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HAIKU IN NORTH AFRICA

On the African continent north of the Sahara, haiku has taken root most deeply in the countries of the Maghreb, especially Morocco and Tunisia, where the principal cultural, religious, and literary influences are Islam and the Arabic language and poetry. Haiku is a recent addition to Arabic literature, the first large collection of Japanese haiku translated into Arabic having appeared only in 2010. In fact, a spirited debate continues as to whether the composition of haiku in Arabic is possible at all. However, a thriving haiku contest for young people that began in the 1980s as well as contacts between Maghrebi and Japanese haikuists and an international haiku conference in Morocco in 2016 are evidence that there is a strong popular basis for haiku in the region.


HAIKU IN ARABIC ?

In an article in World Haiku in 2016, the Moroccan diplomat and haiku promoter Abdelkader Jamoussi asked, “Is Arab Haiku Possible?” He pointed out that Arabic poetry—as well as that in Persia, Turkey, and other Muslim areas—is rooted in a form called  قصيدة (qaṣīda, translated as “ode”) dating from the 6th century. Jamoussi explains, “The qasida starts with a one-line verse, بيت‎ (bayt), that consists of two half-lines that are metrically identical. The first stands for a model for the following verses. The poem as a whole maintains a single meter and can reach more than a hundred lines.” While it is probably not productive to consider a long, lyrical, rhymed narrative poem such as the qaṣīda as a forerunner of the haiku in the Arab world, including North Africa, its importance as the fundamental Arabic verse form cannot be ignored.

Jamoussi further stated, “In a long process of acculturation, Arabic poetry was enriched by diverse forms of poetry borrowed from other oriental and western cultures and literatures. The most prominent examples were the classical Persian quatrains and the modern free verse poems.” Especially important in the latter instance was the European strain of romanticism as embodied in the French and English romantic poetry, as well as the cultural and literary movements that reacted to romanticism, such as modernism and imagism. French vers libre and prose poems held great appeal for Arab poets accustomed to fixed-form, rhyming, lyrical poetry just as they were to Western poets just discovering the restraint, economy, and precision of Japanese verse.

Jamoussi continued:

Contact with haiku in the Arab world came in the framework of this quest for a new type of poetic intensity. Because of the its brevity and minimalist aesthetics, haiku was considered a kind of prose poem with specific Japanese characteristics. The first recorded attempt inspired by haiku appeared on 1964. The poet Izzidin Al-Manastra of Palestine began writing and publishing very short poems he termed ‘Tawwqiaat,’ a classical Arabic literary genre which he combined with haiku and Greek epigrams. The critic Saleh Abu Osbou, in a book published in 1979 compared tawqiaat poems with haiku in their  brevity and precision. Included in Al-Manasra’s first collection is [this poem titled “Haiku”]:

O you thick gate of our monastery
The runaways are behind your thick rock
Open for us a window in the soul

Early theoretical and literary modernization of Arabic poetry took place mainly in the Levant rather than Arabia or North Africa and has evolved slowly in the period following World War II. For example, the first haiku anthology in Arabic, containing 1,000 verses translated directly from the Japanese, was compiled by Syrian writer Muhammad Adimah, and appeared only in 2010. Earlier translations of Japanese haiku had been done through intermediate languages, notably English and French.

But the question posed by Jamoussi is still valid. Literary critics in the Arab world have not yet reached agreement about whether the haiku written by young poets can be considered a new form of poetry or merely a different name for the popular new genre of flash fiction. In July 2015, Poetry Letters Magazine1 acknowledged Arabic haiku as a distinct form of poetry by publishing, for the first time, haiku by 11 Arab poets from Syria, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, and Tunisia.

MOROCCO

Uchida Sonō (内田園生), a diplomat and prominent haiku poet, served as Japanese ambassador to Morocco from 1981. Earlier, he had been ambassador to Senegal, where he famously promoted haiku by local poets written in French. Uchida repeated his haiku evangelism in Morocco by publishing articles about haiku in the French-language Moroccan newspapers. In time he had gathered some 40 poets and founded a haiku contest for younger poets.

Some 30 years later, Abdelkader Jamoussi, the same poet and diplomat mentioned above and who was serving in the Moroccan Embassy in Tokyo, was also instrumental in promoting haiku in his home country. He attended the 11th World Haiku Association Japan Conference and the 5th World Haiku Seminar in April 2016. There, he spoke about the development of haiku in his homeland and announced the upcoming 2nd Morocco Haiku Seminar. The seminar duly convened in the northeastern city of Oujda in June 2016. Among those in attendance were Ban’ya Natsuishi, president of the World Haiku Association (WHA), and his wife, the haiku poet Sayumi Kamakura. The seminar was organized as a tribute to Mohammed Bennis, one of the most prominent poets in Morocco, who had also written haiku, some of which had been published as early as 2006 in World Haiku, the yearbook of the WHA of which he was an honorary member. For example, this one of Bennis’s from World Haiku 3 (2007):

Un autre citronnier
Dans un autre pays
Mes regards sont désirs

Another lemon tree
In another country
My gazes are desires

Ban’ya recorded haiku impressions of his Moroccan sojourn in a trip report published in World Haiku,2 and later in a book, 砂漠の劇場 / The Theater of the Desert (2017), which contained 30 haiku in Japanese, French, English, Arabic, and four other languages. A sample haiku by Ban’ya:

大西洋の風よりより軽しカスバの猫
taiseiyō no   kaze yori karushi   kasuba no neko

Un chat dans le casbah          
plus léger       
que le vent atlantique 

.
.
.     
A cat
lighter than
a wind from the Atlantic3

Another prominent participant in the 2nd Moroccan Haiku Seminar was Moroccan poet Sameh Derouich (English spelling: Darwish), Shortly afterward, he gave an interview in which he spoke at some length about haiku in his homeland and the Arab region.4 Haiku, Derouich said, is quite different from the several kinds of classical Arabic poems. The genre has been growing in popularity in the region, especially since the Arab Spring upheavals of the early 2010s. Dozens of poets were writing haiku, Derouich said, and he even foresaw the birth of an Arab school of haiku.

In this context, Derouich mentioned experiments by the prominent Moroccan critic and writer Abdelkebir Khatibi (1938–2009) to find an alternative to traditional Arabic poetry, which was characterized by metaphor and statement, and placed a premium on the eloquence and presence of the poet. In contrast, haiku, Derouich continued, relies on direct expression of living reality in straightforward and simple language. Not everything written in this style is haiku, of course, and it is necessary that the rules of classical haiku be observed.

Derouich has published three books of haiku. One of them, I Am Many, was translated into English by literary scholar Chourouq Nasri. She made a detailed analysis of Derouich’s work in 2017 in the new scholarly publication Ikhtilaf, Journal of Critical Humanities and Social Studies. Here is one of Derouich’s haiku from that article:

,صباح صاح
وجهي على صفحة الماء
تخالجه السماء

A cloudless morning,
my face on the surface of water
cuddled by the sky.

The following are representative haiku by some other Moroccan poets. First, from Abdelkader Jamoussi in The Mamba 6 (September 2018):

on her way to eternity—
sweeping the dead leaves
autumn wind

Mourad El Khatibi had this haiku published in World Haiku 13 (2017):

                                    الجو حار
                                         الطفل
          قطعة حلوى تذوب بين يديه

Il fait chaud,                         
Le garçon                              
Un gâteau fuse entre ses mains   
    
    
    

It’s hot
The boy
A cake is melting between his hands

From Raja Morjani in World Haiku 14 (2018):

;تتساءل الطفلة
لمن هذي العدنات
?للبحر

Une fillette se demande:         
A qui sont ces coquillages?     
A la mer?                                   
.
.
.
.
A young girl wonders
To whom do these seashells belong?
To the sea?

and this haiku by Mohamed Ilila appeared in The Mamba 7 (March 2019):

village mosque
the wudoo water
irrigates the mint

Wudoo وضوء is the Arabic word for “ablution.”

Other Moroccan poets whose works has been published in The Mamba include Abderrahim Bensaïd, Chada Aabak Alkalimat, Meryem LahlouFatiha ElouadliAbdellah HaddiLoubna MenaneLaila Barny, Aicha Cherkaoui, Fatiha Fahim, and Zakia Haddad.

Jean-Louis Chartrain founded a private Facebook group called L’escale du Haïku in 2015 with the stated goals of sharing and mutual exchange of information and resources about French-language haiku, including meetings, new publications, reviews and general discussion. In the spring of 2020 the group claimed 320 members.

A self-confessed novice in haiku who signed himself TalibHaiku (talib طالب means “seeker” or “student” in Arabic), set up a blog with that name at https://talibhaiku.com/ about 2010, but it has been inactive since 2017. A sample haiku:

Carefully picked spot
Cat sleeping in the garden
Caressed by the Sun

TUNISIA

Haiku in Tunisia dates to the 1970s with such pioneers as Béchir Kahwagi and Amel Hamdi Smaoui writing in French, and Salem Labbène composing in both Arabic and French.

Fehti Sassi (born 1962) specializes in writing prose poetry and short poems, including haiku. He has published three books of poetry in Arabic and one in French and has translated a collection of verses from the Turkish. Sassi’s work appears frequently on international websites, and he was interviewed by the Serbian haiku poet Tatjana Debeljački for a Croatian cultural magazine.5 This poem of Sassi’s, dated August 2016, appeared on the Hello Poetry website:

فكرة

وجدتها كنجمة تلمع بين شفتيك
....سقطت
 واختفت بين الكلمات 
Idea
 
I have found it between your lips;
cleaning as a star,
then it falls and disappears between words.6

Ali Znaidi (born 1977) is a Tunisian former secondary school English teacher and Arabic translator whose haiku and other Japanese poetry forms have been featured prominently on the global haiku scene recently, appearing in many international journals and placing in contests as well. This haiku won the Grand Prize in in the 8th Yamadera Bashō Memorial Museum English Haiku Contest, 2016:

              full sunshine …
rainbow perishing into
                         butterflies

World Haiku 14 published a number of haiku by Houda Hajji (born 1965), including this one:

Au crépescule
Un arbre me parle
En langue d’oiseaux

at dusk
a tree speaks to me
in bird language

Another example from a Tunisian haikuist, Sarra Masmoudi, who is regularly published in The Mamba; is this one from issue 6 (September 2018):

dawn moon—
the smell of bread fills up
the village

Another Tunisian whose haiku have been recognized in The Mamba is Rachida Jerbi.

ALGERIA

The Algerian poet Nidal Saidi writes in French. Several of his haiku have been picked up and analyzed by Serge Tomé on his TempsLibres—Free Times Haiku Database.7 Saidi won an Honorable Mention in the 21st Mainichi Haiku Contest (2017) with this entry:

fonte des neiges
deux lignes rouges sur
le test de grossesse

icemelt
two red lines
on the pregnancy test

Poet and academic Achour Fenni (born 1957) has published two poetry collections that include haiku, Over There Between Two Absences and A Man of Dust. Haiku by two other Algerians, Amel Boulahmame and Hassane Zemmouri, have been published in English in The Mamba, issues 6, 7, and 9.

EGYPT

Basem Farid was born in Egypt but has lived in England since the 1960s. He has published his work mostly in British haiku journals and has been anthologized in John Barlow and Martin LucasThe New Haiku (2002), and David Cobb’s The Humours of Haiku (2012). His haiku are mostly about English themes, but a scent of North Africa remains, as in this example from Blithe Spirit 13:2 (June 2003):

the deaf man
having trouble
lip reading
my accent

Another Egypt-born poet in the diaspora is Minnesota-based Kareem Rahma, who published We Were Promised Flying Cars: 100 Haiku from the Future, a collection of dystopian poems, in 2020.

The Mamba issue 8 (September 2019) published three haiku in English by Egyptians Shahrzad Gewili and Hosni Eltohami.

Authors: Adjei Agyei-Baah & Haikupedia editors

Adapted from: Adjei Agyei-Baah, “A History of African Haiku”

SOURCES / FURTHER READING (PRINT)

History, composition, and criticism

Selected collections

  • Ahmed, Ali Jimale. Fear Is a Cow. Trenton, N.J.: Red Sea Press, 2002. Poetry.
  • Derouich, Sameh. 100 Haiku. The Literary Convoy Publications, 2016.
  • Derouich, Sameh. I am Many. Almaouja, 2018?
  • Derouich, Sameh. Illuminating Beetles. The Literary Convoy Publications, 2015.
  • Derouich, Sameh. The Wanderings of Derouich. The Literary Convoy Publications, 2015.
  • Derouich, Sameh. With an Acrobat’s Agility. The Literary Convoy Publications, 2015.
  • Kendall, Sally. Moroccan Haiku. Blurb Books, 2010.
  • Natsuishi, Ban’ya. 砂漠の劇場 / The Theater of the Desert. Allahhabad, India: Cyberwit.net, 2017. 30 haiku about the poet’s trip to Morocco.
  • Rahma, Kareem. We Were Promised Flying Cars: 100 Haiku from the Future. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Pioneer Works Press, 2020.
  • The Mamba Haiku Journal (February 2016–  ).
  • Znaidi, Ali. Bye, Donna Summer! Fowlpox Press, 2014.
  • Uchida, Sono. Haïku—le poème le plus court du monde. Rabat, Morocco: Ed. Techniques Nord-Africaines, 1983.

SOURCES / FURTHER READING (ONLINE)

Haiku in East Africa

Haiku in Southern Africa

Haiku in West Africa

NOTES

  1. “The Arabic Haiku,” special issue of Poetry Letters Magazine (Arabic ed.), No. 3, 2015, 47–54. []
  2. Ban’ya Natsuishi, “Haiku Tour in Torrid Morocco.” World Haiku 13 (2017), 104–6 []
  3. BanyaHaiku website: https://banyahaiku.at.webry.info/201608/article_36.html. []
  4. “Sameh Darwish: The Haiku is to write as a child but with the experience of a sheikh.” Interview by Abdul Majid Amayay-Oujda for Al Jazeera Net. Teller Report website, December 2, 2018: https://www.tellerreport.com/news/–sameh-darwish–the-haiku-is-to-write-as-a-child-but-with-the-experience-of-a-sheikh-.HJjb4ibkV.html. []
  5. “Interview Tatjana Debeljački vs. Fethi Sassi, Tunisia, February 2017.” Diogen pro culture magazine for culture, art, science and educationhttp://www.diogenpro.com/interview-fethi-sassi.html. []
  6. Translation as on the website. []
  7. For example, see http://www.tempslibres.org/tl/tlphp/dbhk03.php?id=6168&lg=e. []
Updated on September 30, 2020