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
The wind escapes with
my human nature, unearths
feet of water
Written in the Santa Fe Railyard Suminagashi workshop.
I’m a fan of the ephemeral, the diurnal, and text installation. How can I have missed this great project from Tom Clausen at the Mann Library? Well, I did, and just discovered it because I’m also a fan of Hannah Mahoney’s haiku–and she is the featured poet of the month.
Such a touching poem–
folding her clothes
her first clothes
About the Daily Haiku
For over ten years, Tom Clausen posted a daily haiku in the elevator of the old Mann building. He continues to post them online from the Mann Library home page. The poets featured are by invitation only and the poems are almost entirely previously published original works of an extended haiku community that includes many of his friends. This site is an effort to share these works with those of you visiting us on our Web site. Haiku and related brief poetic forms are often very accessible, portable in mind and spirit and at best a knowing touch of what is poetically intuitive in our lives. We hope that you enjoy these expressions as much as we do.
Note by Tom Clausen about haiku:
“Haiku has consistently appealed to me as a means of centering, focusing, sharing, and responding to a life and world bent on excess. As the layers of my own life have accumulated, I’ve often felt overwhelmed by both personal changes and the mass of news, information, and survival requirements that come with being human today. Haiku are for me a way of honoring and celebrating simple yet profound relationships that awaken in us, with a gentle and silent inner touch, a spiritual relevance that adds meaning to our lives.”
If there is anything I like, it’s a haiku we come upon unawares. You can follow Hannah Mahoney throughout this month, and the archive is also full of great work. As a rule, it is previously published haiku, but this would also be an interesting challenge to write one a day.
Haiku in the Santa Fe Botanical Garden with Miriam Sagan
Saturday, September 15th, 2018. 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Location: Santa Fe Botanical Garden Pavilion, 715 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87505 Cost: Member $15; Not-yet-member $20 Please register in advance here.
Become a SFBG Member today and begin receiving discounts. Join/Renew here! Please join us for a haiku writing workshop in the garden suitable for all.
This wonderful project of audio haiku is now open in Ohio–http://www.holdenarb.org/seasons-of-haiku-interpretive-trail/
The brainchild of Julie Warther, it allows visitors to listen to contemporary haiku expressing the seasons. I’d love to see it!
My sister sent me the bulbs last winter.This is the slowest amaryllis to bloom ever!
It has actually left me kind of speechless.
Luckily, this haiku showed up from the talented Hannah Mahoney:
meant for each other this light and the daylily
-Hannah Mahoney http://tinywords.com/2018/04/13/27039/