More on Iconic Haiku–Miriam Sagan & Bill Waters

I recently got asked to pick a haiku that somehow is representative of my work. I was struggling with that.

Fellow writer Bill Waters said: This reminds me of the anecdote, Miriam, where a smart aleck comes to Rabbi Hillel and says something like “Teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” In response, Hillel says “That which is despicable to you do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary.”

So when someone says, essentially, that you should sum up all your haiku into one “best” or “most memorable” one, I’d ask you: Do you have a favorite? One that sticks in your memory? Maybe that would be the one you should go with.”

So, here is what I sent the editor:

footprints in snow
crescent moon, all my
beautiful failures

This haiku was written for the Snow Poems Project, curated by Edie Tsong in Santa Fe. It featured poems written on local windows. Mine adorned the Convention Center–
I wrote this haiku one cold evening. I went out to get the mail. I saw both
my footprints behind me and the moon above. Approaching 60 at that time, I
was flooded with a sense of the ephemeral nature of my endeavors. But it
wasn’t a sad or hopeless feeling. In fact, I felt happy for my effort while
realizing human striving doesn’t really get anything. People don’t like the
word “failure” and I emphasized it on purpose, maybe to shake the reader.
For my 60th birthday I collected my haiku into a chapbook, titled from this
poem–“All My Beautiful Failures” from Miriam’s Well–and gave away a
hundred copies.

Bill continues musing: Personally, I’m not big on memorizing my own poetry and can seldom call more than a few to mind. The one I remember most often, though, is this one:

birds on a phone line
some this way
some that way

It’s never been accepted for publication, and it may be that no one likes it but me — in fact, it may not even be a “good” haiku by certain standards; I don’t know — but if I had to pick one haiku to represent me, it might just be that one because it’s the one I that’s never far from my heart. ;- )

Editor’s note: I love Bill’s “iconic” haiku. It works for me on at least two levels. First, it’s visual charming, a realistic but pleasing moment of something ordinary rendered like a tiny sketch. Secondly, it has a deeper resonance about the changeability and fluidity of both life and perception. That “phone” line gains in meaning as it is potentially about a conversation. But the haiku is all light touch–as a haiku should be.

6 thoughts on “More on Iconic Haiku–Miriam Sagan & Bill Waters

  1. Your selection of birds on a phone line / some this way / some that way
    reminds me of a haiku you posted long ago, one I wish I had written:

    some nodding yes
    some nodding no . . .

    I like how you can bring humor as well as beauty into a haiku.

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