This got started when Arlene in Maine found my blog and started reading. She commented on many posts with friendly warmth and her own engaging way of turning a phrase. So I started writing back, and we have been corresponding ever since. It was she who dropped the first haiku into an email, and sent me back to investigate this poetic form that I have always loved.
According to poet Robert Hass, who wrote The Essential Haiku, the form flourished in Japan from the mid-seventeenth century into the nineteenth century. It evolved from more complex poetry into plain simple speech. Traditionally, all haikai contain a kigo, a reference to a season of the year, whether stated outright or captured in an image. The poems are composed of three lines—the first having five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the third five syllables. The insistence on the exact number of syllables depends. You can read translations of Japanese poetry into English that don’t adhere to this pattern, and some contemporary haikai are free-form. What attracts me is the juxtaposition of images and the particular flavor of an individual’s language. Much can be packed into seventeen syllables.
My haiku challenge is to write one haiku each day until the end of January. Maybe I will carry on longer than that. Another part of my challenge is that I will watch for one moment of wonderment each day, and that will spark the poem. Wonderment can be defined as the emotion of wonder, surprise; a marvel. After just a few days, I eagerly anticipate the wonderment—when will it come, and what will it be? Will it burst upon the scene, or will it sneak up on me? If it’s not obvious, can I look back into my day and pull out one gleaming image? This practice is waking me up. Not only am I noticing more in my every day life, but I am honing my language and seeking to choose the right words. I’m considering punctuation and phrasing and arrangement. There’s a refreshing clarity to haiku.
Here is one of Yosa Buson’s:
Blow of an ax,
the winter woods.
Here is one of Arlene’s:
glass storm door
separating blue-white falling snow
from blazing fireplace
And one of mine:
Raven in hemlock—
fine cold snow falling straight down,
a hoarse song floats up.
Learn more about haiku at the Haiku Society of America.
Join the January haiku challenge right here. Look for the Haiku tab at the top of this page, and post your own…just type into the comment box.