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Frogpond 39.3 • 2016

Museum of Haiku
Literature Award

Haiku & Senryu

Essay 1 - Characteristics of American Haiku

Essay 2 - Spiritual Freedom: Learning from Wassily Kandinsky



Book Reviews

From the Editor


Spiritual Freedom: Learning from Wassily Kandinsky

by Michael Dylan Welch

Spiritual Freedom: Learning from Wassily Kandinsky
(complete PDF version)

Here is a sample excerpt from the opening page of this essay:

Let me state at the outset that Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art is a painfully obtuse book, at least in translation. It is a dense and difficult read. Yet it is lauded for presenting concepts that validated abstract art, and rejected the idea of “art for art’s sake” as a “vain squandering of artistic power” (16). Kandinsky was significantly influenced by theosophy, a pantheistic philosophical system based on mysticism that was steeped in the motto, “There is no religion higher than truth.” He asserted that all art needed to strive for spirituality, not in a religious sense, but out of a transcendent “inner need.” Indeed, Kandinsky says that “spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life” (62). A Russian painter and art theorist, Kandinsky published his short book in 1912 in German, with his own illustrations, as Über das Geistige in der Kunst, and the book has had wide influence in painting and aesthetic circles ever since. Perhaps, too, it may have some influence on haiku.

What follows is a selection of quotations from the book, in translation by Kandinsky’s friend, Michael T. H. Sadler, published in 1914 as The Art of Spiritual Harmony, with my commentary on varying applications of these quotations to haiku poetry. The message, I believe, is that haiku for haiku’s sake may also be a vain squandering of artistic power, that abstraction must be grounded in wonder and awe, and find organic form, and that the spiritual motivation and reward we often find in haiku arises out of our own inner need. Just as Kandinsky’s manifesto was a clarion call to reject materialism in favour of untainted spiritual transcendence, haiku poets might heed a similar call, no matter what their subject, and aim for spiritual freedom in their poems.

[essay continues for several more pages] . . .

. . .

Welch, Michael Dylan. "Spiritual Freedom: Learning from Wassily Kandinsky." Frogpond 39.3, Autumn, 2016, 57-73.

This excerpt inclues the first page of the interview: page 57. The complete essay includes pages 57-73. To read the complete essay, click on the link to the PDF version:

Spiritual Freedom: Learning from Wassily Kandinsky
(complete PDF version)



Michael Dylan Welch was first attracted to the spirituality of haiku through books on Zen and Taoism, in which haiku translations sometimes appeared, and through Eric Amann’s The Wordless Poem. He does not consider haiku to be a Zen art (no more, say, than photography or driving a car), but continues to be attracted to the transcendent suchness of many haiku. His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in hundreds of journals in twenty languages, and also ap- pear on his website at Graceguts.com. Michael founded National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo.com) in 2010, and served two terms as poet laureate for Redmond, Washington, where he also curates two poetry reading series. His latest poetry books are Seven Suns / Seven Moons (NeoPoiesis Press, in collaboration with Tanya McDonald), Becoming a Haiku Poet, and Fire in the Treetops: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Haiku North America (both Press Here).