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Field Notes 8: What is your relationship to haiku now?

Started by Field Notes, December 06, 2014, 03:53:56 PM

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Field Notes

The question posed by Field Notes 8 is:

What is your relationship to haiku now?

--How, if at all, has it changed since you first took up the practice?
--What surprising (or perhaps not) influences have affected you?
--Do you find yourself going deeper into haiku, or perhaps moving away from it?
--Can you give an example or two of your early work as well as an example or two of recent work?
--What are your thoughts and feelings about the current "state" of haiku in general?

This is the final installment of the Field Notes series. My enduring gratitude to all who have contributed.

Peter Yovu

Field Notes

What is your relationship to haiku now?


When asked who the most important person she ever met was, Etel Adnan answered, "a mountain."  It is possible that the population of creeping things with whom I spent my tropical childhood had the biggest influence on early haiku.  Proximate influences were: Buddhist practice and study; poets such as Rilke, Levertov, Gluck, Hass, and Oliver; Neideker's The Granite Pail; and, above all, haiku (mostly Buddhist) poets.  I aspired to Issa's humility and lightness, Paul Reps's nobility, and vincent tripi's intimate transcendencies.

Owl feather
in my palm
– the feel of moonlight

- vincent tripi (Between God & the pine)

wind troubles my dreams
              how delicate
                      the columbine

- (Poems from a Garden)

Still a process of communion, haiku has become less monastic/exclusively-satori-seeking and more porous to other influences from life and art.  Beginner's mind has conspired with somatic therapies, energy cultivations, and studies in neuroplasticity.  I moved from country to town to city to town.  I look to poets who stretch the genre.


- Peggy Willis Lyles (R'r X.2, 2010)

Video intrudes.  When I started writing haiku in the late nineties, I hadn't watched TV, seen a movie, or taken a photograph for some time.  I didn't cruise the internet or read the newspaper.  My visual experience of nature, at least, was less mediated.  I bet that watching youtube clips and the surprise-endings of movies like "All Is Lost," and "Blue Valentine" (an oceanic allusion to the Sistine Chapel and a firework-sunset, respectively) has, over time, loosened a proclivity toward too-tidy or predictable "third lines."  Allan Burns's essay, "Haiku and Cinematic Technique," inspired some intentionally cinematic moves.

high in
the palm tree wind
and its wild horse


Also at work are the songs of e.g. Bob Dylan, Sam Beam, Regina Spektor, Dave Rawlings, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Jeff Tweedy, and Brett Dennen, to which I have been listening more closely lately.  A few times their long- or second-winded or irregular lyrics  – played on the stereo or in the neurological echo chamber – have carried a haiku to completion.  This is primarily a rhythm entrainment, but a review reveals some disjunctive cuts:

And she chose a yard to burn, but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her bougainvillea blooms

- "Passing Afternoon," Iron and Wine (Our Endless Numbered Days)

I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth

- "Samson," Regina Spektor (Songs)

Morning any town you name

- "Morning Morgantown," Joni Mitchell (Ladies of the Canyon)

These are a few of my influences.  If you are reading this, chances are you're among them, so thank you!  And especial thanks to Peter for so skillfully leading this forum.

Sabine Miller



After 20+ years of writing haiku and a good 10 of actually taking the time to pay attention to what haiku is I'd say my relationship to the form has deepened. If someone were to ask me in passing "why haiku?" I'd say: "Haiku connects me," And by that I mean fills me in on the details. As a writer of poems and haiku specifically, I am a reporter of things in the world. I jot things down in the little palm-sized notebook I carry in my back pocket. A few random excerpts of late include;

"house of leaves perfect globe,"

"taking refuge unconnected stars,"

"last bird heads south. . ."

Pieces of poems maybe. World fragments. Maybe just blips on the radar screen and I'm homing in on the next moment of my life. I am a net  and haiku is what catches. Every day is a flurry of words and experiences ups downs ins and outs. Haiku is for me a kind of long low hush like the tide pulling the water away down the sand. A calm ensues. It's the world taking a breath and showing me how to do the same.

When I first began writing haiku my approach was academic. A sleuth poet in search of a poem to solve with a clever twist. Now, I am slightly more in tune with this one fact: all life is a mystery. So, observe. Everything is a companion. Haiku is one way of having a conversation. May we each be so lucky to carry on . . .

Peter Newton



Perhaps because of the fluttery ineffable
I feel in response to "What is your relationship to haiku now?",
this poem immediately came to mind,
and any attempt to develop something more has escaped me.

moths gather the unfinished business of her closed door

(first published in Frogpond 37:1)

Eve Luckring



Yesterday I met with a painter to discuss the paintings of Edward Hopper, especially the late paintings. I had worked with this painter on adding haiku to her bag of tricks, so she was aware of certain universals in Basho – for example, the distinction between loneliness and solitude. But now she was on home turf; she had a degree in art history and decades as a painter to draw on. We looked at the image of the nude sitting on a bed staring out the window. The walls are bare, the woman is bare, a white light dominates the space. The woman is of a certain age. She holds herself in an almost yoga-like position. Straight spine, arms comfortably resting on her legs. Her hair is pulled-back, leaving her face exposed to the light.

When asked for her feelings about this image, the painter drew on her knowledge of the sitter, of Hopper's marriage, and so on. She made intelligent comments about the composition of the painter. She said the woman seems lonely, perhaps forsaken; the bare walls emphasize the emptiness of the space. We can't see what she sees out the window, if she sees anything at all.

Then I asked her to apply what she learned from haiku about loneliness, about emptiness, about states of mind associated with meditation. She drew a blank. I kept talking, pointing things out with this new framework. She began to see the image differently. She personally could have been this woman. She saw the woman as an image of integrity in communion with a source that transcends her.

When I got home I wrote a little essay based on this conversation. See where I analyze a haiku by Basho.

The study of haiku doesn't leave you where it finds you. It provides an alternative view of reality. The habits that go with haiku can rewire your consciousness so that you actually see things differently. Call this the haiku habitus. It is the focus of my practices as teacher, writer, and poet.

I am aware that the concept of haiku I'm fleshing out here is not often discussed by critics. Critics tend to be historicists; for the most part, the "habitus" of  haiku I draw on, rooted in Basho and in the millennial traditions going back to the Zhuangzi, does not have currency. It is considered anachronistic. We moderns must be, well, modern.


My study of haiku has helped me recover a set of habits of perception that allow me to discuss values in art that matter to me. I have taught haiku for decades now; one of my students has won awards (Madeleine Findlay). I teach haiku every week here in Portsmouth.

In my own creative work (see, I start not with Basho but with the poets collected in The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry (New Directions 2003).  This anthology develops the ramifications of the poetics developed by modern American poets under the influence of what I call her the haiku habitus. In statements given at a symposium in 1977 and excerpted in this book,  Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snyder said, "Japnese poetry, which after all is an extremely compressed expression of Chinese aesthetics . . . " The imagery of the pond songs is as "compressed" as any haiku image, and it drinks from the same sources.

In many essays on my blogs and in my pond songs, I continue to explore the vision of reality that I draw from this haiku tradition. My pond songs don't look like haiku but they follow patterns explored by generations of Chinese poets. These patterns were adopted and adapted by Basho and centuries of Japanese haiku poets. Basho explicitly paid tribute to some of these poets. In Peipei Qiu's groundbreaking study of Basho and the Dao, the brilliant scholar-critic shows how Basho made the Zhuangzi new for his time. Along with haiku, I have become familiar with contemporary Taoist research, and this too has nourished my "haiku point of view." I like to think Basho and I are on the same page.

This study has also brought me into ecopoetics. David Barnhill's presentation of Basho leaves no doubt that the haiku vision is an ecological vision. And this vision is not reductive; the Chinese traidition of rivers and mountains poetry, so congential to Snyder, is metaphysical: it is  rooted in an awareness of the paradox of  the human presence in nature. That human language is inseparable from ecopoetics is brilliantly demonstrated by Scott Knickerbocker, Ecopoetics: The Language of Nature, the Nature of Language (2012).

Tom D'Evelyn

Field Notes


These new mannerisms lightly explored in Field Notes dissatisfy me and make me impatient, feeling as if I've been chewing over-mixed taffy, unbaked bread, or something made of semi-liquid plastic, like Silly Putty -- a marvelous toy product of industrial chemistry that comes with a warning to avoid swallowing.
The theories and notions touched on are not new and have, in their revisit of mostly failed experiments of the last 50 years in poetry (and clumsy attempt to over-write onto the haiku aesthetic architecture) made no case at all to stand as either new poetry or a "new" haiku. It is all a rather good example of criticism's failure to make itself the nexus and logos of what remains firmly the territory of actual haiku practice, the creation of original language art: poetry.
The haiku or poem itself is still the best teacher. Freakish intellectual acrobatics will remain, however, an attractive alternative for those inclined to be bored with actual haiku history and literature in its evolution over the centuries. To quote Larry Eigner in a letter he wrote to Charles Olson in 1956 --- ". . . as to the practical matter of communications the limitations are obviously vast . . . "  He writes a bit further about "the toppling toers [sic] of Ilium."
In my practice of haiku and tanka I want room to move around. Field Notes discussions up to this final installment appear to reflect that this is a common desire, which isn't surprising. We all live in multiple worlds and each of these is common to all men and anchored in the materiality that exhales into our consciousness our sense of space and time and all the ideas that inhabit and procreate in the mind. Kenneth Patchen once said " . . . it takes a great deal of love to give a damn one way or another about what happens from now on: I still do."
I still do, too. Everything I've written, and continue to write, is a love poem.
I don't bother much with originality. I work for authenticity and communication: small things, maybe, and almost impossible to achieve in language, but for me there is nothing else worth as much when achieved. The rest, with its mediocrity and conformity, doesn't matter a damn. The real mystery of beauty cannot be apprehended or conveyed by mocking or sentimentalizing beauty in its reality.
Field Notes discussions have been fine reminders that our poetry is exploratory: it prods and probes --- and has this in common with other poetry. In our work we appear to confront social, artistic, and other madness, in different ways --- also not surprising. We can look to the history of the literature to understand and experience what has worked and survived to be valued by new generations, and what has fallen to the wayside, to be lost, forgotten or ignored.  This latter is an outcome none of us wants and, therefore, the struggle to advance authenticity in our work trumps any bother with pretensions of originality and the usual all-consuming fires that are lit by a transient avant-garde armed with its propaganda machines, personalities, and particular species of narcissism, self-absorption, and a cooperative, enabling group delusion. Which is as expected.
These are old, tired patterns involving how the human being socializes and will not end here, but are part of the process necessary to the individual who must eventually turn away from the club, group, or herd, and pursue their art alone, if they are to achieve art at all, at any point, in their career. 
There is, on the other hand, the individual's capacity for love and wonder, and the comparison and empathy that comes from these: these are basic, clear, and uncompromising. Success along these lines will require enduring plenty of poverty and pain, political and artistic rejection, and most probably the peculiar persecutions that are the result of indifference.
Haiku is changeless and ever-changing: this is one thought. People come and go; a few people stay. A haiku conveys the world and human experience in these ways, too. There is perfect sense to it, yet nothing rational. Inside the beauty, the overall design is evident and simple.
These two older poems I close with, and the two more recent, are cut from the same world and, for me, have no particular markers relating to getting from one place to another in my practice of haiku, which has indeed been a journey but one I've undertaken without any sense of destination beyond the immediate poem. I have spent 50+ years wandering the maze without calculating where I might find the exit to some other place.
   twisting inland,
the sea fog takes awhile
   in the apple trees
   the hyena,
   outside of night:
a long bus ride
the prophetic language
of the stops
I say it loud in the dark
making a spark

Michael McClintock



When I began writing and publishing haiku, it was primarily curiosity that motivated me. In the same month that my first haiku was accepted for publication (by Brussels Sprout) I also had a page-length poem accepted for a special edition of The Wallace Stevens Journal. That issue contained poems or essays by John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, John Updike, Robert Creeley, X. J. Kennedy, Robert Pinsky, and others.
Haiku surprised me. And now, twenty-two years later, when I hear haiku poets wondering how we can get more attention and respect from "mainstream poetry," I consider that misguided. Haiku is exactly the right poetry for our time. "Mainstream poetry" would do well to come to us for inspiration.

John Stevenson



My involvement with haiku spans over 40 years. I'm not the same person I was when I began my haiku journey. I was an eager student for many years, reading all the haiku I could find, mostly Japanese haiku in translation.  This had a huge impact on my early writing.  I paid careful attention to the attributes that set haiku apart from western short verse. 

Nowadays I focus more on integration of haiku into the larger continuum of literature.  I read more broadly, not just haiku journals.  In addition to haiku I write prose poems and flash fiction as well as haibun, tanka, and rengay.  On the days that I'm frustrated with one form of writing, I can explore a different one.  When I'm tired of words, I work on collage.  The shift into colors and textures nurtures my intuition; that in turn refreshes the writing process.  But I always come back to haiku. 
Haiku is a wealth of lessons: new ones and old ones that I need to relearn.  I remain a student.   Nature is still my best teacher, but now my interior landscape and imagination informs my expression as much as the external landscape.  Writing haiku today seems to spring more from my spirit and my love of words and sound in language. 

I don't think there is one way to write haiku.  It doesn't tuck neatly into a box.  This is disquieting to some and liberating to others.  I'm optimistic about the depth and breadth of haiku.  There are publication opportunities for every mode of haiku.  I see this year's new journals and annuals such as is/let and muttering thunder as contributing vitality and encouraging a reengagement with the self and surroundings.  Haiku is not only alive but thriving. 

I write across the haiku spectrum from traditional three line 5-7-5 to the one-line modern and H21 ku.  It's exciting to contribute to the mix. 

balanced in the wind
first one foot, then the other
white-throated sparrow (1982)

war memorial
the shine on a bronze soldier
from so many hands (2009)

dusk     the new neighbor's wind chimes (1996)

raw umber the hill's shorthand for want (2014)

Cherie Hunter Day



The Tori Gate: Stepping Through
Richard Gilbert, November 22, 2014

1) What is your relationship to haiku now? How, if at all, has it changed since you first took up the practice?

My 1982 Naropa BA thesis in Poetics and Expressive Arts contained a number of haiku, adjudicated by Allen Ginsberg and Patricia Donegan (Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics). I found an old box of poetry today and this thesis may yet exist; however, pre-'pc' it's probably lost to time. The haiku were unremarkable anyway. I'd like to dwell first on the past in my response. Around 1981, my first year in the Poetics program, I found the three pieces below (two titled). These works show influence from Pat's haiku & Japanese court poetry class, intermixed with preoccupations of contemporary poetry.

Tori Gate

eating three meals today
              tonight, facing dark mountains
  young moon, new moon, old moon

Notes of Late America

     "I turned around and was shot through
with some shiny projectile."

     "I couldn't believe him. It was
cramped and awful lying down."

   the fierce wind
is not sacrifice
      in the house

Only "Tori Gate" overtly emulates haiku form—as it appeared to me then—here also the influence of Hitomaro, in From the Country of Eight Islands (Sato & Watson, trans., eds., CUP), which had been published that very year—a prized sourcebook.
   The following excerpt retains its original layout (a single-page poem in three seven-line stanzas), written to Peter Orlovsky in commemoration of his class. Peter's book, Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs, Poems 1957-1977 (City Lights, 1978, 1992) is worth reading to absorb his naïve and sometimes goofy-joyous style. Peter was a great teacher, and a most warm-hearted human being.

       .   SHORT   .

.   Oh long napkin   .
.   Having chair to feet me   .
.   Bound my eyes kiss   .
.   Dear black olive round   .
.   And word long ornament   .
.   Blue-print doggie   .

.   Holy woods brown   .
.   Tree me stop swirling   .
.   Run feathers what hanging bird   .
.   Gallons under noise running   .
.   Green leaf I know   .
.   Tree house well open   .
.   Oh life birds   !

.   Cork water bobs   .
.   Fly on train walks   .
.   Shuck corn phooey   .
.   Pickets fence a million   .

A kinship with haiku exists here too, I feel. Allen insistently declaimed (chided me), "No ideas but in things!" A statement I stubbornly resisted, being drawn to Gertrude Stein, symbolist poetry and language/image experiment. Like many interested in haiku it was that "zen" (what?) taste in Blyth's impassioned commentary throughout his Haiku volumes (1947-1964, Hokuseido) bridging haiku with the short poem—this urged exploration: if not anti-narrative (all poems are narrative to an extent), at minimum haiku strongly resist the generic-narrative-confessional "me "me" "me" rife in journals and poetry readings now and then.

   The zombie spectre of new formalism lurched as the junk bond kings of the Reagan era exclaimed triumphs of capitalism. It seemed a haven of some kind, haiku—as a "way" or path towards a delicate, nuanced and sensitively animate psychic tissue between self and literal life. Various Beats, previous Fluxus members and St. Marks poets visited and taught at Naropa, through the years. In a variety of ways they challenged previous modes of progressive formalism—through randomization (as counterpoint to intentional structure in the Burroughs "cut-up" and zen-random concepts of John Cage and colleagues), through the spontaneity of the ordinary (in dance, e.g., Barbara Dilley, later President of Naropa, who had danced with Merce Cunningham, before becoming a dancer/choreographer with the Judson Dance Theater, formed by Yvonne Rainier), and through shamanic oratory (e.g. Waldman, Rothenberg, Corso in his readings, and others). As a searching being, and as a poet, I was utterly confused.

   March 9, 1981 marked the completion of my first class on haiku and Japanese court poetry. I turned in a "Final Haiku Project" to Pat Donegan. This course was almost certainly the first western university-academic class focused on Japanese haiku (in translation) specifically directed towards possibilities of poetic composition in English—a class itself composed of budding poets. Pat's approach was designed to explore new poetic territory, expand poetic (consciousness) possibility, and inspire aspects of feminism (e.g. presenting the legendary women poets of the Heian era), and multiculturalism. Only my "Preamble to Final Haiku Project" exists in the box: students were asked to write a short personal statement of three pages. I'll post the transcription as a link:
   Found are certain preoccupations, along with errors of understanding, typical of the era.

2) What surprising (or perhaps not) influences have affected you?

In the 1980s era mentioned above, Naropa was a vibrant, non-traditional inter-arts community. It has become increasingly difficult to envision the creation of such communities, as living costs have risen and vocational careers moved to the forefront of educational systems. Though even in the early 80s, Naropa was vocationally hopeless (and unaccredited). I began to re-discover a newfound sense of community, and friendships, through the HNA conferences, beginning in 2007, and due to the prevalence of virtual tech, have been able to foster them. It's difficult to form new artistic friendships in later life and haiku do mysteriously create community: the poetry itself has also flowered as this.

3) Do you find yourself going deeper into haiku, or perhaps moving away from it?

I find that haiku depth is always a surface. And anything profound must be accidental, actually. So "deeper" really implies craft and effort; sadly, I am very lazy and distracted, and only occasionally intentionally write haiku, usually with some surprise. I've been moving "away" from haiku forever. I think "Plausible deniability: Nature as hypothesis in English‑language haiku" ( confirms this trend away from concrete literalism, concerning form.

4) Can you give an example or two of your early work as well as an example or two of recent work?

The early work above—lately, I've been interested in the haiku sequence as a way of moving into borderlands between haiku-as-such and short-form poetry. At the beginning of this exploration I wished to make each "line" (or 3-line stanza) function autonomously as a haiku, but have now moved further into a looser "weak disjunction" concept, in service of storytelling, if necessary. Moongarlic, Issue 3 (, November 2014 (pp. 53-71; about 16 "lines") presents "only so long for," with each line/poem on a separate page. Bones, Issue 5 (, November 2014 (p. 81; in seven lines) presents "Observations on the Lack of Stars" which uses objective typography and color variation in its conceptual approach.

5) What are your thoughts and feelings about the current "state" of haiku in general?

With the flourishing of a number of well-edited international online journals, the continued exploration of center, fringe and exo-haiku possibilities, and wider recognition by the literary community, a newfound sense of spring is in the air, yet much depends on where we go from here.

6) Is it enlivening to you? vital? confusing? stale?

As with fine cuisine there is much to savor; one easily passes on uninteresting dishes.

7) Has it taken a wrong turn, or do you feel there is promise in what currently appears in various journals? And how does it affect your own work?

No to wrong turns, yes to promise. I'm not sure what to do next, in criticism. The Disjunctive Dragonfly, a New Approach to English-Language Haiku (Red Moon Press, 2013: represents the completion of a conceptual approach developed over 10 years. Some may know that I recently formed SHAO NPO: "sailing for haiku across oceans" ( The site is self-explanatory—what is not is the sense of pilgrimage, challenge and risk-taking, as well as learning I wish to undertake—away from the built environment—in searching out persons, communities, sacred places and poems in and around Japan, and finding contrasts between marine and land haiku cultures. I'll add that we haven't updated this website as we have found an excellent new (1989) sailboat, and are closing in late January—after which we will redouble our public efforts and communication of the campaign. Closeness and distance, ever in the waves.

nights: a cold world
con fidence spins
worlds waves hours

Richard Gilbert

Field Notes


My relationship to poetry has always been as a bridge between something outside myself or of myself (physical, witnessed, dreamt, memory, etc.) and myself. It is a bridge of words. It is a diary entry; a moment captured—where moment is used in the widest sense. However, the "myself" is always changing.

In the past decade we've witnessed a shakeup of haiku by what we incorrectly called gendai out of Japan to more recent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E influenced work. We've also seen a deepening of our understanding of haiku's base—i.e. traditional haiku. Logically, one would expect my bridge to become stronger because of these educating influences; that however is not the case.

Instead, the gendai/L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E influences have made me more and more aware of the limitations of language as a communicative tool, as they also open up other ways of seeing and being in this world; while influences from critics like Martin Lucas make me aware of how tone-deaf formulaic haiku can be. Lucas might question the music or "spell" of a phrase like "spring morning," preferring something more robust. Of course much of haiku history contains these code words, and if you are someone like myself who believes that sharing is a foundational block of haiku, then they cannot be avoided entirely. Specificity might suggest a way out, yet too much of that can lead to obscurity. It seems that success in haiku is a moving target.

The worst thing we can do is "define" haiku: to lock it into a single form or template, so I am delighted with the new environment where all forms and styles seem permissible.  I am delighted to see how haiku approaches other short poetry. How each feeds off/influences the other. Scott Metz's book Lakes & Now Wolves is a great example of that—yet I would be hard pressed to define all the poems as haiku.  Yet is that distinction even relevant? Perhaps most importantly, the book makes me think about what haiku is or can be. As the editor of a journal I think these are exciting times; I wouldn't be an editor otherwise. However, at the same time I feel the weight of all these choices and their consequences.

Perhaps my crossroads is the old truism that the more you learn the less you know. I like to think I have always been at that crossroads—looking for a way forward—but that is for others to decide.

Paul Miller

ps. The previous Field Notes have been a part of that change of "myself" so a substantial thanks to Peter and the other commentators for the forum.



Haiku still remains for me an insight into nature. My relationship to haiku and haiku inspiration has not really changed. So published haiku (one a contest winner) skirts the same inspiration:

early 2000's

summer heat
the little stone Buddha
buried in weeds

winter solstice
the houselight left on
for our return

late 2,000's

Ice Age cave
the path leads down
to vast darkness

just enough
reappearing for a moment
morning star

My energetic system determines the nature and quality of my insight. Sometimes that system is sorely affected.

A few changes in this current decade are perhaps a loosening up of my phrasing, perhaps influenced by the haiku of poets I respond to.

Current phrasing that is dominating published (USA) haiku (and therefore other cultures' haiku) and winning awards is on the one hand a fractured, quasi-intellectual idiom and on the other lackluster haiku in a conversational idiom. This trend is misleading to the aims of haiku poetry and the quality of haiku poetry.

Imposing old poetic turns (dada, etc.) and faux psychological "complexity" (calling it American gendai) and being rewarded for it is not going to preserve haiku.

Bruce Ross
Hampden, Maine



December 2

I don't know if he was writing about a particular Red Sox team or about baseball in general, but I recall Roger Angell saying that what kept him interested was that every game presented to him at least one thing he had never seen before.

I continue to read publications like Modern Haiku because most issues contain something I have not seem before. Recently it was Michael McClintock's

I say it loud in the dark
making a spark

MH 45.3

I like to think that this, and the kind of poem I am talking about, would delight readers of any poetry magazine. It does not require the context of haiku. It does not need to be named as such, though Michael might disagree. And yet, though one cannot know for certain, it might not have been written without long engagement with haiku.


December 4

The depths (I mean this as a singular plural) are a wordless place, and yet they are incomplete without expression. They are impersonal— nobody's possession— but rejoice when someone is present to this need, this call for completion. The impersonal depths, one might say, fall in love with the individual, the person through whom they might find particular, prismatic expression.

This is one way of saying how poetry happens— why there is poetry rather than no poetry at all— and why poets feel compelled to write, as a fulfillment of the depths, however momentary it may be. However momentous.

And as a person is prismatic, and in relationship with a various world, so
expression, or the form it takes, will vary and the depths reveal themselves now this way and now that, now from this perspective and now from that.

The wordless place cannot be revealed in its entirety, but what is revealed can imply what, as Heidegger said, is concealed by revelation. Any view of a statue— or a human being— necessarily obscures all other views. (And yet each view is dependent on what cannot be seen).

Day breaks— it conceals night and implies it. The wordless is concealed by words. Concealment is a form of revelation.

"Eternity is love with the productions of time". Blake.
Accidental mystic John Wren-Lewis spoke from experience:
"I am eternity John Wren-Lewising".

I am the universe Peter Yovu-ing. Whatever I do. Whenever I write.


December 5

I'd like to quote from the book The Long and the Short of It by Gary Saul Morson. He is writing here about aphorisms, and in particular about the need to recognize the plurality of impulses driving different kinds of aphorism. I find it useful to apply his thoughts to haiku.

The quote— italics added by me:

"Different kinds of aphorisms convey specific views of life and experience. If we are to understand these diverse views, it makes sense to classify them accordingly. Approached in this way, each genre suggests a distinct sense of life as a whole. The world of the prophet differs from that of the wit.

That was the approach to genres adopted by the Russian theorist Mikhail
Bakhtin. [He] developed a method to grasp each literary genre as an implicit philosophy, or what he called a "form shaping ideology." He meant that each genre proceeds from a particular worldview ("ideology") generating appropriate forms of expression. [For Bakhtin genres] result from a defining ideology or sense of experience.

. . . A genre resembles an entity less than it does an energy, an impulse to apply a certain way of seeing to surprising circumstances with which it interacts and, as a result, changes. Genres are restless, some more so than others.

Moreover, a genre's take on life cannot be reduced to a set of philosophical premises. [Any] reasonably complex genre's sense of experience is ultimately inexpressible. [The] genre always contains potentials for development in more directions than are apparent.  Until the genre dies, its wisdom is never complete, and if resurrected, it can develop still further.

As a genre seeks out forms, it also discovers appropriate occasions, which, like forms, reflect its worldview".

There are distinctions to be made between haiku and aphorisms, of course, though sometimes the line is blurred. Ruth Yarrow's

after the garden party  the garden

(most recently in Haiku in English)

and Eve Luckring's

so greenly history puts forth thorns

(Haiku 2014)

are two of many examples.

To be clear, Morson is saying that while such things as maxims, apothegms, dicta, etc., may all be considered aphorisms, they are also genres unto themselves, each of literary significance, and each suggesting "a distinct sense of life as a whole".

Can this be said of haiku? Increasingly, popular journals such as Modern Haiku and Frogpond are publishing a variety of forms. Haiku 2014, the first of what one hopes will be a long series of annual anthologies, seems to be predicated on the notion that a "genre always contains potentials for development in more directions than are apparent".

I don't believe this variety is merely the result of innovation for the sake of innovation, though in some instances— maybe too many—  that is no doubt the case. I would like to think that, tentative as many of the new haiku may seem, they "proceed from particular worldviews"— or inner impulses— "generating appropriate forms of expression". One may have preference for and greater receptivity to one form over another— this would be as true for haiku as it is for aphorism— but the understanding of Bakhtin's "form-shaping" worldview may serve to increase one's appreciation for diversity, and experimentation.

I like the idea that "traditional", "contemporary" and "innovative" haiku each
suggest "a distinct sense of life as a whole", and that this would be true of other "kinds" of haiku as well and include poems which have been influenced by all or any of these and yet defy classification.

In thinking about haiku, and my relation to it, I find this helpful.

Peter Yovu



                                               Haiku and the World in 2014:
                                               Still a Craftmanship of Risk [1]

I think one of the biggest things and maybe the most important thing to have changed since I began practicing haiku in the 1960's is that anyone beginning haiku now has a wealth of English language haiku as a resource.  Back in the 60's there wasn't much of that resource.  Our sources for good haiku were from Japan.  They owned the genre since they invented it and were the guiding word.  And then most us depended on translations from their language.  There were some poets who knew the language such as Bill Higginson.  Someone taking up the genre now doesn't even have to think about or deal with the haiku written by the Japanese.  Not that I am advocating that kind of isolationism.  But in the old days one was probably attracted to the haiku because they had read some translations from the Japanese.  I know I was. [2] I wonder how many of the writers coming on board now were attracted to the haiku because of what they first read by an English language writer?  That would be an intriguing piece of research.

Another thing that has changed and was hinted at in the previous paragraph is that the English language haiku has taken on a form and life of its own that doesn't depend on how it was done in Japan in the past or is currently done.  It has come into its own maturity.  This is not to say we don't or can't learn from the ancient and contemporary masters of the haiku in Japan - we have! -  but that we no longer depend on them exclusively for our direction with the haiku even though they invented it.

I think the current state of the English language haiku is bumpy at the moment.  But perhaps no more unsettled than in the past. The world of poetry in general is also bumpy and going in many directions so it is not very surprising that the English language haiku world reflects that.   It probably is confusing to those writers new to the genre.  And will be until they decide where they want to go with the haiku and develop their own voice.

After all these many years I find the haiku still has a strong pull on me.   Any number of times over the years I have wondered if the pleasure of reading and writing haiku would all go away.  So far it hasn't.  I still look forward to the next issue of the haiku journals I subscribe to and the collections by individual writers and the anthologies.  And I personally still enjoy the risk of writing them.  The challenge and excitement of creating the haiku with a short bunch of words has not yet become stale or boring.

[1] For a stimulating exposition of the craftsmanship or workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty check out David Pye's book, The Nature and Art of Workmanship first published in 1968.  This comes from the perspective of one whose work is with wood but can be applied to explain and understand a poet's experience with words.  He describes the risk: 
                             If I must ascribe a meaning to the word craftsmanship,
                             I shall say as a first approximation that it means simply
                             workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus,
                             in which the quality of the result is not predetermined,
                             but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care which
                             the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that 
                             the quality of the result is continually at risk during the
                             process of making; and so I shall call this kind of
                             workmanship 'The workmanship of risk':  an uncouth
                             phrase, but at least descriptive. (page 20)

[2] Talked with more detail in my preface to Spilled Milk: Haiku Destinies.  Pinyon Publishing. 2010.

Gary Hotham

Field Notes


What is your relationship to haiku now?

How, if at all, has it changed since you first took up the practice?

Before answering this question, I would like to depict the historical context within which
my early haiku emerged.

In 1975, as reviews editor for a periodical, I got a pre-publication copy of Modern Japanese Haiku (Makoto Ueda, University of Toronto Press, 1976).  Prior to this, my only acquaintance with the form had been some stilted translations in coffee table books about Japanese culture and art. Ueda's translations of twenty 20th century poets, however, rang true and revealed surprising variations of form and content.

In the U.S. and Canada during the 1970s vigorous debates occurred about what an English-language haiku should be. With the help of Eric Amann, I decided to survey the kinds of haiku that actually were being published by the foremost poets of the day. We examined the work in two major anthologies: The Haiku Anthology (Cor van den Heuvel, Anchor Books, 1974) and the Canadian Haiku Anthology (George Swede, Three Trees Press, 1979).

We discovered that about 80% of the haiku were written free-style while the rest were in the 5-7-5 mode; that over 90% were in three-lines with the rest being one-liners, two-liners, four-liners or visuals (eye-ku); that 90% included images from nature while the remainder did not, i.e., were senryu; that only 5% used abstract ideas or generalizations; and that 99% used the present tense.

(Swede, G. & Amann, E. Toward a definition of the modern English haiku. Cicada, 1980, 4:4, 3-12)

About a decade later, I did another survey, this time focusing solely on content. My source was the second The Haiku Anthology (Cor van den Heuvel, Simon & Schuster, 1986) grown to an encyclopedic size with 648 haiku (plus more in the appendix). To shrink my task, I decided to look at the work of the top dozen contributors who had a total of 350 included haiku. I figured that this was a reasonable sample size as well as representative of  prevailing haiku styles.

Three different kinds of content emerged from the analysis: nature images only (22.8%), human images only (15.7%), and both nature plus human images (61.4%).  The results decisively showed that the prominent writers of haiku in English in the 1970s and 1980s preferred to combine images from the natural world with those based on human experiences or artifacts. In that era this was an important finding because much Western writing on the definition of the haiku form emphasized that only images from the natural world should be included; any human elements turned a would-be haiku into a senryu.

(Swede, G. Elite haiku: Hybrids of nature and human content. Modern Haiku, 1992, 23:1, 65-72).

Finally, in answer to the question, my early published haiku were in concert with the results of this research, that is, most of them were hybrids (nature plus human content) and in three lines. But, I also wrote pure nature haiku as well as senryu and often switched to the one-line form for all three kinds. Moreover, during the 1970s and 1980s I began having fun with "eyeku" as well as with what I call "bifids" (two-word haiku).

What surprising (or perhaps not) influences have affected you?

Everything and everyone influences my writing. I can, however, point to some islands in a sea of undercurrents. I've already mentioned the first—Makoto Ueda's Modern Japanese Haiku, in which he features 20 poets from the 20th century (with 20 haiku each). The anthology helped change the course of my writing from mainly free verse to mainly haiku. Another landmark influence was Eric Amann's adventurous periodical, Cicada (1977- 1982). His editorial policy encouraged experimentation and critical thinking, drawing to the magazine among the best of that era's haiku poets, many of whom continue to shine today. My later writing has been shaped a bit by contemporary versions of Cicada such as Roadrunner (2004 -2014, Scott Metz being its primary editor).

Do you find yourself going deeper into haiku, or perhaps moving away from it?

I'm certainly not moving away from haiku. I'm as deeply involved as ever. But as I change, so do the perceptions that inform my haiku. The resulting poems seem to be different compared to what I was writing earlier. But these are my observations and, as literary critics like to point out, poets are poor interpreters of their own work.

Can you give an example or two of your early work as well as an example or two of recent work?

Since I've been writing haiku for four decades, I've broken it into four parts: work from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

1970s Haiku

Plummeting to earth
a hawk seizes the feet
of its own shadow

(© 1976. Published eight times: Sun-Lostus Haiku, 1977 to Haiku Journey, Hot Lava Games, 2006)

In her large blue eyes I make a small impression

(©1977. Published six times: Uguisu, 1978 to Simply Haiku, 2006)

1980s Haiku

eyelid      cloud

(©1982.Published six times: Biased Sample, 1982 to micro haiku, 2014)

From the bridge
between my hemispheres
grandfather still fishes

(©1985. Published four times: After the End, 1986 to Joy In Me Still, 2010)

1990s Haiku


(©1990. Published seven times: Alabama Dogshoe Moustache, 1992 to embryo: eye poems, 2013)

spring flood
two wooden shoes float by
taking turns being first

(©1996. Published nine times: blue spilling over: Haiku Canada anthology, 1996 to Mainichi Daily News, 2001)

2000s Haiku

airport lounge
a Muslim man prays toward
the emergency exit

(©2001. Published seven times: Modern Haiku, 2002 to Whirligig, 2011)

a breeze from
my life cycle

(@2014. Bones Journal, 2014)

What are your thoughts and feelings about the current "state" of haiku in general?
Is it enlivening to you? vital? confusing? stale? Has it taken a wrong turn, or do you feel
there is promise in what currently appears in various journals? And how does it affect your own work?

Haiku writing today has grown more muscular and polished, much like today's professional athletes. I find the changes invigorating as well as occasionally frightening because I worry about whether my aging brain will be able to keep up.

George Swede

Michelle Tennison

What is your relationship to haiku now? How has it changed?

The writing itself has changed, as modern and contemporary Japanese haiku in translation and experimental haiku in English have broadened my scope of what haiku can be. In terms of technique, I am, as are many, experimenting with variations of the traditional form and language of haiku. I am also increasingly comfortable with ambiguity and with less direct associations, and I have a greater appreciation of the role of symbolism in haiku. Perhaps most significantly, I have directed renewed attention toward inner landscapes of experience and am cultivating a more heart-based relationship to the world.  Many of my more recent haiku have developed directly or indirectly through heart-centered / consciousness-shifting avenues such as meditation and breath work and other practices that encourage non-ordinary, non-egoic (transpersonal) perception.

As haiku poets we can explore nature and self-nature simultaneously, recognizing how each informs the other, and how they are, in a more refined quality of perception, deeply linked. I have enjoyed the expansiveness of the new haiku available to us in the West and have embraced the openings it has engendered in my own work. I am especially grateful for the blurring of separation between my spiritual life and haiku practice, as I feel that through this union my relationship to haiku can only deepen.

Don Baird

Late to the party . . .

Haiku are to me today as they were yesteryear in that I arrive at them from a blend of my inner cosmos with that of the outer. I find truth and mix it with imagination (not fiction) and develop the haiku. Over the years, maybe I've gotten a bit better at it, but my process remains the same — I notice something in the external-goings-on and mix it with my imagination (internal perceptions) and creative forces to select the correct presentation (words). Simply put: word choices, musicality, imagery, and solid disjunction, combined, constitute the core of my internal process of composing haiku; the Universe at large is my exterior stimulus that presents ideas and, therefore, the poetic material that I crave.

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

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter

Michelle Tennison

Over a decade into a haiku practice, I have come to acknowledge that it is not necessarily the individual haiku I write as a haiku poet that "matter," but rather the real value lies in the process of relating and quality of perception that haiku engenders.  It becomes a path of empowerment.

I forget sometimes how much haiku has brought to my life. I just stumbled upon an older somewhat ecstatic journal entry that addresses just this topic:

The haiku themselves are relevant, but they are perhaps not as relevant as the life you are leading while living into these haiku: A life of communion, meaning, attention, mindfulness, an awake life where everything is communicating, everything is intelligent, where monotony and the mundane have been replaced with resonance and mystery and meaning, where your field of being has expanded exponentially to include the plants, animals, stones, stars, wind, water, earth, and fire as intelligent, communicating companions. Through these tiny little exercises in consciousness your life can become very large and infused with spirit, for haiku illuminate the animating spirit within the phenomenal world.

This is a relationship to haiku I have been blessed with at rare moments, and they are moments that change everything. They keep me going.  It is a relationship I continue to aspire to.

Field Notes


For this installment of Field Notes, I was asked to consider my relationship to the haiku genre---in particular, the essential elements of haiku, as I understand them, and how my own work has evolved in view of that understanding.

Essential to haiku, it seems to me, are the following elements:
     1. Brevity: haiku are minimalist poems with a small number of total syllables, 17  English syllables, or thereabouts.
     2. Dependence on sensory imagery: while haiku can certainly reference abstractions or ideas, it does seem to me that the primary emphasis in haiku is on concrete sensory images, usually drawn from the natural world.
     3. An "Ah ha" moment or immediate unexpected turn or insight: while this is no doubt an element in much poetry (at least good poetry), haiku seems distinguished by a sudden realization, juxtaposition or insight, often, though not always, in the last line or portion of the poem. Since haiku are brief and concise, I think the form is especially well-suited to "pack a punch." The realization is often immediate and doesn't require extended cogitation (although how it works might be spelled out in complex ways through intellectual analysis).
     4. Self-transcendence: I think of haiku as lifting us out of our ordinary state of self-consciousness, and making us more fully aware of what's going on right now, at present.  Some writers have described haiku as creating a greater sense of "oneness" with the world, and while I think that's true, I find the more natural way to articulate its effects is in terms of a loss of ordinary self-consciousness (or mind-based "ego-consciousness"), perhaps meaning an expansion of consciousness into the world, or into a sense of self beyond ego, or both.

I am unsure whether these features are sufficient to distinguish haiku from other forms of minimalist poetry, and I'm equally uncertain whether there's a clear demarcation between haiku and other minimalist poems of approximately seventeen syllables or less—or whether there needs to be.

As for my own work in haiku, I'm interested in further exploration in two directions:

     1. I'm interested in developing a more contemporary "associative vocabulary" in haiku.  Take, for instance, the idea that the crow has been traditionally associated with autumn and with emotions such as sorrow or melancholy. Would it be possible to take such traditional symbology and upend it in some instances---perhaps have the crow turn to a symbol of renewal, or perhaps have it symbolize a more nuanced version of the traditional sorrow or melancholy?  Also, how can we augment the traditional haiku symbology (or associations) in a way that takes account of our contemporary experience, particularly our reliance on "virtual" experience via the internet and electronic devices.  I find it interesting to consider how we can convey features of 21st century experience through the traditional nature imagery and associations characteristic of haiku.
     2. I'm likewise interested in exploring new forms in haiku, in particular the arrangement of words on the page, and seeing how spacing can create ambiguity and multiple readings---while at the same time honoring the immediacy of insight and move toward self-transcendence that I find so essential to haiku.

Ellen Grace Olinger

This excellent question recalls the Haiku - Three Questions Series, edited by Curtis Dunlap, at Blogging Along Tobacco Road.  I remember writing my answers in 2010, from my heart, and have not reprinted the earlier haiku I shared there since then.  Many poets are included, and perhaps this is a new resource for some readers. 

Newer short poems, including haiku, appear in a Christmas collection I created on WordPress last year.  I am leaving it now as a free online book.  There is also a large print chapbook to go along with the site.

I realize I have returned to my haiku beginnings; my love of this form and other short poems that can be read by people in many life situations, and from many points of view.  For me, the beginnings were from broken health and grief.  Now my goal is to share with others, also from a place of peace and wellness (though I know life can change in a moment).  Sometimes memories overtake me, and I write my way back.  I think of my personal work as an encouragement ministry.  Sometimes I write from a teacher's point of view, in other contexts.  I simply love language, and this love brings wholeness to my life.

With my work as a volunteer for the education page at The Haiku Foundation, I have studied craft a great deal more.  I believe a lot of listening and reading create a good foundation for writing poetry.  Everyone's path is unique though.  By God's grace, I was able to give 20 years to special education.  I like to think that haiku seems friendly and possible to someone who may find the language arts especially difficult. 

Years that seemed fallow at the time have truly supported me.  I also love being older and having a different perspective about time.  I sit and wonder a lot.  So grateful.

and humility

wind freeing the snow
from evergreen branches

looking at trees
I remember prayers
of friends

(from my Christmas site)

Thank you to Peter Yovu and the poets for Field Notes. 

Blessings, Ellen

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