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Monday, August 18, 2014

Masaoka Shiki

"Take your materials from what is around you — if you see a dandelion, write about that; if it's misty, write about the mist.  The materials for poetry are all about you in profusion."

Japanese Poet
1867 - 1902

Where do you get your ideas for your writing or your painting?  Are your ideas rooted in the world in which you live?  Has that maple tree in your backyard shown up in your painting?  Has the dragonfly or the butterfly appeared in your writing?  Look around you.  The world is yours for the taking.  Be sure to incorporate it into your creative work.

Even if you paint abstract paintings or write surrealistic poetry, you can take your inspiration from the world in which you live.  Nature is full of opportunity to explore the meaning of life and other philosophical questions.  It also teaches us practical lessons that we as humans need to learn.  What can you learn from the squirrel or rabbit or deer?

Human frailties can also be a great source of inspiration whether you are painting or writing.  What are you learning from the people in your life?  How are you applying these lessons to your art?

Creative Practice
Take 10 minutes everyday and write or paint something that you normally don't write or paint.  Take your subject from what is around you.  Maybe it is a dandelion, or a squirrel, or an oak tree, or even a spider.  Or take something you normally write or paint and change your perspective.

About the Poet
Masakoa Shiki (Tsunenori), considered one of four great Japanese poets, was born into a samurai family of modest means in the castle town of Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku.  His father, Tsuneanao, was an alcoholic who died when Shiki was five years old.  His mother was the daughter of a Confucian scholar who became Shiki's first teacher.  She was forced to teach sewing to support her family.  At 15, Shiki became involved in the Freedom and People's Rights Movement and became interested in being a politician.  He moved to Tokyo in 1883 to live with an uncle. While in Tokyo, he discovered baseball and enjoyed playing.  He entered the Imperial University in 1890 where he studied literature and eventually concentrated on haiku.

When Shiki was 22, he began coughing up blood and adopted the pen name, "Shiki," the name of a bird that according to legend coughed up blood as it sang.  He dropped out of the university and began working as haiku editor for a newspaper, Nippon.  Shiki suffered fro tuberculosis the last 14 years of his life.  He went to China in 1895 as a war correspondent in the First Sino-Japanese war.  Living in filthy conditions in China, Shiki grew worse.  He became bedridden in 1897.  The illness worsened in 1901 and he began using morphine as a painkiller.  He died of TB in 1902 at the age of 35.  

Haiku by Shiki

spring rain:
browsing under an umbrella
at the picture-book store

a look backward
at the person who went by —
misted out

the nettle nuts are falling . . .
the little girls next door
don't visit me these days

ways of the world,
may he never know them,
the toad

lifting my head,
I look now and then —
the garden clover

to awaken
the hot-water bottle, barely

how much longer
is my life?
a brief night . . .

a barrel full of phlegm —
even loofah water
will not avail me now

Biography  & Haiku Sources:
Beichman, Janine. Masaoka Shiki. Twayne Publishers (Boston). 1982.
Hoffmann, Yoel. Japanese Death Poems. Tuttle Publishing (Boston). 1986.
Isaacson, Harold J. Peonies Kana. Theatre Arts Books (New York). 1972.

Quote Source:
Beichman, Janine. Masaoka Shiki. Twayne Publishers (Boston). 1982.