Sunday, February 8, 2015

Haiku Inspirations by Tom Lowenstein with Victoria James

This New Year's I went to the Gulf Coast to visit my parents and sister's family.  Needless to say we spent a lot of time on the beautiful beaches of Destin and Grayton Beach.  What can I say?  Miles of blinding white sand, sand pipers, sea one but us because of the cold season-except a few crazy northerners braving the frigid water.  In the winter the sun takes an hour to set on the horizon and the colors are so brilliant.

I always like to go to Barnes and Noble afterward, which is on the way back home.

We arrive at the store. Derek, my son immediately loses himself in the aisle of graphic novels.  After I look at the bargain books, I treat my mother and myself to coffee where we visit.  This is our tradition every time I come home.  I tell her as I tell myself that, other than the half price Christmas cards, I'm not buying anything.  Nothing.  Nada.  I don't need any more books.  My mother laughed and sipped her coffee.  She knows me too well.

I almost made it.  I almost spent a pleasant couple of hours in a bookstore without buying any books. We were walking towards the exit when I saw it.   A beautiful hardback about one of my favorite forms of poetry:  Haiku Inspirations by Tom Lowenstein and Victoria James.  I left the store with it  (and a  hardback of Robert Frost's poems, but that's another post.)

On the way back to Texas I let Derek drive so I could read my treasure.  Even when we stopped at a Denny's for dinner, I brought the book in to read.  Haiku: Inspirations was even more than I originally thought it was.  Yes it is a book of Haiku but it contains even more.

 Lowenstein and  James divide into brief chapters the history of Haiku, the original authors of Haiku, and their different styles, the Buddhist and Shinto beliefs that inspired the art form, and the different reigning families  that supported and developed art and literature in Japan.

 From the Tale of Genji: Court Life

They also give a concise history of Japan, from their Chinese influences to where they eventually broke out into their own uniquely Japanese style.  We learn about Society and Court life, the symbols and different beliefs such as Zen, Koans, about suffering, transience pilgrimage and how these different beliefs affect Haiku writing.

They describe the development of arts and culture such as calligraphy, ink painting, Japanese gardens, tea ceremony and music, dance and theater.  

The chapters are accompanied by paintings and photos of Japan as well as Haiku.  The introduction gives a brief description of the structure and form.  For instance, Haiku can only use "essential words" and 17 syllables.  Classic haiku is three line long, with 5-7-5 "syllables".  Of course, some of the structure will necessarily be lost when Japanese is translated into English. 
Another attribute is "kigo".  This means "season word" which "suggests the mood and atmosphere governing the poem."    Sometimes the name of the season is included in the Haiku, other times it is implied when a seasonal attribute is mentioned, such as a flower that only blooms in summer or the rainy season, implying spring etc.

Here are a couple of samples:

Hazy morning:
as in a painting of a dream
the people passing.

Moon behind the grasses.
Wind blows through.
The cry of a cuckoo.
Come to me:
let's play
little sparrow orphan!

The book is a delight both to the eyes with the paintings and photos and the ears and mind with its descriptions of Japanese history and culture and, of course, the Haiku which includes authors from different philosophies and time periods.


  1. It seems to be a common ailment that most bookish people share, that is, we cannot control ourselves when it comes to books!

    I really want to read more traditional Haiku. This books looks terrific. I really like the paintings that you posted.

    1. Thanks Brian! I am actually on a book fast right now. Things were getting out of hand. It's going to last through to Easter. I'm already thinking of books I'm going to "reward" myself with for being "so good."
      Assuming I endure.

  2. Hello Shanon. Good to know you through your profile on the bloger and the blog post. I am so glad to stop by your blog which has beautiful art work pictures. I am so glad to know your love for the Lord. I am in the Pastoral ministry for last 35yrs sin the great city of Mumbai, India a city with great contrast where richest of rich and the pooret of poor live. We reachout to the poorest of poor with the love of Christ to bring healing to the broken hearted. We also encourage youing poeple as well as adults f rom the West to come to MUMBAI to work with us in the slums of Mumbai during their vacation time. Since your nest is empty we would love to have you and your husband Josh to come to Mumbai or send your gown up children to work with us during your vacation time. I am sure you will have a life changing experience. My email id is: dhwankhede(at)gmail(dot)com and my name is Diwakar wankhede. Looking forward to hear from you very soon. God's richest blessings on you.

    1. Diwakar: Thanks so much for visiting my blog. I would love to hear more about your ministry in Mumbai. I appreciate your invite and would like to stay in touch with you. I will put your e mail in my contacts list. I am praying for your ministry and what the Lord might have for Josh and I in connection to it. Take care and many blessings on you, your family, and your ministry.

  3. Sharon,

    Haiku are a great favorite of mine. I don't have the book that you are reading, but I have all three haiku in slightly different translations.

    1. Fred: I only have this one book plus one by Basho. It's a genre I'm only acquainted with but hope to make time to experience more deeply.

    2. Sharon,

      What's the title of the one by Basho?

    3. Fred: It's called, "The Narrow Road to the Deep North". Here's my review of it:

    4. Sharon,

      That's the same translation that I have--the Penguin edition.. The portrait of Basho is on the cover of my copy.

    5. Your saying translation opens up a whole other topic. I wonder what is the best or most accurate translation.

    6. Sharon,

      When the issue of translation arose in class, this is a handout I gave my students in Intro LIt or a writing class:

    7. Thanks for the link. I found the different versions of the same Haiku very interesting. I have the same questions about translations of my favorite Russian authors. Once I read the same book side by side from two different translators. They were saying the same thing but using different words. Still one used a more dramatic technique. But was it more accurate? Unless I become fluent in Russian I won't know.

    8. Sharon,

      I can choose which of the various translations I like best, but that doesn't answer the question of which is the most accurate. I suspect your last sentence is correct: one must become fluent in the language, otherwise you must rely on others.

    9. And while I am realistic about not being able to gain fluency in every language that I would like, it bothers me as well. I think there is a mind set and culture that one has to belong to in order to fully understand native literature. I guess I can't sweat it, though and just enjoy what I can on the level that I'm on.

    10. Sharon,

      That's the way I feel also. It's better to get something from a translated work, than be a purist who argues against reading anything except in its own language.

    11. Have you ever read "Tale of Genji"? I very much enjoyed that book even though the medieval aristocracy of Japan infused their conversation with poem and saga references. My copy wasn't annotated which would have been helpful but I was still able to gather the gist of what they were saying to each other.

    12. Sharon,

      Not yet. I have _The Tale of Genji_ in my TBR bookcase, gathering dust, and it does have footnotes, fortunately. OOTD I will pull it out, dust it off, and dig right in.

    13. I hope you enjoy it. It's very long but worth reading if you are interested in Medieval Japanese culture. At least how the royalty lived.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.