Haiku

 with Kevin McLaughlin

Seventeen syllables, sorted by three lines or segments (5-7-5), have created numerous interpretations, misinterpretations, understandings, and misunderstandings.  What constitutes a haiku?  Many scholars, poets, and teachers cannot even agree if haiku is a valid form of poetry.  Is a haiku writer truly a poet?  I’d been puzzling my way through this basic question when I came across a valuable passage by R.H. Blyth, quoted by Alan Watts in “The World of Zen.”

“A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature. It is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean.  Our falling leaf nature, It is a way of returning to nature, our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, in short our Buddha nature. It is a way in which the cold winter rain, the swallows of evening, even the very day in its hotness, and the length of the night become truly alive, share in our humanity, speak their own silent and expressive language.”

A beautiful, lyrical passage!  Nevertheless, haiku is decidedly poetry. Some define poetry as “the best words in the best order.”  Poetry is transformative writing, the poet expresses a vision of the world, a weltanschauung. Haiku ignores many of Western poetry’s conceits, the pleasant similes, extended metaphors, the rhyming, and fluid alliteration.  Haiku frequently lacks the rhythmic component of the most accomplished Western poetry.  Haiku is spare, slender. The finest verses rely on involving the reader.  Haiku may well be poetry in its purest form.

Raccoon hunts the flats:

The tide drains from the mangroves,-

A waterfall sound.

The manta ray glides

Tracelessly through sea grass:

Ocean’s nursery.

Oysters and clams thrive:

A flat, gray slough that extends

To the horizon.

 

-Kevin McLaughlin

 

Joseph and Angie Davidson demonstrate a linked verse quality in many of their haiku.  I am grateful the Davidson’s contributed a number of pieces to BTS.  I will be able to publish more of their work in the June issue.

Husband and wife both tap into deep wellsprings, expressing reality insofar as it can be expressed, by direct experience.  Seemingly impersonal, the Self is immersed in the image.  We are not separate from the outer world.

Wind blows through my hair,

Gently caressing my face,

Storm clouds are coming.

Cloudy spring morning,

Misty rain on the mountains,

Echoes of nature.

 

-Angie Davidson

Gentle breeze on face,

Late afternoon storms warm wind:

Sudden calm in the eye.

Strands of DNA

Cosmic loom weaves spiral threads:

Emptiness is form.

 

I found the second line in the above haiku exceptionally vivid; the spiral threads that run through nature and form the galaxy itself.

Reflecting on pond

Moonlight rippled by surface

Bats hunting in night.

April rains falling

Mother Earth’s nourishing tears,

Mountains in moonlight.

-Joseph Davidson

In Deschutes River Haiku John Beaton expresses movement, joyfulness, and immersion into nature.  Beaton puts the reader into the Class V rapids, inches above the swirling waters, wet, vigorous, and with a mind totally focused in the moment.  All that exists for poet and for an astute reader is the wave of energy, the eddies, and the rocks.  In addition, he manages to work in some rollicking good alliteration in the second line.

 

Whitewater kayaks,

Rapids ripping through rimrock,

White knuckled paddlers.

 

-John Beaton

One of the themes Blyth identified in haiku is loneliness, by which he also implied a compassion for all the sentient beings on this planet of the “red tooth and the red claw.” Making this an exceptionally moving haiku is the knowledge that this is written, in part, as an elegy for one of Godfrey’s long- time friends, a friend who frequently sat in the chair in the garage.

 

Sat in the garage,

Winter, spring, summer, and fall:

The chair is empty.

 

-James Godfrey 

In the haiku below, Ms. Ignatowitsch catches the joyfulness of life as it flows through each passing season.  Especially noteworthy is how the first line builds to the second line, and the second line to the magnificent image of her third line:” Alchemized to bud.”  Yes, Vera, along with the spirit of Lao-Tzu, has captured Spring’s spirit.

raindrops coalesce

into potion branches drink

alchemized to bud.

-Vera Ignatowitsch

I’ve written haiku is the poetry of mindfulness. Haiku writing is an every minute art form.  If you are distracted, day-dreaming, or re-writing your past, you’ll miss that perfect haiku.  In his book, The Noble Eightfold Path,” Bhikku Bodhi does a fine job of describing the state of mind that generates a good poem. 

“The Buddha says that the Dhamma, the ultimate truth of things, is directly visible, timeless, calling out to be approached and seen.  He says further it is always available to us, and that the place it is to be realized is within oneself.  The ultimate truth is not something mysterious and remote, but the truth of our own experience.  It can be reached only by understanding or experience, by penetrating it right through to its foundations.  This truth, in order to become liberating truth, has to be known directly.  It has to be known by insight, grasped and absorbed by a kind of knowing which is also a kind of seeing.”

-Bhikku Bodhi

Bodhi has built upon my premise that haiku is the poetry of mindfulness; it is also the poetry of insight.  In his commentary he elucidates the role of the mundane.  The mundane is also the sacred.  Seventeen syllables can transform base metal into gold.  In order to illustrate “haiku mind,” I again have the pleasure of turning to the Davidsons.

Eating all bugs,

The bats come out at night,

The shadows reflect.

 

Crabs out at low tide,

Feeding as fast as they can,

Claw waves in warning.

-Angie Davidson

 

Early morning fog,

Night’s silken robe discarded:

Golden rays new day.

 

Prickly pear on trail,

Needle thorns protect nectar:

Yellow flower blooms.

Fading day’s last light,

Mullet school silver flashes:

Indian River. 

-Joseph Davidson

Mike Flannigan is an aerospace worker living in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  Mr. Flannigan has only been writing haiku for less than a year after having been given a “Peter Pauper” haiku book by an older sister.  He writes that he is a humanist who follows no specific religious or philosophical path other than the Golden Rule and making a point of trying “to stay on the moment.”  His work is clear and balanced. We hope he will submit more of his pieces to BTS in the future.  It is a joy to see the rasping vulture’s croak seen to be the equal of a song bird’s chirp.

 

Just after sunset,

The live oaks by the roadside,

Are filled with fireflies.

 

Unseen black vultures,

Making huffing sounds in the pines:

The morning star fades.

- Mike Flannigan

Honorah Murphy, the astrophysicist from Trinity College, Dublin, submitted two more of her haiku “from the Hubble telescope.”  In an accompanying letter, Honorah expressed appreciation that BTS acknowledges humanity’s understanding of the natural world has increased greatly since the 17th century.  I did come across a companion piece to Honorah’s work in a haiku by Issa (1762-1826): A lovely thing to see: / Through the paper window’s hole, / The Galaxy.

Physics’ laws break down:

Black holes’ Event Horizon,

Halts time-gravity.

 

Neutron stars collide:

Gold and heavy metals sown,

Throughout the heavens.

-Honorah Murphy

Joan McNerney’s work reflects another important haiku characteristic, love.  Throughout our months of publishing verse from Ms. McNerney’s canon, it has been evident she has great love for all animals . . . and probably for the plant kingdom as well.  For someone like Joan, there are 10,000 possibilities to write a haiku every day.  She is Awake throughout the day.  We are grateful she gives us glimpses into her inner nature and how she relates to the world through her five senses.

Black and white kitten

Lying under clothesline in

Soft circles of sleep.

A cup of coffee

Warm fat pancakes bubbling up

My haiku breakfast.

Shy autumnal bird,

Did you brush against the moon

To get that pale down?

 

-Joan McNerney

My fellow Floridian George Mang has drawn a keen connection between the seasonal changes (not easy to do in the sub-tropics) and our vast number of dragon-fly species.

Autumn Equinox,

A balance between light and dark:

A blue dragon-fly.

 

The above poem has strong Taoist influences.  Mr. Mang has chosen his subject well, as few animals embody “stillness in motion and motion in stillness” better than the dragon-fly.  Lao-Tzu would have loved this piece.

In mid-November

The black pennant dragon-flies,

Replace green darners.

 

-George Mang

Readers who have followed this column know we publish a few poems each month from African-American Richard Wright’s collection “Haiku: The other World.”

 

Settling on the screen

Of a crowded movie house,

A white butterfly.

An empty sickbed:

An indented white pillow

In weak winter sun.

 

In the above poem, Mr. Wright belies the belief that great haiku have to be impersonal.  This is a verse well worth a single and a solitary reading.

Tossing pine trees

Lulling a village to sleep

In the winter dusk.

- Richard Wright

poetry magazine, kelly writers house

Yet once more I encourage all haiku writers to share their work, their insights into the nature of all things, with fellow poets and BTS readers.  For those interested in haiku, I recommend you cast back into the BTS archives and reference the September column.  It provides a pretty thorough explanation of the basic format.

Copyright  Better Than Starbucks 2017, a poetry magazine

Call us at 561-719-8627, if you feel so moved.

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Lake Worth, Florida 33467

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