AKA Mr. Haiku

haiku-busonYou may not believe me, but sometimes my daily haiku seem the only important writing I do. They are short enough that I can’t screw up or, if I screw up, their singular utterance seems only cryptic, perhaps ironic, maybe (possibly) deliberate. They are at very least fun and arrive like cinnamon or dark chocolate or wood smoke, a hint of scent elsewhere, even in winter.

Truthfully, I rarely worry about how good they may be. Issa wrote, “What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms” and thus said what every haiku does. If we’re attuned to fresh perception, it visits us continually.

Every early spring a day arrives when I hear birds. I’ve missed their song without knowing, and they seem entirely novel, an alien echo, another dimension intruding. When my life is right, the sudden appearance of sun any time of year elicits automatic exaltation.

Occasionally, trying to write haiku, I sense my mind laboring for profundity, as if this time I’ll dive deeper and hold my breath longer and experience denser reality. What appears instead is the absurdity of wishing and a bemused relief at escaping seriousness.

Most people regard writing haiku as a special sort of serenity. In Haiku Mind, Patricia Donegan describes her encounter with this state as she looked at a sun-bathed orange and felt, “All was perfect as it was, and I felt suddenly at peace as I saw ‘the thing itself’ as if it was in its nakedness without my overlay of thoughts or opinions, and tears rolled down my face.”

Crying isn’t a regular part of my own experience, not just because such high contentedness is hard to come by but also because haiku don’t seem so limited to gratification. I understand “the thing itself” revelation but sometimes experience resignation instead, knowing whatever I feel—serenity, longing, grief, desire, frustration, self-pity, or the unnamable—is okay. The angry haiku, the sad haiku, the elated haiku, the confused haiku all possess similar acquiescence.

I haven’t much patience for people who want to distinguish between hokku and haiku, between haiku and senryu or between strict haiku and free. Those distinctions and requirements seem—I apologize to purists—silly. Haiku are finally clearer in spirit than definition.

My affection for the dark before commercials and silence after a song’s coda comes from every human’s desire to pause. For just a moment, nothing is moving on to better or worse. I’m not serene so much as still.

And, to me, haiku often resemble jokes, springing as they do from simultaneously startling and familiar observations, hinging on changing directions. The flame in wood grain resolves itself as a graph of the day’s troubles, the fire hydrant seems momentarily stubborn, planted sumo-like in defiance, or a dog with a leash but no owner becomes a murder suspect.

Haiku writers place shifts in kireji, cutting words, but revelation isn’t structural. Pay exclusive attention to words or syllables and haiku become too material to flicker and eddy. They sound translated even in home languages. I’m never sure if only the oblique can be conveyed in haiku or if the form of haiku renders everything oblique. In either case, the syllabled joints and angles see life as through a series of mirrors and thus, for once, afresh.

Someone asked me recently if I thought haiku were important to my “practice.” I felt a flood of goodwill—I wanted to embrace him. How wonderful to endow my fixation with such gravity! Yet, truth told, that moment offered validation, the uttered truth of faith. These daily haiku may seem amusement and rehearsal, but they’re central to all I see, sense, and feel as a writer and human being.

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7 Comments

Filed under Aesthetics, Ambition, Art, Blogging, Buddhism, Desire, Epiphany, Essays, Haiku, Identity, life, Meditations, Poetry, Survival, Thoughts, Voice, Work, Writing

7 responses to “AKA Mr. Haiku

  1. I have let my Phriday Phaiga phall by the wayside…
    perhaps I should pick them up again…

  2. Peter Newton

    Haiku is the invention of the obvious.

    Or as Nick Virgilio said:

    “Haiku is emotion expressed on the sensory level.”

    A useful foundation block for any writer.

    Writing one reminds me to be humble with language.

    Slow down.

    Experience the world and others with “fresh eyes” (to use Basho’s phrase).

    For anyone who wants to read contemporary examples of haiku in English, I’d suggest one of the best online journals of the form: The Heron’s Nest. http://www.theheronsnest.com

    the homeless gentleman
    a little soft-shoe
    in his stride

    • dmarshall58

      The best haiku, for me, find that narrow band of amazing obviousness. Thanks for posting the link to The Heron’s Nest. I’m not such a formalist myself… most of my haiku are mangy mutts… but I like reading how people think of them. It influences the ways I think of them too.

      Oh, I sent some work to tinywords, also one of my favorite sites for little poetry. —D

  3. enjoyable essay — I love the image of the fire hydrant that “seems momentarily stubborn, planted sumo-like in defiance”

    • dmarshall58

      They always look that way to me. More and more, the objects in my life take on personality, which may be a bad sign of my mental state. Thanks for visiting and commenting. I’m always happy to see your name here. —D

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