I have three new haiku poems to share with you all this week, thanks to the lovely Day of Poetry and Dharma workshop hosted by Seattle Insight Meditation Society. My deep thanks to them for this experience. You’ll find these three new short works (Look Close, Tiny Seeds; Not all Berries Drop; and Against The Sky) all posted in my new site collection, Tiny Seeds.
A few thoughts on the poems:
Haiku, as a form, is near to my heart, as it was my first door into poetry some years ago. I came to it while first reading (one of my favorite books) The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. In it he describes his friend, the eminent field biologist George Schaller, attempting to master the art as the two of them trek through the Tibetan Himalayas.
The technical details of Haiku and its related forms are a pretty deep well. It’s a fascinating and lovely art form that one could spend a lifetime pursuing and perfecting. For starters, however, one is well pretty served with just two basic guidelines:
17 syllables, arranged in a three respective lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each;
A subject centering on themes of the natural world, and/or a word or phrase representing the season of the poem
How strictly one should adhere to the 5-7-5 structure is a matter of passionate debate by many. Even Bashō, the great (and probably most famous) 17th century master of haiku, didn’t always adhere to the structure, sometimes slipping an extra syllable in here or there when needed. For me, however, I prefer the structure. With the constraint of form, greater creativity and efficiency of language is unlocked. Plus, I like the puzzle of it.
To understand how intimately reverence for nature is entwined in the practice of haiku, observe the story of Kikaku, a disciple of Bashō, who comes back from the fields one morning and tells his master he has written a haiku:
“Take a pair of wings / from a dragonfly, you would / make a pepper pod” — five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables — perfect haiku.”
To which Bashō said, “This is not a haiku. You killed the dragonfly. The haiku is: Add a pair of wings / to a pepper pod, you would / make a dragon fly.”
Near the end of his life, Bashō said, “Across all these years, I have only written but four or five haikus.”
The workshop facilitated these particular haikus—after a morning of meditation, group discussion on poems we had each brought in to share, and silence—by sending us outside to record our observations of the natural world and then attempt to turn them into haikus to anonymously share and discuss. It was a wonderful format for bringing us into the haiku mindset and generating poetry. What was really remarkable, however, was how effective the poets were at uncovering these moving nuggets of nature and season in what is, on the surface, a industrial warehouse district. Nature is all around us, always, you just have to slow dow and quiet your mind a bit to see it sometimes.
If I’ve got you in mood for haiku, check out this wonderful short reading by haiku master John Paul Lederach, from the On Being podcast.
Thanks to you all.