Keynote: The pleasures of haiku: From Basho to Shiki and beyond
This is a video of the keynote by Janine Beichman (Professor Emerita, Daito Bunka University) for the "Haiku as World Literature: A Celebration of the 150th Birthday of Haiku Poet Masaoka Shiki", which took place on October 12 & 13, 2017 at Barristers Hall, Boston University. Recorded on October 12, 2017 by the Geddes Language Center.
Haiku is a "globe-trotting" form now, as the website for this symposium says, but a little more than a century ago it was moribund and about to die out. Masaoka Shiki and his group of dedicated fellow poets revived it, as we know. The how of haiku's rebirth is pretty well mapped out—Shiki's brilliant essays in defense of the form, which argued so compellingly for its right to be called literature in the modern sense, and the poetry of Shiki and his friends, which demonstrated persuasively that haiku could express the thoughts and feelings of modern people. In contrast, the why is not so clear. That is, why was haiku able to inspire the solicitude and the loyalty of Shiki and his friends? What is it about the form and its traditions that fired them with such passion? Whatever it was, it is still there today. One of the things that reading haiku teaches us is that there are many ways, to borrow from Wallace Stevens, to look at a blackbird, or, in this case, haiku—not just a particular poem, but the form itself. In preparing this keynote, I knew the twenty or so haiku I wanted to talk about but I was not sure of the most effective order to arrange them in. As I played around with that, I began to see them in a new way, through the prism of two sets of complementary qualities: mindfulness and imagination on the one hand, lightness and stickiness on the other. Both have to do with the generosity of haiku and I think it may be this quality, a kind of generosity in the form itself, that spells the why.