Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri (Masters of Wabi)

Masters of Wabi

two dollar bills
the beggar adjusts
his hat



no distinction
between rich and poor
alley cats


Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is a Norwegian-Canadian translator and  writer. Primarily a fiction writer, her  haiku and senryu have appeared in Frogpond Journal, Under the Basho, Hedgerow, Best Haiku Anthology, Poetry Pea, Haiku Blossoms, http://Quatrain.Fish, Autumn Moon, Prune Juice, Songs of the Pandemic, Haiku Journal, Dadakuku and elsewhere.




An article in Simply Haiku by Meng-hu, ‘Basho, Plodding in Saigyo’s Footsteps’, discusses the legendary poets’ striving toward ideals of wabi and sabi across their bodies of work and modus operandi, and expounds upon how the genre of nature imagery epitomizes the former technique’s emphasis upon ‘simplicity, authenticity, lack of contrivance’.  It is no coincidence those most revered forefathers of this practice over the generations have cultivated personas which strived to personify ‘the life of wabi’ (or, wabizumai), hermetic, monastic, ascetic existences which in form and action mirrored the clarity and austerity eastern aficionados and English pioneers like Jack Kerouac equally advocated for in optimal verse. Frill-lessness, maintaining lean language consistent, in synergy with lifestyles devoid of affectation, is also compatible with and echoes ideas of Scandinavian minimalism Western shoppers might associate with design thrusts exhibited across Ikea, the Marie Kondo method of decluttering to better focus on fewer components specifically determined to elicit joy, the Swedish concept of döstädning, of ‘death cleaning’, ridding oneself of unnecessary hindrances in anticipation of impending finality. With her keen gift for observation and poignant phrasing Jakobsen Lepri seizes upon and potently deploys two of haikai’s most enduring figurative tropes to compelling effect in these resonant pieces, and sensationally captures, articulates the reasoning, quintessential crux of why mendicants and felines so perfectly exudes wabi in readers’ collective understandings. The picture of human resiliency and indomitableness in the face of destitution, the relative value to perceive in scanty currency by its very scarcity, the need for and potential transformative worth small acts of kindness and charity can achieve by any passerby on a given day, her first subtle poem contains galaxies waiting to be unlocked and examined by thoughtful scholars. Similarly, the idea of shared grief and tumult—in the case of strays across a leveled playing field—fostering fellowship and solidarity (say, in national crises, economic and environmental), and exposure, interaction between diverse subsets of ostensible classes and castes of various hierarchies—for example, in inclusive communal recreational spaces, sports, worship—when permitted, ideally encouraged can profoundly increase camaraderie, foster understanding, promote philosophies of unity and teamwork toward accomplishing shared objectives, in the interest of which division may often spell conquer. Similarly, the value of wabi comparatively, when evaluated, is well expressed by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, who posited in the Hagakure, ‘riches and honor...blemish a retainer...if one remains in strained circumstances he will not be marred.’ This egalitarian bent is also consistent with the proletarian, internationalist content of the contemporary New Rising Haiku movement in Japan, who denounced war and championed goodwill in a tumultuous period preceding that nation’s entrance into the second world war. It is very interesting that while neither of these pieces overtly specifies the time of year with season words or topics, one can without difficulty picture either leaning toward the winter term very plausibly, describing at risk populations out of doors at the mercy of various elements literal and politic. The dreaming room factor is also very absorbing to reflect upon: depending on where and when we envision these scenes, pertinent details drastically effect and alter the stakes and dramatic character of the spectacles unfolding; whether protagonists are located on a temperate California beach or the dead of Toronto winter, in a European nation with robust support netting in place for imperiled persons, or the unforgiving Darwinian travesties of the American and global souths, the prognosis for subjects can vary enormously. That open-endedness and ma further enhances the efficacy of these writings, and makes them linger in the audience’s mind, provoking deep and meaningful thought, which stay with us long after encountering, make for the most memorable vignettes!

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