R. H. Blyth recognized even in his day that the hokku had fallen on hard times. He speaks with favor of Bashō, of Buson, of Issa, and even speaks of the “objective dryness yet pregnancy of Shiki” (who began haiku as distinct from hokku), but he speaks also of “the decadence of all later writers” (of haiku).
So much for the experimentation and change that came after Shiki in haiku — the experimentation and change that is also characteristic of modern haiku in English, which has continued, though in another language, the decadence of verse after Shiki.
Blyth tells us that Bashō’s “Way” can “hardly be said to exist now, for almost nobody walks on it.” Certainly I have found no one in the modern haiku movement on that path.
In speaking of what came after hokku and the conservative haiku of Shiki that was often indistinguishable from hokku, Blyth says quite honestly and bluntly,
“…I feel that very little would be lost if all the haiku of modern times were tacitly forgotten.”
I feel precisely the same about modern haiku in English and other European languages. One would like to erase all the mistakes and misperceptions and misunderstandings and foolishness foisted on the English-speaking public by the modern haiku community in the entire second half of the 20th century, a period which unfortunately set the stage for the abysmal kinds of verse written today as “haiku,” a period in which the genuine hokku and its aesthetics were seemingly deliberately obscured by the Western founders of modern haiku, who, not understanding the real hokku, simply chose to re-make it as they wished it to be, then foisted the result on the naïve general public.
Blyth tells us precisely what he thinks of this abandonment of the Way of Bashō:
“Its disuetude is a monument to the stupidity, vulgarity, sentimentality, and unpoeticality of human beings.”
Blyth summarized his two-volume History of Haiku by saying,
“Haiku since Shiki [that is, since about the turn of the 20th century] has been, like the world itself, in a state of confusion.”
That confusion is abundantly evident on modern haiku sites. One need only read the advice given by the “poets” there to novice writers, and one quickly sees that they really have not the slightest idea what they are doing or why, but in any case the best one can say of the deplorable results is that they are mercifully brief excuses for verse. The “learning” and “teaching” of “haiku” on such sites is simply a classic illustration of the blind leading the blind.
Everyone in modern haiku makes up his or her own mind as to what constitutes a haiku and how to write it. Blyth foresaw that decades ago, because the attitude already existed in his time:
“The confusion of our modern times seems greater than ever before because people speak by themselves only, not by humanity.”
It is the “Me” Period in which we live, not just the “Me Generation.” And nothing so exemplifies modern haiku as this confused and rootless emphasis on “me,” on the individual as “poet,” on the necessity for constant change in verse, the same kind of constant change demanded by the short attention span of a two-year-old child.
I have watched the low rise of the modern haiku and its near-immediate devolution over many decades, and I see no trace of hope for the arising of anything worthwhile within it at present. Almost without exception, those who practice it are devoid of an inherent sense of poetry (paradoxically, because those who write “haiku” today seem more than ever obsessively concerned about being perceived as “poets.” and as writing “poetry”).
I can say with Blyth that very little would be lost if all the haiku and haiku Internet sites and fora and journals of modern times were tacitly forgotten. Given how little they are noticed by the general public in any case, their absence would likely pass without comment, and modern haiku could go into the dustbin of history, forgotten and unmourned.
‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.
If any one has any doubts about my attitude toward modern haiku, I think this brief posting should dispel them.
I want to remind everyone that I do not teach or practice or advocate modern haiku; I do not belong to any “haiku” group of any kind; and I have nothing whatsoever to do with modern haiku, aside from deploring its accompanying nonsense and mediocrity and triviality, and how its self-made pundits have actively contributed to the obscurity and near disappearance of the real hokku as practiced from its beginnings to the time of Shiki near the beginning of the 20th century.