Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Selected Haiku: Glass Jar Haiku

one by one
fireflies escape my glass jar...
starry night

Editor's First Choice Haiku, Sketchbook, July / August 2011 "bugs / insects" Haiku Thread

Editor's Comment:

For the theamed "insect / bug Haiku Thread Sketchbook poets submitted an unprecedented 273 poems; picking a single haiku as choice has been difficult... However, after narrowing the field down to ten I have reached a decision. My number one choice was submitted by Chen-ou Liu,

The narrator in this ku, possibly a child, has been collecting fireflies in a glass jar. What child has not participated in this activity on an early, twilight summer eve? Such an activity permits a close up inspection of these mysterious, luminescent creatures—an up close experience of the microcosm. Later, the narrator releases the fireflies, and one by one they escape their "glass" confinement returning to the larger world. They become indistinguishable in the clear night sky as as their tiny, glowing lights become intermixed with the canvas of the night sky filled with stars. The transformation of views is dramatic—moving from a microcosmic view to a macrocosmic view. It is this shift of view point that captures my attention. The child like act of capturing fireflies as specimens for display in a glass jar is commonplace, but allowing them to escape and mingle as points of light against the large canvas of a sky on a starry night leads one to speculate on the larger questions about life. What is life? Is there life in the vast and mostly unexplored, distant universe? Are the life forms of the "firefly", a "human", and a distant "star" related? What is the origin of life? These are large questions—all of which invade my mind upon reading Chen-ou Liu's interesting haiku?

Some readers may object to the selection of this haiku as a Choice example. Both "firefly" and "starry night" are commonly listed kigos—haijin purists will hastily point out that only one kigo should be used. Yet, the vastness of the questions that arise in my mind from reading Chen-ou Liu's haiku lead me to persist in this choice.

My Response:

John’s comments are informative and insightful, and I’m particularly impressed by this well thought-out comment:”The transformation of views is dramatic—moving from a microcosmic view to a macrocosmic view. It is this shift of view point that captures my attention.”

As for his concluding comment, my response to so-called haijin purists’ complaint is simple: there is no abiding kigo tradition adopted and followed by the English language haiku community, and in the Japanese haiku, two kigo are allowed to use (one of them is treated as a dominant one). For more information about the use of two kigo, see my "To the Lighthouse" post, "Haiku with Two Kigo (or Two Season-Themed Words/Phrases)."