11 June 2012

Living with Haiku by Pieter Scholtz

Living with Haiku
Haiku by Pieter Scholtz, drawings by Andrew Verster
Horus Publications, 2012
52 pages. ZAR110

Review by Moira Richards

There are a bare handful of South African poets who pay serious attention to the exploration of Japanese poetry form and genre. But, happily, since Steve Shapiro's debut collection, In a Borrowed Tent, won the country's Ingrid Jonker Prize for debut poetry collections in 1996 there has been a steady, albeit slow, growth of interest in haiku, tanka, haibun and more recently, renku.

Writing haiku in English can take you far from the peaceful and monkish communing-with-nature roots from which you may think it arose. There are those who know the form to comprise (as in the Japanese) a fixed five / seven / five sound rhythm – no matter what the text you squeeze into those three lines; there are those who argue for haiku to be written in one line (as the Japanese did, albeit vertically); there are those who eschew any formal sound rhythm but argue that a certain internal structure and/or subject matter comprises the quintessence of the form.

Pieter Scholtz wisely sidesteps, or perhaps straddles, these often bloody divides of opinion in his collection of haiku. He also looks to Japanese master, Yosa Buson's, haiga art to match a drawing by Andrew Verster to each of the twenty-five haiku in the book. The drawings vary in style but most of them have a traditional African flavour that sits well with the ancient poetry form from across the equator.

The poet writes about illness and death, and about the brain haemorrhage that almost killed him, yet he still manages to find a stark beauty in even the difficult parts of life.

Flakes of gold fallen
Ripeness and mortality
Sunset of my days.

Scholtz also writes a number of delicate love haiku and I'll share two favourites of these, with their serendipitously paired drawings.

When your love touches
The universe becomes light
Stars and moon dancing

On the potter's wheel
Shape dreams with your gentle touch
A bowl for my thirst