It is perhaps for its meditative and connective
aspects that haiku, along with other Eastern disciplines,
has become increasingly popular throughout the western
world. Robert Spiess, past Editor of "Modern
Haiku", surmised that part of this interest
"is due to an increase in sensitivity among
a number of poets with concern for the destruction
of our natural habitats, with the sense that we
are becoming too alienated from our roots in nature."
Haijin Dusan Pajin suggests that rootlessness is
not just alienation from nature, but also from family
and place, that rootlessness prompts people to search
for authenticity and connection in the form of expressive
art and that haiku is one such art that lends to
a sense of connection.
In one of her memorable haiku, Chiyo-ni (1701-1775),
one of the rare-for-her-times female haijin, speaks
to her deeply felt connection with nature:
since morning glories
hold my well-bucket hostage
I beg for water
One aspect of haiku that I particularly enjoy is
the wide variety of expression found in its practitioners.
It would be a mistake to suggest that most haiku,
either that of the Japanese originators or of current
haijin, are limited to simple descriptions of nature.
Another favorite of mine is by Issa [1763-1827]
whose writing often expressed an empathy with living
creatures and a note of humor about the difficulties
of the human journey. When swatting those pesky
mosquitoes that are attempting to ruin the pleasure
of an outing, who could not feel better for having
read Issa's poem?
fleas in my hut -
it's my fault
you look so skinny
Issa's poem is an example of senryu, a variant
of haiku. As the practice of haiku composition has
spread, there is much controversy about what constitutes
a proper haiku poem. English haiku generally follow
the form of the Japanese original, namely, a count
of 17 or fewer syllables delivered in three lines
with a reference, direct or oblique, to nature.
The senryu form deals more with matters of human
and social nature, often in a playful, satirical
manner and carries no seasonal reference. For those
of us who are city dwellers, its natural to bend
our focus and writing to daily living in the urban
In my own practice, I've found that maintaining
a focus on the haiku process and not getting hung
up on the precise form or final product leads to
the best results in terms of meditative outcomes:
relaxation, peace of mind, enhanced awareness. Those
who insist on strict rules [exactly 17 syllables
in 3 lines, a season reference, etc.] are likely
to reverse the meditative outcomes and those who
are focused only on producing a perfect haiku are
as likely to be denied relaxation as those who take
a walk in the forest and expect to find no mosquitoes.
Here's what Buson (1716-1783) has to say about having
an expectation of a mosquito-less environment:
a mosquito buzzes
every time flowers
of honeysuckle fall
One of the best exercises for developing an appreciation
of the haiku process comes from well-known contemporary
haijin Timothy Russell. He suggests that a novice
begin his or her haiku composition experience by
simply going outside and practicing the skill of
describing what he or she sees, [e.g., a leaf falls
from the apple tree, the alley is filled with litter].
These are not a haiku! His process is a path to
learning to compose haiku by first learning to avoid
interpretation, embellishment, poetics - by learning,
in other words, to see and describe. I'll leave
the rest of his instructions for the reader to follow
Returning to a theme in the first part of this
series, it would be foolish, that is it would be
typically human, to want to write a good haiku early
on in one’s practice. I would suggest, instead,
that novices focus on the process, not on the product.
Over time, the practice will lead to an enhanced
ability to read and appreciate haiku poetry and
perhaps even to write one or two good haiku in ones
lifetime. Meanwhile, the meditative aspect will
be working and is one of the gifts that the Japanese
haiku masters have left to us, their descendents.
With respect to the process of writing haiku, there
is some misconception that a haiku is a spontaneous
expression of awareness composed by an adept in
the practice. Nothing could be further from the
truth. The Japanese masters [Basho, Buson, Issa,
Shiki] all spent considerable time writing and revising.
And, not all of their haiku originated from an encounter
in the field. Many of them are 'remembered' encounters
composed while at whatever substituted for a writing
desk in the simple dwellings that they occupied.
Writing, then, becomes meditative in the sense that
experiences are recalled, and then described, again,
without inference or evaluation. Most of today's
haijin speak of a deep experience consisting of
recall, reliving, composing, and revisiting and
recomposing. After writing the initial impressions,
Russell suggests putting aside today's descriptions
for at least 5 days before revisiting them and beginning
to compose haiku.
If you are interested in experimenting with the
haiku process, my search for information led to
a number of excellent on-line resources. The World
Haiku Club, for example, offers [for free!] discussion
lists on the various forms and lessons for beginners.
Several online journals publish haiku and related
forms of poetry: Modern Haiku, The Heron's Nest,
Simply Haiku and the World Haiku Review, to name
a few. And, the Internet is rife with individual
haiku web sites. If you decide to take the haiku
journey, I wish you well.
"Ecstasy of the Moment and the Depth of Time"
by Dusan Pajin (Yugoslavia), World Haiku Association
Conference - Tolmin, Slovenia - September 1-3, 2000,
online in Aozora E-journal
Timothy Russell “training exercise…
to help exercise the muscles necessary for writing
haiku” can be found on the web.