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The genesis of theming an issue of Haigaonline themed “Fire” came a couple of years ago while talking with my son about global warming and the need to curtail carbon emissions. The conversation made me realize how complicated the issues of global warming are. Fire is central to most if not all of our technologies, our arts and literature, religions and mythologies, cultures and daily habits of life. Humans have been working with fire since well before the emergence of the modern species. From a cave in South Africa comes recent archaeological evidence of cook fires from the time of the age of homo erectus. The control of fire meant that our remote ancestors could not only cook but also keep wild animals at bay, stay up later and keep warm on cold nights, expand territory and evolve into the humans we are today. On the other hand, our overuse of this most basic tool is now altering the ecology of the planet in ways that threaten our continued existence. If we do succeed in inventing abundant, cheap energy with little or no environmental impact, it will be a different sensory world from the one in which we evolved. Many of our deepest, richest memories are about things burning—the crackling warmth of a wood-burning fireplace, the scent of the gasoline lawnmower being started up in spring, the brimstone scent of fireworks on a summer night. . .
One of my pleasures of theming an issue is researching and educating myself as I write the Welcome page. My first step is usually to consult the World Kigo Database and other available saijiki for related season or topic references. For the past few issues we’ve been progressing through the Four Elements (five if you use the Asian system). The turn for this issue was Fire. Longtime readers may remember that our Winter 2007 issue was themed “Banked Fire” and included a remarkable portfolio by our firefighter haijin Ron Moss. This time I was looking for a spring season reference and a different mood. I quickly discovered it's a widely varied topic whose kigo span multiple seasons and topics, though my imagination was soon captured by a spring kigo related to farm and garden work "burning the withered fields” (野焼く noyaku), An ancient agricultural practice, spring or autumn burning prepares fields prior to planting. It controls of weeds and insects as well as makes ash that will fertilize the new crop. You'll find field burning in a waka from the 11th c. Kokinshu, about young lovers who have sought seclusion in spring grass and hope this won't be field burning day. The motif was adapted to a picaresque episode in the Tales of Ise whose illustrations depict villagers with torches at the edge of a field of tall grass.
While these were charming but they didn't get to what I wanted for the theme. That I found in hokku by both Buson and Issa. One of the recently rediscovered poems by Buson, translated by Emiko Miyashita and Michael Dylan Welch, depicts the regrowth of wildflowers and has helped me to title the issue.
In the end, though, it has been Issa with his acute empathy for living things who has shown me the heart of the kigo: that in one way or another we are all are part of this life cycle of destruction and renewal.
Here are six from the many fire-related hokku on David Lanoue's website of Issa translations. These all can be pulled with the search word "burn". In the end, I did not to select just one as a signature poem for the issue. In all of them, Issa has left us important lessons for our times..
The graphics I've chosen for the issue depict fire as experienced by an increasingly urbanized population in the modern era. The artist is Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915). Born to a family of minor officials in the waning days of the Shogunate, Kiyochika depicts in his prints the rapid industrialization of the Meiji era. Modernity juxtaposes to tradition in evocative night scenes of lanterns and fireworks, gas-fueled streetlights, railroad steam engines and other innovations that were transforming life not just for the Japanese but for all of us in the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries.
Many thanks to everyone who supported this issue with contributions of art and poetry Many, many thanks also to our resident staff who have given so much over the years. You'll find information about our next issue's theme and Challenge on our Submissions page