Haibun Haiku, by Sera Andres
I must admit at the outset that I did not understand very much about this work. Then again, the work was written in Hungarian, a language that is not only alien to me, but a language that is not remotely closely connected to any language I happen to be familiar with. There was only one word in the entire book that was familiar to me in its untranslated form, and that was the title of one poem that references a Supermarket and signifies that the author has somewhat quotidian tastes in his haiku. Unless someone knows Hungarian or is willing to make the effort at attempting translation, they are not going to get a great deal out of this book. Since most of the readers of my reviews are English speakers, I cannot expect that there is going to be a great deal of interest in such a work unless it can find translation into English. Admittedly, the Hungarian audience for books is far smaller than that for English books, and so this is likely to have a much smaller potential audience than the majority of the books I happen to read and review as I come across them.
Like many collections of poetry in general, this particular chapbook is only 25 pages long and has materials that are very straightforward and easy enough to recognize in any language. The book begins with an introduction, then contains 21 or so haiku, beginning with a commentary of the meaning of the poem and the context in which the poem was written. After that comes the poem itself, in the familiar three line format. By and large, to the extent that I can recognize the syllables of Hungarian, it looks like the author keeps very closely to the proper 5-7-5 syllable pattern, if not following it exactly, as he may do depending on how one handles the combination of vowel sounds in the Hungarian grammar. At least from what I can gather, which is limited enough, the author seeks to put the poems in the context of the author’s own life, with its familiar and ordinary scenes, and rather than writing about what would have been the ordinary life of a Kyoto-based Buddhist elite, the author chooses to focus on what would be familiar and ordinary in the author’s own life. And that is definitely a sentiment I can wholeheartedly endorse and respect.
If this book has barriers to comprehension because it is written in a language that is only known by a few million people, most of whom are in Central and Eastern Europe, why would such a work be worth reading at all? As it happens, this book demonstrates the wide spread of Haiku into many other languages. Haiku are themselves originally a Japanese phenomenon. Like many aspects of the culture of East Asia, they spread first to a rather educated elite among those nations that engaged in trade and imperialism in the area, and then after that filtered through the more common population to where they are regularly taught to decidedly non-elite children in public school like I was, and where I first became familiar with them as a genre of poetry removed from its original Buddhist religious and Japanese linguistic context, only learning that such poems were usually written about creation. This book, if it does little else for the non-Hungarian reader, will at least let the reader know that the haiku and a desire to write about the matters of life in a beautiful and elegant way is not limited to only a few languages. Quite the contrary.