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What is the vision of global haiku, or of a
global haiku movement? Can a global haiku
community be created?


Global Haiku and the Work of Jim Kacian

Richard Gilbert

Jim Kacian    By Branko Nilic, Sofia, 2000; pencil on corrugated paper. 18”x18”

Haiku is undoubtedly the most popular contemporary poetic genre, worldwide, considering the number of countries and languages in which haiku are composed, and the number of poems published per year. This fact, combined with advances in information technology, has brought about the possibility of creating an international literary community founded on common aesthetic and formal intentions—based upon the powerful ground of haiku, which has demonstrated a remarkable ability to transmit itself from Japanese soil in essential ways, overleaping language, cultural, and historical differences. In this sense, haiku seem powerfully resonant with the spirit of our time.

Yet, it has been argued recently, that literature itself is fundamentally a regional art form, best nurtured on local ground, by local organizations. The situation provoking this statement by Dimitar Anakiev, a Balkan haijin and publisher of repute, represents a conundrum resulting from the phenomenon of the global haiku. In English, the “the” found in the phrase “the global haiku” implies a unity, or a unitary literature. As this phrase becomes more frequently and loosely applied, with its implicit conception of a single international literature, Anakiev's comment begs the issue: should the concept of “global haiku” be resisted, or even spurned? This question is particularly relevant for haiku organizations now forming or remaking themselves with the intention of promoting haiku as a global art form.

What is the vision of global haiku, or of a global haiku movement? Can a global haiku community be created? Does haiku, as a global literary genre, provide a common ground for internationalism and international literary community, or is the term “global haiku” a kind of oxymoron? As a theoretical or academic matter, these points may be moot, as the future is impossible to predict; however, innovation is taking place on the ground. Particularly, I would like to mention the work and activities of Jim Kacian, an American haijin, editor and publisher, who recently presented a keynote speech: “Around the World as Briefly as Possible,” at the “Haiku Without Borders” Pacific Rim Haiku Conference, in Long Beach, California, November, 2002. The speech (forthcoming, in publication) was in part the result of a unique haiku pilgrimage, “a trip around the world in the name of haiku” begun at the millennium, involving international haiku conferences, workshops, television broadcasts, and the inauguration of regional and international organizations (quotations are from Kacian's speech).

Jim Kacian wears many hats: foremost, he is an acclaimed poet, with over 1000 haiku published in English-language journals and magazines in more than 20 countries; winner most recently, of the prestigious James Hackett Award (2002). In 1997, Kacian made his first trip to Japan, attending a landmark joint-conference held by Haiku International Association (Japan) and the Haiku Society of America. While visiting the Museum of Haiku Literature, Tokyo, the 1996 Mainichi Daily News English Haiku 2nd Prize award was presented by Kazuo Sato (Professor Emeritus, Waseda University), for the haiku:

steamy night
out in the rain

The haiku below provides a representative example of Kacian's innovative style and international impact:

the river
the river makes
of the moon

which first appeared in Kacian's book, Six Directions (1996), followed in 1997 by the First Mainichi Anthology of Prize-Winning Haiku.
[2] To date, the above haiku has been translated into Bulgarian, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Japanese, Romanian, Turkish, Serbian (et cetera), appearing in various national and international publications. In 1997, Kacian became the editor of Frogpond: Journal of the Haiku Society of America, an office he continues to hold. As founder and owner of Red Moon Press, the largest publishing house dedicated solely to haiku and related forms in English, worldwide, he has published The Red Moon Anthologies of English-Language Haiku, whose volumes are influential in the English haiku movement, due to their high standards of selection and presentations of developing trends.[3]

Mr. Kacian's travels began with the World Haiku Festival in London and Oxford, which in part examined the question: “Can haiku, the briefest genre, ever be anything more than a hothouse exotic in the reckoning of world literature?” Notable participants from over 20 countries attended this debate. Continuing on to Tolmin, Slovenia, participants from several countries, including the poets, Zoran Doderovic (Serbia), Dimitar Anakiev (Slovenia), Zinovy Vayman (Russia), Alain Kervern (Bretagne), Ban'ya Natsuishi (Japan), Ion Codrescu (Romania), and others, held the “World Haiku Conference,” marking the inauguration of the “World Haiku Association (WHA)” with Jim Kacian, Dimitar Anakiev and Ban'ya Natsuishi as its founding directors. Additional information concerning this event can be found online.

Later developments and a tremendous amount of volunteer work have produced an international website, first proposed by Kacian, “wherein all members might have space for their own work. . . .[differing] from other large and usually unedited sites…as national or regional editors…choose work which is exemplary of their place of origin, thus assuring that the local and specific is not lost in the growth of the [haiku] form internationally, but rather preserved…” The WHA website, though at an early stage of development, nevertheless presents haiku from numerous countries, in both their native language and in English in accord with the WHA mission.

Then on to Vilenica, Slovenia—the annual international literary festival held within Vilenica Cave. At the poetry reading, the Master of Ceremonies commented, “the last American to read haiku at Vilenica, some ten years ago, was Allen Ginsberg.” Indeed, one of the unique accomplishments of Red Moon Press is its promotion of Balkan haiku, introducing, through translation, a vibrant contemporary tradition to the North American and international audience, which partly explains Kacian's warm and complimentary welcome.
[5] Next, on to Skopje, where poetry is “big news”, for a televised broadcast—a relatively rare event for an international group of haijin, outside of Japan. Continuing to Sofia, Bulgaria (the first translation of haiku into to a Western language occurred here, in 1836), Kacian was asked to preside over the formation of the Bulgarian Haiku Association. Finally, at the last stop in the Balkans, Beograd, Yugoslavia, Kacian spoke at the Yugoslavian International Literary Festival, “with honorees representing more than 50 nations.”

Next, flying east to Katikati, New Zealand, where a meandering path leads the visitor on a “haiku walk”, past two-dozen boulders, each incised with an English-language haiku; “the Haiku Pathway is the single most important physical monument to what we are up to, and the only place in the world where English-language haiku is carved in stone.” Kacian's haiku is placed alone, “where the visible mountains are continually shredding the constant flow of clouds from the west”:

clouds seen
through clouds
seen through

From New Zealand, Kacian traveled on to Tasmania and then Sydney, introducing haiku and guest-teaching. Reflecting on this experience, he recollects a discussion with students at a Sydney preparatory school, concerning “the power that writing is, the power of carving out a space in the mind which is wholly our own, unassailable. We talk about how much in our lives is dictated by others—by our culture, our parents, our teachers, our friends. Writing, we decide, is a place where we are not beholden to all these influences, but only to ourselves. Writing is a room of one's own, and all the [students] agree, they would be eager to spend time in such a place.”

Reaching the end of his travels, Kacian traveled through Japan, enjoying discussions with various haijin, as well as introducing English haiku in local areas, finally ending his journey in my hometown of Kumamoto, where he was able to visit the Mt. Aso countryside and renew his energy, as we enjoyed bathing in several onsen. He writes: “I feel soothed, utterly at peace, as though the kami of the spring has entered me, melted away my cares…”

As of this writing, the WHA has found a new center of operations in Japan, with Ban'ya Natsuishi continuing to direct its operations. The WHA “Second World Haiku Conference” is to be held in Tenri, Japan, October 3-5, 2003. Though Kacian and Anakiev have now moved on, the WHA, still a fledgling organization, remains imbued with the spirit of their vision, and their attendance is hopefully anticipated. Reflecting on his haiku journey, Kacian comments to his audience, “haiku is capable of connecting people, as it has done here with us, bringing us to a common point of appreciation, helping us to appreciate difference rather than fear or despise it, allowing us to seek larger solutions rather than retreat into the smaller domains of nationalistic or culturalistic thought.” The fearless “appreciation of difference” will likely prove to be the key necessary ingredient required to successfully establish global haiku as a literary movement.

Among the many aphorisms penned by Wallace Stevens, a poet influenced by the Japanese poetic aesthetic, one in particular may apply metaphorically to Kacian, as haiku poet, publisher and educator: “a poem is a meteor.”
[6] Certainly, poets and readers acquainted with haiku in English, as well as other languages, have become aware of his protean activities, which seem to blaze new arcs of possibility across horizons. Stevens' image yields a view of poetic vision manifesting on the Earth, innovating forms and enriching cultural soil. One hopes that the legacy of Jim Kacian, both as poet and emissary of the contemporary spirit of haiku, will continue to bear fruit.

Richard Gilbert, 2003


[1]  The speech, in diary form, may be read here
[2]  From the Japanese, “dai-i-kai-mainichi haiku shou-sakuhinshyu” (my translation).
[3]  Red Moon Press
[4]  Report on the World Haiku Conference in Tolmin, Slovenia (8 September 2000).
[5]  Most recently: “At the Tombstone”, by Dimitar Anakiev; illustrations by Dragan Peric; (Red Moon Press, 2002).
[8]  Wallace Stevens, “Opus Postumous” (New York: Knopf, 1980), p. 158.