Is Zen over represented when we discuss contemporary American haiku? Miriam’s Well asks Gary Gach

Here is the second part of the five part interview. So pleased to be able to share it.


Q.: Is Zen over represented–or maybe not–when we discuss contemporary American haiku?

Answer: Good question. As a culture, we’re still getting past the concept of haiku as a neat packaging ploy: anything in 5-7-5 syllables is haiku. Similarly, we’re still moving past a murky sense of haiku being somehow connected with Zen – about which people still have a hazy grasp, not having committed to any introductory formal practice themselves. That is, we’re entering instead into a broader, truer perspective. 

I think it’s safe to take a step back and recognize that, as Americans have come to haiku, and Zen – Zen has been a meme carrier for haiku. DT Suzuki and Alan Watts introduced haiku in their writing. Haiku were important to Seymour Glass. For many Americans, these were some of the first inklings of Zen, and of haiku.

At the same time, essential aspects of Japanese haiku weren’t as widely recognized — such as tanka and renga, Pure Land and Shinto. And so on.

So, to answer the question being asked: yes!

Returning to the Buddhist roots of haiku, European Americans are still coming to recognize Pure Land, although it is a larger school than Zen. Yet many are familiar with two stellar examples of haiku influenced by Pure Land: haiku by Kobayashi Issa (“On a branch / floating downriver / a cricket, singing”), and Jack Kerouac ( “In my medicine cabinet, the winter fly has died of old age”).

Haiku originates in Japan, yet I don’t confine haiku’s relevance today to any single school of Buddhism. It’s been seen to reflect Vipassana, Zen, Pure Land, & Vajrayana. And there’s more going on in haiku than Buddhism.

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well ( The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

5 thoughts on “Is Zen over represented when we discuss contemporary American haiku? Miriam’s Well asks Gary Gach

  1. I try to write haiku nearly every day as a commitment to observe, to see, as a reminder. I think the more I study haiku, the more I am drawn to Buddhism and Zen because of the practice of observing, standing back as witness. And the haiku I most enjoy often has a Zen flavor.

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