With the free online Haiku Down Under on the near horizon, I’ve been thinking about regional voices in haiku. A presentation I’m looking forward to is ‘A Showcase of Haiku from Aotearoa New Zealand presented in English and Te Reo Māori’ with Sue Courtney and Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) on October 8 at 1pm (NZT).
I don’t know whether this senryu is included among the translations done by Vaughan, but my ponderings on a regional voice led me straight to it.
women sit behind the men
guessing who farted
Karen Peterson Butterworth
Third place, NZPS Haiku Contest 2004
If we take it line by line, I hope non-New Zealand readers will begin to get the vertical axis as described by Haruo Shirane in his essay Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson & Modern Haiku Myths. “In other words, there were two key axes: one horizontal, the present, the contemporary world; and the other vertical, leading back into the past, to history, to other poems … If Basho and Buson were to look at English-language haiku today, they would see the horizontal axis, the focus on the present, on the contemporary world, but they would probably feel that the vertical axis, the movement across time, was largely missing.” I believe the vertical axis also includes traditional cultural elements, as these carry us back into the past and across time.
(Next day update, pronunciation guide: poh-fi-ree.)
In Karen’s haiku L1 sets the scene by using a single, yet rich word full of cultural significance. A powhiri is a formal welcome of visitors/strangers on to a marae or meeting place. There are protocols to be followed by hosts and guests, including a kaikaranga (woman caller) who begins the karanga (call or summons), to which the manuhiri kaikaranga (visitors’ woman caller) responds. The intent is to remove the tapu (taboo) from the visitors to keep the marae safe (this is a simplistic explanation of the purposes of tapu and tapu-lifting). A powhiri also includes speeches, songs and food so that one word carries a lot of freight.
After the karanga and challenge, visitors are slowly led into the wharenui (meeting house), which itself is a ‘living record’ of the people it represents. Men sit at the front and women at the back. I have been told that this is the modern take on the old custom of male warriors protecting women by having them at their backs. So there’s some clarity around L2. The fact the women are sitting behind the men is not accidental. (Please note that this seating custom may vary by iwi, but is what I have experienced in Tauranga Moana.)
Non-Maori women can find this ‘relegation’ hard to take – along with the fact that on almost all marae women do not have the right to participate in the formal speeches. Instead, so I’ve been told, while the women are in the kitchen making food for a crowd that day and the day before, they discuss things, network, make decisions, and “tell the men what to say”. How true this is, I don’t know but I like the subversion of it.
Which brings me to the big smile of L3. Yes, the men may have the privilege of having their voice heard on the marae, but the women aren’t impressed by that one bit. Someone farts, they’ll say.
… Basho believed that the poet had to work along both axes. To work in the present only would result in poetry that was fleeting. To work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haikai, which was rooted in the everyday world. Haikai was, by definition, anti-traditional, anti-classical, anti-establishment, but that did not mean that it rejected the past. Rather, it depended upon the past and on earlier texts and associations for its richness – Haruo Shirane
Karen’s poem, for me at least, has pleasant echoes of a much earlier one which as Haruo Shirane says, gives it a richness.
letting rip a fart –
it doesn’t make you laugh
when you live alone
Karai Senryu (1718-90)
And, yes, Karai Senryu (river willow), real name Karai Haciemon, was the originator of the senryu poem.