What appeals to me most about Suzuki Shizuko’s haiku is the way tradition is both a starting point and a point of departure. In this wresting with tradition, Shizuko’s haiku become mimetic of the profound changes occurring in Japan during the Allied Occupation, the postwar period in which she was writing. In The Ring (Yubiwa), her second and final collection, in which these poems appeared, Shizuko writes candidly about her personal life — a major departure from traditional haiku, in which subject and object are blurred and the poet is effectively effaced — and takes on themes like sex, drug abuse, violence, and death. But even the most “radical” of these themes is grounded by kigo, or seasonal words, which indicate time of year, evoke both emotion and haiku’s long history, and establish an implicit comparison. Shizuko has not divested herself of tradition, not remotely. Instead, she alters the way in which the kigo’s comparative function works: beyond an analogy of the haiku’s two highly-imagistic parts, her work also creates a more urgent and timely comparison of past and present, static and dynamic, stable and unstable. If it seems the poems teeter in the balance, it’s because she was teetering, too.
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