Robert D. Wilson
Featured Poet - Claire Everett
One of the World’s Finest Haiku Poets
fading light . . .
a swan asks nothing
of the breeze
I’ve never met Claire Everett before and knew little about her until I, by chance, discovered some of her haiku and tanka on a few online sites I frequent.
They drew my attention because she has a rare innate grasp of what a haiku is and isn’t; neither is she a clone of the anything goes, object-biased (subjective/mono) group of poets in the Anglo-West and Japan who are products of the German-based university system, a system that today is lacking any agreed upon set of rules, and is fastly jettisoning kigo, the embodiment of zoka, in favor of key words, season reference words that may or may not have anything to do with nature, depending on their context. Poetry in Japan and the Anglo-West are closing the gap, becoming unrecognizable in style and expression save for geographical names and cultural terms defined via the colonialized modern Japanese language that understands many words differently than from the Yamato Japanese language in use before the Meiji Re-construction Era.
In an interview I did with Claire Everett in this issue, she told me that her outlook towards nature changed when her husband came into her life, who’s an animist: a spiritual outlook practiced by many of the world’s indigenous people, including Native Americans, and Japan’s original citizens, the Ainu, whom R.H. Blyth called “superstitious”, due to a lack of homework. Animists see everything in nature as equals, and ascribe life to trees, mountains, forests, etc, usually as spirits. Viewing nature through an animist’s eyes is a foreign concept to Anglo-Western eyes and repudiated by many university educated Japanese.
The Yamato language used 150 years prior to Shiki and the modern Japanese language used today have many different meanings, making it impossible to properly translate haiku, then called hokku, written by Basho, Chiyo-ni, Buson, Issa and their contemporaries, using modern Japanese-English language dictionaries.
Japan was forced to open up her borders by the American Navy to the influence of a very aggressive and arrogant Anglo-West. It wasn’t long after this forced opening that Japan, as a nation, adopted the same German-based university system used in the Anglo-West. The Yamato language is a descriptive, beautiful language but ill equipped linguistically to define Japanese philosophy, psychology, the arts, and social sciences, as it is an intuitive language that takes for granted the people’s understanding of centuries-old terminology and views the world in a much different, metaphysical light than that conceptualized by the Anglo-West.
In order for Japan to enter, as they termed, the 20th century and world of modernity, Japanese educators and intellectuals felt they needed to be able to speak with their Anglo contemporaries on an equal basis.
To do this they injected Western definitions and terms into the Japanese language including the word “aesthetics”, which did not exist until the German-based university system’s colonization of the Japanese language. This is the primary cause of haiku’s inability today to be taken seriously by the mainstream literary world. Haiku is the term Anglo-Western educated Shiki called hokku.
Many haiku poets today write and interpret haiku through Anglo-Western eyes in Japan and the rest of the world. Haiku is rapidly losing its identity and becoming an anything goes genre without consistent direction.
Fortunately for us, there are some poets today who fathom the essence of haiku. One of them is Claire Everett, one of the world’s finest haiku poets.
The person who said that good English-language haiku can’t be written with authenticity using Japanese aesthetics and the S/L/S metrical schemata obviously didn’t take the time to study the genre save for reading books by and subscribing to the flawed beliefs of R.H. Blyth, who was not knowledgeable in the Yamato language nor a scholar trained in the fields he exposits on.
Take this haiku composed by Everett:
dawn butterfly... 4 dawn = time of day
butterfly = an object
awakened to a memory 8 awakened = an action verb used as a transitional metaphor/memory = past thought
of myself 3 myself = an object
dawn butterfly / awakened to a memory/ of myself
This is a beautiful haiku that juxtaposes line one with lines two and three to create a haiku that is activity- (process/koto) biased and metaphorical. Al Pizzarelli, R.H. Blyth, and Kenneth Yasuda claim metaphors have no place in English-language haiku. Haiku is haiku; one literary genre. Basho, Buson, Chiyo-ni, Issa and other pioneers of haiku (then called hokku) used metaphors in their poetry. Either the above listed so-called experts on haiku didn’t do their homework or they deliberately wanted/want English-language haiku to become a distinct genre defined by Anglo-Western beliefs that include Judeo-Christian theology, ancient Greek and Roman beliefs, and the German-based philosophical mindset, systems of thought that are in many ways the antithesis to non-colonized Japanese thought.
Regarding Everett’s haiku:
How can a butterfly at dawn awaken to a memory of the author? Taken literally, it’s impossible. Her haiku is not an object-biased (subjective/mono) haiku-like poem posing as a haiku. In her mindset, while composing haiku and tanka, she intuitively recognizes zoka (the untamed, unpredictable, creative power of the universe) as her teacher. Some people mistake the modern Japanese word “t’shizen” for zoka, but the modernized word adapted to better communicate with the Anglo-West is a watered-down version of zoka. What is the significance of a butterfly at dawn; awakening to a memory of the haiku’s author? The poet’s job is to write the haiku guided and inspired by the zoka. An informed reader’s job is to interpret the haiku via his or her own cultural memory, level of experience, education, parental upbringing, etc. My interpretation of this haiku is my interpretation as I cannot think or conceptualize like the author.
I see in this haiku the poet identifying with a delicate, fragile, and newly reconstructed butterfly via metamorphic change, during its womb-life inside its cocoon. Although the caterpillar, before it transformed into a butterfly, was ugly in the eyes of those who saw beauty through narrow eyes. When it broke free from its cocoon, it was still same creature, though, via metamorphic transformation, it looked different and more fragile, yet just as vulnerable to its enemies. Maybe the poet too had once thought of herself as ugly due circumstances she was unable to control. Through a period of self-examination (womb-time) perhaps she came to realize that she is beautiful but fragile emotionally. Remember, we as readers have the joy and job of interpreting a haiku from our own mindset and illusionary take on life. Everett’s haiku is a haiku a reader remembers and can learn from, as it is in sync with nature, which we are a part of.
As human beings we are not above nature, we are a part of nature, and should, therefore, be aware of the zoka’s work in our lives and our relationship with the rest of nature.
This is where most haiku-like poets falter. They utilize kigo as icing on the cake, or as an illustrative comparison, using kigo instead of following and returning to the zoka as Matsuo Basho firmly instructed his followers. Kigo is much more than a seasonal indicator. Without kigo, when properly fathomed, a haiku dies, and falls into an neither world where ghosts pass through ghosts, without seeing the others, the need for words, non-existent, which isn’t that far removed from this planet’s urban orbit, where people are in hurry to go nowhere, with very few cognizant of their interrelationship with nature.
an activity in nature controlled by zoka
to the far reaches of scent
“to” is a preposition expressing motion;
this jasmine mind
mind = referring to non-tangible thoughts, generated within the brain. Jasmine is a descriptive
first rains / to the far reaches of scent / this jasmine mind
Claire Everett’s haiku again stimulates thought and unearths the unsaid, inviting readers to interpret her haiku with their individual mindsets. Good haiku do this. They don’t tell all and leave room for multiple interpretations. “First rains” is just that when separated from lines two and three; the time of the year when the first rains come, not according to a Japanese saijiki, but to the reader’s individual geographic localities.
Add to line one, lines two and three, and the magic of juxtaposition and the yugen (depth and mystery) come into play. As I stated previously, our job as the reader is to interpret a haiku, not to read the poet’s mind.
I interpret this haiku as someone who feels and welcomes the first rains of the year. It causes her mind to seek out the deepest part of her mind, the subconscious, the delicate, exotic core where Everett’s mind wanders to compose haiku. She listened to and observed the zoka, which in turn, brought her in touch with her inner self. A jasmine mind doesn’t exist scientifically in the Anglo-Western mindset fostered by the German-based university system. Perhaps, metaphorically, Everett experienced a time in which her mind and spirit hadn’t been fed or watered (nurtured) for what seemed like an eternity. Then it rains: the freshness of the air, the remembrance of the good things in life, cleanses the poet, nurturing seeds of thought (ideas).
Listen to the rhythm, the pauses used in her S/L/S haiku; feel the gentle cadence, the meter, then read it again. Everett’s haiku here is a haiku that Basho, Buson, Issa, and Chiyo-ni would read and enjoy: activity-(process/koto) biased haiku. This can’t be said for the object- (subjective/mono) biased haiku-like Anglo-Western short form poetry passed off as haiku by a highly vocal minority, who, in reality, are writing Imagist/Modernist free verse short poetry.
It’s your turn now; savor each of the three lines in every poem below by this issue’s poet laureate, Claire Everett, slowly, pausing at the end of each line. Look for the zoka, sense its guidance, become one with the creative unpredictable, ever changing power of nature. And interpret!
the darkness within
the egret's eye
breath of eons...
on a dragonfly's wings
my beating heart
through dawn's fingers
the last of the stars...
yielding to my shadow
a dawn held together
with spiders' silk
of counted stars...
blackbird to blackbird...
the long blue corridor
of a spring dusk
the cormorant preens
the foxglove's grail
of milled gold
this moth-wing heart...
Claire Everett is one of the planet’s finest haiku poets. Look for her poetry in the world’s leading English-language Japanese short form poetry journals and anthologies. Hers is a name you’ll see often.