Six Haiku

The haiku in this cycle come from “May Sky: There is Always Tomorrow,” a book of haiku collected and translated from the original Japanese to English by Ms. Violet Kazue DeCristoforo. These poems originate from different “haiku clubs,” comprised of Japanese expatriates and Japanese-Americans living in and around the San Francisco area prior to the United States’ involvement in World War II, one of which Ms. DeCristoforo was a member. The members of these poetry clubs eventually found themselves the victims of the U.S. Government’s policy of detainment and incarceration of all residents of Japanese heritage, a policy instated shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entrance into W.W.II. During this period of detainment, the poetry clubs remained active inside the camps and the following settings use poetry composed during this time.

While I have always admired haiku for their vivid imagery, deep philosophical overtones, and economy of language, these particular poems bring an intensity and urgency to the genre I have not yet seen paralleled. Traditional subject matter and form are still present but transformed as to render a drastic change in tone. This poetry vividly expresses the images of the camps and the despair of the prisoners along with the hope and humanity used to confront and cope with their situation. The following settings utilize poetry from many different times and places of internment (excluding the last poem, composed by Kyotaro Komuro long after his internment, which -appropriate to this cycle- reveals his stoic nature) and attempt to draw a complete picture of the prisoner’s experience. The goal in composing these settings was to further bring out the beauty of the prisoner’s continuing humanity in the face of severe adversity. While these settings are not specifically an attempt to imitate the sound of Japanese music, certain aesthetic points of the poetry do carry over into the musical settings and can be seen in the sparsity of accompaniment, the asymmetrical musical structure, the brevity, and the overall simplicity of musical structures.

 

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