Danielle Berens

Opposites with a Common Goal:
Marlene Mountain & Masajo Suzuki

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2001

Danielle Berens


Opposites with a Common Goal:
Marlene Mountain & Masajo Suzuki

everyone gets married and has kids the heat

                                                       —Marlene Mountain

Marlene Mountain, changed her name from Marlene Wills, was born on December 11, 1939 in Ada, Oklahoma. Marlene was a visual artist as well as poet. She has obtained higher education be receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts and her Masters degrees in painting and has had many group and one woman shows. Now, she currently paints and writes on a mountain in Hampton, Tennessee. Perhaps this is where she got her new last name.

The history of Marlene’s haiku has been well published. Her first volume of haiku, the old tin roof, was published in 1976. It was a great book that envelops both her talents in writing haiku and as well as her education and background in the visual arts. The book was published in a long page format, which measured to be 3.5 x 8.5 inches. This allowed Marlene the flexibility to put in one-line haiku and concrete poems, which she referred to as "unaloud haiku." She manipulated elements such as letter spacing, word spacing, characters and arrangement on the page, each haiku has space for a unique reading experience.

In 1978 she published a second collection of her visual haiku, moment/moments and she wrote an important essay, "One-Image Haiku," which was first published in the Australian haiku magazine entitled Tweed and reprinted in A Haiku Path (Haiku Society of America, 1994). This essay was so important because she resisted the conception of haiku as necessarily containing two juxtaposed images and champions a more inclusive conception of various types of haiku.

Marlene had a second important essay published by Modern Haiku in 1988. In this essay she called for women to "create haiku from experiences which are unique to ourselves as women . . . experiences which only women can write. Experiences which celebrate or 'confess' or proclaim or express womanness" (Modern Haiku 19.2, page 32).

no escaping it—
I must step on fallen leaves
to take this path

—Masajo Suzuki

Masajo Suzuki’s real name is Masa Suzuki and born in 1906 . Her father owned a seaside resort hotel in Yoshidaya, at Kamogawa. She married in 1929 and later had her daughter in 1932 named Kakuko. 1935 was a dramatic year for Masajo because her husband disappeared mysteriously as a result of this she was divorced and Ryu, her older sister, suddenly died leaving her four children.

This in itself was enough stress and anguish to send her over the deep end, but instead she decided to learn how to express herself through haiku by following in her sister’s footsteps and studying from Ryu’s master Hakusuiro Oba. Because of her sister’s death she was left with the responsibility of managing the hotel and was also obligated to marry her sister’s husband when she was thirty. Masajo was not very happy with this arrangement nor did she ever love her late sister’s husband.

However, through her working at the hotel, Masajo met her lover that would change everything about her and lift her to a higher life. In 1936 she met Y.M., who was an officer of naval air force took his crew to her hotel to stay there over the weekend. She was thirty and he was twenty-three, seven years younger than Masajo, tall, and handsome. They were so attracted to each other that he came the next weekend by himself to visit her, while her husband was away in Tokyo. Their scandalous relationship lasted for forty years until he died in 1977.

Among her achievements for her undying love in writing haiku she received the 16th Haijinkyokai Prize in 1976 for her forth book entitled Yuboraru, Evening Fireflies, and for her sixth book entitled Miyakodori, Black-headed Gull, she received the Yomiuri Literature Prize in 1995. In 1998 Masajo won what is considered the highest award in the haiku world, the Dakotsa Prize, for her seventh book Shimokuren, Purple Magnolia. Her most recent book entitled LOVE HAIKU: Masajo Suzuki’s Lifetime of Love, translated by Lee Gurga and Emiko Miyashita, is a great composite of all her previous works. It gave me a look into the big picture of her throughout her life as a haiku writer as well as a woman in love.

The reason why I chose to compare these to haiku writers is because the both have their own sense of woman that stems from two different cultures. Marlene is an American writer and Masajo is a Japanese writer. Yet, they write about their femininity and nature whether this lies in love, the everyday experience, or a simple insight to the unnoticeable.

autumn ends unable to explain what I’ve lost

—Marlene Mountain


withered grass
when I think of him …
burnished gold

—Masajo Suzuki

For example this pair of haiku is expressive of a loss. Marlene Mountain uses a one-line haiku explaining the feeling of loss as well. By using the season of autumn and saying that it is ending makes me think that the relationship has ended and she does not know how to or does not want to explain what happened. However, now she feels lonely and in that lost.

Masajo Suzuki’s haiku is in regular form with three lines. Her haiku mostly reminds me of a memory that is missed. It sounds as if the relationship went bad by her use of the words withered, grass, which is very frail, and the burnished description used for the color gold. Masajo is more descriptive and reveals more of what was actually going on in her situation, where as Marlene vaguely describes the feeling of her loss.

nothing he said cheered me pale moon

—Marlene Mountain


field of pampas grass—
I go there to cast away
the anguish of my heart

—Masajo Suzuki

In this pair both Marlene and Masajo focus on the sadness of the heart. Marlene uses the pale moon to describe the deep sadness. Which is a great symbol because of the light color whish represents a dull and quiet feeling as opposed to a bright color, which would be bright and happy.

Again Suzuki uses grass to represent frailty and sadness. She talks of how she goes to the field to get rid of the gut wrenching sadness that is held with inside her heart. Both, Marlene’s and Masajo’s haiku makes me think that there is nothing anyone would be able to say or do to cheer them up. As a result, both writers have looked towards nature to help them. In Marlene’s case she looks to be enlightened by the moon and in Masajo’s haiku in the field.

x’s in the old address book cloudy day

a few mums in bloom empty vase

leaves fall you touch me

                                                      —Marlene Mountain

The aspect that I really like about Marlene Mountain’s haiku is that she tells of what she knows. However, it is not what she says but how she writes in her haiku. The way she can say something in her haiku without giving the whole situation away gives the reader a chance to imagine what could be going on in the situation.

sweet rice dumplings—
even to my love
a little white lie

hazy spring night—
a woman too with a cigarette
between her teeth

a glass of beer—
I serve it to a man
I will never love

—Masajo Suzuki

The great thing about Masajo Suzuki’s haiku is that it is not only about her lover but about her love for life and her striving to live it to it’s full potential. These characteristics come out in her haiku. I think her haiku are very visual and have a depth of love and yet the simplicity that the words seem like they float through the sentence. In essence she followed her own path down her road of life and successfully found what she was reaching for all the way… love.

he leans on the gate going staying

—Marlene Mountain


I have stolen a man
but never a thing of value
I roll up the bamboo blind

—Masajo Suzuki

I like this pair because they do not really directly relate to one another. However, I took a closer look and saw that they both are about a man leaving. In Marlene Mountain’s haiku it is obvious that a man is exiting her life. Yet, the way she says that he is leaning on the gate makes me think that he might not be leaving but testing her to see whether she wants him to go or stay. So she uses those play on words…going and then staying.

In Masajo’s haiku she talks of how she stole a man. Probably from another woman, yet it was not of value to her. This haiku make me feel like there might have been regret to the situation because of the way she had to roll the blind up to see him walk right out of her life. A man that was stolen and not rightfully hers had gone and she just wanted to take one last look.

Both Marlene Mountain and Masajo Suzuki have proven over and over again that their haiku has such insight into a woman’s life in love and everyday instances that make their haiku unique. However, they both are very different in their approach. Marlene likes one-line haiku where as Masajo tends to lean towards using the three-line technique. Another difference is that Marlene’s haiku are not just about a woman who is in love and her feelings that surround that relationship whether it be good or bad, like Masajo’s haiku are.

Marlene Mountain’s haiku also reflect her style of living in everyday life like a normal woman. In July 1981 she did a self-interview and when asked if she had a style she answered, "Let's say I've had a style. Or more accurately an attitude. I perceived the world around me through art and through the objects I saw as art (I was very attracted to inanimate objects such as a tin roof, a garden hose, a cement block), and attempted to express this attitude in the least number of words. Human relationships and, to a certain extent, natural phenomena were more in the background."

On the other side, Masajo Suzuki was a woman filled with love in a way that was somewhat of a sensation for her time. Her haiku stemmed from her love of everyday life and her life was unusual because she was not a courtesan or mistress, but a wife and later a divorced woman who was openly having a love affair with a married man. When she was asked about the source of her haiku writing she exclaimed, "The influence of arts and artists on me had not been small, but what has most influenced my haiku? Love! It has been the source of all my artistic activities." In essence they have their similarities yet their differences are what set them apart from other haiku writers and make them Opposites with a Common Goal.

—Danielle Berens


©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors