Monday, August 1, 2011

Your Life in Eight Words

The person who maintains the A Writing Primate blog, D.S. Renzulli, has interviewed me via e-mail, asking about my writing habits and interest in Japan. The interview concludes with this challenge: Give an eight-word description of your life.

Eight words! That's as bad as haiku. Worse than some. Perhaps the most famous haiku in English—"An old pond/a frog jumps in/the sound of water"—has ten words. What can you say in eight words? Of course, the haiku masters are able to evoke entire histories, entire landscapes, entire philosophies in seventeen syllables.

How important is haiku still in Japan? Not long ago, I visited the Matsuyama Municipal Shiki Memorial Museum pictured above, an entire modern building (dedicated in 1981) devoted to a Meiji-era writer and haiku. Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) was born in Matsuyama, a city on Shikoku, the smallest of the four main Japanese islands. Shiki is considered to be the most important figure in the modernization of haiku and tanka poetry, and the museum exists to promote the art of haiku and the memory of Shiki.

I was impressed that Matsuyama's city fathers (and haiku fans?) would construct a large building for a single poet. If you go, however, go with a Japanese guide; the exhibits and of course the poetry is all in Japanese. I looked up Shiki's haiku in translation (although haiku does not really translate well) and found this, which seemed to evoke his life in about a dozen words: "After killing a spider/how lonely I feel/in the cold of the night."

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