The always wonderful Modern Poetry in Translation magazine is running a free online Haiku translation workshop. I have made a collage poem in response to the haiku by Enomoto Seifu which Alan Cummings has translated ‘literally’ as follows:
Beneath, lying happily
Here is my collage poem which I’ve made by cutting up items from Saturday’s Guardian newspaper and adding fallen blossom and other natural debris from my garden in Wiltshire.
Some notes on my process of making the collage.
MPT invited experimental media versions of the poem to be submitted to their site for this workshop so it was a great opportunity to engage in creative play. “Falling blossoms” suggests, to me, spring reaching into summer, seasons passing, time continuing, nature in abundance. The ceanothus shrub in our garden has been flowering heavily over the last few weeks and has strewn its dark blue-purple dust on the ground. Heavy winds over the weekend dislodged some of the still-flowering branches so I captured those for my collage, as well as the gorgeous dust for the “beneath”. Although Alan Cummings at the MPT workshop writes that chiru, the verb to fall or scatter from the original haiku, is always used with cherry blossoms, I had to substitute another flower because of necessity. No cherry tree in my garden!
I arranged the cut-out words “Scientists’ advice censored” as if they were falling, assisted by some falling daisies. I took these words from the headline ‘Scientists’ fury as advice on lockdown is being censored before being published’ which was an article about the government redacting criticisms of their Covid-19 strategy before they allowed the public to read it. “Falling” also suggests ‘falling from grace’ or ‘falling from goodness’ or ‘falling into despair’. It implies the journey towards death, as does all movement of time. It seems appropriate at the moment when so many people are dying of Covid-19.
I chose three headlines rather than three lines for the body of my haiku. Seifu’s haiku suggests the contrast between the abundance of nature and the cold truth of death. Alan Cummings writes that the haiku was written when there was widespread famine in Japan. This resonated with me as spring is particularly beautiful this year and yet there are terrible headlines every day as Covid-19 spreads. I wanted to put this contrast into my collage.
I thought about placing Boris Johnson’s body and Donald Trump’s body actually lying down in the collage but decided instead to cut off their heads (skulls) and lie them down. I’m playing with the double meaning, in English, of “lying”. “Lying happily” seems appropriate for these two heads of state. I put the words ‘care’ ‘homes’ down near their heads because the truth about what is going on in care homes, the number of deaths, the lack of PPE, has been brushed under the carpet.
Alan Cummings writes that in Japanese poetry dokuro literally means a skull, but in poetry it is sometimes used to mean the whole skeleton, particularly one that is found by the side of the road. There is a Japanese poetic tradition of poems inspired by dead bodies, he says. There are so many ways that this poem written 200 years ago speaks to me today.