Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Haiku, You?

Haiku is a traditional Japanese poetic form.  The essence of haiku is attention to the everyday and the finding of some new understanding because of the attention. 

I’ve been writing a haiku a day for the past two months, but even before that, I’ve used the form.  Most of the poems in Come to the Garden, are haiku-like in their form and intent.  

For me, writing haiku is a natural outgrowth of my meditation practice.  It allows me to take the focused attention of the meditation cushion and turn it to the world. 

One of the most famous writers of haiku is the poet Basho.  He wrote poems in Japan four-hundred years ago.  Here are a few of his haiku. 

Wrapping dumplings in 
bamboo leaves, with one finger  
she tidies her hair

In the moonlight a worm
drills through a chestnut

Under the image of Buddha
All these spring flowers
Seem a little tiresome.

Many traditional haiku contain a kigo, or a seasonal word that lets the reader know the time of  year.  

Traditional haiku can also have a cut, some grammatical or spatial element that indicates a shift of attention in the poem from one object to another or one focal point to another.  In the first poem above, we see the cut at the comma when Basho turns his attention from the dumplings to the woman wrapping them.  In the second, the second line, with its single word, serves as the cut.  Finally, the line break from the first to second line in the third poem shows the cut as the focus turns from Buddha to the spring flowers. 

You’ll notice that the translated poems by Basho don’t use the five, seven, five syllable form.  But the poems remain simple and direct, and, in this case, remain three lines.  Some haiku in English are a single line, some are four or more lines.  It’s the directness and simplicity of the words and the focused attention that define the haiku in English more than the counting of syllables.  

According to RH Blyth in The Genius of Haiku, “Haiku does not aim at beauty…. it aims at significance, and some special kind of beauty is found hovering near.”

Since I also practice contemplative photography, I find that sometimes my poems and images align.  I share some of those poems and images in earlier blog posts.  Those poems are traditional haiku, following the 5/7/5 syllabic form.  

This poem, from my children's poetry collection, In the Garden, uses a haiku form without exact syllabification. 

Stars in the garden, their white petals sparkle. 
Or are they suns?  Bright yellow centers
igniting the other flowers, making even sunflowers bow their heads.

Read more at Ryukokyu University
Matsuo Basho at Poem Hunter

There's also a lovely discussion of meter in haiku here at Prolific Press.

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