Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Interview with Gabi Greve

Gabi Greve: Time will tell what readers will still enjoy in 500 years from now”

An interview by Flueraşu Petre

war in Iraq -
the spider hides
in a cherry blossom


Gabi Greve, born in Germany in 1948, medical doctor graduated at Heidelberg University, has been living in Japan since 1977 as a freelance translator and writer about Buddhist Art, her second speciality. She and her husband now live in the mountains of Okayama Prefecture, Japan, where she is the manager of the Daruma Museum.

Flueraşu Petre: You are recognized throughout the world as a haiku master. How did you discover this form of art and what did convince you to start writing haiku?

Gabi Greve: I do not think of myself as a haiku master, rather a student and researcher of Japanese culture. I am not a poet, but a medical scientist by profession, I started haiku to improve my knowledge of this culture, because I live in Japan since 1977 and work as a scientific translator. I wrote two books about Buddhist art and after that the exploring of kigo, the season words, was my third attempt to go in the depth of this culture. I was lucky to meet a haiku sensei while I still lived in Kamakura and joined a small group of poets there. That was quite a while back, maybe 20 years ago. I have enjoyed exploring Japan through the deeper meanings of kigo ever since. I would like to contribute to the understanding of Japanese haiku through my experience of living in the country.

F.P.: I know you have studied and still do study haiku in Japan. How did this “going to the source” technique influence your style?

G.G.: My brain works in three languages, but for haiku, mostly in Japanese, since I live in a Japanese environment. Most of my haiku in English are sort of re-formulated (not really translated). I rarely translate my haiku into German, it just seems not to fit properly. Going to the source is the best way of staying within the genre of Japanese haiku, I think. Reading only translations can sometimes give you a wrong or rather tinted impression, because you read what the translator produced, not the real Basho or Issa wrote. Understanding the structure and working of the Japanese language helps me a lot in understanding haiku, of course. Otherwise for example you can not fully comprehend the beauty of 5 7 5 patterns or the deeper meaning of Japanese season words.

F.P.: You are managing a huge database of kigo’s and non-seasonal foreign keys. Do you still believe in the classic form of haiku?

G.G.: I believe in the importance of kigo to understand Japanese haiku and Japanese culture properly. And I think we can build up kigo collections for other areas to give haiku of these areas more depth and meaning. Haiku is very much alive here in Japan, I see it on TV and read it in every newspaper and magazine. Even in our little mountain community, the old ladies have a haiku circle. So I do not have to believe in it, it is alive and well all by itself. I just have to pick it up.

F.P.: Do you believe that today’s reader can still relate to haiku?

G.G.: Do you believe that today's reader can relate to any kind of poetry, or to nature itself? I sure hope so! Since composing haiku will make you more aware of your environment, you will wake up to the many treasures surrounding you in every day life. That in itself is rewarding, even if your haiku might not be of the highest quality. And through writing haiku you can try to communicate this to other readers of your poetry. The environment is in need of more appreciation these days and haiku is one way to appreciate nature and your environment. Because of its shortness haiku trains you to focuss on the essential, to try and see things in a non-judgemental way and this will hopefully influence your way of every-day living.

F.P.: Do you believe that a haiku book can become a bestseller?

G.G.: No, not really, since the number of people interested in poetry in general and in haiku in particular is rather small. But I think a good book about haiku can become a good friend or even best friend of many readers worldwide.

F.P.: Do you agree with the infusion of modern symbols in classical Japanese poetry?

G.G.: As an experiment, modern poetry or rather modern poets in any country will be experimenting with the ideas of their time. That is the motor of progress. Whether the result will be good or not, well, time will tell what readers will still enjoy in 500 years from now.

F.P.: What form of Japanese writing do you prefer the most?

G.G.: I am not a great friend of novels and general poetry, I must confess … real life is much more fascinating to me. I read a lot of books on Buddhist art and Japanese pottery. I also read travel books and articles about the many regions of Japan, since I like to go there and visit myself one day.

F.P.: What future personal projects involving haiku can you tell me about?

G.G.: At the present I try to introduce kigo related to Japanese festivals, ceremonies and events. Making use of the internet possibilities in compiling photos and text for each entry, before giving some haiku about it. I hope this will inspire other haiku poets to write haiku about the festivals and events in their area, thus slowly getting some local saijiki under way.

I also try to find more information about Japanese food haiku, using them to introduce more of the many seasonal Japanese dishes which abound here but are not so well known outside Japan. Again, haiku poets might become aware of the potential of their own local dishes as subjects for kigo to be used in a haiku.

I also have a forum for translating haiku, sometimes making new suggestions for haiku already translated, to see them in a new light.

This might be especially useful for those poets who do not speak Japanese, to get an idea about the many ways a Japanese haiku might be translated, according to the bias of a translator.

F.P.: With what should a beginner start in order to enter inside the world of Japanese poetry?

G.G.: You should read as many books as you can get your hands on about Japanese poetry and haiku in particular. For haiku there is now a lot in the internet too, about HOW TO … and I have my own archives of haiku theory, where I invite you to look.

For a beginner, it is not only important to make himself/herself familiar with the formal aspects of Japanese haiku, but also the heart, the state of mind that is necessary. Keen observation of the small things around you is very important and you can train yourself for a while before writing any poetry about it.

Start to see the world with the eyes of a child again, marveling at anything before your eyes, do not take things for granted and do not judge them or compare them with other things you know. Just appreciate things as they are, looking at the most minute details with great patience. Thus your life will become much richer and fuller.

Japanese haiku is very much about seasonal changes in the life of us human beings, so try to become aware of the seasonal changes in your area.

To understand Japanese poetry and haiku, you also need an extensive knowledge about Japanese culture itself, otherwise many of the hidden allusions and implied meanings will not be understood. I try to introduce some Japanese poets and explain the words they use which are not familiar with a Westerner at first reading.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why not?

In Romania didn’t exist a site specialized in Nippon poetry although there are literary sites were the occidental poetry amateurs write. Those who write being inspirited by Nippon poetry were lost among the great number of the others.

On the other hand, there are two biannual print haiku magazines specialized in kaiku (Haiku – Bucharest and Albatross – Constanta) but only Haiku magazine from Bucharest organizes one competition every year. We thought that launching a kukai competition online is able to stimulate the activity of the haiku amateurs around an attractive and stimulating action.

In this way, it isn’t only a competition but also a way to keep the desire to learn what it is haiku and to inure them to its rules in a pleasant atmosphere.

The competition we have organized beginning with April is a copy of the model of the Shiki Monthly Kukai and it is dedicated those who write haiku only in Romanian. Its result regarding the submission there are in the table below: