Tue | Aug 14, 2018

'My Favourite Fifty' Haiku by L.A. Davidson

Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Marshall Hall presents Masanori Nakano, former Ambassador of Japan to Jamaica a copy of ‘My Favourite Fifty Haiku’.
Cover of Jamaica Moments by L.A. Davidson
Cover of My Favorite Fifty Haiku by L.A. Davidson

'Jamaica Moments' was launched in Kingston 15 years ago. it is a collection of haiku poetry written over a period of 30 years. Each time American poet L.A. Davidson visited the country, she captured moments to remember in the exquisitely concise Japanese form of poetry known as haiku.

The book included not only a haiku written at Rick's CafÈ in Negril, which won a prize in Japan, but also her essay: "Haiku is What?" she noted that writers outside of Japan know "what haiku was: that it originated in Japan, had a set form of 5-7-5 Japanese symbol-sounds, and was related to nature."

Outside of Japan, for those writing in other languages, the concept has evolved sometimes radically though her explanation "it very succinctly is a moment recorded of an observation, usually of nature, in which human nature is revealed however subtly" still rings true.

After the former Japanese Ambassador to Jamaica, Masanori Nakano, was given a copy of Jamaica Moments, he projected the cover of the book on to a screen and read several of the haiku at one of his receptions, which would have pleased L.A. Davidson, were she still alive. But before her death, Charles Trumbull of the Haiku Society of America (HSA), of which Davidson was a charter member in 1968, asked her to place the over 600 haiku of hers published during her lifetime into his digital haiku base and to indicate her personal favourites.

On the 100th anniversary of her birth in 1917 and the 10th anniversary of her death in 2007, those personal favourites were published as My Favourite Fifty Haiku in a small 48-page volume accompanied by eight photographs taken by Kirby Davidson, her husband of 47 years. Several photographs were taken at the very time and place that inspired her evocation of that moment through poetry.


Not easy


Marshall Hall was the speaker at the launch of Jamaica Moments, and at that launch, after reading several of her works, he promised that he, too, would attempt a haiku.

It isn't as easy as it looks.

Capturing an observation to evoke and reveal something of human nature, usually through nature, is difficult. It took Hall 15 years to write his haiku, but it was so stunning, it was worth the wait. He prefaced it by explaining:

"The Gun Court was created by Mr Michael Manley, former prime ,minister, and it was impressed on him that if you put this Gun Court in the centre of Kingston people drive by it every day it would drive fear into the hearts of criminals and they would disappear. And since I was asked about my haiku, I have written this. My haiku - perhaps not really a haiku - anyway:"

The Gun Court;

I peered in.

Just weeds.

His haiku may be more profound than anything L.A. Davidson wrote about Jamaica since when she travelled to the island, it was usually a joyous occasion to visit her daughter, and son-in-law. In the interests of full disclosure, I am her daughter and for those of you familiar with my articles in The Gleaner for over 35 years, my initial training in writing came from her. But when Jamaica Moments was launched, Dr Hall managed to find the one awkward haiku in the collection to read aloud:

Having come so far;

To visit them both.

To the beach alone;

In remembering L.A.

Dr Hall noted that Davidson "emerged during the great depression, struggled, crossed America, emerged as a journalist, printer, writer, mother, and, perhaps, most of all, worked to allow her husband to flourish. That's why when she looks at things, she can see the essence of things". From My Favourite Fifty Haiku, Hall chose to read:

In the flowerpot,

A weed that survived the plant.

Itself a plant.

One of her haiku that I treasure the most won the ITO EN Ltd Courage Award in Japan in 1997, and though ITO EN Ltd maintains its copyright on this haiku, it gave permission for it to be included in this collection. The haiku subtly evokes the pain and loneliness when a loved one departs:

Now he has gone;

How silently the snow falls.

This first day alone.

In editing the collection, though each of the haiku was published independently, often years apart, I chose to follow the previous haiku with one that captures the aftermath of departure, published in 1982:

It is growing dark,

No one has come to the door,

And still the dog barks.

Ambassador Nakano was presented with the first copy of My Favourite Fifty Haiku in recognition of his country's enduring contribution to international art and culture.