sa-ico-1.gifHomesa-ico-1.gifArticles About Haiku

Haiku in the Country of Samba

Rosa Clement


For those who know it, the word "samba" recalls the spicy music and dance so typical of Brazil. Samba is the body language that Brazilians use to communicate happiness with passion and sensual movements. According to a famous old song, the Brazilian who does not like samba may not be of a sane mind, a good metaphor to show that samba is the root that every Brazilian should be born with. So, samba is for Brazil what haiku is for Japan. However, while almost every Brazilian knows how to catch samba in his or her feet, not every samba dancer knows the "music of haiku" or has even ever heard about it. This sonorous Japanese form, full of movements, harmony and sudden twists as well, is fascinating many Brazilians as it travels from region to region and challenges their ability to capture the moment of haiku in three lines. Nonetheless, just like samba, haiku has gained a Brazilian face, while continuing to search for the right path to find its place in world haiku history.

There are clues that the very first news of haiku (called haicai in Brazil)  came from France through traveller's books and was somehow connected to Paul-Louis Couchoud, who remained in obscurity thereafter. Through him, haiku spread as a literary subject in Brazil, according to Paulo Franchetti's webpage "O Haicai no Brasil" (Haiku in Brazil; address below). Goga Masuda mentions, in his book "O Haicai no Brasil" (Haiku in Brazil, 1988), that haiku arrived from France with students of oriental subjects in the first decades of the 20th century. Afrânio Peixoto (1875-1947) also mentioned haiku in the preface to a book in 1919. A few other Brazilian poets of that period, such as Haroldo de Campos, also developed an interest for haiku, weaving one more strand into the Brazilian haiku origin thread.

However, most Brazilian writers first heard about the form from a well known Brazilian poet, Guilherme de Almeida (1890-1969). Almeida spread the news about haiku in Brazil in 1936 via an article "Os Meus Haicais" (My Haiku, 1937). Later he published a haiku book "Poesia Vária" (Varied Poetry, 1947). However, Almeida introduced a new style in an attempt to adapt haiku to then-current literary conventions, which maintained the traditional 5-7-5 syllables, but used two pairs of rhymes: one for the first and third lines, and the other in the second line with the second and last syllables. Additionally, his haiku had titles, sometimes internal punctuation and were rich in metaphors. Usually these metaphors referred to old age, death etc., but sometimes they were about nature as well. This novelty raised great interest in other poets, who tried to imitate Almeida. Many haiku were taught and published using rules that Almeida had created for himself. Even today, beginning haiku writers often attempt to write haiku in the style of Almeida:


Desfolha-se a rosa
parece até que floresce
o chão cor-de-rosa.
          Guilherme de Almeida


Rose petals fall
it even seems that the ground
blossoms pink

Later, Brazilian writers and readers discovered that Almeida's haiku was not in the Japanese tradition, but they continued to add new twists. Millor Fernandes (1924-), a famous writer with a style tending to humor, as well as Paulo Leminski (1944-1989), a poet and haiku researcher, brought to readers their own new ways of writing haiku. Humor, pun and fewer syllables were used, although titles and punctuation were not part of the haiku they presented to their readers. Leminski, the rebel and radical poet, also had a greater attraction for anthropomorphism. According to Edson Kenji Iura, Leminski's work has echoes of Nempuku Sato's haiku (see below), while João Angelo Salvadori states (Caqui site), that Leminski had influence from the "concrete" poetry movement of the 1960's and 70's.

While our samba has kept warming its steps since its twentieth century beginnings, Brazilian haiku turned a few degrees away from Almeida's style, offering a new perspective to our haiku readers. Haiku poets started to write like Millor and Leminski, and for a time readers and writers followed these new styles, assured they were reading and writing fine haiku. In fact, many of these haiku, besides being impregnated by humor and word play, offered a moment of reflection for an attentive reader to think about the verse more deeply. Nonetheless, if their poems were pleasant, the styles raised doubts about if they are true haiku or not.

"Meu dinheiro
Vem todo
Do meu tinteiro"
          Millor Fernandes

My money
all comes
from my inkwell

"cortinas de seda
o vento entra
sem pedir licença"
          Paulo Leminski

silk curtains
the wind comes in
without asking

Brazilians are currently surrounded by, but have not yet completely surrendered to globalization and external influences affecting haiku. Most Brazilian haiku writers believe that writing in 5-7-5 syllables is a must, and it's very common to find writers who concentrate on this haiku feature alone. Portuguese words are sometimes long, allowing inclusion of extra syllables with relatively little effort. But this is not always true. Sometimes, the writer struggles to find a single word to complete five or seven syllables, simply so that his or her haiku can have the right number. For this reason we can find haiku with words that add nothing but syllables, which just weakens the impact of the haiku. It is still common to find Brazilian haiku using metaphors, similes and anthropomorphisms. Some literary commentary favors the use of these characteristics, while other commentary instructs the reader to avoid these practices. This certainly confuses Brazilian readers and writers. Brazilian writers study the old Masters, who occasionally used anthropomorphism or metaphors for impact. They ask, if Issa, Basho, Buson, Shiki wrote that way, why can't they do the same? The answers are often unconvincing.

Like samba, Brazilian haiku has a recent but already long history. New haiku writers have emerged from north to south. New associations (grêmios) were and are being created, and haiku books and anthologies based on traditional and alternative styles are being published everywhere. Masters and pupils are discussing the form in forums, exchanging ideas and discovering more about the haiku universe. São Paulo is a major starting point, were leaders like Edson Kenji Iura and Paulo Franchetti coordinate a major haiku group that discusses numerous haiku themes. Another important name shines in the Brazilian haiku context: H. Masuda Goga, 92, of Japanese origin, is known as a haiku master. He is the author of "Ten Haiku Commandments", a set of ten rules, published by the Caqui website, in addition to several haiku books.

Goga also helped to start the Grêmio Haicai Ipê, a pioneer haiku association in São Paulo. His commandments have been very useful for those taking their first steps in writing haiku. The haiku master immigrated to Brazil in 1929, later meeting Guilherme de Almeida and other people involved with haiku. However, Goga developed greater affinities with Nempuku Sato (1898-1979), also a poet and immigrant from Japan, who taught the art of haiku to other Japanese immigrants. His teachings have influenced haiku written in Portuguese. From Sato, Goga inherited the task of teaching haiku in Portuguese, and his knowledge is valued today. Other people, such as Paulo Franchetti, Francisco Handa, Ricardo Silvestrin, Teruko Oda from São Paulo, and Alice Ruiz from Paraná, have already published books about haiku. Alice Ruiz gives talks about haiku, emphasizing its zen aspect. She was also Paulo Leminski's wife and her style is quite similar to his. In Amazonas, writers and poets such as Samuel Benchimol, Luiz Bacellar, Anibal Beça, Zemaria Pinto, Rosa Clement, Anisio Melo, João Batista Evangelhista, Jorge Tufic and Simão Pessoa have published haiku, each in the style they believe to be haiku. International haiku researchers and writers such as R.H.Blyth, William Higginson, Robert Spiess and Jane Reichhold are slowly becoming part of the Brazilian haiku vocabulary.

If in Brazil, samba dancers reproduce the same steps from north to south during all seasons, these seasons have their differences from region to region. Even in the north, Brazil's Amazonian region, where nearly year-round rain and sun predominate, we may discover a period where flowers seem to be abundant everywhere. Brazil's south clearly has all four seasons, but in the southwest, some seasons are abbreviated or occasionally lacking. On the other hand, when it's "summer" in Amazonia it's "winter" in São Paulo. Thus, our kigo may vary quite a lot and sometimes some of us have trouble choosing a season word. Goga and Teruko Oda published "Natureza - Berço do Haicai" (Nature - Cradle of Haiku, 1996), a book with a season word (kigo) list, which may be more useful for the southern part of Brazil, but the northern part needs to prepare its own list -- what seasons to include is a good question for a region with only a drier and a wetter season. While in the south there is a great set of images for haiku, such as the lovely ipê trees, which bloom in yellow and purple colors, Amazonia has its harpoons and nets, and wings criss-cross the forest daily.

While samba maintains its own pace without changes, Portuguese-language haiku in Brazil is slowly changing, sometimes approaching the traditional Japanese style, sometimes discovering ways to approach modern haiku based on international literature, in an attempt to keep up with world haiku thought. It's not an easy step to learn! Slowly, a few Brazilian writers have become aware that there are new ways and rules that can be followed or discarded. However, there is resistance to adopt new haiku approaches, since they generally lack a defined set of rules that can persuade the writer.

Learning how to write haiku is an everyday task. While it is a simple process, it is also a matter of finding the right moment, and the words to register and perpetuate our images. We need to learn that sometimes we may need to use 17 syllables, while at other times just a few are enough to pass the image and the moment to the reader, but that the essence is the main ingredient of this image. We hope that the rhythm, cadence and moment of the haiku will become as easy to master as the steps of a samba dance.

With thanks to Charles R. Clement and Edson Kenji Iura for reviewing this essay.