The (Musical) Gift of Haiku

In creative commons, creativity, npr by Michael Tiemann

Fleur-de-Lisa is an a capella quartet based in Durham, North Carolina, and they were guests today on WUNC‘s The State of Things. Frank Stasio talked with them about Hai Ka, which can be translated as Haiku Song.

Of course traditional Japanese Haiku tends to be very sparse, textually. In America we have rigidly assumed that all Haiku poems must be precisely 17 syllables in a 5-7-5 form, but the Japanese do not take that quite so literally. That said, Haiku is so short, so fleeting, that it seems quite a challenge to put it to music. Consider these Haiku from the texts of Willow Song (written by members of the North Carolina Haiku Society):

Words Poet/Composer

landing on the oar/a praying mantis/halts the kayak Krawiec/Freeman

beavers over there/my feet wet/over here Moyer/Shunk

her hands aglow/beneath the willow tree/fireflies Dunlap/Shunk

windows down/I slow for a turn/and birdsong Straw/Shunk

You’ll have to listen to the program (or buy a CD) to better understand how they do it, but do it they do. And not just with their own creations, but with Haiku written by others, and that is why I wanted to write this blog posting. In the interview (just past the halfway point) they report:

FdL: Richard [Krawiec] had led some poetry conferences and some of the participants wrote Haiku and we huddled in a corner for about 10 minutes and we came out and sang a very rough version

FS: When you do something like that, and you’re working with writers, do they talk to you about that either helps them (or maybe hinders them–I don’t know) but I think it would be pretty helpful, I don’t know…

FdL: Noone has ever made a comment to that extent, mostly they’re just thrilled to hear their words sung to music.

FdL: Yeah, it changes it

FdL: It becomes something different

FdL: And sometimes [gives] insights into their poetry that maybe they’ve not even thought about

And I remark on this because it’s precisely a sentiment expressed in Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz, where someone says that a great jazz musician is like a great film director–somebody who can take ideas created by other people (the script) and turn it into something entirely original and new (a movie). And it also connects to the ideas of The Gift, and how important vital it is to creativity to be also able to give–perhaps a Haiku as inspiration for music, or music as further inspiration for poetry. I think that as long as artists believe in sharing, and do share, we will see new creative forms, like Hai Ka. And for that I am grateful.