April 17th, 2009


Poetry Friday -- Haiku 17

Today's Friday, April 17th.
I am more than half-way through my month of daily haiku.
I can tell already that I'll be loathe to give it up.

It is the loveliest meditation, not unlike breathing.

The things I have paid attention to in the past 17 days include tree branches, migrating birds, ants, baby eagles and my sweet ol' dog. (By the way, in case you've wondered, the ants are still going strong -- safely ensconced in their little plastic box and tunneling as if their lives depended on it. Which I guess they do. And the eaglets? All three have hatched and I watched a very vigorous feeding session this morning...)

Since the start of this month, I've found myself sitting stiller for longer than I might have otherwise.
Listening a bit more carefully.
Watching silently.

I have found myself thinking through my days as if they were made up of small, crystalline moments.
Which I guess they are.

But still, underneath the rather Zen practice, there is the form.
Haiku has its parameters and while I'm no expert, I am trying to attend to them.

Interestingly, what we think of immediately are the syllabics (three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables, respectively) but these are really just a poorly-translated Japanese construct. A lovely and more intutive way to talk about it is to agree that haiku are spare -- they are written to be read in a single breath.

(This month, I'm keeping to the 5-7-5 structure, but only because I'm finding deep pleasure working within it, not because Basho or Issu says I must...)

More important is the content. Specifically, haiku lives in time and space. Each haiku is meant to refer to the season -- not directly, perhaps, but through imagery of snow or cherry blossoms, bare branches or new leaves. This reference is called a kigo and I've tried to stay true to it in my poems. (There is a cousin of the haiku, called a senryu, that allows you to forego the natural and seasonal, and  muse instead on human nature.)

The other guiding principal of haiku is the kireji -- the cutting word. This provides a point of transition, at the end of either the first or second line -- a shift in syntax or imagery or perspective. For me, the kireji is the heart of most haiku, a moment of emotional weight created by the interesting rub of the two bits of the poem against each other.

If I were more of a scholar, I'd go on -- the nuances within this tiny form are endless. But for today, my basic grasp will have to be enough. It's time I get back to listening to the torrents of rain falling on my roof and the thunder behind it...

Haiku 17

the road fills with rain
the black sky bellows and roars --
family, come home

-- Liz Garton Scanlon