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Swedish Haiku
 
Anders Österling's review of Asatoro Miyamori's A anthology of Haiku ancient and modern in the daily Svenska Dagbladet (1933) was probably the first broader Swedish presentation of the genre. Österling gave a vivid description of "the shortest poem of the world" where he confessed not being too familiar with the subject. He mentions how the Japanese sense of humour makes him feel unsure - it can be hard to tell the serious from the fun in a poem where "the smile is so fleeting and discreet".
In 1959 the first edition of classical Japanese Haiku in Swedish translation appeared Haiku. Japansk miniatyrlyrik - thanks to the Romanian musician and translator Jan Vintilescu.
In 1961 the Swedish poet Bo Setterlind published a collection of short, haiku-inspired poems Några ord att fästa på siden. He was the first of several renown Swedish authors to show an active interest in haiku.
The next collection of Swedish haiku though, was to be written by a diplomat: the UN: s Secretary General, Dag Hammarsköld. After the plane crash that killed him the in Kongo in 1961, one found a manuscript entitled Vägmärken that was published in 1963: a diary-form collection of notes, observations and haiku verses. (Auden's not too faithful translation entitled Markings appeared in 1964).
In 1974, the concretist poet Sonja Åkesson published her eleventh volume of poetry: Sagan om Siv, a collection of sadly ironical snapshots from the life of the fictive, yet very realistic character "Siv". In a short foreword Åkesson notes that apart from the format, that is three-liners with 5-7-5 syllables, the included poems do not have much in common with the Japanese haiku. On the other hand, in a short epilogue, she quotes Lafcadio Hearn on the stand of poetry among the Japanese, stating that almost everyone in Japan , regardless of social background, is writing. Åkesson goes on asking if not Sweden is about to develop in a similar direction. Enthusiastically she declares: "When I visit schools, I let the pupils form groups of three and then they write haiku, everyone is contributing one line."
So it is somewhere here, with the still growing creative writing movement that took its start in the seventies, that one can note the beginning of a more widespread interest in haiku – or what one considers to be haiku. This especially holds true for all levels of the education system. In many of the compulsory school's coursebooks in Swedish, one finds a section on haiku. Agronomists and others studying outdoor pedagogy might be confronted with haiku exercises. The future art teachers studying Levande Verkstad, a Bauhaus-inspired method, often also devote a short period of their education to experimental haiku- and haiga-projects.
What is regarded as haiku might of course vary widely in these different contexts - at least one would think so. Yet this is often not the case. Even in the many popular creative writing courses and author schools within the adult education, the definition often boils done to the smallest common denominator. That is: any three-liner with 5-7-5 syllables may do, occasionally the adding of a seasonal word to the arithmetic exercise might be requested… It may not come as a surprise: the outcome is not always poetry. The rhythmical qualities of the resulting texts are not always enhanced by the counting of syllables (for instance the poetic novice is often not too aware of how the choice of linebreaks might affect rhythm and expression).
Fortunately, this thinning-out of the poetical substance of the genre is counteracted by the active interest shown by some quite renown authors. Though in the writings of the latter, what one understands as haiku often tends to be adjusted to the authors own poetics.
Since Dag Hammarsköld yet two other members of the Swedish Academy have been publishing haiku-inspired poetry: Gunnel Vallquist presented some rather aphoristic three-liners among the essayistic reflections in Steg på vägen;  Sinologist Göran Malmqvist's verse in Haiku för ros skull display a sense of humour that perhaps is not quite as subtle as that ambiguous Japanese smile Österling was referring to in the initially quoted review.
The theoretician and poet Anders Olsson consequently uses the 5-7-5-form in his collection Ett mått av lycka, which on the other hand is coloured by postmodern thinking (including some experiments with distorted grammar).
Already translated into German and several other languages (e g Bengali) are the artful three-liners permeated by metaphors, in Tomas Tranströmer's Den stora gåtan. Since this volume appeared, a clearly visible Tranströmer-effect could be noted in the statistics of the most important Swedish Haiku-Webpages: i e suddenly they had twice or three times as many visitors as before.  No matter what stance one takes on Tranströmer's unorthodox interpretation of the form: his work has contributed to a renewal of Swedish media's interest in haiku as a serious art form.
Since japanologist Lars Vargö, editor of the Swedish Haiku Society's magazine Haiku, did publish Japansk haiku. Världens kortaste diktform, Swedish readers also have access to a comprehensive work that opens for a deeper understanding of what haiku really is about. Including translations of some three hundred modern Japanese haiku this book that appeared in 2003 not only introduces history and definitions, but also gives some clues to contemporary Japanese developments.
The Swedish Haiku Society, which was established in 1999, has as its object to spread knowledge about haiku in Sweden and encourage writing of haiku poetry in the Swedish language. Already before he and Sten Svensson founded the Society, Kaj Falkman worked in this direction, collecting and translating classical Japanese haiku, that were published in 1986 under the title Vårregnets berättelser. During the last two years he has also been writing revealing essays on haiku themes for some of the larger Swedish dailys.
The Swedish Haiku Society so far has published two anthologies. The bilingual Aprilsnö. Hundra svenska och hundra japanska haiku: Suweden no haiku hyakku Nihon no haiku hyakku, with hundred Swedish and hundred Japanese haiku, appeared in 2000. In the year 2003 came Haiku.Förvandlingar, in which 103 Swedish haiku-poets were represented. In these anthologies, free haiku are just as common as the syllable-counting verse.
(Somewhat more extensive presentations in English of these anthologies, including some sample haiku, are found in the May 2005 edition of Simply Haiku, www.simplyhaiku.com, and in the English section of a Swedish haiku site: www.haikurymden.se/english/essay.htm)
Haiku, the magazine of the Swedish Haiku Society, is publishing essays, reviews, haiku and results from the Society's haiku contests. So far there have been two.
Another popular activity are the haiku workshops that are held on a regular basis for members of the society. (Winners of these kukaji are published at www.ostasieninstitutet.se). Several of the about 150 members also offer workshops and lectures themselves - in schools, museums, libraries, universities, adult education and so on.
Since about one year the society maintains a webpage, offering some basic information on haiku and the activities of the Swedish Haiku Society: http://www.haiku-shs.org
 
Kaj Falkman and Helga Härle
Stockholm, May 2005