Reviews and Comments about Writing and Enjoying Haiku
AN INTERVIEW WITH JANE REICHHOLD BY D. S. LLITERAS in which
these contemporary writers discuss Reichhold’s two newest books, Writing
and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide, an instructional book on the writing
of Oriental poetry forms, and A String of Flowers, Untied. . . the Love
Poems From The Tale of Genji written by Murasaki Shikibu translated into
English with Hatsue Kawamura. They begin their discussion with the book Writing
and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide.
Your reminding us about haiku’s spiritual point of view is
fundamental to this art form. Do you think this spirit can have an influence
on artists in a country where art has been largely secularized?
JR: Yes, because there will always be, I hope, artists who understand that
making art is a sacred act whether they or anyone else acknowledges this. We
are given our ideas and visions. They come from outside of us, from
beyond us, as gifts. As long as a person honors this giving by manifesting
the inspiration into some form, the ideas will continue to flow. As one
becomes more successful with the art form and needs less time in practicing
it, I think more time must be spent in repaying the spirits in an attitude
of offering. There is a belief that the spirits have hunger and need
nourishment as do all life forms. Since they cannot eat the grains and
grasses of our world, our mouths eat for them and from our nourished bodies
we are caused to have emotions – the electrical energy upon which they
survive. The more emotion we have, display and feel, the happier they are
with us. Yet, if we allow them, they can literally eat us up when we churn
out clouds of emotion such as in anger, violence, guilt and regret – all
pitfalls for an artist that can lead to addictions and or destructive
behavior. Therefore, we practice meditation (to calm ourselves to keep
productive) and take time for prayers to offer the spirits our love, our
thanks, our appreciation, our constant gratitude. We can also make gifts of
our time to the spirits by helping one another. I also think that many of
the greatest artists of each age were the most spiritually realized persons.
This is not the same as saying the person was religious. What you say is
true; very little of our valued art is done for religion. Secular is the
opposite of religion. But the secular can be, and must be, combined with the
spiritual. We are, as has been said, spiritual beings having a human
experience. The attraction of others to art and artists is the feeling that
artists are keeping a wider, more conscious channel open between themselves
and the spirit world. The value of haiku, is that it offers anyone and
everyone a path to follow to let more spirituality into a life.
I love the personal and active nature of this book. You have also instructed
that the reading of haiku is as active as the writing of haiku. These
elements are certainly what haiku is about. Was this your intention?
JR: Yes, because I find the Japanese genres demand more from the reader than
most other poetry forms. Because the haiku is so short and seemingly simple,
it is hard to convince people that they need to learn to read them. Any
second grader can read a haiku with its elementary vocabulary, but it often
takes a lifetime of living to completely understand a haiku, if at all.
Your checklist and rules reveal the complex structure of haiku and its
hidden nature without losing the fun of writing. How did this system evolve
and how did you employ this system of rules to your own work prior to the
writing of this book? When did you become aware of this developing system?
JR: It was only in the late 1970s that I learned other people were also
writing haiku in English. Up until then, I thought my daughter and I were
the only ones in the whole world who were fool enough to imitate the
Japanese. I was living at the time in Germany so when I realized that there
were organizations in the States that had been publishing English haiku for
some years, I immediately began to read everything I could get into my
hands. Like everyone else who reads haiku, some I liked and some I either
did not understand or did not like what I understood. I wanted to write
haiku like the ones I admired, so when I went back to writing haiku
seriously, I made a checklist of my own dos and don’ts. I still have the
little black lesson books in which I would write out whether each of the
points was handled correctly in the newest poem. During the years this list
underwent many changes. Some came from my own understanding of the form and
some came from others, especially Lorraine Ellis Haar in Portland, Oregon
and Emma von Bodmershof in Germany. Due to all this input from reading so
many persons’ ideas of what they thought a haiku should be, I was able to
come up with the list of the many rules of haiku.
Going back to fundamentals is critical for an artist. Has your own work
changed because of what you relearned while writing this book?
JR: It is interesting that you ask this because I never would have thought
that just writing down what I knew could change my own work but it did. Over
the years my tanka had gotten more and more experimental, so investigational
that I was hesitant to even label them as tanka. But after writing the
section on the tanka form I was so enthusiastic about it, I actually felt
“relighted”– it was if I had rediscovered it all over again for
myself. It was fresh and exciting as it had been when I had begun to work
seriously with it in 1988.
This is truly a masterful guide on how to write haiku. You actually
reveal secrets. I’m referring, of course, to your twenty-four valuable
techniques, which are brilliant. How
did you arrive at this list?
JR: From Basho. At the time, I was translating all the known Basho haikai
and hokku into English. The longer I worked with his words I began to
realize how important the two parts of the haiku where to his use of the
form. From this I wrote the “Phrase and Fragment Theory.” As I was
preparing this article for Jim Kacian for publication in Frogpond, I
started testing it against Basho’s haiku. This was much the same way I had
used check lists to test my own early haiku. While doing this I noticed that
there were certain techniques that Basho used over and over like similes and
metaphors, but also the riddle technique. It was from this discovery that I
realized that the present haiku authorities were wrong with their
admonishments that haiku did not use metaphor or simile. Haiku was and is
poetry and continues to use poetical techniques. The difference, and what a
huge difference this is, haiku uses the oldest techniques of our poetry in a
new way. That is the “charm” of haiku, the fascination that poets and
non-poets have for the form. That is what there is yet to learn from haiku.
How to use the techniques of world poetry in a new way is something every
poet wants to discover.
a. DSL: Now that the book is published, are there other techniques you wish
you could add to this list?
JR: Yes! When Jim Kacian then
decided to print the second article on the techniques, he wanted a sample of
each one but did not want to have to get permission from anyone to borrow
the poems from Basho. So I began searching through my book, A Dictionary
of Haiku that contains over 5,000 haiku, for examples. I found I had
been using not only the techniques from Basho, but that we modern writers
have added several new ones. There are other techniques in my haiku, and the
haiku of others, that are just
waiting to have the processes that make them work, named, described, and
b. DSL: What would be in the next book?
JR: What I would like to have is the opportunity of a longer book to explain
these techniques more fully. There is so much more to be said about
“leaping,” the values and different varieties of juxtaposition, and the
uses of other Japanese genres as they are beginning to be used in
contemporary poetry. For too long people have thought of haiku as child’s
play or for poets unable or unwilling to write “real” poetry. It is
exactly our best poets – Rilke, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, and
Wallace Stevens – who have
discovered these secrets for themselves and thus, were able to invigorate
their literary heritage with the discoveries of the Japanese poetic methods.
I have already written this much-longer book in which I discuss various poets and their works,
but due to page constraints for this book, I had to reduce my manuscript by
two-thirds so all that good stuff had to be left out this time.
You are truly a master of this poetic form. For me, your book reveals what
you know by how much you point to that which cannot be revealed. This
hands-on guide’s deceptive simplicity is also a reflection of how haiku
operates. You show us what had been concealed about haiku. Was this your
JR: Perhaps, I never thought of it that way. I do know I would get very
frustrated with the many articles of mist and mystery in the magazines on
“The Zen of Haiku,” “The Haiku Moment,” and the epitome of nonsense
- “The Wordless Haiku.” Haiku is about putting inspiration into words.
One practice of using words is writing. Writing is a skill with a learning
curve. Yes! the moment of inspiration is magical and it will always be a
spirit-given gift. Yet the writer must put the mystical into words so a
reader can relive a similar experience and come to the same feeling. That is
You did not neglect tanka, renga, haibun and the history of Oriental poetry
in Writing and Enjoying Haiku. But you put it in its place, later in
the book, after the student had been shown the building blocks. Again, like
haiku, you reveal the parts until the whole can be seen. Was this an effort
to avoid being academic? Or was it a teacher simply teaching the basics? You
show the reader rather than telling the reader what to do.
You get them to do it rather than talking about the forms. Was this
an effect to avoid being academic / philosophical?
JR: The philosophical or academic part of haiku is, I suppose necessary, but
this comes after a haiku has been written. Usually this is done by someone
other than the author and is a process of naming and organizing what has
been accomplished. I am far more interested in the front end of haiku –
the inspiration and capturing of that inspiration in words. The only
afterwards of haiku that interests me is the collaboration between writer
and reader. I wanted the reader of the book to practice this with me right
on the pages – to stop thinking and start doing. Our best haiku are still
inside of us. I wanted to reach out, to hold out my literary hand, to
support the reader to have the courage to bring forth his or her very own
hidden haiku. I started the explanations with the haiku because it is the
youngest genre, the smallest element, and the one best known outside of
You teach like a masterful mother: with kind discipline and with encouraging
authority. This book reveals a feminine strength equal to masculine
strength. Are you aware of this?
JR: Ah, you picked up on this because you have been writing about feminine
strength in you own book Jerusalem Rains. That great part where Saint
Peter’s wife has the courage and fury to point out what a coward he and
the other disciples were during the crucifixion. I think you have done a
great service to women by reminding them of what they were, and the power
they possessed before the reign of the Roman culture. But you are right, by
my being a woman writing an authoritative book on poetry form usually
thought of being more in the realm of men,
I have tried to be nurturing rather than trying to impress others
with whatever knowledge I have acquired – an idea that seems to appeal to
both women and men.
The conversation now swings to a discussion of Jane’s
other book A String Of Flowers, Untied. ., a translation of the
tanka of Murasaki Shikbu from her most famous novel, The Tale of
When did you first encounter The Tale of
JR: In the late 1970s, when I had begun to seriously study haiku, I was
reading everything I could find about the form and Japanese culture. One day
we discovered this tiny bookstore in Hamburg, which was basically the
man’s living room in his house. There I found the fat paperback of Edward
G. Seidensticker’s complete translation of The Tale of Genji. The
very next week, while unloading one of my large rope sculptures for a show,
a heavy bale of rope dropped on
my foot. It was bruised badly enough that I had to spend the next week lying
in a hammock under the apple tree reading my new book.
When did you realize the tanka were the heart of the book?
JR: The complete realization did not come until I was well into translating
the poems. In my previous readings of The Tale of Genji (I had by now
also acquired the Arthur Waley translation) the story line was so compelling
and fascinating, that the poems were just a novel aside to the story. I
found my eyes racing over them to get on with the plot – to my regret.
What gave you the idea to translate the poems?
JR: As I learned more about haiku, I was also studying the tanka of Japan.
The more I understood about tanka, the more I realized that Seidensticker,
who had done a marvelous job with translating the story (and was more true
to it than Waley) had failed with the poetry. It was not uncommon that early
translators of Japanese were language experts first and usually not poets.
Translations of haiku suffered from this fact as well as the tanka in The
Tale of Genji. The more I learned about tanka, and as I read better
translations of both haiku and tanka, I realized that Murasaki Shikibu had
to be saying more with her poems than Seidensticker was showing us. It also
greatly bothered me that he had put the poems into couplets. This was an
improvement over Waley who often simply made them into sentences of dialog,
but still I felt that there was much we new tanka writers could learn from
this ancient master of the form if we could just see more clearly what
Shikibu had written.
How did you and Hatsue Kawamura share the collaborative writing experience?
JR: I am studying Japanese, and my dictionary is in tatters, but I have
enough respect for the complexity of the language and the poetry, that I
would only consider any translation with the collaboration of a native
speaker. Fortunately, the fates and I have
found Hatsue Kawamura – a gem of a person and excellent poet. She gives me
a word-for-word translation and then I would then write my idea of what the
author had tried to say in the form of a tanka. Sometimes she would be
pleased with the resulting poem, sometimes she found me so far off base so
that I had to try the translation again and again, and other at times I know
she wept because the English result sounded so ugly in comparison with the
Would you do it again?
JR: Yes. There are still over four hundred tanka in the second half of the
book and it is my dream to be able to do them all. At the moment, though,
Hatsue and I are translating the tanka of a contemporary Japanese poet –
Fumiko Nakajoo. But I have already begun working by myself on the rest of The
Tale of Genji poems while Hatsue is busy arranging a tanka convention in
Could the poems be linked without any prose connection and still preserve
the sense and power of the story?
JR: I don’t think so. At first I had planned to present only the new
translations of the poems and to leave the reader to find the story as
others have translated the prose. But to do this would make a very different
“story” out of Murasaki Shikibu’s poetry. I felt strongly that the
tanka were deeply connected to the personalities of the characters and that
somehow the reader of the poetry needed this additional information to
appreciate her genius.
Essentially, you’ve written a series of linked haibun. However, you were
careful to preserve the light of the poetry before a subdued backdrop of
prose. Was this intentional?
JR: Not really. As I prepared to start the translating job, I felt I needed
to have some notes about the situation for which the poem was written to
guide my own thinking, but I did not want to get caught up in the story (too
easy to do) by having to read the full text. So I got a big three-ring
notebook and on each page I gave the poem a number, wrote up the parts of
the story relevant to the poem and below that pasted in the fax sheets with
the Japanese and the word-for-word translations. Below and beyond that came
the many versions and variations of the English attempts. When I typed up
this manuscript, I still felt I wanted to have the prose sections to
accompany the poetry. I wanted to honor Murasaki Shikbu’s own feeling that
the poems needed to be separated by prose. Also I had this idea that the
poems were like gemstones and that to be worn or understood or carried
around, the jewels needed a mounting. For me, that mounting was the prose
– the situation that held up the poem. Also, since the earliest anthology
of Japanese poetry, Manyoo-shuu (Ten Thousand Leaves), it was a
common practice to have prose headings to the poems. In these few sentences
was additional information about the reasons for the poem being written or
remembered. Because of the briefness of tanka, these headers have remained a
useful setting to prepare the reader’s mind for finding the complexities
of the poem.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the tanka translations and research in
preserving their meaning – and rightly so. Equally important, however, is
adapting the prose that links the poetry into an engaging synopsis that will
preserve the story, as well as rise above the mere retelling of the plot.
Was Hatsue involved in
JR: Yes. Because she had in her hands the text of The Tale of Genji
as translated by Akiko Yosano, she pointed out things that were missed or
presented differently in the other two English translations. Also, since we
worked from Yosano’s version of the story, we included, as an extra, the
tanka by Yosano that she had used as overture to each chapter. Thus, the
reader gets tanka translations from two of Japan’s most famous women
poets. Because Hatsue is herself a famed Japanese poet, her help with both
the story and poems was valuable beyond measure.
reading your translations, I’ve become aware of the vast feminine power
that lies underneath this work. Was it your intention to reveal this in your
JR: When I read that Akiko Yosano, the great tanka poet of the last century,
had translated The Tale of Genji from the archaic Japanese into
modern language. I was instantly suspicious that such a sensual woman as
Yosano was, (judging from her poetry in her book Tangled Hair) and
that this indicated that there was equal or even more unexpressed sexuality
in the Genji story. Our work bore this out. An aside about Yosano, another
woman worthy of the deeper study. She was, after her early success of her
own book of love tanka, the mother of eleven children, translator of The
Tale of Genji twice (her first draft burned in the Tokyo earthquake of
1924), the writer of over 17,000 tanka, nearly 500 free verse poems, had
published 75 other books of her tanka, literary critique and children’s
fairy tales, all the while supporting her husband, the poet Yosano Tekkan.
How did you develop the feminine sensuality of the book?
JR: Develop it? I just stood back and tried to keep it from slithering off
the page into a banned book! Both Murasaki Shikibu and Akiko Yosano were, in
their quiet and delicate ways, very open and up-front about sexuality, in
all its aspects between men and women, men and men, women with women.
- DSL: Even the design and layout has an unusually
feminine feel to it. How did this come about?
JR: Somehow, as I was dreaming this book into being, I had a strong feeling
that I wanted it to lie in the reader’s hands the way a woman’s body
would open up for a lover. This meant that the pages had to be wider than
most paperbacks are so that the weight of the book would be distributed
across the thumb, the palm and the little finger. I wanted the book to have
a tendency to lie open instead of springing shut as narrower pages tend to
do. As it turned out, having the pages wider made it possible to put the
Japanese version of the poem side by side with the English. And, an even
greater blessing was the ability to put the footnote information right
beside the poem as a sidebar. It was the idea of Peter Goodman, my editor at
Stone Bridge Press, to make those sidebars into a lovely graphic element by
repeating the wisteria design from the cover on each of the pages. He also
designed the cover by researching fabric designs of kimono and if you look
closely you can see that the photo is from a fabric. We picked the title, A
String of Flowers, Untied from the line of this of the tanka because it
is such an evocative phrase.
in evening dew
strings of flowers were untied
in this way
thus by chance our destinies
have a reason to exist
In Japanese, the name for the cording that holds up the undergarments is
“the string of flowers.” Thus
when one unties this string our most flower-like parts are exposed to each
other and the human race continues. The shape of the tiny florets of
wisteria, with their purplish-pink coloring, has long been associated with
the innermost parts of a woman and affords a graceful way of referring to
this fact by the use of the flower in poetry. Since wisteria flowers also
look as if they are hanging on a string of a stem, there is another
connection with the story of Genji’s many love affairs.
(A portion of this interview was published in the Redwood Coast Review,
edited by Stephen Kessler under the title, "Haiku Priestess" in July
Copyright © Designated Authors, 2003 - 2007.
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