Blue air whispers
ghosts of summer.
Blue air whispers
ghosts of summer.
still out shopping
in my kitchen
ruby: north, south, east, west
pollen stains my hands
In North America, the amaryllis could be considered a winter kigo, or season word. The bulbs, looking dead, can be forced in a warm room and shoot up into large showy blossoms. In this haiku, they form a kind of compass rose. The flower marks the speaker’s location in space, and when the poet comes closer she almost merges with the flower with the exchange of pollen. This implies too a freshness not just of the amaryllis but of a new beginning.
Then repacked. Ocean fog calls
Cat perched on top
Editor’s note: I like this haiku for several reasons–it has a sense of motion, the repacking and imminent travel. And it has a sense of stasis–the cat. Many a cat likes to sit in a suitcase without realizing it is a harbinger of change.
Send me a few haiku to consider for publication and if I use one I’ll give it a bit of context. firstname.lastname@example.org
Truthiness in Haiku
I recently wrote that haiku should be “genuine.” I had more than one reader point out that haiku doesn’t need to be autobiographically accurate. That is a useful observation, although I was using genuine in the emotional/psychological sense.
So perhaps I’ll amend that to “experienced.” In this, haiku is like any other kind of poetry. It should come from what Keats called the “objective correlative”—the experience the poet had that inspired the poem.
Is haiku poetry? This may seem like an odd question, but I’ve heard writers of haiku say it isn’t poetry. To me, it most decidedly is. If poetry is human feeling expressed in condensed or structured language, then it most certainly is. Poetry of course is a lot of other things, but this might serve as a minimal definition.
“Write what you know” is an annoying truism but I always add a second part: “So know a lot.” Accuracy of report is for journalism, not for poetry or even memoir. I’ve had many students tortured by trying to be “true” in their autobiographical writing. However,
1. We can rarely know what “true” is. (To start a family fight, see if your version of events is agreed upon by everyone!)
2. Poetry and memoir are primarily Literature with a capital L. They aim at deepest truths through craft, not factual accuracy.
Here, however, is a marvelous synthesis between the accurate and the felt. From Mann Library’s Daily Haiku:
the morning glory vine:
on this last day
Elizabeth Searle Lamb
I knew Elizabeth very well, and I’m quite sure she counted those blossoms. She was very fond of morning glories, which flourished under the green thumb of her husband forester and entho-botanist Bruce Lamb. Actually much of the charm of the first two lines is that the poet took the time and care to count—to count and to enjoy. I’m not sure exactly what the last line refers to—but I assume it is about moving away or moving house—the last day of seeing the vine. The blooming is a kind of farewell, although the flowers will continue, if unseen. It is a farewell to the relationship.
I don’t usually think of haiku as memoir, but I’m seeing that it can be. Most importantly, it is Literature. Which Kafka said is “an ax for the frozen sea within us.”
Something to aspire to.
Can You Fake Haiku?
The writing of haiku seems to increase every time I look at international websites and magazines. It’s wonderful to see so many people practicing poetry, and investigating this special form. Yet much of the work posted—often asking for feedback—is much weaker than it needs to be. It is possible to build a better first draft.
The most obvious advice—and the advice most often given and presumably taken is to learn what haiku is, and to follow its rules, byways, and ethos. This is a good starting place. Learning about season words and syllabic counts and everything else that defines the genre is the necessary first step.
The second, also obvious, step, is to practice. However, as in any practice from singing to weight lifting to writing there are better and worse ways to do something—and haiku is no exception.
In my experience, genuine haiku needs to come from genuine experience. Like all poetry, it can’t be written out of superficial emotions, sentimentality, shallow wit, a desire to show off, or to look good.
Haiku in particular is based on moments of perception expressed in language.
The proliferation of cell phone haiga tends to dilute this. A picture of an iris and a three line poem about pretty purple flowers doesn’t really express much either poetically or visually. Haiku can seem easy to write—or close to impossible—depending on your level of practice.
Traditionally haiku can come from a sense of deep feeling, connection, loneliness, poverty, the ephemeral, a rush of passing scene, and more. Can you imitate such haiku and learn from them? It does seem possible. And that is because you may be passing through haiku moments without even realizing or noting them.
However, don’t make a fetish of the work of haiku masters. That person’s vision or intimacy is attainable by you as a writer—just that it has to now be yours.
Here is an example from Haiku of the day by my friend Elizabeth S. Lamb at Mann Library 11-25-18
the first fall of snow
even quieter, inside
the small adobe