Professor Ikumi Yoshimura, known worldwide as Ikuyo, is one of my favorite Japanese English language haiku poets. She's consistent, innovative, conscious of metre, and unafraid to infuse femininity into her poetry. Haiku, for hundreds of years in Japan, has been a predominately male bastion. Yoshimura is part of a rising female countenance gaining stature among haiku poets there. Her new book, elephant's eyes, is an excellent example. The poetry, written first in English, then translated by the author into her native tongue (Yoshimura teaches English at Asahi University), is evocative, subtle, and memorable.
napping in the shade
banbutsu no subete wa hitotsu hirune kana
Says Yoshimura, "Haiku is a snapshot of a scene or intuition from our daily life."
The majority of haiku poets in Japan take the inclusion of kigo reference words seriously, considering them necessary to the construction of a haiku. Yoshimura is no exception.
like elephant's eyes
heals my sorrow
haru no tsuki kanashimi wo iyasu zo ni nite
The poet paints a poignant scene in this haiku, from which the book was named. She was feeling depressed and sad; cheer was illusive. Yoshimura's mood changed when she gazed up at a full, bright Spring moon. Huge, round, and luminous, it looked like an elephant's eye. Her problems dissipated. She instantly connected with the moon, inhabiting what many refer to as an "aha!" moment. Using only eight English words and eleven syllables, the poet paints a delicate picture evoking emotion and empathy, without insulting readers by "telling all." What Yosano Akiko ascribed to tanka, is also evident in Yoshimura's haiku:
It is a poem with a middle only; its beginning lies in the poet's actual experience, and its end, if any, has to be sought in the reader's mind.
gentle breeze . . .
the voice of a tea vendor
kunpu ya ochauri no koe chikaku naru
Green tea is a subtle drink and the art of preparing it in Japan is taken very seriously. It is like a fine wine, to be sipped, swirled in the palate, and sniffed; a merry-go-round of the senses. Unlike coffee, which is pressed, boiled, percolated, or forced through a pump, tea steeps in a pot of hot water, waiting for its bouquet to blossom. Yoshimura, in her haiku, captures the essence of preparing, drinking, and buying tea with the ease of a delicate brush stroke. It is as if the haiku and the reader trade places, forming a symbiosis of transference between nature, man, and the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Yoshimura once said to me in an interview:
Of all forms of poetry, it is said that haiku is the closest to silence and is a so called "wordless" poem. I am charmed by what is not described in haiku because it gives to readers the opportunity for various kinds of imagination. This is caused by its multitude of expression. Such elements have kept me writing haiku for years. When I find a wide and deep view of life in this shortest of poetry, I feel the happiest feeling. The charming point of haiku creation is found in capturing every sensibility of the moments of sympathy between human beings and nature.
across the leek field
except the moon
negibata wo yokogiru hito nashi tsuki tenshin
The compactness of words, the breath of experience in a good haiku; these are the attributes of haiku that drew me to the genre in 1960; and they continue to guide me today down the haiku path. Close your eyes and say this poem out loud. Visualize the picture it paints in your mind. See with multiple senses the way a blind person does.
morning mist - - -
fragments of my dreams
asamoya ni yume no kakera ga kirakirari
It is easy to take the beauty of natural occurrences for granted. Yoshimura reminds us of these terrestrial treasures in this haiku, and how precious they can be when one takes the time to notice.
Like the seasons she includes in her poetry, Yoshimura's haiku reflect a variety of moods indigenous to the human spirit, including humor.
my pill is rolling
on the floor
shuryo ya ganyaku korogaru yuka no ue