Saturday, March 15, 2014

Inside world: 2014 Haiku Sustainability Slam

Sustainability is not a four letter word

(but maybe it should be)

japen statue BashoThe second annual Haiku Sustainability Slam is being organized by World Streets and its friends as an ecumenical  pagan celebration to the coming Rite of Spring, in part inspired by  the exhilarating  French annual speak-out program The Springtime of Poets (Le printemps des poètes) opens this year  on the 23rd of March.  A few words of background to set the stage for what we hope will be your own valiant poeticizing efforts.
lend me your arms
fast as thunderbolts
for a pillow on my journey

On Haiku and Slams

Haiku: the ancient poetic tradition in Japan consisting of very (very) short tone poems (a bit of background on this for those who may want to catch up on it at the end of this Introductory note, where you will also find a few words on poetry slams *.).

The 17-sylable Haiku above with which we open the event was written not by a Japanese but by Hendrik Doeff, who was the Dutch commissioner in the Dejima trading post in Nagasaki during the first years of the 19th century.

Although Japanese in it origins, the Haiku form has spread to many other parts of the world. But  since the object here is to write and share some haikus of our own, as part of our warm-up let's cite what is possibly the most noted  example written by the revered Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō  (pictured above) in the seventeenth century: furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto. His famous Old Pond poem has been translated a thousand times, and not knowing Japanese I have juggled my own version to read like this:
old pond
frog jumps in
water sound

The S Word:

We have chosen the word "sustainability" as the keystone to the poems this year because of its great importance . . .  and its paralyzing difficulty.

It's too long, too Latin and too obtuse. It is confusing, self-congratulatory and more than vaguely patronizing. When the word sustainability (already six healthy syllables) creeps for the thousandth time into the written word, conversations or announcements, the reaction of most of us is somewhere between incomprehension, anxiety, boredom, guilt, uncertainty and irritation. And for some perhaps a feeling of great nobility on their part, though in truth I have a hard time in understanding why.  To be truthful, and brutal, there is no good news on the sustainability front.

To make things worse this one already fatal word is more often than not followed by a flood of yet more words, accusations and some author's noble prescriptions as to what we should do, need to do, must do or somehow get better at it. Not, to be frank, a very tempting proposition for most of us which may explain in part why our planet is not doing very well on this score.

But aye, here's the rub. Because it is such a vitally important concept. . . moreover one that we desperately need, a value that every one of the seven billion of us perched precipitously on this blistering planet need to bring directly into the choices that we make very hour of every day. Not so much into  our intellect, but into something far more powerful and hard to put your finger on -- into our culture, invisible though that may be.

If the world is today a violent and all but hopeless place, let's see what we can do in a softer way with culture. And in the process reverse the famous phrase systemically misattributed to Hermann Göring and turn it into "Whenever I hear the word revolver, I reach for my culture".

So let's see what happens if we try some culture for a change.

How it works:

Haiku (俳句 -  a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterized by three qualities:

  • Traditional haiku consist of 17 on or "syllables" in three phases of 5, 7 and 5 on respectively. (In the case of this slam we do not have to become slaves to the number seventeen, but let us say just very very few words, and perhaps let us respect the three phrases of lines for presenting our image.)

  • The essence of haiku is the concept of "cutting" (kiru). This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kieeji ("cutting word") between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.

  • A kigo or seasonal reference is often part of the puzzle

Slam:  (our definition)

  • Poet reflects, conjures up, and at one point stands tall and reads her poem in public. While we listen in silence. And then, after an appropriate pause, we all start to talk about it.


Here at World Streets we work day after day to make contributions in the challenges of sustainable development generally and within that greater context typically sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives. Since the journal started publication in late 2008, we have published a couple of thousand articles, postings. comments  and illustrative graphics, and yet behold! the world is a bigger mess today, despite our ministrations. So to kick off the slam, here is my miserable first contribution (I miss the 5/7/5):
gasping planet open mouths
one thousand conferences
no bird sound

Now once you set your mind to this, what you are going to find is that one Haiku inevitably inspires another. And since I am editor, I will allow myself one last one try before turning the floor over to you.
wild horse running in sightless fog
ice cracking

Waiting for you

Now what about yours. Post it either here at as a Comment, or under our Facebook site at . And then share it widely and invite others to write their own.

- - > More on Inside World 2013/2014:


* In writing this piece by way of general background and reminders, I consulted nothing more erudite  than the Wikipedia entry on Haiku which you can find at

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about the editor 21dec13

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