scanner fails to do justice to the fine lines on the river.   I would not be surprised if this sophmore majoring in the hard sciences had a weaver in the family and a writer from her description of haiku as the daigomi of Japanese, which is a literate way of saying it is the tastiest treat the language has to offer and appreciated the apt expressions found in senryu that often managed to hit the target dead center.


16.  This third year literature student who nevertheless claims to major in sports wrote she likes haiku because they “remain in your heart/mind” (kokoro ni nokoru).  The river does not seem to be flowing, but that may be because it is so far up the banks which are covered with sawgrass.  The perspective seems to be a zoom in from across the river.


17.  This student of the hard sciences likes the mood of haiku and dislikes senryu, with the esception of some fine ones,  for tending toward vulgarity.  She has a long note explaining that she made a mistake drawing the scene as if the day was clear and that her intention was an image of seeing it from a high place from a distance away.


18. This third-year law student finds senryu fun but dislikes haiku for being unclear in meaning (imi fumei dakara) and calls Basho an “old fuddy-duddy” (jiji-kusai).   The river is a rare left-side up one and he uses Chinese characters in place of drawings.


19.  This fourth year student in mathematics likes haiku because “the number of letters is small but the expressiveness is large” but still prefers senryu for it is “rich in wit.”   He is precise  in what he sees and specifies a river one kilometer across, like the Yellow River with a flow that has a voluminous feeling (yuttari nagareru) below leaden clouds and places the wooden houses 2 meters apart, with the poet standing 10 meters to the side and 3 meters back from the river bank.


20. This freshman in the hard sciences, who calls Basho, who he likes, “a famous guy” and Issa, who he dislikes, a “nice baldy,” makes haiku himself though he dislikes the genre because he cannot understand haiku (he adds in parenthesis the English “difficult”).  He prefers senryu because they are fun and left his phone number in case I wanted to call him with more questions. I like his eyecon as it makes clear that we can have a perspective to take in an entire scene and a different spot from where we can view with the eye of the poet.  It made me reflect on the fact that if we sketch a river, we must get high up to depict its width even if we do not imagine the scene from that angle.