Monday, March 21, 2011

Five Questions for an Chairperson: Jim Kacian

Our interview this month is with Haiku Foundation Chairperson, Red Moon Press founder, and former Frogpond editor Jim Kacian.  The Foundation, by the way, will shortly be wrapping up its HaikuNow! contest.  You've got until March 31 to submit your haiku, and there's a cash prize!  Seriously.  Don't skip this.  Anyway, let's see what he has to say...

1. Okay, back in December we asked current Frogpond editor George Swede what his favorite version of Matsuo Basho's frog poem was.  As a former Frogpond editor yourself, what's yours?

As I'm sure you're aware, nearly everyone who has ever had a bit of Japanese has tried his/her hand at this poem. One of my favorite books of all time is Hiro Sato's One Hundred Frogs, which recorded most of the attempts up to the time of its publication. I'm not sure I can say definitively that I have a favorite version, but a couple versions that amuse me include Curtis Hidden Page's

A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps . . .
   Apart, unstirred by sound or motion . . . till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.

The audacity of such verbosity suggests a very great confidence, which, given the clarity that hindsight presents, was badly misplaced. Most of the other versions hinge on whether to "splash" or not, and I don't find myself that much in need of onomatapoeia to favor those versions. So I find it hard to better Bill Higginson's

Old pond . . .
  a frog leaps in
    water's sound.

I find this the most liquid rendering, especially how the frog's leap can be intuited to be headed into the sound as well as the water in this version.

Also fun in Sato's book are the many one-offs inspired by the hoary old classic, sonnets and short stories and what-all. And of course I had to try my own, year's ago:

old pond . . .
on it's banks, Basho—
the sound of his water

Probably we shouldn't linger on this . . .

2. How does The Haiku Foundation relate to the Haiku Society of America?  Is it like an East Coast/West Coast thang?

The Haiku Foundation has no formal relationship with the Haiku Society of America, other than wishing it well. We have completely different missions and goals and structures, and there is very little overlap in what we offer.

HSA is a membership organization primarily based around subscription to its journal, Frogpond, and is more a social organization. It's mission can be found on its website.

The mission of The Haiku Foundation is to archive the first century of achievement in English-language haiku, and to create opportunities for our second. To these ends, we are creating structures that will accomplish these goals—a hard-copy library, an online library, a bibliography—and others that will acquaint more people with the history of ELH—a timeline (in process), volumes such as Montage: The Book, and the Haiku Database (a project founded and implemented by Charles Trumbull which we hope in time to incorporate in toto on the THF website). We are a project-oriented organization, and have no membership, no dues, and no regular membership benefits per se: what we produce we make available to all, generally online. And like any nonprofit corporation, we are dependent for our funding on like-minded readers, writers and aficionados. We don't produce a journal or hold public elections.

3. The Haiku Foundation is fairly new-- what went into putting it together?

Our charter date is January 6, and we've just passed our second anniversary, but of course this is just our public face. We've been in process since 2005. The specific impetus for the creation of the Foundation was a casual comment from the Kiwi poet Ernest Berry, who wished he was able to find the winning poems from all the previous Henderson and Brady and Spiess and other contests in a single place. He thought another venture of mine, Red Moon Press, might be interested in creating a volume that collected them. That didn't seem like a feasible project for RMP to me, but it did trigger many other thoughts. Ernie will be pleased to see that we have just placed a version of his idea on the Foundation site, largely implemented by Paul Miller. This is precisely how the Foundation works: people identify projects that need doing, and the Foundation tries to help those people realize their visions.

I followed up this initial conception with conversations with many poets, to get a variety of opinions as to what might be seen to be necessary from haiku's perspective. I was not concerned so much with what best served poets, since HSA and other organizations already existed, so the goal was to serve haiku itself, expecting that poets would be served along the way. This enquiry proceeded largely as a thought experiment until Dave Russo, one of the implementers of Haiku North America in 2007, indicated his interest once that event was concluded. Dave's expertise as a web designer and implementer is seminal not only to the success of the Foundation, but to its very presence. Virtually every aspect of the Foundation that is accessible to others has Dave's fingerprints on it, and we simply couldn't have realized our goals without his involvement. Dave serves not only as the Webmaster of the Foundation but is also on the Board of Directors, as is Tom Borkowski, whose involvement was critical to our achieving nonprofit status in our first attempt, and who serves as a Board member as well as Treasurer of the organization. Billie Wilson joined us very shortly after Tom as Secretary to the Foundation, and is responsible for keeping us orderly and connected and moving in a forward direction, which she manages seemingly effortlessly. I fill the other officer position as President and also serve on the Board.

4. Total non-sequitur: your poetry has been translated into several languages.  We often talk about the difficulty translating haiku from Japanese to English; do the same risks exist when translating haiku out of English and into another language, or does the separation from "the mother tongue" make this not as big a deal?

Translation is problematic for everyone, and it is amusing and irritating to see what sort of bollocks can be made of poems no matter the direction one travels. Certainly my own poems have lost nuance (and in some cases, basic content) in their migrations to other languages and cultures. It's a perennial problem and I can't say that my own efforts have solved any of the problems all translators face.

That said, one of the most fecund sources of inspiration is what Richard Gilbert has termed "creative misinterpretation." Certainly the notion of what haiku is has been illumined by just such misinterpretation—in fact, our whole notion of what Japan was at the time haiku was coming to the West now seems quaint and patronizing, and I suspect our notion of what haiku is, seen a hundred years from now, will seem the same. But in the quest to meet other conceptions of the real and the beautiful and the poetic we are stimulated as much by what we can't contextualize as by what we can, and this expands the range of what's possible. I hope that whatever people in Bulgaria and Egypt and Taiwan are making of my poems, that they at least are finding something that nourishes their own creative spark, and that they are enlarged by the conversation.

5. Where would you like to see The Haiku Foundation in ten years?

Our focus, as a start-up organization, has been on our short term vision and goals, and to this end we have the various things you'll find on the website: forums and a blog and various content areas that are designed to invite participation. But of course this is only part of what we hope to achieve. We have specific long-term goals that we are working towards simultaneously with these more obvious ones, though the time frame may not in truth be ten years.

In keeping with our mission to archive our first century of achievement in ELH, we are working towards creating a hard-copy library of every book ever produced in the genre. This is a daunting challenge, of course, but more because of the explosion of haiku publishing that is taking place. What has been produced in the past is static, and either some volumes are available or they aren't, and we keep looking. But keeping up with current output is challenging, not only for sheer numbers but for the many unexpected places one needs to look to find all such offerings.

And of course, having assembled such a library, we would like a place to house it. We are exploring opportunities of linking with an institution that would be capable of maintaining such a library, which might be a university or artist colony or other such facility that would value our work. There is also the option of creating or purchasing our own building, which would require capital funding that we have not approached to this point. And in any of these venues we envision a Haiku Hall of Fame, where our outstanding poets might have a place where their achievements might be viewed in a sympathetic context. Likely these would all be in the same location.

Parallel to our hard-copy library is our online library, where haiku books would be made available to scholars, students, poets and interested persons without the difficulties of tracking them down, especially useful for rare or out of print books. We also look forward to a day when we host a variety of gatherings, from conferences to readings to potluck suppers where poets can gather and share their work and their lives. We would like to offer scholarships and incentives to poets as well, which might be implemented at any of these venues.

We have only begun to envision what the Foundation will have to offer in years to come. I'm sure other energies and visions will help expand this earliest imagining. However, the long-range goal of creating new opportunities that serve haiku will remain, I am certain, central to all such visions.

Thank you for your interest in the Foundation and for the opportunity to tell your readers a bit about what we're doing, and hope to do, at THF. I hope they will all feel free to explore the site and bring their energy and interest to bear on the future of haiku. As Harold Henderson wrote, "Haiku will be what poets make of it." We are happy to be doing our part to see that this rings true.

JIM KACIAN is Founder and President of The Haiku Foundation, founder of Red Moon Press (the largest press dedicated to haiku in the world—which makes it a very small enterprise), author of 15 award-winning books and thousands of haiku, some of which have been translated into more than fifty languages. You can learn more about him if you're interested by checking out his bio on Wikipedia.

1 comment:

  1. Great questions, great answers! Thanks for sharing.