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Field Notes 2: What can haiku poets learn from other forms of poetry?

Started by Peter Yovu, July 27, 2013, 01:03:54 PM

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Peter Yovu

Welcome to the second in our series: Field Notes: Explorations in Haiku.

This time, we invited a panel of writers to consider a pair of related questions:

What can poets who do not write haiku learn from haiku? What can poets who write haiku learn from other forms or genres of poetry?

(I should say that the question as originally posed was:

"What can "mainstream" poets learn from haiku? What can haiku poets learn from "mainstream"poetry?"

We didn't want the word "mainstream" to set the tone for this exploration, and so changed things a bit.
Nonetheless, it hung about in the corners of the room like yesterday's birthday balloon. Some writers ignored it. Some did not).

But as before, writers were encouraged to make the question their own, to be brief or long, and as straightforward or as imaginative as they wished. I think you will find their responses quite interesting, and would like to encourage you to post your own thoughts on the matter.

Field Notes

Mark Harris

What can poets who write haiku learn from other forms or genres of poetry?

My first thought is to look to poets known for their work in other genres, who have expressed more than a passing interest in haiku.

The following lines of verse pair observation of everyday details with an intimation of all that is connected and all that connects us. The authors are conscious of that interconnection, and yet they don't try to describe what knowing is like. They convey their awareness of the worlding of our world through words as themselves. They engage language actively.

These excerpts are integral to longer works; please read the whole poems in their original language if you can:

Afterward they set up the dark shell of the mine in a sandy plantation as
            an ornament
together with the shells of Strombus Gigas from the West Indies.

And the sea wind is in the dry pines further away, hurrying over the
            churchyard sand,
past the leaning stones, the pilots' names.
The dry sighing
of great doors opening and great doors closing.

--Tomas Transtromer (trans. Fulton), from "Baltics" published in The Great Enigma (New Directions 2006)

Anyhow, there it was. Milk poured for cats
In a rank puddle-place, splash-darkened mould
Around the terracotta water-crock.

Ground of being. Body's deep obedience
To all its shifting tenses. A half-door
Opening directly into starlight.

--Seamus Heaney, from "Squarings" published in Opened Ground (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998)

Death is a smudge
on a film,

a spot
on the horizon.


We sleep together in the dark
but confuse
light with love.

--Rae Armantrout, from "The Light" published in Versed (Wesleyan University Press 2009)

Bruce Ross

Considering prominent and not so prominent poets worldwide have written "poetry" as well as haiku (which is considered poetry in Japan and elsewhere) the issue is a bit moot. I have written and published both poetry and haiku and sense matters of sensibility (which in an exhausted culture or form becomes sentiment), form,image, symbol, all the haiku values, all the poetic figurative values, could interplay in a poet's creative expression in haiku and "poetry." The influence from East to West in creative expression, including haiku, is well known. Not so well known is the influence from West to East (as is various cultural formations, such as naturalism, Marxism, humanism, etc., in specifically Japanese haiku). More interesting, post Meiji Restoration, is the relation to language, tone, and phrasing, including more formal or classical and more free form, not unlike romantic: a more weighted adherence to codified feeling and form or a less weighted adherence to codified feeling and form. In a sense those aligning to one of these directions in either poetry or haiku will find similar directions in either poetry or haiku. So, in a sense, what can be learned has already been learned.

Alexis Rotella

I read the work of all the major longer poets (and ones not so major). I especially love W.S. Merwin (who by the way wrote a book of haiku of his own years ago). He also published the Collected Haiku of Buson. The late Czeslaw Milosz is another favorite who published a haiku anthology in Polish and he was kind enough to include poems from Cor van den Huevel's anthology.  Milocz did not just bow to the old masters but gave us modern haiku writers a break (too bad it never made it into  English ).

Reading haiku can help us all in our longer writing--imagery is what wakes up a poem and long-winded language can put a poem to sleep. Reading longer poetry nourishes the haiku poet, makes us think outside the box. It's hard to believe that any of the big name poets haven't sunk their teeth into haiku and I'm not just talking Basho, Buson, Issa. Billy Collins is a prime example who published considerable work in Modern Haiku under the editorship of Lee Gurga.

Billie Wilson

My mainstream poetry – as well as my prose – were both improved as I learned more about haiku.  It became easier to recognize and remove the superfluous.  Flowery poetics became less appealing.  (But it took a lot of mentoring from fellow haiku poets before I began writing haiku without superfluous words and flowery poetics).

Cherie Hunter Day

"For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn." Ernest Hemingway wrote these words after he was allegedly challenged in a bar to write his memoir using just six words.  Turns out this form is more than a barroom pastime.  Narrative magazine regularly features six-word stories by noted poets and fiction writers such as:  Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, and Janet Burroway.  We have become the 'sound bite society' dealing in buzzwords.  We are inundated with messages all day long, and we've adapted to the speed of delivery.  Literature is metered out now in characters—140 for twitter fiction.  There are anthologies of 25-word 'hint' fiction and 50-word story competitions. Does it foster impatience or a short attention span?  Perhaps. 

Haiku fits neatly into that pocket of brevity, and yet it defies the rush.  Haiku writers and readers seek an oasis in the midst of hurriedness.  We can find respite in contemplating the thing, and the thing behind the thing.  This is haiku's gift.  It's not carving away words from a larger story to meet the restricted word count.  It's juxtaposing a few words, the right words, whereby synergy happens.  This reverberation in the mind and in the soul is the cornerstone of all literature. 

The use of the term "mainstream" can create polarity—the 'us versus them' dichotomy.  I think reading/writing other types of literature helps to dispel the categories.  There are no bright lines between poetry forms like haiku and senryu, or even between poetry and prose as in prose poetry.  Enjoy as much of the continuum as possible

Tom D'Evelyn

Haiku is a very condensed form of poetry. It would seem then that mainstream poets can learn from haiku just how much can be cut away from a poem for you to still have a poem.

On 15 July, Stella Pierides posted on Twitter this haiku:

Pinetree cicada
the bleached cotton dress
of my youth

The first line (she uses no punctuation but from the genre we know it is independent in a sense from the concluding two lines) represents an "other" to the more personal base. Time and the edge of time: pine tree and the cicada's erotic song. The slow-growing tree is host to the insect, singing its mortal ectasy. Ancient Greece and Issa, among other sources, flow through this complex image.

Over against this, and somehow distanced by it, the image of the "base":  the time-dense simplicity of "bleached cotton," the emotional complexity of "dress of my youth." "Bleached" may refer to sun-bleached; the figure of youth is distanced, yet the imagery of the kigo – so erotically charged – makes the dress shimmer with presence.

This is what we may call a "classic" haiku.

Michael Longley is an Irish poet who draws on diverse traditions, including Japanese and classical. Here is "Dusk":

Poem Beginning with a Line by Ian Hamilton Finlay

Dusk is in the shed
and in the stable
now Rusty has gone
and her glossy knees
that smell of apple
or woodruff have gone
and her blaze has gone.

From the image of "Dusk" we are drawn into a catalogue of things no longer present. We start with a proper name, then aspects of the animal; the senses fill the emptiness. The sense of smell, so redolent of what once was, fills the small space, which finally blazes with loss.

From the point of view of the ethos of modern haiku, the lyric is "wordy." It is not "objective." It uses syntax to create subtle perceptions: Dusk IS in the shed, and in the stable, Rusty HAS GONE. And other of her "epithets" have also gone, and her presence is absent. Even the repetition of the word "gone" shapes our response to the loss, gives it shape, gives it a place in memory.

The repetitive syntax is transformative, is part of the meaning. To reduce that would be to mar the music.
It is a poem of grief, a grieving poem, and uses brevity as such poems do: we repeat them in our need. The beat of the poem steadies our trembling heart.

The juxtaposition of these poems raises an interesting question: which is the more difficult to understand?

For the last decade or so I have been preoccupied with the Taoist background of classic haiku. I have done this research so that reading classic haiku is "easier." I "get it" faster now. I still have to think hard about these little poems.

And this study (I must mention again Pipei Qiu's superb study Bashō and the Dao) has enriched my appreciation of contemporary haiku, but in discussions I have become aware that contemporary haiku writers often do not acknowledge this tradition. Or can't – the ramifications give them the heebie-geebies.

In some sense, then, Longley's poem is more available to us as general readers. Pierides's haiku will be interpreted in many ways, some of them conflicting, and in some corners this will be accounted a good thing. Longley's poem leaves little doubt about how it is to be read.

That said, each poem shows things – makes things appear as -- complexly woven of time and timelessness, somethingness and nothingness. The haiku raises fewer questions about the processes of the meditation: it is like a crack of thunder out of a clear summer sky. The drone of "Dusk" has a different curve of feeling. The lyric poet's mastery of repetition and phrasing suggest a different skill set, but the wisdom of the poems seem to me comparable. Both poems fulfill the office of art to meditate on the passage of timely things within the context of the heavenly way or Tao.

Whoa! Heavenly way? No way! If that's your reading, I'm not buying it! I don't care how well you present your case, I just can't go there!

This bit of prosopopoeia – or shifting to an imagined speaker to voice a reaction to what has been said– likely fits what many readers are feeling. I think this block cripples our imagination and keeps us from valuing haiku and other poems; we can't really open ourselves to the poems as happenings, as complex strategies overcoming the tendency of language to freeze reality into little fruit-flavored pop tarts.

The same block shows up in contemporary readings of the Zhuangzi, which is a key source of Basho's poetics. At issue is just what words can do. But we can see evidence of an awareness of the stakes in a collection titled "Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi" (SUNY 1996). For example, Mark Berkson writes: "The ability to recognize the existence of a Heavenly point of view will be enough to change how one lives, for it will give one an awareness that allows one to live a natural, human life without being trapped in the false confidence of one's limited perspective" (108).

By the way, I maintain a couple of blogs relevant to this issue: and

Diane Wakoski

My own view is that haiku written in a language with a letter alphabet like English, while seemingly modeled on Asian haiku, written in a language of pictographs or whole word characters, cannot fulfill the premise of the latter.  But its ghost gives us what is possible: an imagist poem.  I think all poets can learn from the condensation necessary when using the syllabic 5-7-5 economy, especially if the poet chooses to cleave to the discipline of letting the disparate, or at least different, images co-mingle and create a third (unspoken) image that is not a comment but a revelation.  Today's free verse imagist poems have gotten very (too much so) talky.

Max Verhart

After having considered the issue a few times, I can but conclude that to me it's a non-issue. What can haiku poets and mainstream poets learn from each other? To be honest: I don't know. But what's probably more significant: I don't care.

Whatever you write: pick the format that suits you best for that particular piece of writing, then make it the best you can according to your own standards - regardless of whatever anyone else might think of it.

As to my own experience: I probably have learned more from some prose writers than from (mainstream) poets. What I learned from them (I hope) is what I call implicit writing. Or evocative writing.

Yeah, you're right: the down to earth phrase is 'show, don't tell'.

George Swede

(Gathered After Moments of Cogitation, July 11, July 14, July 16 2013)

What can poets who do not write haiku learn from haiku?

To be more succinct.
Many longer poems could have fewer lines without losing their power.

What can poets who write haiku learn from other forms or genres of poetry?

To create unexpected connections among images.
Many haiku have images close to one another on the associational hierarchy.

John Martone

A poem is a poem. As Ben Jonson wrote, a single line can be. And Hopkins thought of single words as fossil poems.

Impossible to imagine Pound, Williams, Oppen, Stevens, Levertov, Merwin, Creeley, Eigner, Corman (can one imagine Basho without him?!) in short the 20-21st century American poem without haiku's measure and way, including -- perhaps especially -- the sequence.

There's that Poundian equation: Condensare = Dichten. Nothing is more condensato than the haiku.

Go to Andrew Welch's Roots of Lyric (with its chapters on image and charm) and Jerry Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred (especially for those micropoems of shamanism). The connections go unspoken because they are everywhere. The whole sparkles like Indra's net.

Cid Corman's Kyoto magazine was Origin 本 - the root. Be after that.

Field Notes

Richard Gilbert

A Muse Meant on Poetic Thinking

In contemplating the nature of thought itself, how does one arrive at novel conceptions which rewrite, re-conceive, reframe the pre-existent? Experience of unconditionality seems intrinsic to novel conception. To create new templates, worlds, what exists must be penetrated, dissolved, gone beyond. Discussing this process, Paz quoted Mallarme: "the poet does violence to language in order to purify the words of the tribe." There are many levels to this topic, from psycho-physical energy to the mind/body relationship, economic stability, sense of meaning in life, occupation, preoccupations, personality and character. I would like to offer the following sense of thinking as a prequel to the poetic.

In this métier of thought we are all poets, more or less I feel. Cognitively it may be argued that while getting there takes effort and dedication, devotion, the more challenging aspect to the viability of novel thinking is the creation of memory bridges between more unconditional states or levels of consciousness (altered states) and the pragmatic normative aspects of consciousness — via which we must ply the craft of writing.

This is very much in my experience — a "step-down transformer" type of experience, involving loss of signal strength, and information. Communication is always sacrificial — isn't "that" truth, pure, fairly speaking, inarticulate? Perhaps the Zen Buddhist tradition addresses this quandary most directly.

Added to the quixotic and fleeting (mercurial, ephemeral) wing of thought are those dislocations involved in divining its depths — for there is no bottom, no origin of first principles. Rather, the frustrations of archaic projection; not the root: reflection. Hillman and Jung have discussed this experience in their phenomenological approaches to mind when they indicate that the main difference between human and other animals has to do with the ability to reflect upon thought — to cognate and cogitate upon reflections (what we see as having seen, having arisen in reflection) of self and world — yet as Jung posits in his conception of anima, the origin of the illumination which allows for this humanizing process remains unperceivable. We scan the reflection not its origin; the projection not the projector. Human being in medias res.

The deeper into the origin of projection (you journey), the more form and the known destabilizes, the more those normative arguments of symbol systems, linked notions via which reality is determined shimmer and shape-shift with doubt and self-doubt: the doubt of things being things, the world being a world, self being a self. From this doubt springs resistance. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, things fight back. The world has a voice: into which notional drawers shall the world be shelved, and, with what degrees of arrogance?

It's a David and Goliath story, an agon — Bloom's tales of strong poets willfully, belatedly misinterpreting influential antecedents. The utility of Bloom's conception lies in his elucidation of those necessities involved in the achievement of imaginative power: strong thinking exercises. Beauty, bliss, forgetting, and struggle erasing the world, reforming the world, renewing the world. This activity represents an apotheosis of humankind and something holy. With each return, the phoenix; out of violence and destruction, the rendings of Dionysus. Heal thyself, yes? To re-knit the world, to return bearing offerings (cultural) gifts.

A series of step-up and step-down transformations: at any point it is possible to get lost, become broken. Among the Articles of poetic thought is one which reads, "you will become dispossessed," and another, "there is risk." For this reason, sensitive thinking honors the abandoned, the crippled, the destitute, the forgotten, the homeless — those lands and landscapes of thinking eminent to its sociality.

April 13, 2011

Michael Dylan Welch

I suspect that any writer could learn something from any other successful writer, regardless of genre. I've been a board member of the Washington Poets Association for nearly ten years, and have edited its journal Cascade, for longer poetry (available on Amazon). I'm currently editing another anthology for longer poetry, for the Redmond Association of Spokenword (for which I serve as reading series curator, and for whom I directed the Poets in the Park conferences). I also curate the monthly SoulFood Poetry Night, which has featured leading Seattle-area poets for more than seven years. And after I edited the haiku journal Woodnotes, I edited Tundra: The Journal of the Short Poem, which sought to integrate haiku with other short poetry. In all these experiences, and my own extensive writing of longer poetry, I've found that I tend to prefer longer poems that share haiku sensibilities. So maybe haiku is limiting me in that regard! But more importantly, I find that haiku has greatly improved my longer poetry. I believe that haiku can do this for others, too, and I teach workshops to elucidate why. There's a lot that haiku strategies can teach anyone seeking to improve their writing, whether fiction, poetry, or even nonfiction.

I've also written an essay about this subject, titled "Ten Ways to Improve Your Poetry with Haiku," available online at It was first published in Poet's Market 2005 and reprinted in The Craft & Business of Poetry (Writer's Digest Books, 2008). I'll summarize it briefly here, followed by a few additional thoughts.

1. Focus on concrete images (one of haiku's strengths; it's surprising, though, that some people don't really understand what this means, so it's helpful to show examples, and to contrast them with conceptual statements or intellectualisms).

2. Rely on your five senses (tactile experience improves any kind of creative writing; the potential of the future "enters" our bodies through the portals of our five senses, and "now" is that moment when future potential becomes our past/history -- haiku celebrates that moment of transition).

3. Control objectivity and subjectivity (I used to teach that one should avoid subjectivity in haiku, but really it's more important to know how to control it; this is similar to knowing when to show and when to tell, because some "telling" can be appropriate in haiku, in moderation, if you know how to do it well).

4. Distinguish between description and inference (the point of haiku is to use careful description, but not as an end in itself; rather the goal is for description to infer something, usually emotional -- likewise, writers of fiction or "mainstream" poetry can do the same, and can learn how to do it well with haiku).

5. Seek immediacy and accessibility (this doesn't mean to avoid being challenging or at least a little beyond the depth of some of your readers, but it helps to give readers some kind of access point, some sort of grounding, whether it's common images or everyday experiences).

6. Control formal devices (this is really about craft, and knowing when and how to use metaphor, simile, rhyme, metrics/scansion/rhythm, allusion, sound, and other poetic devices -- lack of control of these devices can be glaring in haiku, so if you can master them in haiku, you can use them effectively elsewhere).

7. Find the right form (another craft issue, about realizing disconnections between what you're trying to say vs. the way you're trying to say it -- this has to do not only with issues of organic vs. free vs. metrical form, but also about whether a triolet or sonnet or epic form is best suited for your idea or experience or narrative).

8. Follow seasonal rhythms (this is about being aware not just of nature but the rhythms of nature, which also includes humans; seasonal details will enrich any writing, and can tap into archetypal symbolism just as such references do in haiku).

9. Trust juxtaposition (another cornerstone of haiku, where disjunction can create energy and space, or a create a vacuum as a result of what is left out -- and without a vacuum, what is there to suck the reader in?).

10. Discover more about haiku (the idea here is promotional rather than informational, but I think the idea still has merit, in that by exploring haiku more deeply one can move beyond pseudo-haiku misinformation and also explore farther than the nine previous items I mentioned -- a lot of people aren't aware of the Haiku Foundation, the Haiku Society of America, Haiku Canada, the British Haiku Society, the various journals for haiku, the Haiku North America conference, and more, and by knowing about this activity, perhaps more people will increase their respect for haiku, and perhaps be more open to what they can learn from haiku).

What I've just written summarizes ways that "mainstream" poets can learn from haiku, but what about the opposite? What can haiku poets learn from those who write longer poetry? An initial thought is range, and to think about tackling big subjects, or aspects of complex ideas, and to incorporate both light and dark subjects and tones in one's writing -- and to find the best ways to do so. A second thought is variety. Just as a poet or fiction writer will vary his or her grammar, syntax, and sentence length, a haiku poet can do the same. Short sentences? They'll add energy. And then you can contrast that rhythm with longer phrases, whether the contrast is between haiku or within a single haiku. A third thought is allusions. They're rampant in good poetry. We all know what Haruo Shirane wrote about the vertical and horizontal axes of haiku. In "Beyond the Haiku Moment: Bashō, Buson, and Modern Haiku Myths" (Modern Haiku XXX:1, Winter-Spring 2000), he observes that the horizontal axis of haiku (a focus on the present, contemporary world ) is abundant in North American haiku, but that the vertical axis (a movement across time, including geographical, historical, and literary references) is largely missing. I'm not sure I agree that it's largely missing, but I do think we could make better use of the vertical axis in haiku -- something we can definitely learn from those who write longer poetry. We need not quote Greek or Latin like Pound or Eliot, but we could do better to trust the full breadth of our own culture and our own experiences and avoid trying (as some poets repeatedly do with their haiku) to merely imitate Japan.

I'm sure there's much more we who write haiku can learn from those who write other poetry, or even fiction. Openness might be one such thing. Haiku is essentially a ghetto in the city of poetry, but it's not other poets who have put haiku in that ghetto. Rather, it's haiku poets who have put themselves in the haiku ghetto by siloing their work, or by complaining so much that haiku is misunderstood -- I'm guilty of this myself. This doesn't mean that we should suddenly recognize spam-ku as literary art, or let our guard down in other ways (some poems, even so-called gendai haiku, are good short poems and not necessarily haiku). But it does mean we could share our best haiku in venues (journals, conferences, and the like) that don't traditionally focus on haiku. This is already happening of course, and this activity is increasing, which is good to see (Haiku Society of America panels at American Literature Association conferences are but one example), but there's much more to be done. And perhaps "mainstream" poets (especially its editors) could be more open to haiku, too.

I'd like to conclude by citing an example poem that, to me, masterfully employs the haiku trait of juxtaposition. I've seldom been affected in a longer poem as deeply as by the sad and dramatic twist in the last line of James Wright's "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota." You can read it at Those who write longer poetry hardly need haiku to come up with good techniques for writing their poetry, but perhaps they can sharpen their craft by paying closer attention to key aspects of haiku, including compression, that make them shimmer.

John Stevenson

I know that this question was framed as a composite version of many other questions relating generally to a similar topic. Since it's not how I would put it, I just have to dispose of some of my quibbles before attempting any further reply.

While some poetry may be essentially didactic, the poetry that interests me most, both within and without haiku, consists of those poems that deal with what is mysterious and beyond the power of words to express with the exactitude of even the best prose. If the poetry that I care about is not primarily motivated by a desire to teach, what I learn from it is necessarily idiosyncratic and entirely personal. Clearly, however, the question asks for projection and generalization. I'll play along.

I think it must be a rare event that anyone's first idea of poetry has been formed by their knowledge of English-language haiku. If all ELH poets were not already aware of more contemporary English-language poetry before coming to haiku, they most certainly were exposed to some Shakespeare, Pope, or Yeats. Or nursery rhymes, or song lyrics, or limericks, or advertising jingles. So the answer to what haiku poets can learn from "mainstream" poetry is "whatever we HAVE learned." I was writing and publishing other poetry for over thirty years before I read or wrote my first haiku. I would suspect that most writers of English-language haiku had plenty of influential exposure to other poetry in English and that, before they were haiku poets, they learned whatever it is that they do know about poetry from that exposure.

(One could look upon this as a question about what haiku poets can learn from the mainstream "business" of poetry. As someone who immediately discards the business section of a newspaper, I feel unqualified to answer that question.)

The other half of the question seems more reasonable in scope. As an example of what "mainstream" poets can learn from haiku, I will tell you what I think I have learned from it.

I now see "mainstream" poetry, in a way I hadn't before my involvement with haiku, as "displays of brilliance." In fact I see this now as a feature of most Western art. Individualism and originality are prized and the reaction one is hoping for in one's audience is something like, "My God, how does he do that? I could never do that!" The first reaction to English-language haiku, on the other hand, is often something like, "That's cool. I bet I could do that." And the fact is that many people can do it from the start, often producing some of the best haiku they will ever write out of a "beginner's mind."

I'm not saying we do not want brilliance. I enjoy displays of brilliance as much as the next guy. But we are very well supplied in this area. An aesthetic of modesty is what is truly new and refreshing about haiku within the arena of English-language poetry and art.

Field Notes

Eve Luckring

For the first half of the question,
I will sidestep (or perhaps create a Mobius strip) by referring to Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millenium. For those unfamiliar with  these lectures, Calvino discusses the qualities of literature that he most valued: 1. lightness, 2. quickness, 3. exactitude, 4. visibility and 5. multiplicity.  These five features characterize much of what I strive for in writing haiku and what moves me when reading it. (The sixth quality, consistency, was left unwritten because Calvino died before he finished the text. I do not know if it would relate to haiku as much as the other five do for me.)  Calvino was a short story writer and a novelist; and though he was not specifically addressing poetry, let alone haiku, in his Six Memos, he flushes out what I think gives haiku its oomph and what I think any writer can learn from reading haiku. Since I cannot write a summary that would do poetic justice to the nuance and depth of Calvino's commentary and his lovely way of framing each of these five categories with revealing examples, I will instead refer anyone interested to an online PDF ( also available for download):

For the second half of the question,

if I had to generalize, I would say that different types of poetry enlarge and flex the quality of our attention.  Different "schools" of poetry, and the approaches of individual poets, show us something distinctive about how to attend –from the Latin root, attendere– "to stretch toward" the universe, its inhabitants, and poetry/art itself.

To address the question more specifically, I will comment briefly on two living poets, Rae Armantrout and Lyn Hejinian from whom I have learned much.  I believe these poets write with a sensibility very related to what I value about haiku.  They  tackle the thorny realm of "the problem of description" as Hejinian calls it.  Both use words precisely and concisely. Both model how thought and sensory information intersect. Both thread the abstract through the concrete of the everyday. Humans and the rest of the natural world are in full intersection in their work. Both offer a way to navigate the contemporary state of information overload in our everyday lives, which is seldom addressed, and perhaps even avoided, in haiku. Both use a tonal range that spans from whimsical to philosophical, from scientific to lyrical.  I have a quote from the linguist Roman Jakobson scribbled in my notebook:  "a connection once created becomes an object in its own right" –these two poets' work embody this sentiment in different ways.   

Armantrout makes fully palpable our advertisement saturated, internet-connected,  image-mediated world of public relations and pornographic voyeurism with acute attention to the language that frames it, often in measure against the physicality of daily life.

The Subject

It's as if we've just been turned human
in order to learn
that the beetle we've caught
and are now devouring
is our elder brother
and that we
are a young prince.


I was just going to click
on "Phoebe is changed
into a mermaid
tomorrow!" when suddenly
it all changed
into the image
of a Citizen watch.


If each moment is in love
with its image
in the mirror of
adjacent moments

(as if matter stuttered),

then, of course, we're restless!

"What is surface?"
we ask,

trying to change the subject.

I love how Armantrout uses the space of the page, simply and elegantly knocking things against one another, bracketing language-as-image against image-as-language against language-as-language, letting it all coalesce into the whole of a poem or an accumulation of poems.  Her poems are spare and overflowing like good haiku.

Like Armantrout, Hejinian is exacting, rigorous, and lyrical.  In her classic, My Life, she demonstrates in vivid imagery how the past crashes into the present and how language navigates a continuous stream of concrete sensory information. A small excerpt ( without the proper formatting):

A pause, a rose

something on paper

A moment yellow, just as four years later, when my father returned home from the war, the moment of greeting him, as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, younger, thinner than when he had left, was purple—though moments are no longer so colored. Somewhere, in the background, rooms share a pattern of small roses. Pretty is as pretty does. In certain families, the meaning of necessity is at one with the sentiment of pre-necessity. The better things were gathered in pen. The windows were narrowed by white gauze curtains which were never loosened. Here I refer to irrelevance, that rigidity which never intrudes.  ....

In Hejinian's essays on poetics published in a book, The Language of Inquiry, she discusses Stein's work ( another poet who I think has much to offer writers of haiku, though that may seem antithetical to many), ruminations on "line",  "the rejection of closure", and an essay entitled "Strangeness" that seems very relevant to haiku, especially in this contemporary information age. (Phil Rowland and I discussed Hejinian's work briefly in an earlier Troutswirl discussion and he brought this essay into the dialogue.) In it she discusses metonym: "Metonym moves attention from thing to thing, its principle is combination rather than selection.  Compared to metaphor which depends on code, metonym preserves context, foregrounds interrelationship...The metonymic world is unstable. While metonymy maintains intactness and discreteness of particulars, its paratactic perspective gives it multiple vanishing points."  For me this says a lot about how good haiku works.

Aubrie Cox

Although I've had the chance to study both haiku and non-haiku poetry (Western, "mainstream," or whatever descriptor seems most appropriate to the reader), my experience with haiku came first, then everything else. Haiku was a gateway genre for me, if you will. Poetry finally made sense, and that made me want to explore it further. Once I began reading other forms of poetry more diligently, I did notice a change in my haiku—primarily within language. My vocabulary became more diverse and I felt myself loosen up a little with word play (which I can't help but find mildly ironic since a literal translation of haiku is "play verse"). I think part of this has to do with the atmosphere I was learning in at the time, where the professors heavily pushed for the love of words, interesting words, to explore words and the rich density and musicality language has to offer.

As haiku poets, it can be easy to fall into the same imagery and wordage, and even rhythm for poems. Line one: Kigo and/or nature image. Lines two and three: A juxtaposed image, action, or thought. Reverse to create something almost different. Sometimes we have to stop to remember that haiku, although different than other poetry is still a poem. Yes, brevity and the captured moment itself are important, but so is the sound of the words together. It can be worth it to take that extra time in editing to look for possible alliteration or frankly just words that sound cool together. When a reader can enter both the moment and the words themselves, the experience expands in new directions. (Note: This is something I will always fondly remember haijinx for—the attention to details within language and play.) This, in turn, can push haiku poets to explore new subject matter or different perspectives within poems.

While haiku poets can learn to be more attentive to language and what's on the page through exploring other forms of poetry, the main thing non-haiku poets can learn is probably the exact opposite. Lyrical fiction writer (and dabbler of poetry) Isaac Kirkman commented to me not too long ago that, "There is a lot I can learn from haiku writers, the power in line, in space in between, in brevity. .... Haiku [is] very alien, but very very, beautiful (and potent)." Brevity and line breaks are great skills for any poetry to learn regardless of the genre (and I think haiku poets can learn some great ways of working with line breaks in non-haiku poems), the weight of words and what's not being said are excellent lessons to learn from haiku. Whereas I wrote earlier that I learned to embrace diversity of language with other genres, haiku is where I, as a poet, learned how much a single word can carry so much significance (especially when one is working with 6-11 words total), and thus how to cut back on my words to create the potency Isaac mentioned. I could show (and tell) more with less.

In non-haiku poetry workshops, the unsaid is a territory I've found my classmates (and my students in comp classes in which I've incorporated poetry) are leery about. They want to tell it all, they want you to know how they feel, verbatim. With more exposure to haiku (or even just short poems or flash fiction), those writers learn to let go and be more willing to give up a little control of the reading of the work. Non-haiku poets learn it's okay not to say everything, how to amplify the space between the lines, and perhaps, in some ways, how to be more generous to the reader. To write haiku, I think, is to put some faith into the reader. As though to say, "Here, you take this part. I want to see what you'll make of it. I know you, too, have something to say and feel."

Field Notes

Peter Yovu

Are there poets who do not write haiku?

From Don Paterson's "Renku: My Last Thirty Five Deaths:"


By noon the pear tree stands
in its white shadow.


It wasn't death
fogging the window;
it was my breath

Dorothea Grossman:

Children's Department

The library always smells
like this:
an ancient stew
of vinegar and wood.
It's autumn, again,
and I can do anything.

Humberto Ak' abal

Early Hours

In the high hours of the night
stars get naked
and bathe in the rivers.

Owls desire them,
the little feathers on their heads
stand up.

Rae Armantrout

Last lines of "Circuit"

"That's a beautiful truck;
that would cost a lot,
            wouldn't it?"

The silver tanker
leaving the station.

Shinkichi Takahashi

Last lines of "Wind"

I'll live gently
As the wind, flying
Over the town,
My chest full of sparrows.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Salvatore Quasimodo

Everyone is alone at the heart of the earth
pierced by a ray of sunlight:
and suddenly it's evening.

(That last line also serves as the title of the poem).

Marya Rosenberg from ""If I Tell You You're Beautiful, Will You Report Me?": A West Point Haiku Series"

the delicate pinkish
late-afternoon light shines through
the bullet holes.


under her muddy
battle-dress uniform--an
orange push-up bra

(This series was chosen by Heather McHugh for The Best American Poetry

Ko Un

I'd like to buy her some toffee
but I don't have a daughter

as I pass a sidewalk store in autumn

the mother has fallen asleep
so her baby is listening all alone
to the sound of the night train

(These are two of four short poems published in the 9/25/06 issue of The New Yorker).

Did these poets study haiku? Yes. No. Maybe. . . but I'm pretty certain that Poetry, from the very beginning, has studied Haiku. I imagine a woman slowly, carefully, brushing her hair, bringing its shine out, its nuanced tones.

As George Oppen writes: "consciousness// Which has nothing to gain, which awaits nothing,/ which loves itself"


Light within light. Did Roseliep say/imply that-- about haiku?


It is not as clear to me that Haiku has studied Poetry--  going down to the roots. No, haiku is root, approaching, bowing down to and dissolving into the unknown by way of the known.


You cannot be good by doing only what you are good at.


At the zoo. A great silverback gorilla sitting alone, at rest, perhaps at peace despite the bustle around him. The shine of his fur, a dull shine on his leather chest. His eyes. Though he is denied the strengthening environment from which he originated, one senses the enormous power of the animal.

"But why doesn't he do something?" a child asks and walks away.




A strength of haiku, and of all poetry, all art, a strength some poets and artists often ignore, resides in limits. The first limit imposed on haiku, or perhaps the most obvious, is length. Can anyone doubt the power of brevity?


Restraint is only meaningful when it has the full force of what is withheld behind it.


If one is going to avoid using certain poetic "techniques"-- metaphor, simile, enjambment, rhyme, etc., one had better learn to use them first.


One of the limits inherent in such a short genre is in the development of sound. Of course, sound can be, and sometimes is, skillfully used in haiku. The sound of a drop of water on a hot wood stove as it seizes up, skitters a bit, and dissipates. Quick like that.


I discover that I've written a haiku that has two or three "ah" sounds in it, and I sense that they somehow encourage an image that has emerged. And I'm pleased about that. 

In a longer poem, I might see the same thing, and I might be compelled to explore those sounds further-- what do they want to say? What other vowel sounds do they want to hang out with? How are they different in the middle of different consonant clusters, or propelled by gutturals and fricatives?

Robert Bly says an interesting thing: "When we sit down to write, we often imagine that thoughts are coming, or feelings are arriving. But actually what are arriving are syllables, each a marriage or affair of vowel and consonant".

(A lot of haiku writers may not like that idea, but even sitting down in front of
a butterfly or a factory smoke stack brings "syllables" to mind).

And I would add that the sounds that come are carrying thoughts and feelings with them. A poem is the utterance of something-- a naming--  that could not be otherwise expressed. There are orphaned feelings, thoughts, ideas and shades of consciousness in our depths which long to be embodied, long for the mirroring validation of the poem, to be, in effect, carried out into the world and sung. To be tried out.

That may be asking too much of a haiku. In such a short genre, it is difficult to develop the metamorphosing qualities of sound. The great challenge of brevity is that it tends to favor wit and the associational mind. A longer poem, skillfully employing sound and rhythm, can counterbalance this. A haiku barely has a body.

Nonetheless I feel I must be ready for it-- ready for whatever sounds/thoughts/feelings/shades of consciousness come my way.

I've taken the following from Randy Brook's essay on (and here quoting) Raymond Roseliep. : (

"The poet is an animal with the sun in his belly. He is one breed of the species cited by Luke the Physician as 'a whole body ... filled with light' (11:36).... [H]e imitates the Creator. With language he puts flesh on ideas and feelings; to airy nothing he gives local habitation and name".


I want to say it is only possible with a serious study of poetry-- finding out what sound can do, how it feels, how it can be inseparable from meaning, as a Tyger is inseparable from the forests of the night.

Or how it can be meaningfully separable. 


One way writers of haiku and very brief poems can develop the metamorphosing, echoing, dialectic, counterweighted, underpinning, overtonic, centripetal and centrifugal properties of sound (and rhythm) is through the composition of longer works, of a number of haiku which play with and off each other sonically and thematically, haiku which find themselves at times getting longer, which risk not being haiku, which call for additional, non-occasional, unexpected but necessary poems without which some depth would be denied.

Mark Harris has moved in this direction in his book Burl. John Martone has published numerous sequences which dance around and through single themes.


I enjoy the way Kay Ryan plays with rhyme.


Intention doesn't sweeten.
It should be picked young
and eaten. Sometimes only hours
separate the cotyledon
from the wooden plant.
Then if you want to eat it,
you can't.

The rhyming in this poem is obvious. It is a technique. Does it get in the way? Does it get in the way of Poetry, or does Poetry/Consciousness want to love itself like this?

A double, triple, quadruple helix of sound. Up and down Emerson's
"ladder of surprise".

But it's not a haiku.

I would contend, and maybe Kay Ryan would say "rubbish" and call me a nebbish, I would contend that the sounds here (I love "sweeten" with "cotyledon" metamorphosed to "wooden") brought forth the meaning as much as the meaning brought forth the sounds.

Exercise for PY: go through a bunch of your haiku or short poems. Is there a sound which occurs frequently and variously perhaps insistently? Just as Bly talks about "sounds calling to sounds" is it possible that haiku call to haiku, poem to poem?

And are they calling out for another poem, or two, or three? For their lost relatives, for their abandoned friends, for their shadows?

And what's it all about?


Sound. Technique. One could go on in a similar way, with a similar understanding of the benefits of reading outside haiku, in regards to metaphor, image, simile, line breaks . . .


Restraint is the not the same as rejection. Limits are not stone walls, or if they are, they allow me to see and converse with my neighbor. Or just to sense her presence.

There are techniques I may never use in haiku or in other poems I may write. But knowing them, and knowing the power of not using them, and also knowing the power of potential (helixed into the helix of limits)-- something in me stays open, and available to whatever wants to be written.


And then-- I suppose this is for another time-- there is Blake saying:

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

The power of brevity.


Field Notes

Michael McClintock

I have always thought that studying and understanding something you love, including something you would like to do well yourself, or excel at, fall very naturally into a person's daily routine. How have others loved it?  What are the best examples? Poetry has been a lifelong study and occupation. I have learned a few things about the craft of poetry, from poets, of course, but as much from teachers who themselves never wrote a word of it, and that would include common laborers, the uneducated, and children.

Susan Diridoni

The CONCISE & the LYRICAL: interface between haiku & mainstream poetry

Mainstream poets can read as if they are on vacation & expect their readers to join their leisure.  So the brevity of haiku may open to the mainstream poet a more concise landscape: not brevity for the sake of accommodating readers in a rushed state, but rather to aim for a fuller journeying, a more occupied sweep of the poem's arena.  Diane Di Prima said more than a few times (while I studied with her a few years ago) that one can tell how good a poem is within reading a couple of lines. This sounded extreme to me when I first heard it, but I have found it a bracing provisional lens.

Haiku poets can gain from mainstream poets largely in the realm of lyricism.  Specific words that "lift" the reader (never a fan of the overly "simple English" haiku practitioners whose haiku risks being needlessly boring) can be a marriage between a fine word and precise meaning (whether metaphoric or not).  Probably my own "fine word" bias is the result of all the poetry I've read and loved, predominantly contemporary mainstream & other, in my endless search to find thrilling poetry (and to sell the books of poetry that fall out of the thrilling dimension).

For some time, I was rather scornful of the mainstream magazine POETRY, but several years ago, it began to change.  That change resulted in my discovering some poets whose work thrilled me—sometimes foreign & in translation, sometimes "names" in mainstream poetry, some busy in their MFA degrees but without a book yet. I've paid attention to the MFA students & the poetry instructors.  Diane Di Prima strongly dismissed writing programs as regimenting factories—yes, teaching people to write, but is it worth reading?  Rather, she suggested getting a degree in anything—geology!--& it would be better than a MFA.  But, there are exceptions!

In my personal pantheon of contemporary poets, my favorite is Anne Carson, a classicist, doing her own ancient Greek and Latin translations, as well as all her contemporary poetry, prose poems, plays, and two remarkable books, Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton, 1986) and Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan), (Princeton, 1999).  Her unique "novel in verse,"  Autobiography of Red (1998), tells a contemporary coming-of-age of a young, tormented soul who is also  "Geryon," a winged red monster. A luminous moment occurs when the adolescent Geryon for the first time meets Herakles:

Herakles stepped off the bus from New Mexico and Geryon
came fast around the corner of the platform and there it was one of those moments
that is the opposite of blindness.
The world poured back and forth between their eyes once or twice.[italics added]

For me, that description in italics is what would characterize any momentous meeting with a fated love, a love that might be called "the love of one's life."

"The God Fit"  [Glass, Irony and God. [New Directions, 1995]

Sometimes God will drop a fit on you.
Leave you on your bed howling.
Don't take it meanly.

Because the outer walls of God are glass.
I see a million souls clambering up the walls on the inside
to escape God who is burning,


Anne Carson's recent Antigone (Sophokles) is presented in Antigonick [New Directions, 2012]:

Blessed be they whose lives do not taste of evil
                           But if some God shakes your house
                                                                    Ruin arrives
                                                           Ruin does not leave
                       It comes tolling over the generations
It comes rolling the black night salt up from the
Ocean floor
                    And all your thrashed coasts groan

Archives of grief I see falling upon this house
Death on birth birth on death there is no end to it
Some god is piling them on
One last root was reaching up for the light in
                                             The house of Oidipous
But the bloody dust of death
Hacks her down mows her down
All the tall mad mountains of her mind

                               Zeus you win you always win
                                 The whole oxygen of power
                                                        Belongs to you
                                              Sleep cannot seize it
                                               Time does not tire
     Your Mt Olympos glows like one white stone
        Around this law:
Nothing vast enters the lives of mortals without ruin

                      Eros, no one can fight you
   Eros, you clamp down on every living thing
      On girls' cheeks on oceans, on wild fields
        Not even an immortal can evade you
         Certainly not a creature of the day
                           They go mad
   You change the levels of a person's mind
       This Haimon crisis is all your doing
                     You shook his blood
              You glow on girls' eyelids
        Who cares about the laws of the land
                 Aphrodite, you play with us


Here we are
In a song about joy
Here we are in a day about dust
                           The dust it takes to house enemies
                            The house it takes to dust justice
                       The justice it takes to dodge a bullet
                         The bullet it takes to justify lovers
         The love in which to delete your own darling
The darling you dust
The dust you disperse . . .

(If these chorus excerpts should interest you, there is something else remarkable about this book: the astounding drawings on translucent vellum pages by Bianca Stone, to overlay the text—thrilling imaginative drawings to complement this unique version of a Greek tragedy.)
Hopefully these excerpts demonstrate the leaps of her imagery, the precision of her descriptions, the irony that tinges her work. On she goes, inventively.

Another mainstream poet I have found enthralling is the elder British poet Geoffrey Hill.  Though often unable to fully grasp his extensive literary and historical allusions, I can be thrilled by the almost visceral weight of his language and his trenchant phrasing.  Interestingly, the most compacted language appeared earliest in his career and to some extent persisted until his chronic depression was more adequately treated.

--excerpt: "Metamorphoses" [For the Unfallen, 1959]

4  Drake's Drum

Those varied dead. The undiscerning sea
Shelves and dissolves their flesh as it burns spray

Who do not shriek like gulls nor dolphins ride
Crouched under spume to England's erect side

Though there a soaked sleeve lolls or shoe patrols
Tide-padded thick shallows, squats in choked pools

Neither our designed wreaths nor used words
Sink to their melted ears and melted hearts.

--excerpt: "Two Chorale-Preludes"  On melodies by Paul Celan [Tenebrae, 1978]

    Es ist ein Land Verloren . . .

There is a land called Lost
at peace inside our heads.
The moon, full on the frost,
vivifies these stone heads.

Moods of the verb "to stare",
split selfhoods, conjugate
ice-facets from the air,
the light glazing the light.

Look at us, Queen of Heaven.
Our solitudes drift by
your solitudes, the seven
dead stars in your sky.

--excerpt: "Two Formal Elegies" [For The Unfallen, 1959]

For the Jews in Europe

Knowing the dead, and how some are disposed:
Subdued under rubble, water, in sand graves,
In clenched cinders not yielding their abused
Bodies and bonds to those whom war's chance saves
Without the law: we grasp, roughly, the song.
Arrogant acceptance from which song derives
Is embedded with their blood, makes flourish young
Roots in ashes. The wilderness revives,

Deceives with sweetness harshness. Still beneath
Live skin stone breathes, about which fires but play,
Fierce heart that is the iced brain's to command
To judgment—studied reflex, contained breath—
Their best of worlds since, on the ordained day,
This world went spinning from Jehovah's hand.

Haiku poets—a few of them—can uplift me as effectively as my favorite mainstream poets.  In this select group of thrilling haiku poets, I would say that each of them has a style—and that style is the vehicle of their inquiring minds. In the realm of style, there seems no difference between mainstream & haiku poets, but how would the mainstream poets know this?  One of the popular "styles" in haiku right now is a kind of excess of metaphoric cleverness—which can breed a low-level metaphoric churning.  Some "successful" metaphoric poets (winning competitions, etc.) seem to drop out of the publishing scene. Having seen this happen more than a few times, I wonder if their brains have tired of the game.  A kind of reduction of life into the clever metaphor possibly burns out as a trajectory sooner than the poet ever seeking the way to entrust experience to a newer grid. Scott Metz, profiled in MODERN HAIKU some years ago, could be immediately recognized as a haiku poet following his own private aesthetics—and this singular devotion has persisted to the present. [Regarding my own submissions to 
ROADRUNNER, I feel that I never know what will be accepted, that only by reading a new posting will it become clearer—the ever morphing grid.]  The following ku by Scott Metz appear in: lakes & now wolves [Modern Haiku Press, 2012].

fallen, trampled moss. The month then the year got away   

without child
       I find my wife inside
an inedible mushroom

walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics

Perhaps those haiku poets with clear and recognizable aesthetics would most easily be recognized as kindred poets by mainstream poets.  This has been demonstrated within Roadrunner's "Scorpion Prize," a prize that is chosen by some haiku poets but a by majority of mainstream poets and literary critics and theorists.  So it may not be the whole vast field of haiku that warrants equalizing with mainstream poetry, but those exhibiting most creative aesthetics truly would offer an exchange of valuable models.

Philip Rowland

Haiku offers poets the chance to engage with a contemporary, cross-cultural tradition. It also offers distinctive kinds of concision or cutting as means of compression. ('Mind,' as they say, 'the gap.')

Perhaps what haiku poets can learn most from other poets' work is to stay hungry, i.e., not to get too much of a hang of haiku. The broader the poet's (any poet's) acquaintance with the art form in general, the better the chances of his/her own writing staying fresh.


What can haiku poets learn from more mainstream poets?

First, I can only tell you what I have learned. What I continue to learn, which is:

Discipline. Control. Pace. Where to break a line. How to write with your ear. Trust it. And create your own cadence. To value close observation that speaks a certain rhythm all its own. To crash words into each other and see what happens. Or to sing the lyric dreamily like dropping a path of words along a trail. . . luring the reader closer. I'm thinking of a particular Mary Oliver poem that begins: "It is a negligence of the mind not to notice. . . " That kind of turn of phrase: "a negligence of the mind" is something that haiku poets are trained to steer clear of. Too intellective. Cerebral. Up to the ol' poetry parlor tricks. Yet language is musical when we train ourselves or give ourselves permission to listen for that disembodied phrase, for that one unforgettable wonder of a word like undulate, cudgel, soliloquy. Some words beg to be spoken aloud.

Compelling non-haiku poets pledge their allegiance to language first, it seems, not rules. First the sound, then the sense.

Non-haiku poets have taught me an abiding love of language. Word by word. That a good book can sometimes be the dictionary. Haiku poets have taught me this as well. But I came to poetry as a young undergraduate memorizing Dickinson's "The grass so little has to do a sphere of simple green with only butterflies to brood and bees to entertain..." Or Bishop's wonderful lines from "Insomnia": "...into that world inverted where left is always right, where the shadows are really the body, where we stay awake all night, where the heavens are shallow as the sea is now deep, and you love me." Longer form mainstream poetry was my introduction to the world of lyric language. Short, heart-breaking lyrics hobbled my heart from the get-go. I would never stray far from Poetry. Haiku came much, much later.

The haiku poet can learn from the non-haiku poet how to take chances and how to invent words. e.e.cummings' "mud-luscious", for example.   Certainly, word inventing is not confined to the realm of mainstream poetry but you don't often see it in English language haiku. Why not? It's supposed to be light verse. Why not laugh a little more. 21st-century haiku requires good ol' fashioned, traditional innovation.

I have learned from non-haiku poets how to film a poem. How to set the lights, cue the music, yell: "Action!" And then when to be quiet. Silent. How not to step on your one dramatic moment that makes the reader stop—feel. Remember. Thank you Ellen Bryant Voigt for tapping out like a schoolteacher the notes of my own singing. For telling the class—showing them, with arms overhead that "your poem is exactly that -- a sustained crescendo -- hold it." No one said it would be easy. We all begin with a blank page. We must teach each other to never give up. To write only what matters even when we don't know what matters.
Write it all. 
Sort it later.
Sustain your crescendo as if that is all anyone will ever hear.

Don Baird

I apologize for my late response:


Haiku are a million words reduced; they are what I reference, clarity in confusion; and, they represent and are the solution to the loquacious ramblings of an undisciplined mind.  The art of writing haiku is the art of writing, living and speaking from clarity rather than chaos. 

How could clarity not help everyone on the planet?

The intellect is a fuzz ball - a theory mongering absence of clarity - a co-creator of chaos.  And what it creates, it will most assuredly never solve, resolve.  Chaos is a natural attraction of the intellect - the mind.  Clarity is the solution and it comes from "less, not more."  Perfect for haiku; haiku perfect for it.

How could clarity not help everyone on the planet?

In saying less, you have more.  In acting less, you have completed the task.  In dreaming you create and in creating, you become lost in words; and, becoming lost in words, lost in the intellect, chaos will have you over for dinner - if not the subject of dinner.

How could clarity not help everyone on the planet?

Concision is a lost art - in thought, speech and writing.  Haiku is a found one.  The wind itself is confusion.  A poet noticing the affect of wind on an ant, is clarity.  The swinging of a sword is chaos; the tip of a sword is clarity. 

How could clarity not help everyone on the planet?


I write haiku because they're there to be written ...

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter

Paul Miller

I avoided this question because it was too big; it was also too small.

Too big for the reasons others have given—that we are all poets, whether short or long, "mainstream" (whatever that means... poetry, after all, is a very small ghetto, and if you asked the average person who Natasha Tretheway was you'd get a blank look; so can you truly call her mainstream?... even if she is the poet laureate) or haiku. There is no point to borders. There is just the work.

But also too small. because you don't learn from a genre but from an individual poem. From hundreds of individual poems. Some wonderful examples given above by others—many names I don't know, but I've jotted down to check out one day. Thanks for those.

Michael Dylan Welch

In response to Diane Wakoski's comment, I don't see haiku in English (or any other language) as being a "ghost" of Japanese haiku. English-language haiku is just as much flesh and blood and every bit as alive as Japanese haiku. But even if that's not what she meant, it's more importantly every bit as capable as well, even while there are differences. The essences of haiku have been repeatedly shown to be translatable to any language, and while core techniques such as season words and a two-part juxtapositional structure will have nuanced differences from culture to culture, they are still just as possible in English as in Japanese.

Nor is haiku just an imagist poem. Gendai haiku has shown that haiku can be far more than just an imagist expression. I would argue that it was actually the West that influenced Japanese haiku into evolving what has become gendai haiku, but even before gendai haiku's return influence on the West, haiku was broader than just an imagist poem. Nevertheless, I agree that imagism (lowercase) lies at its core (and here I would note that it was haiku that influenced the West to help generate the Imagist movement in the first place).

In any event, Diane suggests that poems written in a letter-based alphabet like English "cannot fulfill the premise" of poems written in a language like Japanese that is based on pictographs. This opinion begs the question of which premise she has in mind, but I don't see any premise in haiku that cannot be fulfilled in English or another language just as readily as it is in Japanese. In my view, Japanese has a set of advantages and disadvantages just as much as English. Where one language has gains, the other has losses, and vice versa. Each language has its strengths. English, for example, has a vastly larger vocabulary, and can control nuances in tense and articles in ways that are not so clear in Japanese. My wife is Japanese and she says whenever she's angry or upset she prefers to use English because it's clearer and more direct. On the other hand, that does not mean that Japanese is the only language where one can hint at things or be intentionally indirect. Perpetrated ambiguity is still perfectly possible in English.

Regarding form, it's worth reading Keiko Imaoka's essay on "Forms in English Haiku" (see for the definitive version), which addresses differences in syntax and word order, and ultimately supports the effective creation of haiku in English without needing to follow a form of 5-7-5 syllables (an urban myth for haiku in English, as has been said often). Other strategies matter far more than form, and I believe those characterisitcs have shown themselves to have little or nothing to do with whether a language is letter-based or pictograph-based.

H. Gene Murtha

Any poet can learn from any poet regardless of form or
genre: from language to economics to region to culture
to beat to rhythm to rhyme, to form, to birds, etc., etc.

What is the point of the question.

Field Notes

(The following was provided by Richard Gilbert to continue the discussion begun by Michael Dylan Welch above. --FN)

Richard Gilbert:

What I'd add to the discussion on form is the long paper I published with Judy Yoneoka on haiku form and metrics in Japanese and English, and issues of emulation:

From 5-7-5 to 8-8-8
Haiku Metrics and Issues of Emulation --
New Paradigms for Japanese and English Haiku Form

Publication: Language Issues: Journal of the Foreign Language Education Center (vol. 1) Prefectural University of Kumamoto, Kumamoto (March 2000) Japan.

Particularly the penultimate section:

A Metrical Approach to English Haiku Based on the Japanese Template:
A Musical Analogy

Also see
The Metrics of Japanese Haiku


A Foot-based Template

(which begins:)

    Music is not the universal language; rhythm is.
      Plenty of people are tone-deaf, but everyone has a heartbeat.
              - Chico Hamilton, Jazz drummer

Peter Yovu

H. Gene Murtha, responding to the Field Notes forum question regarding what poets who write haiku and poets who don't can learn from each other asked:

What is the point of the question?

I have a roundabout reply, but will try to be brief. Discussions on the old Troutswirl blog and later on Sails were often quite lively and stimulating. However, they tended to attract a relatively small (but loyal) band of participants. At times discussions within discussions went in the direction of "how can we get more people involved?"

With Field Notes, the idea was to invite a number of people to participate in the exploration of a variety of topics, and to make it as appealing and simple as possible. Some are people who have little time at their disposal and may not visit the forums on a regular basis. FN has provided them a good way to offer their views.

You can see the results. It is not meant to be exclusive. Anyone interested can respond to a given topic in any way they wish. Anyone can pick up on something that someone else has said, and take off in that direction, perhaps invite discussion. That's what Michael has done with an intriguing statement made by Diane Wakoski.

So, in general, the point of the questions is to stimulate thought, to generate discussion, and perhaps to inspire. Some questions are going to do none of that for some people. This particular question came out of a lot of interest that has been expressed about the relationship between poetry in general and haiku in particular. Each person's question around that general subject is likely to be a little, or a lot, different.

That's why FN panelists and all participants are encouraged to "make the question their own"-- to find their own version of it. An example of that, picked up by several people so far, might go something like this:

"Can you talk about a poet (who doesn't write haiku) who has helped you write haiku?" The ideal response, in my view, is one in which you find out what you didn't know you knew. 

For some people it seems, this particular question may be a bit of a tree stump-- used to have some relevance, perhaps, but now, there's nothing much to climb on. For others, there are fresh shoots to appreciate.


Don Baird

"In my view, Japanese has a set of advantages and disadvantages just as much as English. Where one language has gains, the other has losses, and vice versa. Each language has its strengths. English, for example, has a vastly larger vocabulary, and can control nuances in tense and articles in ways that are not so clear in Japanese. My wife is Japanese and she says whenever she's angry or upset she prefers to use English because it's clearer and more direct. On the other hand, that does not mean that Japanese is the only language where one can hint at things or be intentionally indirect. Perpetrated ambiguity is still perfectly possible in English." MDW

I think, in a way, this shifts away from what haiku poets can learn from other forms of poetry and what other poets can learn from the haiku form.  It goes outside and beyond and into another realm of of often heated debate as to whether a haiku in English is even considered to be haiku.  Many say no; numerous others including myself, say yes!  This is a lively set up for debate!  We can place the people in a Haiku Cage fight!  LOLLL Just kidding!  :)

So, I suggest this topic to become a primary topic for FN to consider as a new Notes discussion.

Peter?  Some time down the line?  Lets do it!?
I write haiku because they're there to be written ...

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter


I am in agreement with Don (Baird) that whether haiku is poetry, or can be poetry outside the Japanese poetical canon etc... could be an interesting future question, especially if new light is shone onto the subject.

In the meantime here is an adaptation from a foreword I wrote entitled Cage Fighting (Four Virtual Haiku Poets, Yet To Be Named Free Press  2012 ISBN-10: 1478307544, ISBN-13: 978-1478307549):

The poem, in all its forms, perhaps, to paraphrase Ian Sansom - frequent contributor and critic for The Guardian and the London Review of Books - remains a most elusive thing.  One minute you think you have it pinned down, and the next it's moved, both geographically, and in its mode of transport.  If you thought you knew everything about haiku poetry, here's an exploration into other styles and approaches.

What of short verse, and in particular, haiku and other aspects of haikai literature in the fledgling 21st century?

How do we enter into conversation with these poets, or is a poem an argument? What are the basic intentions on offer that are indispensable to compose these poems?

Fill [...] the granaries of your skull with all kinds of words, necessary, expressive, rare, invented, renovated and manufactured. Equipment [like a] pen, a pencil, [...] an outfit for your visits to the doss-house [...] an umbrella for writing in the rain, a room measuring the exact number of paces you have to take when you're working... Vladimir Mayakovsky, How Are Verses Made? (1926), tr. G.M. Hyde

Ian Sansom stated "The poet invents.  But the reader invents also." And I'd respond by "The poet invents and the haiku writer engages, and if both writers are open they will learn from each other, and although non-haiku poetry may be communication and dialogue between similar poets, both types of writers should take the reader with them." As I've professionally discovered, haiku poetry is often a gateway for members of the general public to re-engage with poetry, who have various reasons in having stayed away from poetry as a whole.

A haikuist should always be a writer aware of other genres, always looking at current practices in poetry, though I wonder if this approach is adopted enough by both poets from inside and outside the haikai practice, as much as it used to be by poets such as Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound etc...  If poetry is dialogue it needs to be ongoing and inclusive and allow non-poets to feel welcomed and included.

Should not all poets attempt to enter the tight cage of haiku and other poetry, with what Johnson talked of, back in 1751:   

"Imagination, a licentious and vagrant faculty, unsusceptible of limitations and impatient of restraint, has always endeavoured to baffle the logician, to perplex the confines of distinction, and burst the enclosures of regularity." Johnson  (May 28, 1751)

Alan Summers
Alan Summers,
founder, Call of the Page

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