It’s Very Strange To Stop In Chama, New Mexico

And not drive into Colorado–but we are being law abiding!

Luckily haiku doesn’t care about borders.

large guy swatting
flies—I’ll avoid
this cafe table

a small rainbow—
check tire pressure
light stays on

curled dead mouse—
quiet conversation
crossing high grasslands

I can’t stop laughing
for no reason—we’ve been
married a long time

Richard Wright Haiku

Richard Wright, of course, is best known for his books about race in the U.S.A–“Black Boy” and “Native Son.” In the last few years of his life he was an expatriate in France, and started writing haiku. It’s always fascinating when a writer skilled in one genre crosses over to another. And the transition from realistic novelist to haiku poet is an unusual trajectory.

His haiku is much loved and admired by those who know it. He, like Kerouac, was not part of any English language haiku society or scene. I find him one of the strongest voices in 20th century American haiku poetry.

I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.

A sleepless spring night:
Yearning for what I never had
And for what never was.

Keep straight down this block,
then turn right where you will find
a peach tree blooming

A freezing morning:
I left a bit of my skin
on the broomstick

The Christmas season:
a whore is painting her lips
larger than they are

Why I Am Not A Monk by Miriam Sagan

Why I am Not a Monk

We go to Tassajara Monastery during the winter interim. I’m young, maybe 27 years old, and you are younger than me, probably 22. Only a few guests, some students, but it is not a practice period, just in-between.
It’s very beautiful, the dry side of the mountains, inland—as the crow flies—from Big Sur. Shady, in a gulch. A stream runs through it. And hot water gushes from the earth, rickety old bath houses over the springs.
Bells ring, a mallet hits a wooden board, it’s time to get up before dawn and go sit in the cold zendo. The hard core students don’t even wear socks, but I do. Sometimes the earth shakes just a little, and pebbles run down a sandy incline. Forest fire, earthquake, things are going to happen here. Might as well sit still, casting a shadow on a paper screen.
After breakfast there is a study period. You can read a religious text, take notes. Other writing is forbidden. I’ve fought my whole life to write, so this doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve written poetry and journals and letters in trigonometry class. I’ve lived on ramen noodles and very little money to write. I’ve written on scraps of paper once discharged from an ICU. I’ll write in labor, on airplanes, between students, in the middle of the night, young, old, happy, wretched.
But for this week I am forbidden my looping illegible script. Or not. I’m reading Thomas Merton for the first time. Of course I love him and I’m reading away. Pretending to take notes. But Thomas Merton doesn’t need notes. And besides, unlike me, he actually really does want to be a monk. So I write poems, many small ones about the winter gardens and people mending by kerosene lamp light.
Decades later these poems are published in Buddhist anthologies. I still get notes from people who like them. Poems written in direct violation of monastic rules.
You did become a monk. Then you died young. I married again and led a life both identical to and different than the one we led together.
Now that I’m old, every so often the thought of home leaving arises in me. “I can’t go on like this,” I tell myself, thinking of the corruption of the world, and how it has worn me down. I’m going to take vows and shave my head.
Then I just write some haiku instead.

naked zazen
by the small pool—-long bodied
wasps skim along

windowsill Buddha
in his robe, me
in my nightie

Bird Haiku by Michael G. Smith

still raven
on the bike trail
wild roses blooming

starling versus bluebird bird house

raccoon leg hanging out of the hole mated flickers wait

cat’s back turned
one-legged magpie
eats from the bowl

a killdeer
in the vacant lot
her song lingers

curious towhee
looks down at me
changing the oil

garage clear
two sparrows
steal string

woodpecker snags
a grasshopper
out of the air

Haiku from Karla Linn Merrifield

From an Omani Garden

This kiss is as bright
as an azalea blossom
fallen to your chest.

~~~

Penang Tanged

At the Pagoda
of the Ten Thousand Buddhas, this kiss
comes from smiling lips.

~~~

In Shimonoseki

Buddha strums his oud,
four heartstrings in vibration
with this kiss I prayed.

Author’s note: All of these are drawn from my book, Half a World of Kisses, forthcoming in 2021 from Truth Serum Press’s new Lindauer Poets imprint (out of Australia). The collection was written in 2019 during my 108-day World Voyage on the Queen Mary 2 and is comprised of several short poetic forms (haiku, tanka, Fibonacci, etheree, etc.) and represent the kisses I blew homeward from afar to a great love in the US.

Some Friendly Haiku Tips by Miriam Sagan

Haiku! A friend asked for some basics–a question about how many syllables there really are in haiku. I’m afraid I got a bit carried away. But why not, I love the form. So just let this feel fresh. How can we get into haiku mind–and quickly?

In Japanese, traditional character set up

Line 1: 5
Line 2: 7
Line 3: 5

This gets translated as 5-7-5 syllables, but obviously a Japanese character & an English syllable are not identical.

So, American haiku has morphed, for some writers into

5 syllables or less
7 or less
5 or less

Or, one-line (monoku) of 17 syllables or less. Haiku poets don’t agree, and like to quibble. Approaches vary from super conventional to loose. I like it all.

However, my feeling is, there are numerous ways to enter the realm of haiku spirit that go beyond the syllable count. For intimate connection with haiku, try:

1. Season word, or knowing the season. Seasons are summer, fall, winter, spring, and oddly enough “no season.” Japanese aesthetic being what it is, that no season isn’t just a negative—-it tells us the haiku is seasonless. Go local. In New Mexico, roasting chile for fall. Chimayo pilgrims for spring. It’s a wonderful exploration.

2. Natural vs. human world. Each haiku is in ONE. The mountain is natural. Footprints of hiking boots—Human.

3. Poverty & loneliness are haiku aesthetic. I consider these, for myself, to be non-materialism and solitude.

From my friend Elizabeth Lamb:

the first fall of snow
even quieter, inside
the small adobe

Early winter or late autumn
human world (within nature)
solitude and “poverty”—the house is small…

From Buson in pre-industrial Japan (but it could be New Mexico!)

Five cottages
out in the winter wind
what do those people do for a living

season: winter
human world
poverty & solitude—and compassion

Santa Fe poet Basia Miller did a cool imitation, and notes what she was following:

The yellow chrysanthemums
Lose their colour
In the light of the hand-lantern.

Buson (p. 1088)
Surprising effect observed

Even mourning-doves
Lose their voices
When the leaves tremble.

Both of these show how haiku can have a “turning word” or phrase—-more easily seen in Japanese. Let’s just say for now that the haiku divides in two—-in both above I see the split between lines 2 and 3, but haiku can also split between line 1 and 2.

Then, senryu has the same syllabic form, but is humorous. It is usually seasonless, human world, and the emotion is one that inspires a chuckle—-but it isn’t a joke, rather, an insight.

master Issa, translated by Dennis Maloney:
Where I’m from

Even the

flies bite.

Contemporary, from Ed Markowski:
midnight mass

i add a few casino chips

to the collection plate

All of the examples are drawn from the archive of Miriam’s Well. Don’t forget, this blog publishes haiku, tanka, haibun, etc. including previously published work.
What is your haiku for right now? (Looking for themes that aren’t overtly about pandemic). Send submissions to msagan1035@aol.com

Mainstreaming Haiku–A Question About How To Arrange A Book of Poetry

I’m working on a book that of necessity combines micro-poetry and work of a more conventional length. I say necessity because the collection is based on a theme–astronomy and the sky–and because it needs to be 120 pages at the editor’s suggestion. So, here is the question. How do you fit haiku into a mixed genre collection?
In my book “Rag Trade (La Alameda) I had a sequence of 40 haiku about counting the omer, a Jewish spiritual practice. But that was obviously its own thing. Same with “Ikisan Station,” a chapbook about Japan from Flutter Press. This is going to be different. Haiku alone per page, functioning as visual and poetic breaks? Sequences with titles? Little groupings? Does it matter?
Thinking about this, I’m struck again about how haiku still remains alienated from the mainstream of contemporary poetry. I don’t approve of the split, but am sometimes unsure how to bridge it.

Housekeeping, Haiku, and a New Year

Sometimes I don’t feel meditative, contemplative, or even grounded. I like the phrase “settle the self on the self” but I can’t always do it. It’s like sweeping the floor. I’m fond of the activity, but sometimes I’d rather just lie around.
“I did it once,” said my darling friend poet Elizabeth Lamb about dusting the top of her refrigerator. She preferred writing haiku to housework.
I decided to calculate how often I’ve dusted the top of the hot water heater. Twice a month. 33 years. It comes out to approximately 792 times. Frankly, it feels like more.
I don’t have much relationship to the secular new year, but Elizabeth was very fond of it–in actually and as a haiku topic. She wrote:

Orion ablaze
above the old adobe
New Year’s Eve
ESL

After her death, I wrote one of my own:

your moonstones
wrapped away
like a forgotten dream
MS

I really enjoyed new year when I was I was in Japan. All the shrines were decorated and tidied up, even the slightly scary shadowed one around the corner from House 3, Kura Studio.

I sit writing
by the shrine—perplex
the neighbors

I traveled
my whole life, just to enjoy
this

Happy New Year!