ARTS: How to Haiku 4: simplicity and presence

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  • Kokuu
    Treeleaf Priest
    • Nov 2012
    • 6791

    ARTS: How to Haiku 4: simplicity and presence

    Learn about the pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.
    Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought

    -- Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)

    This part of haiku writing specifically relates to Zen.

    Firstly, haiku are conventionally written in the present tense. We are trying to capture a moment, even if that moment includes thoughts related to the past or future (remember Basho’s poem about old warriors?). This is just like sitting shikantaza. We observe what is going on both within us and around us and write it down. As we know from sitting practice, our experience of inside and outside can break down on the cushion and this can be well expressed in haiku, merging our observations of the natural world with what is going on inside. Or of different parts of the natural world that seem at odds to each other or relate in some way. Try to notice the small details and engage all of your senses. Be present to what is going on.

    Secondly, haiku poems tend to be simple in both the language they use and the number of images. A haiku needs space rather than being filled with as many images and adjectives as you can find! This is especially true as regards season words. One is best, try not to use more than two. I work by writing haiku then removing any extraneous parts which did not add to the poem and may be needlessly filling space. Your poem should feel light, not heavy, as we often are following a sit.

    Being in nature, we can write down what we see and any phrases that come to mind. These can often be used to make a poem. There can be an idea that poems spring from the mind fully formed and this can be the case. However, often the brain needs time to make connections between the things that are happening in the moment.

    It is also not unusual for poems to mature in their meaning and need editing to express that. This is perfectly fine. Many haiku poets keep a notebook to write in, bot for observations and completed poems. some poets may take weeks, months or years to find a finished form. Some never do.

    The secret to writing good haiku is twofold:

    1. read lots of haiku, both from the classics (poets such as Bashō, Issa, Buson and Shiki) and modern writers (the budsofhaiku group on Facebook notifies members of the publication of each new English Language haiku journal).

    2. write lots of haiku! They won’t necessarily be good at first, but you will get into the habit of doing it and out of the selection, you will find some with merit which you can work on and your ability to do so will improve through practice. This is the case with all forms of creativity whether in visual arts, music, pottery or writing. There is a reason that haiku are still highly regarded as an artform in both Japan and elsewhere in the world - despite their simplicity, they are hard to do well and the very best are still being quoted centuries after their composition.

    rain puddle
    a small bird startles
    my reflection

    Last edited by Jundo; 01-24-2021, 02:40 AM.