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 gulls...no 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.
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: