Those who have recently stumbled across my site might not understand what is happening here. Some may think I am just presenting an archive of old hokku in new translations; others may think I am here to complain about modern haiku.
I do present old hokku here with my new translations; and I do bemoan what modern haiku did (and still continues to do, for the most part) to the old hokku tradition. But my real purpose here is to teach hokku — to explain what it really is and how to write it. I only talk about haiku now and then because to learn hokku, one must be able to distinguish it from haiku, which began much later and distorted the old hokku tradition. And to learn hokku, one must correctly understand how old hokku were written, what their inherent aesthetics are, and the various techniques and principles employed.
I agree with Onitsura that the best way to learn hokku — and this is even more true of modern writers — is to imitate the models of one’s teacher. I could just present my own verses and say, “do the same,” but I further believe that the best way to maintain continuity in hokku between the old tradition and our new practice is by using all the best old hokku as models. Thus we learn not only from Onitsura, but also from Bashō and Gyōdai and Taigi and Buson and the other writers when they were at their best.
There are certain overall principles and aesthetics that apply to all of these writers and more, even though some may have had their own particular tendencies in writing.
The verses I translate here — those I present favorably — are really models for students to use in writing their own contemporary hokku. This learning from the models of a teacher is the old way to learn hokku, and as I teach it, it is also the modern way to learn hokku because it is a very good way, as Onitsura recognized some three hundred years ago.
In the past few weeks I have spent considerable time in explaining what went wrong at the end of the 19th century, and how modern haiku pushed hokku into near oblivion. It is important to know all of that, but now it is time to concentrate again on what this site is really about — the transmission and learning of hokku. If hokku is to survive at all, there must be new writers. Otherwise the tradition will disappear.
This site, then, is a place where I not only share my pleasure in traditional hokku but also a place where I teach others how to write it and encourage them to do so.
I have been doing this a long time now — quite a few years. But given the fact that even the name of hokku nearly disappeared into oblivion, along with the knowledge of how to practice it, one must be patient in bringing it back to life.
The revival of hokku is particularly difficult in our modern materialistic society, which tends to turn away from the chief subject matter of hokku — Nature and the place of humans as a part of Nature, not apart from it. And few there are today who admire the poverty, simplicity, and spirituality of the old hokku. Nonetheless it is to those few that I address what I write here.
One thought on “THE OLD WAY OF LEARNING HOKKU”
I am very glad that you resuscitated life back into the old hokku and that you have chosen to teach people the traditional “way” of writing hokku, otherwise I never would have learned the way. I continue to learn the way of the old school by reading your old posts. I’m very thankful for those. Just as bacteria have evolved into other forms of life, while retaining a small pocket of the old population, which is unchanged, so hokku evolved into other forms of poetry, while retaining the old way, which is unchanged. Humans are not bacteria anymore, just as haiku are not hokku. The old forms remain alive and appreciated by the few, while the new forms have evolved and are…also appreciated by some. I don’t pretend to be an expert at writing hokku; I simply enjoy trying! It has pulled me out of a dark place, a place I never want to see again. So, I keep trying. Thanks for teaching the old way, David…the hokku…the daoku!