Haiku in Germany

It has long been a bit of a mystery as to why the haiku or related forms has not been popular in Germany. One cannot imagine a poetic climate better suited for the transplanting of haiku.

Here, where the people have a long tradition of respect and appreciation of poetry, where the folk are by nature precise and succinct with words, where the landscape is varied and beautiful; filled with people walking or hiking in all kinds of weather. No one takes more journeys than the Germans. No one is so knowledgeable about where to go and what to see.

Everyone, it seems, has an answer for the haiku situation in Germany. Many agree with Imma von Bodmershof that it is that so many persons, in Germany and the world, "without knowing the religious life" or the lack of the outlook which comes as a result of Zen living.

Strong within the German soul is a streak of melancholy that comes through their haiku. This tendency can also be found in Japanese tanka (and can be a weakness there, also). Haiku, which grew out of a resistance to tanka, has, among the masters, very little of this. Stressing the positive, the active, they were able to sidestep the questions of "where am I going?", "and why?, and "for what?" by concentrating on the now-moment.

Over the past twenty years, while Canada and United States were blossoming with new poets and groups of poets, Germany has experienced only a few flowers unfolding in isolation.

Under the influence of Rainer Maria Rilke's writing of haikai in the last years of his life (1920's), many poets tried writing a few haikai almost as a pastime. None took it as seriously as did Rilke, who wrote most of his in quatrains, and in French, many of which still have not been successfully translated into either German or English.

In 1939, in Vienna, an expert on Chinese and Japanese, Anna von Rottauscher, had published her translations of Japanese haiku under the title Ihr gelben Chrysanthemen [Your Golden Chrysanthemums]. In spite of the interruption of the times and war, this book has continued to be reprinted and is available yet today in a fancy gift edition.

Another Swiss woman, Flandrina von Salis published in the summer of 1955 her book Mohnblüten: Abendländische Haiku [Poppies: Oriental Haiku] by the Vereinigung Oltner Bücherfreunde [Club of Oltner Book Friends]. Through Flandrina von Salis continued to write and publish other books of lyric poetry, this was her first book and only book of haiku though it is reported that at the time of death she was preparing another book of haiku.

Though in Germany the war stopped the exchange of poetry on one level, yet right after the war, its influence was manifested in another, more positive way. Men who had become translators in Japanese were exposed to the culture through the study of literature, and began translating poems. Of these was Manfred Hauseman, R. Coudenhove-Calergi, Erwin Jahn, and Jan Ulenbrook.

From this sporadic interest in haiku was manifest; but a pattern seemed to be set that has persisted up until about 1988. Though individuals became enthusiastic, writing and publishing, they remained autonomous; refusing interaction with other countrymen. There was no national group although small groups met in Berlin around 1950 with individuals such as Rolf Schott (1892-1977) who published in "eight European Seventeen Syllable [Poems] in the Pattern of the Japanese Haiku."

There was also Karl Kleinschmidt who began writing haiku in 1953, but here again no groups were formed and the Japanese principle of a master with students or disciples was unheard of. None of these groups interacted with the other and the books published were small and available only from the author. Consequently, nearly all have been lost.

In Vienna a group was formed around H.C Artmann (1921-) in the early fifties and it is possible that it was the influence from here which inspired the first poet to publish haiku over the several years of the rest of her life.

Imma von Bodmershof was born on August, 10th, 1895 in Graz, Austria; the daughter of the founder of the Gestalt Theory, Christian Freiherr von Ehrenfels. Through early contact with the expert on Hölderlin, Norbert von Hellingrath, Rilke and the group around Stefan George, she was influenced in her development of a literary career. From 1925, she and her husband, Dr. Wilhelm von Bodmershop managed the manor Rastback in the lower Austrian forest.

At first (1937) she wrote novels and collections of short stories and in 1962 Hajo Jappe chose a selection of her works to be published under the title, Unter acht Winden or Under Eight Winds. This could show that through their co-production, haiku was a factor as in that same year Imma von Bodmershof published her first book of poetry -- Haiku. Though Frau von Bodmershof also maintained a home in Vienna, one wonders how much contact or the importance of the contact with Hajo Jappa (who later published haiku) and Anna von Rottauscher she had. Imma von Bodmershof writes in the introduction to her book, Sonnenuhr [Sundial] the following rather charming story.

"The manuscript with mine first German haiku was already with the publishers Langen-Müller, when the Frankfurter Allegeinen Newspaper came out with a long article about the Japanese haiku which was written by Erwin Jahn who had taught German literature for 30 years in the universities of Kyoto and Tokyo.

After a deep analysis of the Japanese art of haiku, the article ended with the comment that true haiku could not be produced in Europe. The reasons were: first, that no poets here live in the close togetherness with nature as do the haiku masters in Japan, and secondly, because this art can only grow out of the basis of Zen culture, from which Europeans are cut off.

Dr. Schondorf, who headed the Langen-Müller Publishing, sent me the article without comment. That left only one thing to do. To send my manuscript to Professor Jahn. His opinion would decide, and I was prepared to accept it, however it would turn out.

The letter, that he then sent to me, belongs to the loveliest that I have ever received, and began a friendship that lasted until his death. I should not worry, he wrote, my haiku fulfill all the requirements for the future German haiku poems. He described how his reading of my work felt like being taken into shady Shinto shrine forest after a long hike through glowing hot Japanese rice fields.

With that was the decision to publish my haiku book in Germany."

Through her close association with Erwin Jahn, Imma von Bodmershof's contacts with other persons concerning haiku were concentrated in Japan she kept informed of haiku activities in North America, citing in her book, Sonnenuhr, contact with Aric Amann in Canada. Through this it came about that her haiku were translated by Claire Pratt and the essay written by Wilhem von Bodmershof, "Studie über das Haiku" from the book, Im Fremden Garten, was translated into English to be published in Milkweed, edited by Marshall Hycuik in 1988.

Though Imma von Bodmershof did not have students or disciples in the way Japanese masters did, she, and her husband, were aware of the need to educate and share information about the Japanese culture and literature. Each of her books contains, not only her poems but always a healthy portion of education with them.

Being outspoken, Imma von Bodmershof, was also very critical of the haiku being written in Japan as well as the first efforts made by Germans. In many of her letters to Dr. Sabine Sommerkamp, she repeatedly refers to the misuse of haiku by the uninformed. She maintained that one could not "write" haiku but could only "meet" them and then put down the words. Yet she implied that what most wrote down were not pure haiku.

As she was critical with herself, rewriting her own haiku many times, she was also exact and blunt with others.

For poets and authors who were already publishing, this was often very hard to take, especially when they found in her work, what they thought to be detrimental weaknesses. Still, her poems and her efforts inspired many; including myself, up until her death stopped our flow of letters in August of 1982.

For most American haiku writers, the name they think of when reference is made to German haiku, is Gunther Klinge. For almost 20 years he has continued to write and publish his haiku in America and Japan. Here, Ann Atwood has been active in not only translating the haiku, but co-operating with Gunther Klinge on two books and regularly submitting his work to the haiku magazines. In most German book stores one will find his books in the poetry section. Somewhat of a recluse, he has relied on his poetic works and not any other efforts.

Hans Kasdorff, has taken a softer view. His book, Augenblick und Ewigkeit [One Moment and Eternal], has as authors both his name and his wife's, Hilde Kasdorff, when in fact, all the haiku are written by him. In this way, he has given her credit for living the haiku way with him and thus, indirectly, author of the work. Almost a third of the book is a very illuminating essay, "Über das Haiku."

Other events and other attempts were made with the object of illuminating the paths between haiku writers in Germany. Unfortunately, one after another, they became as brief as the glow of fireflies on a summer night.

"Ersten bundesdeutschen Haiku-Biennale" [The First German Haiku Biennale] met in Bottrop in 1979 with 20 persons attending to discuss what directions the haiku writing should take.

From 1981-85 Dr. Sabine Sommerkamp, Hamburg, was correspondent for "Haiku Spektrum", a feature section which was given to haiku and tanka in the literary magazine, apropos. When Karl-Heinz Backer, editor, ceased publication of his magazine, no one was able to continue the endeavor.

Just outside of Hamburg, lives Ilse Hensel who over the years has written and published her haiku and renga in Germany and America. Currently her chapbooks, grünfiedrig herab neigt sich der Phönixbambus... [with greenfeathers the Phonixe bamboo bends itself] and ...unterm vogelschrei, [...under bird cries] are appearing under Edition He.

Karl Heinz Kurz had, over the years, been writing vast amounts of haiku and renga published under Verlag zum Haben Bogen [Publisher of Half Sheets] which have been distributed around the world.

In 1988, Margaret Buerschaper, of Vechta, organized Der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft e.V. [German Haiku Society]. Suddenly "things" began coming together. Drawing on her ten years of writing and publishing poetry, and close cooperation with Carl Heinz Kurz, along with the full endorsement of the Japanese Consulate in Bonn, Margaret Buerschaper has seemingly started the ball to finally rolling.

A quarterly magazine, Vierteljahresschrift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft [Quarterly of the German Haiku Society] edited by Margaret Buerschaper fills 32 pages with articles supporting various views, reports on happenings in Europe, haiku and senryu by members, book reviews.

In addition to this publishing avenue, Frau Buerschaper edits a series of 4 x 6 32 page chapbooks under the name of Pocket Print im Graphikum for haiku and senryu.

For the publication of sequences, renga, and tanka collections, she publishes slimmer chapbooks in the half-page size.

With the financial support of the Japanese Consulate, full sized, perfect bound books of members' collective works are appearing. In addition to a members' anthology, in which each was allowed two full pages to design and edit themselves, a complete collection of the renga written in German have also been issued.

Not content with these activities, Margaret Buerschaper is very active in writing, working at once on several renga with different persons, most of which are then published.

In contrast to other haiku societies in which anyone with a checkbook can join, the DGH is now, after being established, limiting membership by screening applicants for certain requirements. Instead of having a loose organization, it becomes an honor to be accepted and a witness that one is really a writer of haiku.

Yearly meetings consisting of a weekend have been begun. With a full and varied program, these retreats are attracting writers, not only to absorb inspiration and to meet fellow-writers, but as a chance to see and write in another landscape.

In these few years of beginning, one can already see results. Some very promising talent is being discovered (both men: Conrad Miesen and Rudy Junger). By the distribution of the works of such persons, along with the openness to look at what everyone is writing, there is real promise that the sleeping haiku spirit in Germany will awaken to fulfill all the hints and promises it has made.

Imma von Bodmershof quote from a private letter to Dr. Sabine Sommerkamp, March, 25, 1980.

Anna von Rottauscher. Ihr gelben Chrysanthemen. Vienna:Walter Scheuermann Verlag, 1939 and later editions.

Carl Heinz Kurz, "Mohnblüten und Wahrnehmungen" in the German Haiku Society's quarterly Viertelhahresschift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft, IV:1, February 1991.

Manfred Hausmann. Liebe, Tod und Vollmondnächte. Frankfurt am Main: Fisher Verlag, 1951.

Erwin Jahn. Fallende Blüten. Japanische Haiku-gedichte Zurich: Die Arche, 1968.

Jan Ulenbrook. Haiku. Japanischer Dreizeiler. Translated from the Ancient Texts by Jan Ulenbrook. Wiesbaden: Inselverlag, 1960

Imma von Bodmershof. Sonneuhr. Salzburg: Stifterbibliothek Salzburg; Newgebauer Press Bad Goisern, Austria, 1970. Translation: Jane Reichhold.

This resulted in the book, Löwenzahn -Die aug 17 Silben verküzten Haiku-. Imma von Bodmershof. Matsuyama, Japan:Verlag Itadori-Hakkosho, September 20, 1979. The remarkable on this edition are the appendix. One is by Hans Karsdoff, who writes explanations for 40 of the haiku. Then is an essay concerning a meeting with Imma von Bodmershof written by Gertrud von Heiseler, followed by tables compiled by Hajo Jappa showing and explaning the revisions Frau von Bodmershof made in these haiku (which were the same 99 published in 1962). Then Dr. Sabine Sommerkamp explains the season words used in ten of Imma von Bodmershof's haiku, which is followed by Akada Toyoji writing of a haiku journey made from Japan through Europe. At the end are biographies of each writer.

Imma von Bodmershof. Im Fremden Garten -99 Haiku. Zürich:Im Verlag der Arche, 1980. This book contains, in addition, an essay by her husband, Wilhem von Bodmershof explaning the Japanese meanings of various subjects plus instructions on how to write haiku.

Milkweed. Edited by Marshall Hyrciuk. ??,1988.

Hans und Hilda Kasdorff. Augenblick und Ewigkeit. Bonn: Bouvier, 1986.

apropos -Zeitschrift für Kunst, Lierature, Kritik,was edited and published from 1980-85 by Karl Heinz Backer in Lauingen/Donau.

Frau Hensel has a haiku in The Haiku Handbook and a renga done with Jane Reichhold in German and translated into English printed in Tigers in a Tea Cup, (1988) and reprinted in Narrow Road to Renga (1989).

Under Frau Buerschaper's leadership, there is shown a concer for deciding what shall be called haiku and which work is senryu. Having discovered that not only is the difference between the two often very slim, they are permoting a new designation, senku, or hai-sen.

Bio-Bibliographie Der Mitglieder Der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft Margaret Buerschaper and Dr. Tadao Araki, editors and publishers. Frankfurt am Main: 1990.

Gemeinsames Dichten Eine Deutsche Renku-Anthology, Sonderausgabe der "Deutsch-Japanischen Begegnungen im Lande Hessen". Dr. Tadao Araki, editor and publisher. Frankfurt am Main: 1990.

Haiku in the Netherlands

It's interesting to note how many of the women in the Netherlands discovered haiku. In the early 70's, a woman writing under the name of J. van Tooren, became unhappy with the Dutch translations which were second generation, having been made from English translations of the Japanese. Though already a grandmother, she studied Japanese in order to make her translations direct from the original. In 1973 these were published as Haiku Een jonge maan [Haiku A Young Moon], a book which is still in print and still wining enthusiasts for haiku.

Haiku Een jonge maan is masterfully conceived. On the very first page is a Woord vooraf: De weg van haiku begint in Zen quoted from Hasumi Toshimitse. Then begins an essay on the character of haiku for about one third of the book. The rest is comprised of selections of haiku translated from the accepted Japanese masters. These are divided into the seasons.

The book has another division. Like this one -- that's where the idea came from -- it has text on one side and quotations relating to the text on the left side. In the haiku section, however, the haiku appear on the right side, with comments or explanations on the left.

Retelling of how she came to write Haiku Een jonge maan J. van Tooren explains it thus: "Since early youth I was fascinated by foreign languages, especially if generally unknown and seeming to a hide a deep meaning. In childhood I taught myself the Runes from Jules Verne, and much later, the Egyptian hieroglyphs of the Middle Empire and a good deal of the wonderful Sanskrit. As a student of Law at Leiden University, I amused myself translating poetry, most of it English; just for the fun of it. Long before this, I wrote many poems in Dutch which were published in weekly and monthly magazines. However, I tore all of these up as they did not satisfy me. Then followed years of active life; social-judical work at the Philips Company, marriage, a child, many-fold social contacts and only a few religious poems were published in the weekly Remonstrant Brotherhood. Then suddenly, at the age of 60, I was stuck to the core by the Japanese haiku, in the beautiful, if rather free translation (22 syllables) from Harold Stuart. Immediately I translated them. So should poetry be, I thought: short, simple, objective, suggesting instead of saying a deeper meaning.

Then I got hold of the literal, but flowing translation by R.H. Blyth, with the Japanese text in characters and transcription. That was the real thing! Thirteen years after the publication of Haiku - Een jonge maan, followed Senryu - de waterwilgen [the water willows] and then Tanka - Het lied van Japan [A Song from Japan].

The other method of spreading the good news about haiku spawned such stories:

"About six years ago I listened by chance to a radio program Blauwe Maandag [Blue Monday] of which part of it was "10 Minutes of Haiku" read by Bob Verstraiete. I fell in love with the little poems and listened for it again the next week. It was spring and while walking through the meadow I saw a pewit hiding in the grass and my first haiku came to me." from Gaby Bleijenbergh.

On this weekly radio show, were read the works submitted by listeners which encouraged many people to send their first haiku to him along with their experiences such as this one by Lutha van Heerde.

"In February 1981 in the living room with both feet on the heater. It was a very cold day and I had done some work out behind the house in my slippers, without a coat. When I came in the radio was still on and there was the program called "Blue Monday". Bob Verstraete was speaking about haiku. I thought, that's wonderful, could I do this? I did and later some of my haiku were read on this program.

From answers to the questions used in the research for this book one receives more than just an inkling of the ways in which haiku groups in Canada, Japan, Germany, England, Denmark, Holland and Belgium were organized. Of these, one cannot help comparing the efficiency of the Dutch with their example in Japan. Their connectedness is one of the factors that made haiku so popular in the Netherlands.
The overall organization is called Haiku Kring Nederland [Haiku Circle of the Netherlands], which means that it covers not only Holland, but also includes Flanders in Belgium which has it's own sister-group named "Haiku Centrum Vlaanderen" [Haiku Center of Flanders]. With editors representing both groups (Adri van den Berg, Holland and Bart Mesotten, from Belgium) they publish a quarterly magazine in Dutch called Vuursteen [Fire Stone; referring to flint stones] which contains many articles about haiku writing, news of the various regional cell groups, book reviews and a selection of haiku.

They also publish yearly a calendar with a member's haiku featured each week along with drawings by a selected artist.

Vuursteen has at present about 350 subscribers, some of which are in Africa and Asia. By comparing the number of subscribers to the Dutch haiku magazine, and taking into consideration their population, to Haiku Canada Newsletter or frogpond, one easily sees that the Dutch organization is making a difference in the care and nurturing of haiku.

The difference is that in Holland there are over twenty autonomous "cell" groups meeting on schedules varying from a group in Flanders that meets yearly, to Utrecht with semi-yearly meetings, to some who meet seasonally (four times), to the members in Amsterdam, Hague, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, North-Velsen who meet every four to six weeks. Twice a year the Haiku Kring Nederland meets to discuss agenda points, the reading and judging of haiku, companionship and exchange.

The regional groups are based on gratifying the needs of their members comprised of 5-15 persons per group in various ways. Programs include lectures on haiku, visits by other haiku writers, reading and discussion of the work, trips to local scenic places for inspiration and exchange, holding readings in libraries and at festivals.

A few groups emphasize growth and learning by giving themselves writing tasks, holding workshops, submitting haiku in advance for discussion and criticism at the next meeting. Some groups emphasize "living the haiku way" using meditation, Zen instruction, discussion of life-styles and values.

For members living too far away to attend group meetings they have a system called Haiku Koerier [Haiku Courier] with which the members correspond (or telephone) with each other on a fairly regular basis to share and discuss haiku. This encourages exchange between groups as members who have met through regional or national meetings to keep up contact and information. One interviewee mentioned driving a long distance once a month to visit a haiku teacher for private instruction.

Within this system there were the loners who answered that they belonged to no group; needed no group but understood that others did or wished that they could find a group meeting their needs or standards of writing.

Evidently, and being realistic, not all is perfect. One woman wrote that the groups tend to be too strict in following the examples of Japanese clubs and another wrote that she felt their haiku movement to be ingrown, lacking contact with international activities in haiku.

From this investigation, it seems the greater number of women still using syllable count for their work and as a definition of a haiku. "I'm most attracted to the Basho School, teaching the two elements of the temporal and the eternal. and haiku being the contact point. The two poles create the field of tension, over which the poet tries to make the spark spring, Haiku has to be simple, selfless, light, universal...even bare." a statement from Gusta van Gulick which shows a reverence for tradition but the door is open for change as in Heidi van Schuylenbergh's words,"We use the 5-7-5 rule even though we know the great Japanese masters varied it. If the haiku impression is luminous - there is no need to count."

It appears that other Dutch women have strong inner rules for writing haiku which go beyond mere syllables as in Hermy Blumenthal's statement, "the 'feeling' and 'sound' of the words must be good, more important that to stay by the 5-7-5 rule." and Nanneke Huizinga wrote, "I try to compose my haiku and senryu out of three equal parts instead of cutting up a sentence into three parts. I try to bring into them the movement, flow of a wave rising to its peak and ebbing away." Haiku seem to appear, wanting to be written although the process of getting them on paper may involve a lot of hard work."

Only a few were venturing into subject matter concerning the nuclear threat, war, city scenes and sexual preferences. Increasingly one sees Dutch writers submitting to Mainichi Daily News "Haiku Column", Haiku Canada's Haiku Sheets, and Mirrors.

Though a few women (Zimmerman, Witteveen,Timmermans,van Thor-Braun, Truus Soutendijk, Oostenbroek, Lievaart, and Hoedemaliers have published several chapbooks of their haiku (or often, tanka) the majority of male and female haiku writers in the Netherlands do not publish books. It could be that having local groups where one can read and share the latest works and ideas lessens the need to put out a book of one's own haiku. Also the compactness of distances means that each writer knows the other and books are not the carriers of personality as they are in much larger countries.

Another factor could be that the Netherlands have no publisher that exclusively produces haiku books, no editor seeking to further this genre and these writers. Thus, each author must seek anew either a printer to self-publish or an editor who is not well-informed specifically about haiku.

The books that are published tend to be extremely well-done, professional printers and binders doing even the slimmest chapbooks. The fad of mini-chapbooks has not yet arrived here. This is even more significant when one realizes how that only about 4-6 pages of the average 38 page Vuursteen is given to printing the submitted haiku; the rest contains articles. Perhaps more women ascribe to the thinking expressed by Gusta van Gulick, ""I'm rather afraid of publishing. What attracts me is the fleetingness of haiku: touch and go."

Kairos, a publishing group in Soest, Holland has compiled two anthologies of Dutch haiku from Netherlands and Flanders. In 1981, Haiku - Een Vroege Pluk [??] containing 60 pages and in 1984 Haiku - Een Vierkantefe Zon [Haiku - A four-sided Sun] appeared which had 65 pages.

Judging from the responses to the survey, Zen seems to be a more important aspect of haiku writing. Perhaps even more noteworthy, was the number of women writing of mystical experiences in connection with their search for haiku. Though reading the translated haiku available, one rarely finds references to this, there seems a vast potential for haiku to develope out of other life experiences than those which have been taught as examples.

When one reads "Once I had a dream about my deceased son coming alive again. I wrote a double senryu just for myself." Yha Frijlink or Thea Witteveen who wrote, "Once, as I looked at a beautiful old oak tree, I noticed another one that I had never seen before be hind it. At the same time as the appearance of that tree disappeared I very strongly realized the process that was going on in the interior and exterior of such a tree. In a flash I became aware of life in it, not analytically or intellectually, that contemplation came afterwards, no, it seemed as if the whole complicated play of up and down, to and fro, backwards and forwards, streamed through me. It was a total perception. The existence of the tree in all his power and personality, coincided for a moment with the intensive awareness of my own existence. It lead to the following haiku:

deze herfstmiddag
werd de boom achter de boom
plotseling zichtbaar

this fall afternoon
the tree behind the tree
suddenly visible

As response to the question, What was your most interesting experience with haiku." Truus Soutendijk wrote, "I saw my husband in our forest between the trees in lilac evening light. He was one with nature. Though I was near him, I saw him and through trees at a distance as if I were in orbit and everything was very tiny."

Perhaps part of this trend is explained in Nanneke Huizinga's comment on the questionnaire: "By the way, you didn't ask our age . The haiku writers I know are all well over 50. Could life, a reverting from the big issues of youth to a reflection on all living and lasting things? Being less preoccupied and busy with one's basic needs there is in later life more room for haiku to come into being."

Copyright © Jane Reichhold 1986.
Quotes © by designated authors 1986.

Go to the next chapter.
Go to the anthology of Dutch and German Women.
Go to the Table of Contents of Those Women Writing Haiku.