SIGNS OF THE SEASONS: HAIKU AND SIGN LANGUAGE
Presentation by Linda Galloway, PhD
The Haiku Pacific Rim Conference
September 2009 Terrigal, Australia
This is an interactive presentation. In a safe and encouraging teaching environment, attendees will learn to make the signs for the four seasons, seasonal kigo from the different seasons, and will learn enough to return home being able to sign an entire haiku. This particular haiku will be a surprise disclosed during the class. Figures from a sign language dictionary are appended at the end.
I will introduce conference participants to American Sign Language for the Deaf, the visual-gestural language used by people in my country and Canada who are hearing impaired or deaf. It is a visually rich and beautiful and expressive way to communicate. Sign language poetry can with great beauty cross the boundary into poetry performance art, dance and drama, such as the professional theater group The National Theater of the Deaf (www.ntd.org).
In spoken languages people can use pitch, loudness, tone of voice and prosody to express a lot of information. In sign language, facial expression, body posture, force, speed and size of the sign replace these features of spoken language. To express sadness, one’s whole body may slump and facial features portray sadness when one signs sadness. Fast, clipped hand movements can be used to express anger. Larger hand movements can be used for emphasis, or be the equivalent of shouting. Facial expression and head movement alone can make a positive sign expression negative. Non-gestural body and facial language communicate a great deal of information to people who are deaf.
There is no universal sign language. American sign language is different from German and Japanese sign languages. American sign language is different from sign language used in England, although people in both countries speak English.
I have chosen American Sign Language for my presentation, because 1) I am familiar with it from raising a multiply handicapped step-daughter and 2) because conference participants will be able to experience for themselves the exquisite beauty and expressiveness of a visual-gestural language.
Many signs are "iconic". They look like the object or motion they represent. [Demonstration, "turtle", "wind", "clouds", "river", "tree", "walk", "jump"]. This is especially true of everyday items and events. Therefore, this makes sign language beautifully suited for haiku. Haiku very often is about everyday concrete moments. I need to stress, however, that not all signs are iconic. In fact, about 60% of signs are not.
Sign language is its own unique and real language like any other spoken language in the world, be it English, Japanese, Hindi, Quechuan or Swahili. Sign has a complete and complex grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Hand formations are highly complex. It is not finger spelling. It does have a manual alphabet, however, which is used to spell out such things as unfamiliar place names and technical words.
Sign language is not a small and limited number of gestures to communicate important survival needs, like some animal communication systems. It is not pantomime, although a signer might adjust his body to indicate important aspects of communication. For example, the signer may move her body in space to show which person is acting in the signer’s story.
Anyone who has been to the United States or watched American movies or tv has probably been struck by the wide variety of regional accents and dialects. This is true of sign language also. Looking about a room filled with people from all over the U.S., a signer would immediately recognize where any particular signer came from. There is a good spirited joking, for example, between east and west coast as to which regional sign is "superior.” A person from New York in my country is said to sign a lot faster than a person from the state of Nebraska.
Like other languages, sign has slang and popular teenage talk. Young children playing together develop their own "secret" language which only they understand. I marveled many times to see my daughter sign with her peers. I was not able to understand anything. In the US, there is a Black English Grammar for spoken English and a white English grammar. Interestingly there are also racial variants in sign language.
Like any other language, sign language shows historical change and development. Anyone who reads Shakespeare realizes that modern English is different from the language of his verse and plays. My Japanese friends will have a similar experience with Izumi Shikibu, an 11th century poet. An example from sign is the sign for winter, "three-months cold" and so on for the other seasons. The signs for many animals with prominent horns or ears used to be signed with two hands representing the ears or horns on the signer’s head. [Demonstration] They have now been simplified to one hand. [Demonstration] The two handed version is now considered to be infantile or"baby talk."
In conclusion, I would like to mention two ways sign language and signers are different from spoken languages and their speakers. I wrote above that sign languages are different around the world, and different even in two countries that have the same spoken language, such as Britain and America. It is interesting, signers from different sign languages are far more readily able to adapt quickly and develop communication with each other than speakers of two different oral languages.
In the field of child language learning there are also differences. Twelve month old infants, hearing and deaf, can begin to learn sign language. It is not until the age of 18 or 24 months that hearing children begin to learn a spoken language. A 12 month old baby has hand motor skills, but does not have the intricate control of tongue and mouth movements needed to speak language.
This is interesting in two ways. We now know that babies as young as 12 months have the intelligence to learn language. Hearing children who learn sign at 12 months are less stressed and happier than hearing children who first learn spoken language later. Sign helps hearing babies and toddlers to communicate needs earlier. Those who do not learn sign show greater stress and frustration in their lives in the second year of life than signing children.
SOLO KASEN RENGA
Renga may be written solo because one is stationed in Farawaialand, or because the others are on holiday; or, in exasperation at published renga only sporadically rengaic, or, wearied at the exhausting struggle in session to redeem the offers, innocent or perverse, of other rengistas, to show how it should be done. Maybe one wants to do
something experimental, or draw on specialised experience, and lacks the oompah to inveigle collaborators in; or is in search of a perfection apparent eventually only to oneself.
Even with this aid to perfection, the three kasen in this issue of Lynx have faults, though, verily, they are the best I can do. Some verses are renga-clichés, even haiku- clichés, banal, have little-known references; are far-fetched, are cryptic crossword clues, repeat nearby structures, give vague pictures, are distorted to make a link, are vulgar and so on. Critics may see a hectic and jumbled progression of scenes, lacking in 'aware'. Links are corny, partial (for example, on an implied word) or obscure (let he who can follow), bounced-off (onto something like an opposite), bare season (nothing else in common), or back-leaning (explaining something in the last verse instead of moving forward). [The jackpot, is to change the meaning of the last verse]. There are wishy-washy 'scent' links, accessible to only refined noses and discernible only by the author and God. Oh, wretched man that I am...the purist solo renga is as infested by weevils as the multi-voiced one.
There is one apparent fault I'll defend. A reading of all the kasen by Basho & Co translated into English* shows that there are NO regular rules for the position of Moon, Blossom, Love and Season verses. Autumn Moon at v5 & 29 are common, and some kasen have a moon group at 23-25; the Moon in all seasons may come in 1-3 and 13-15; but all of these may be changed. Similarly with blossom at 17 and 35: the latter is the most consistent placing of all, yet out of a small sample of 27 kasen it moves or disappears four times. As for Love & the seasons, both in position and number of verses (1-4), these come in ad libitum. It seems as true to say that players knew these ingredients should be put in somewhere, and inserted them either at whim or following the exigencies of composition; as it is to say that they had a seasonal template in mind on which they made conscious variation.
Nevertheless, my three solo renga in this issue of Lynx are closer in pattern to known
templates than they might be. [One is below and the other two are in the “Solo Poetry” section.]
8 Miner & Odagiri: The Monkey's Straw Raincoat . This is out of print, hard to come by & expensive. There are a number of translations by
other authors of the 4 kasen of Monkey's Raincoat, in whole or part.
4 Hiroaki Sato & Watson: From the Country of 8 Islands.Under the Tree
duplicates Beneath the Boughs in Miner & Odagiri. This splendid
anthology is relatively cheap from the online booksellers.
1 Makoto Ueda: Matsuo Basho
1 Hirano Shirane: Traces of Dreams
1 Hiraoki Satu : One Hundred Frogs (also in Basho's Narrow Road)
3 Wikipedia Renga Site: Translations by Sean Price
9 Â½ Renga Sieffert: Friches. Trans into French of Arano (1690), 1000+
hokku & 9Â½ kasen (only one with Basho¶, but all from his groups
If anyone knows of more, I hope they will write in to Lynx. All that is available should be studied before generalizing about renga. Yet I know of rengistas who have been in may sessions before looking at any of these works, as well as those who have looked, and seen what isn't there.
Maybe this is quite OK. Why learn to write like a travelling haijin from the Hokkaido Road who has had a year's exchange in 21st century Europe & USA, and picked up a new range of picaresque detail?
Do musicians learn to write five-part polyphony in the 'stilo antico'? - though I remember seeing 50+ years ago a high school music exam with the instruction “Expand the following melody in the style of Palestrina.” In fact most musicians think study of the past worth their while, and we players think renga a fascinating and complex technique open to new developments. But first things first: as well as bringing in new sights and events, it's necessary to gain some mastery of the limitless and only in part classifiable modes of linking. As admitted above, this is slippery work. There are narrative, parallel,
metaphorical, transformation links; distant and close; word and heart; and each one is original, not theoretically equal to another. Then there are the scent links attributed to Basho, though something of the sort appears in the medieval hyakuin. The category can do as much harm as good. It is often a label covering preciosity, vacuity, or sloppiness. Nevertheless, it allows a greater freedom of association: as in
if the love dies I wasn't there to see it go
the strings attached
black window white window we solve it
*from 'Verse Chain' ed Alec Finlay: In the 16 hour night, one of 7 nijuin, Matthew Poole & Fiona Templeton
where the links between each phrase are scental. Though a series of such links, not interspersed with more obvious verses, is exhausting.
Could be a catch or an lbw, or maybe she was stumped.
From our 10th floor flat we have a perfect view.
the manager is off to work in shirt sleeves by six o'clock
a stray dog halts to look head on one side
the moon poses a brilliant question about nothing at all
October? I'll need to think - my memory's going, you know.
The authorisation may or may not have been given it's all contingent.
He hasn't told me he loves me but then he never says much.
troth plighted a look and a clasp and a warming freedom
The place seems so empty; I've told him to clear out.
Power's cut off we've a camp stove, triple clothes and maybe a warm winter
everyone wears colours skating on the lake
effortless in the high notes, a shiver in the deep
the bass player lifts his instrument onto the Tube
Into the Chunnel we'll be in France before you can see the moon.
the fresh green of Spring in Flanders, Artois, Picardy*
a spray of blossom all that remains of the war-blasted croft
It'll face NE-SE to catch both sun and shade.
A fiscal conservative though sound neither on race nor female matters.
First woman as mayor and got her snout in the trough.
there's no wind but a vile and heavy smell from the West
three farts in a row trump out in the public toilet
cold and damp the lights in the shop windows have freezing haloes
the three kings, though humble are well wrapped-up
a loving child acquires names and titles for a chorus
a little girl or a syndrome smothers him in kisses?
summer dresses everything being on show is not so sexy
We start again at college in our old grey uniforms.
investigating the Gaeetic satellitation that is, the moon
some guys in space suits poking around in the dust
under the grave another, with a family and all their goods
on Friday nights, videos the children may have sweets
A fine Spring morning boots on, quick! and a bag to pick up litter.
the spattering refreshes rain from a clear sky
clouds of blossom along the hedge, a mercy pouring down
a little chat during tea on the first match of the season
1. In a recent England-Australia cricket match the umpire gave a player out caught when his bat didn't touch the ball. However, the camera showed he was probably out lbw (leg before wicket). Stumped is another way of getting out. The England women are at present the leading international side, unlike the men. v36 also refers o a cricket match.
2. 16. Flanders, Artois, Picardy. The Low Countries of Northern France, Holland, Belgium & the N German plain have been battlefields for centuries. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Prologue: The Squier, “And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie – In Flaundres, in Artoys and Pycardie”
A REBUTTAL IN DEFENSE OF THE
For the purposes of understanding and continuity, I would like to bring here the paragraph from Dick Pettit’s article on “Solo Kasen Renga” to which I would like to respond:
“There is one apparent fault I'll defend. A reading of all the kasen by Basho & Co translated into English* shows that there are NO regular rules for the position of Moon, Blossom, Love and Season verses. Autumn Moon at v5 & 29 are common, and some kasen have a moon group at 23-25; the Moon in all seasons may come in 1-3 and 13-15; but all of these may be changed. Similarly with blossom at 17 and 35: the latter is the most consistent placing of all, yet out of a small sample of 27 kasen it moves or disappears four times. As for Love & the seasons, both in position and number of verses (1-4), these come in ad libitum. It seems as true to say that players knew these ingredients should be put in somewhere, and inserted them either at whim or following the exigencies of composition; as it is to say that they had a seasonal template in mind on which they made conscious variation.”
First of all, I feel Dick, in his eagerness to discount the schema for renga, has overstated his case.
Yes, the moon verse is in a different place in the autumn renga and for a very good reason. All moon references in renga, unless otherwise noted, are considered to be autumn verses. Since the moon is given so much reverence and importance in Japanese culture and poetry, in the autumn schema is it was moved to the first verse. To repeat it at link #5 would be considered “too quick” and would cause a sense of competition of two moon verses on one page.
We also need to keep in mind that the renga genre, in Japan, was actively written, and in and out of fashion, for now over one thousand years. Naturally in that length of time, renga rules will come and go and the resulting works will reflect these changes. Add to that the fact that renga was “taught” in the oral tradition. There were very few books with the rules (the best-known one to survive is Shohaku’s Renga Rulebook of 1501 in The Road to Komatsurbara: A Classical Reading of the Renga Hyakuin translated by Stephen Carter; Harvard University Press, 1987) and most of the students learned the rules from teachers by doing renga (many, many of which are now lost) and then passing along the rules as they remembered or accepted them. I think the greater wonder is that so many of the guidelines and schema remained as consistent as they have! We English writers would have deviated, substituted, and messed with the form to changed it out of existence long before that.
In America, when renga was first introduced, if any of the rules were followed at all it was only the placement of the moon and flower verses. At that time we had no idea that the renga could have a complicated seasonal schema that included such micro-managing as the placement for love, travel, and religion verses. In the English enthusiasm for the form even the moon and flower verses were ignored. Yet today, when most renga writers know the “flower verse” means a verse about cherry blossoms, we still substitute any flower and everyone accepts that.
In Dick’s quoted paragraph he points out how placing of the moon verses can vary by two or three places. Earl Miner discusses this and points out that there was a tradition of allowing this amount of variance by calling these exceptions an “early moon” or a “late moon” and in some cases the astute writer will actually use the image of a not-quite-full or waning moon to smooth over the glitch. Though I have no examples at hand, it would be possible to make the same adjustments in the flower verse by referring to buds or to fallen petals.
This brings me to another point about doing collaborative renga. Even when the partners are following one of the schemas, people often do get over-excited by the activity in the writing of the renga and overlook the guidelines or accidentally step out of bounds. In the past few years, since the creation of “renga masters,” – something I consider ridiculous for none of us writing in English knows as much as the most provincial 17th century renga writer – it has become popular for some to set themselves up as masters, sabaki or renku masters. As far as I am concerned they can do this. And it can be that they, knowing a bit more than the eager neophytes, could be helpful and spread the joy of renga writing. If they did that it would be marvelous. However, being human, there is the temptation of acting more like a dictator than a kindly fellow poet.
Writing a collaborative poem needs more tact and psychology and manners to create a good a good working atmosphere than most activities. As is universally recognized, the real poetry in a renga is what happens between the links. When someone puts forth a link and immediately another person, renga master or other co-collaborator, points out deficiencies or inappropriate images, it is almost impossible not to cringe, feel hurt, to want to withdraw from the poem. However, when the poem is finished, when the creative spirits have been given form, when emotions have cooled, a discussion of possible changes can be had without destroying the very fabric of the poem.
I firmly believe that when writing a renga with other renga writers, missteps and outright “errors” should remain unmentioned. So you discover the other guy has repeated a word; you silently write your verse, in the best way you can, to correct the error and move on. I feel this is what has happened in the Japanese renga and from this attitude came the “moveable moons.”
In regard to “pointing out errors” one also needs to differentiate between the situation where one is teaching renga writing to those who have no knowledge of the form at all and one in which the partners have all read or even written some renga. There is also a wide difference between teaching (adding to knowledge) and correcting or critiquing.
But even with neophytes, it is possible to let the final poem express their newness, their inexperience. Instead of a renga master starting a battle of wills and education by rejecting a questionable verse, how much more educational and experienced it would be for the “master” to create a verse that accepts and includes the so-called error. Let the poem reflect the stage of learning where the writers are!
We are not yet to the stage where we can write a perfect renga. Every time we write one, our level of understanding the form, and ability to express ourselves, is set in the concrete of ink or at least bytes. Our renga are who we are. I believe that the life, and goodwill shared between partners is much more important, than having the moon at link #5.
I would also like to say, since I have offered up renga schemes as they have been given to me, that these are not like laws or even my rules. I see them as “training wheels” to hold the renga upright and offer support when it is wanted – you decide. The schema can keep all the partners “on the same page” and give a net to the tennis game. That is all.
Certainly any time someone wants to abandon any or all of the rules, I would be the last person to cast a stone. Geez, I have done this so often myself!
While writing solo renga is fun, educational, and can produce good poems, I feel the sharing that occurs during the writing of renga is what lasts beyond the words. When I read back over old renga, I remember the partner(s) and what we went through together during the creation of our poem. Solo renga can be good, but none of our minds can make the leaps, and show the variations, that a pair of minds can make. I
hope that by making collaborative renga more productive and inviting that more writers will, after writing solo renga for practice, have the courage to reach out and do a renga with another person.