Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Carpe Diem Haiku Writing Techniques #16 (Shiki's) Shasei

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

It's Wednesday and so it is time for another episode of Carpe Diem Haiku Writing Techniques. This time I have chosen to tell you something more about shasei, a haiku writing technique created by Shiki (1867-1902), the haiku poet who brought haiku it's name and brought haiku into the 20th century.
The word "shasei" has not yet been invented at the time of Basho, but the idea was there according to what Basho tells his disciples:

[...] Matsuo Basho advises his disciples: “Learn from the Pine!”To do that you must leave behind you all subjective prejudice. Otherwise you will force your own self onto the object and can learn nothing from it. Your poem will well-up of its own accord when you and the object become one, when you dive deep enough into the object, to discover something of its hidden glimmer. [...]

Credits: Japanese stamp with image of Masaoka Shiki
On the background of this stamp you can read the following haiku by Shiki:

Come spring as of old.
When such revenues of rice.
Braced this castle town!

© Masaoka Shiki

It's a good example of this shasei technique. What is the shasei technique? Let me try to explain that to you all with the help of Jane Reichhold.

Though this technique is often given Shiki's term Shasei (sketch from life) or Shajitsu (reality), it has been in use since the beginning of poetry in the Orient. The poetic principle is "to depict the thing just as it is". The reason Shiki took it up as a poetical cause, and this made it famous,  was his own rebellion against the many other techniques used in haiku. Shiki was, by nature it seemed, against whatever was the status quo - a true rebel. If older poets had overused any idea or method, it was his personal goal to point this out and suggest something else. This was followed until someone else got tired of it and suggested something new. This seems to be the way poetry styles go in and out of fashion.
Thus, Shiki hated associations, contrasts, comparisons, wordplays, puns, and riddles - all the things we are cherishing here! He favored the quiet simplicity of just stating what he saw without anything else happening in the haiku. He found the greatest beauty in the common sight, simply reported exactly as it was seen, and ninety-nine percent of his haiku written in his style. Many people still feel he was right. There are some moments that are perhaps best said as simply as possible in his way. Yet, Shiki himself realized in 1893, after writing very many haiku in this style, that used too much, even his new idea could become lackluster. So the method is an answer, but never the complete answer of how to write a haiku.

An example of a shasei haiku by Jane Reichhold:

waves come into the cove
one at a time

© Jane Reichhold

In Basho's time shasei wasn't a known word, but this haiku shows what shasei means. Just the real scene caught in a haiku. An example of a shasei haiku by Basho:

ame no hi ya seken no aki o sakai-cho

a rainy day
the autumn world
of a border town

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

The play of words, something Shiki hated, comes with sakai ("boundary" or "border") and sakai-cho, the name of the theater district of old Tokyo. Because of its questionable reputation the district was placed at the edge of town. 

mist over the heath

I think this shasei is a nice Haiku Writing Technique and worth "playing" with. So here is a haiku by myself in which I have used shasei:

at sunrise
wandering over the hazy heath
the cry of an owl

© Chèvrefeuille

Well ... the goal is clear for this CD-HWT episode I think "write a haiku in the shasei style" promoted by Shiki. Have fun!

This CD HWT episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until October 31st at noon (CET). I will (try to) publish our new episode, 
Chichibu Night Festival , later on today.

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