|A Soldier's Bones|
A Soldier's Bones (hokku and haiku)
A review by Boris Nazansky
In her interview with Robert D. Wilson, Saša Važić of Serbia correctly asserts: ”It appears that your haiku write themselves, so easily, so beautifully, constantly...“This observation is in full accord with my vision of haiku I have expressed on several occasions, and which is a part of Vladimir Devidé's haiku-thought heritage. That is to say, a good haiku, indeed, makes a poet write it down; with its essence, it imprints itself into a poet, and literally forces him to shape it (into a three-line poem or a three-part monostich) in order to share it with the reader.
To such a commenced question, Wilson replies: “Some [haiku] come instantly. Most take gestation and editing. The composition of a Japanese short form poem for me is an act of meditation, an inner exploration, a merging with whatever I am writing about. I literally close my eyes and listen to nature, and my subconscious mind. In essence, they have a conversation with one another which I am a party to. Having lived and studied in Southeast Asia and the United States, my thinking is a symbiosis of Oriental and Western thinking. Animism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Native American religions, Filipino folklore, Judaism and Christianity influence my thinking and outlook.“
Behind the closed eyes, it is the core also woven into all of the 304 three-line poems of the collection, A Soldier's Bones.
On the other hand, Wilson cannot avoid the intertwining of the East and West even when putting questions to those he himself interviews for Simply Haiku. Namely, in his interview with Haruo Shirane, Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature at Columbia University (Simply Haiku, spring 2011), Wilson asks – both himself and the interviewee – “Is it imperative to utilize Japanese aesthetics as tools in the composition of English [or any other language] haiku?” Haruo Shirane makes his point clear, and that is just what Wilson expects: “I don’t think there are any set rules here. The only thing that I would stress is the need for haiku to have overtones... that something radiates beyond the literal meaning of the words, that you are saying one thing but implying more than that.“
Such an open stance seeks to remove the deeply rooted prejudices about haiku as a poetry that, a priori, cannot tolerate, for example, metaphor, simile, or personification (not to mention many other figures of speech). As early as 2002, Jane Reichhold in her book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku, explains the use of metaphor in haiku as traced back in the works of old Japanese masters of the genre by citing the following haiku by Basho:
on a bare branch
and concludes: “Feel free to use metaphor in your haiku – just use it the way the Japanese have taught us to do“. I would only add that, as regards figures of speech, just in this poem – which represents the beginning of elevating haiku to the level of pure literature - Vladimir Devidé (in the original version) notices onomatopoeia, whereas Harold Gould Henderson notices the so-called internal comparison.
In short: you may, but you don't have to (use this or that, look up to this or that poet, follow this or that tenet...). The essence is in the fact that a (good) haiku uses an economy of words, but is plentiful in possible readings, that is, interpretations. And in order to be such, it needs to possess layers (overtones), but also complexity built on the basic image, which have to be adequate for a haiku, containing only it, to be – a haiku. Namely, it cannot and should not be expected from every reader to have an insight into (all) semantic layers built around the basic (descriptive, literal), and thus, that underlying layer, objective word image, must be for itself an outcome of a series of distinctive mental reactions. In doing so, the reader is surely expected to expect that the haiku he or she has just read can be multi-layered, covered with a web of overtones, even when he/she (the reader), with his/her knowledge or sensitivity, may not be able to (immediately or at all) reach them.
Haiku is, therefore, the most demanding of all the existing literary forms.
Robert D. Wilson knows (and feels) it all well, but it does not bother him. This is a feature of a great haiku poet who is self-confident. And since the reality of the unreal does not exist outside of imagination, the layers of Wilson's haiku, which interfere with each other, appearing to the reader, at least with their subconscious vibrations, testify to the richness of the poet's haiku experience and his commitment to haiku as a form by which it is possible to most clearly depict all forms of reality.
It might, then, happen only by a strange coincidence, that Wilson, as an outstanding haiku connoisseur, could possibly fall into a trap of illusion to write a three-line poem that would not basically be a haiku. This means that the only issue that should essentially interest us in relation to his haiku in general, and the haiku in A Solder's Bones in particular, is the issue of that, and such layering, or superstructure, which is not necessary, but is - whenever is present - immeasurably enriching.
In light of this, let's read a few haiku* of Wilson's.
barren limbs . . .
gole grančice ...
moonless night . . .
noć bez mjeseca ...
Actually, nothing remains of a cicada's song; it's gone. However, if you happened to be there (and even if you did not, the poet was there for you), you would know that it crept into every pore of the moonless night.
deep morning . . .
zajutrilo je ...
Something is fading so that something else can start shining in its all glory. The dawn and morning with an ounce of whiteness simultaneously appease the call to physical activity while rousing imagination.
late night . . .
duboka noć ...
Instead of a comment, I will just associatively recall one of my haiku written some twenty years ago.
pokrij me nebom
cover me with sky
look, a firefly . . .
gle, krijesnica ...
If you are gifted with the ability to see, the firefly light would be sufficient.
This haiku has a surprising direction, but it is just the one that points to the dense layers of readings, so dense that a reader, heading in the direction appearing to him, in the same contemplative move, easily encompasses a few of them. Her breasts are distracting, but open the windows wide.
late winter . . .
odmakla zima ...
If this contrast of black and white looks confusing to someone, the only advice I can offer is to read this poem again and again and again. The shadow (all, without residue, completely) covered with snow. From below.
voda što pleše ...
This is a deeply synesthetic haiku. Feel free to dive in!
Today is the 14th of September, and the summer is almost over. Thanks to Robert (Wilson, the author) and to Saša (Važić) for making it, compared with the spring expectations, with A Soldier's Bones, different, richer and - more layered. In this upcoming autumn, may my text, at least some of its (autumn’s) moments, make it equally different and richer to both of you. Later, also to every reader who this text will, hopefully, reach.
* I always write haiku using the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count (of course, not at all costs), which I also try to respect in translation, that is adaptation.Therefore, here among my renditions of Wilson's haiku, which I have written for this short review, I have chosen those that naturally, without any special translation interventions, follow this rhythm. Please note that there is a considerable number of such poems in this collection, which may suggest that they, regardless of language barriers, contain an internal (eminent, Wilsonian) propositional rhythm.
Boris Nazansky lives in Zagreb, Croatia. He has been writing haiku in Croatian, English and the Kajkavian dialect for over thirty five years. He has received over sixty prestigious awards and commendations for his haiku on competitions in Croatia and abroad.