Monday, 3 October 2011

Hand-me-down Haiku

 I’ve always had a liking for the way T-shirts and clothing in general (especially children’s) are adorned with a random sprinkling of words (usually in English, even in other countries).
Curious about the language that Henry wears in his wardrobe of hand-me-downs, I decided to sift through it. I have sorted the phrases into categories:

Team Player
Power Team
Winter Sports
Scuba Diving
Club of One
Crazy Jumps
Ride My Bike
In My Own League

What’s Up? Jumps
 It’s Mine

Air Space in Front of the Other’s Eyes

Some of these phrases have a strange resonance for me: Club of One, for example. What could this mean? How can you be alone, yet belong to a club? This philosophical question haunted me. Are we all destined to be alone, and united only by our oneness? Was this to be seen in a positive light; a blatant celebration of the individual, the breakdown of the traditional family ties and a joyous disregard of the individual’s responsibility to the extended family and society in general?
What’s Up? Jumps sounded like a theatrical script from a fringe production. The actress standing stage left calls into the dark “What’s up?” Cue spotlight. Man in black leotard jumps up and down on the chalky stage. Curtain falls.
Air Space in front of the Other’s Eyes I bet that you have never thought about the air in front of the other’s eyes as being different, say, to air in front of their nose or the air in front of your nose, for that matter. Definitely worth thinking about!
And then there is the brash “Its mine” I mean, isn’t this phrase something we parents squirm at when our kids say it.  “No, darling, please share” we meekly respond, smiling weakly at the other parents as our toddler unceremoniously wrenches treasured toy away from their little sweetheart, adding a push for good measure. Now here we are letting our child walk around with this phrase emblazoned on their chest.  That’s just asking for trouble.

I first became interested in how English is used as a form of decoration way back in 1990 when I was interested in Japanese culture. English type and words were used frequently at that time (early 90s) on Japanese clothing.  I was attracted to the liberal use of nonsensical juxtaposition of words. I liked the banality of the language, the way that the designs imitated a foreign culture with the context removed: A fictional football team that existed in name only on a T – Shirt.  In short, I enjoyed the Japanese art of imitation. And this really is an art. Imitation or reconstructions are not seen as inferior to the original in Japan, as they are in the West. Moreover, what ever it is they imitate, they usually end up doing it better.  In 2002, they hosted the World Cup and thousands of Japanese imitated being a football fan for whatever country they chose to support.  Some “real” fans felt like they took the seriousness out of the game. How could they support Holland or England just as vigorously as they had Japan? They looked the part, but where was the substance? Nine years later Japan swept to victory at the Women’s World Cup in 2011 in Germany, which just goes to show that just because there is imitation doesn’t mean that there is a lack of seriousness. In Japanese culture, the original is not necessarily more highly regarded than the imitation. An example of this is The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. A three-story temple adorned with gold leaf, burnt down by a crazy monk who was tortured by its beauty, as the story goes, and rebuilt in 1955. It is revered as if it was the original.

Haiku poetry is a high art form in Japan, and Western modern poets have struggled to imitate it. Perhaps the most famous Haiku poet is Basho(1644-1694) who wrote the famous Haiku:

An old pond!
A frog jumps in-
The sound of Water

The Haiku poem often describes nature, the seasons. It should describe and not analyse.

I like this Haiku, which is attributed to Yosa Buson(1716-1784)

Pressing Sushi
After A While
A lonely Feeling

And this one attributed to Issa(1762-1826):

My grumbling Wife
If only she were here!
The moon tonight.

As you can see from the above Haiku, the poem should have two contrasting elements, a cut as it were, a surprise element, if you will.

So, despite not coming from a culture when imitation is valued, and well aware that I don’t have a chance of writing a good Haiku, here is a summary of my week, in Haiku. You may notice that for extra inspiration I have used the phrases discussed above taken from my sons’ clothing.

Ride My Bike
Stolen in the pale moonlight
During the concert

It’s Mine
Yes, but it is on the floor and
I am afraid it has melted

Scuba Diving
In the police force
Is a job I want to do, Mummy.

What’s Up? Jumps
No one complains about the weather
When it is 27 degrees in October.

Winter Sports
But it is 27 degrees
And it is October!

Autumn sun
ladybird sitting on the window frame
Club of One

Airspace in front of the other’s eyes
Too much wine and loud brass
Gives me a headache


  1. Reminds me of the story that a Japanese department store once did a Christmas display with Santa's on a crucifix.
    I just googled it and apparently it's an urban myth.
    Maybe you should go in for Celebration Haiku 4 U, bespoke Haiku for e very occasion.

  2. Hi Catherine,
    i understand well that way that some bits of print ephemera become insidious and oppressive, insisting that they are read again and again, refusing to sink into the background.
    I have emailed myself the rest of your posts so far so that i can read them on the train.
    carry on.

  3. HI Louise, I am here if you have an order for Celebration Haiku! At any rate in time for November the 10th!!

  4. Hi Zeel, if you have any insidious print ephemera that's bugging you, I will do my best to Haiku it away for you! Thanks for reading the blog x

  5. I just had a look through Marlowe's clothes - I must have unconsciously avoided slogans on tops - could only find one: Geared Up For Fun...