last day of autumn:
and still the sunset lingers
in a one-way street.
© Eric W. Amann (16 January 1934 – July 2016)
(Modern Haiku 1:1, 6)
Before I comment on this haiku, let’s learn a bit about Eric W. Amann. One of the most influential figures in the formative years of the haiku movement in Canada was Toronto medical doctor and poet Eric Amann. He was born in Munich in 1934. In 1952, Eric and his family emigrated to Chester, Pennsylvania. In 1953, Eric was drafted for the Korean War and escaped to Winnipeg where he stayed with family friends from Munich. He earned his medical degree in 1961.
As many other poets in the 1960s, Amann’s interest in haiku was sparked by the six volumes written by R.H. Blyth. After reading and writing haiku for several years, Eric Amann edited and published the first Canadian haiku magazine Haiku from 1967-1970. Under Amann’s editorship, Haiku rapidly became one of the most influential North American periodicals, publishing experimental as well as classical work. After a hiatus of seven years, during which he engaged in other kinds of writing, in 1977 Amann returned to haiku with a new magazine Cicada (from 1977-1982) which immediately achieved a similar status. The same year, Eric Amann, Betty Drevniok, and George Swede founded the Haiku Society of Canada, which later in 1985 was renamed Haiku Canada. Eric served as its first president during 1977-79. In 1979, Eric Amann also published one issue of konkret [a journey into the concrete and visual].
In the preface to the 1986 edition of The Haiku Anthology, Cor van den Heuvel wrote that “Haiku and Cicada [were] perhaps English language haiku’s most influential magazines [and that they] are still unsurpassed for excellence in both content and design, though both have ceased publication.”
Eric W. Amann sadly passed away in July 2016 and left a huge void in the international haiku community.
While writing about the significant achievement of one of the pioneers of English-language haiku, Richard Stevenson states: “For Eric Amann, the ideal is to capture the ‘ah experience’ or ‘a mood of serene calm and beauty.’ The form may vary from the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 syllable count to the one-line portrait; it may even be stretched to include the “mutational possibilities” of senryu, vertical, visual, and sound haiku.” – (Richard Stevenson in Canadian Literature, Spring 1985) [adapted from The Living Haiku Anthology]
First, I want to say that for a reason I can’t explain, I got into a deep meditative state while reading this haiku and this is the main reason I selected this haiku. Just imagining the imagery presented in the haiku brought me to a change in consciousness. That is what a real haiku, or any poem, should do. As Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” And that is exactly what I felt while reading this haiku.
It is a common haiku aesthetic to show the continuity of something. But the way Amann has presented this aesthetic is unique. The one-way street makes us, as readers, give our full attention to the sunset, and signifies that autumn may in fact be present in every season.
The sunset itself is a representation of autumn: though it is a day dying, it shows death in a beautiful way by showcasing the rich colors of life. With the imagery of the sunset lingering in a one-way street, the author must have felt that this is all of autumn being shown, or that autumn was giving its last display as a kind of a last expenditure. In a sense, we can say autumn did not give up being itself to the very end, and as mentioned before, maybe this is an indication that autumn never truly fades throughout the seasons (especially since we can see sunsets each day of the year).
The one-way street can signify many things. It could mean all seasons are all the same, the way of life is singular, or that autumn is only itself, in its melancholy glory… and many more interpretations are possible. However, I think the best thing to do is to read this haiku as it is and let the imagery soak in your mind and you will get the real experience of this haiku.
The “s” letter features strongly in the haiku, reflecting the sound of leaves rustling. The lines are paced in the classical way for English haiku: short line-longer line-short line. Though the punctuation being used, such as the colon and period, might seem strange to readers now, it was regularly used at the time this was written. But there is nothing wrong with the use of the colon and period, as kireji (cutting words, or punctuation in English) was often used at the end of haiku in Japanese and colons are still in use in English haiku.
To read more haiku by Eric W. Amann, visit: http://terebess.hu/english/haiku/amann.html
– Nicholas Klacsanzky