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Saturday, July 20, 2002

Australian scientist takes top Japanese-language haiku prize

Staff writer

An Australian scientist has won the prestigious Nakaniida Grand Haiku Prize for a collection of poetry written in Japanese.

Awarded annually for the best debut work in Japanese by a haiku poet, the 300,000 yen prize this year went to Dhugal Lindsay, a 31-year old marine biologist from Queensland, Australia.

Lindsay's collection "Mutsugoro (The Mudskipper)" contains 290 haiku composed between 1991 and 2001. As an afterword, there is an eight-page essay in which Lindsay sets out his haiku philosophy and presents his thoughts on the future of the genre. "Mutsugoro" was selected from a field of more than 100 nominated works.

A form of short poetry that originated in Japan in the 16th century, haiku was popularized by the poet Matsuo Basho in the 17th century. Composed in a spare, almost stark style, haiku traditionally draws its images from the natural world. The image is then left "suspended in the mind, like a raindrop at the tip of a leaf, so that its subtle allusions may work on the imagination," said Lindsay.

The foreword to "Mutsugoro" is by haiku master Kaneko Tohta. Tohta praises Lindsay's poems as being "written in an easy and natural way, describing things from everyday life, but what he searches for in his haiku is profound and significant. He is never just an ordinary haiku poet."

Lindsay's poems conform strictly to the 5-7-5-syllable structure that the poet believes is essential to true haiku:

Kainin-o mimizuki-ni tsugu ari-ni tsugu
To the owl and then to the ant I also tell them of her pregnancy

Botanyuki seiza-no ashi-o nobashi-keri
Huge flakes of snow . . . from a formal position I stretch out my legs

Nijuujinkaku-ka-mo-shirenu serori kamu
It might just be a split personality -- eating celery

Lindsay first began composing haiku in both English and Japanese, but his desire to write "true" haiku finally led him to write only in Japanese, a skill that he mastered more quickly than he expected.

The poet-biologist belongs to the Fuyoh haiku school, based in Tokyo. The Fuyoh school is presided over by Yoko Sugawa, who has acted both as Lindsay's poetic mentor and as his "adopted mother" during a period of home stay in Japan. Many of his poems were written for publication in the school's haiku magazine, Fuyoh.

For all his traditional pedigree, however, Lindsay's scientific training gives him an unusual perspective, evident in a number of his recent poems:

Uchuu-yori-no denpa-ni yururu keshi-ho hana
Swaying to and fro in radio waves from outer space the poppies

"Modern haiku can use poetic techniques to investigate the relationship between humanity and the natural world," said Lindsay, "allowing us to grasp what it means to be human."

Translations of Lindsay's haiku are contained in the First Australian Haiku Anthology, accessible at HaikuOz, the Web site of the Australian Haiku Society at www.users.mullum.com.au/jbird/ljd1.html. "Mutsugoro" is published by the Fuyoh Library.

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