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I have a question about linked verse

I am curious. Are there poets you know of who write poems with verses that hold up as stand alone haiku or senryu? I don’t mean renku or haikai no renga, or haiku that follow a theme under a title, but honest-to-goodness real poems that feature verses that measure up to the qualifications for haiku/senryu.



This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Dear Gene,

    I don’t know if this answers your question, but I recently published a book on biblical haiku–“found” or embedded haiku I discovered within various books of the Bible. Many are exact verses as seen in the King James Version translation that employ various forms of parallelism, including emblematic, synonymous, ascending, and antithetical. The title of the book is By a Prophet: A Collection of Christian Haiku; it’s available through Amazon, the Barnes and Noble online bookstore, and AuthorHouse.

  2. “Are there poets you know of who write poems with verses that hold up as stand alone haiku or senryu? . . . honest-to-goodness real poems that feature verses that measure up to the qualifications for haiku/senryu.”

    Robert Gray immediately springs to mind:

    As well as longer poems, he writes short, three-line poems that he has refused to call haiku, although some (including Jan Bostok) have considered that they were haiku, Eg. in his early ‘Creekwater Journal’ (1973), these from ’13 poems’:

    On this peak, alone;
    in the wind, it feels as if my shirt
    is trying to go back.

    Sultry night. The moon
    is small and fuzzy, an aspirin
    in a glass of water.

    Chopping wood,
    I strike about at mosquitoes
    with a axe.

    Smokestack, evening sky;
    and the smoke, a woman’s long hair,
    who pauses underwater

    So it’s no surprise to find what we might call haiku (even if he doesn’t) in his longer poems. Again from ‘Creekwater Journal’ (1973), this poem:

    ‘Scattered lights …’

    Scattered lights,
    one pub, and one garage.
    Driving through

    in the woodsmoke dusk.
    A culvert
    at the town limits;

    the road goes on, straight,
    fading. The flat
    grey heath

    disappearing close, on either side.
    this blustery wind
    brings rain — just

    short hairs
    of a barber’s sheet,
    marking the windscreen.

    I’d say that the first stanza has all the earmarks of a ‘stand- alone’ haiku:

    Scattered lights,
    one pub, and one garage.
    Driving through

    From ‘Lineations’ (1996) , from
    ‘9 poems’

    Writing beneath vines;
    a Sunday. The slow, clean strokes
    of cricket match

    This, we’d call a haiku.

    Also form ‘Lineations’ (1996), this poem:

    ‘Out rowing’

    Out rowing at night
    on the river


    in the stillness
    some cabins


    the shoreline
    in one

    a bottle is opened

    any of these might be
    a lantern

    that I could hold

    Because the sensibility and the focus is essentially the same as that from which we write haiku, it’s not hard to find a haiku in such poems.

    shoreline cabins –
    each might be a lantern
    I could hold
    – Robert Gray, messed about with by Lorin Ford :-) … for demonstration purposes only.

    One thing, Gene:

    “… honest-to-goodness real poems…”

    In my view, haiku *are* “honest-to goodness real poems” and I think that Robert Gray, at least, would agree with me. Just as with longer poems, there will be some haiku that are more and some less achieved than others, but haiku are ‘real poems’ in themselves.

    – Lorin

  3. In my book Where We Go, I crafted poems using haiku and tanka stanzas, some of which stand alone. If you’d like a copy of Where We Go, send me an e-mail with your mailing address and I’ll be glad to send it to you, Gene.

  4. Gene, Thank you. Each person’s process is unique, of course; and I also appreciate what you say. In the elementary lesson plans for the Ed Wall, we have plans for Awareness and Reading haiku, before Writing lessons. Then group lessons for writing haiku, before individual poems are assigned (older grades). Lots of support, and lesson adaptations for students who need to go slower or who are ready to do more. A gentle progression of skills – a curriculum in progress. The main goal is to enjoy poetry.

    This seems to be a more fallow time for me now, in terms of new poems – and I know through reading the poems will return. Also over the years, I’ve learned as I’m sure many have, to take advantage of those times when life gives us a little more time – and get some ideas on paper anyway. A big topic – and you always ask questions that inspire!

    Always more to learn and thanks for the opportunity to share.


    PS Never good at parties, but sitting with people in hospitals, that I could do!!

  5. Of course hardcore Michael hits the nail on the head concerning poems where the verses really ARE haiku! Glad I am not crazy in my disappointment yet!

  6. Hi Ellen,
    No, I didn’t plan to write one. I think a good writer’s impulse should be NOT to write! : ) A pet peeve of mine is when people pick up pens too quickly! I read poems for years before writing them and I’ve only met a couple of people who have said the same through the years. I had the same MO with haiku. I read it for years and started interviewing people about them before I tried writing them.

    On this, here’s a bit from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Art of Disappearing:”

    When they invite you to the party
    remember what parties are like
    before answering.
    Someone telling you in a loud voice
    they once wrote a poem.
    Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
    Then reply.

  7. Peter, I would add Montage to the anthologies you mention (which I also read). With Montage as the textbook for many of the lesson plans on The Haiku Foundation Education Wall, students of all ages are naturally reading many poets and styles of haiku. We encourage teachers to be flexible in grading, and to welcome new ideas. Jim and I really thought these issues through, as we crafted the plans, and others have added their good work too. (I’m taking a break after almost two years of work on this project, given the respiratory flu I’ve had, and family needs – but will get more ideas later on, I hope. Jim is the Editor for the Ed Wall.)

    For me, because of how I began and continue with poetry, praying the Psalms and haiku are paired in my mind, in terms of my contemplative life. I think this relates to Michael’s comment.

    I continue to see a wide variety of haiku being written on blogs. New poets all the time, and they begin in many ways.


  8. opening
    between my legs
    like a pair of wings

    – from Monarchs by Sharon Olds

    It’s not a separate verse within the poem but is laid out in three short lines.

    I very much like the opening lines of this poem too, but they are long lines.

    All morning, as I sit thinking of you,
    the Monarchs are passing. [Seven storeys up,]

    It doesn’t take much imagination to do this:

    all morning
    as I sit thinking of you
    the monarchs are passing

    These are by New Zealand poet Bill Manhire from his collection “My Sunshine” (Victoria University Press, 1996) and are presented one to a page.

    The Prairie Poet

    All day shovelling small snow,
    and look, western light
    at my window.

    Opoutere Nest Song

    Sky and water, quiet
    sand. Little whistle
    that gets up and goes.

    The stanza below is from his long poem “Hoosh” in the same book:

    skies and katabatic winds,
    all the words
    lost in the archive.

  9. The examples you cite, Peter, are wonderful. A lot of Hass does indeed feel haiku-like, as do the other examples. But I think there’s a key difference between what you cite and what I think the question was about. That is, are there any complete longer poems in which the verses ARE haiku, not just haiku (or haiku-like) in the broadened sense that you’ve proposed, but haiku that the AUTHOR intended to be haiku. The only examples I know of, even by some prominent poets, tend heavily towards being pseudo-haiku, and are nowhere near as good as the examples you mention — which are I doubt are offered AS haiku (Hass’s come the closest — the clue is in the title, in that each verse is a separate “song” to survive the summer, and collectively become “songs”).

    It’s not so important that the examples you cite are haiku, or might be. Rather, these poems tap into the SAME THING that haiku tap into — the clear and powerful present image. That, in itself, doesn’t make them haiku, though. Nor do I think that the examples you cite demonstrate the influence of haiku upon them; rather, again, I think they’re just tapping into the same primordial image the predates both haiku and Western poetry. Haiku sensibilities exist in almost every culture and language, it seems to me, and they predate any knowledge or practice of haiku in every single one of these cultures and languages, even Japan’s.

  10. A lot depends on what you consider to be the “qualifications” for haiku/senryu. By definition, a qualification is a necessary attribute without which a given thing (such as a haiku) will be called into question.

    There are some writers who appear in magazines such as Frogpond and Modern Haiku (and of course Roadrunner) whose work, I think it is fair to say, implicitly questions what some others would assert are the necessary qualities of a haiku.

    I wonder what someone, who only had the books Haiku in English, or Haiku 21 at his or her disposal, would conclude are the qualifications for haiku?

    Do you feel that Marlene Mountain’s:

    above the mountain mountains of the moon

    qualifies as a haiku?

    Perhaps then, so does this, a stand alone line from Jane Hirshfield’s poem 
    “Possibility: An Assay”

    The mountain’s outline there, but not the mountain.

    And how about, also from HIE, John Ashbery’s 

    A blue anchor grains of grit in a tall sky sewing

    If you believe this qualifies as haiku, then similar lines may be found and extracted from other Ashbery poems, as well as from kindred writers who also explore a kind of unanchored disjunctive drift of perception. (Though perhaps not in quite so condensed
    a manner).

    So perhaps this (admittedly a stretch, but not so different than what Ashbery does) from Barbara Guest’s “Multiplicity” (and I don’t know if haiku influenced her, or if this kind of rapid perceptual shifting has influenced some recent haiku)–

    the nimbus divides at an unfaded seam

    and the naughts are shuffled at the table

    If Peggy Lyles’

    whose ghost did you talk to all the way down

    (from Haiku 21)

    then perhaps this by Neruda from The Book of Questions (XLIV)

    And why does my skeleton pursue me
    if my soul has fallen away?


    It will be no surprise that in my quick survey of poems which might speak to this question, I thought of Robert Hass. In his poems, one can frequently find the influence of haiku on his writing, and instances of stanzas, which 
    trimmed a little, would easily “qualify” as haiku by many standards. In his long poem, “Songs to Survive the Summer”, he is explicit:

    The haiku comes 
    in threes
    with the virtues of brevity:

    What a strange thing!
    To be alive
    beneath plum blossoms.

    Here is a stanza from Shinkichi Takahashi’s poem “A Wood in Sound”–

    A cold wind and the white memory
    Of a sasanqua.
    Warm rain comes and goes.

    (A sasanqua is a camellia).

    And here is the final stanza of Tomas Transtromer’s famous poem “Tracks”–

    The train is standing quite still.
    2 AM: bright moonlight, few stars.

    Joseph Massey, who on his Facebook page frequently (and it would seem apologetically) refers to his “haikus” ( a deliberate distancing, I think), included this in his poem “Visible”–

    Frog chants percolate
    through traffic static.

    Full moon split by a pine branch.

    And of course, included in HIE, are sections I and IX of Steven’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”.

    Perhaps none of these examples will satisfy what Gene Myers is looking for, but will only illustrate the influence haiku has had, directly or indirectly, consciously or not, on numerous writers. Perhaps these examples will seem to strain the usual sense of what “qualifies” as haiku. However, that is the point– there is a good deal of work appearing in various publications which strains many if not all notions of what is typically (does that word apply any more) considered haiku. Are the editors of these publications wrong to include it?

  11. Hi Gene, I don’t know enough about poetry to be able to answer your question. Perhaps a more general related question, though, would be how the study of haiku helps with writing in general. In terms of the few longer poems of mine that seem to last, I can say that the verses are better for reading haiku, but would not say the verses are haiku.

    Are you writing a poem that goes with your question? If so, I’d love to read sometime, if you wish to share.


  12. Several people have written longer poems with verses made up of what they consider to be haiku, but the ones I’ve seen consist of verses that seem only to be counting syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern, which isn’t enough to make the poem a haiku (and, as you know, even makes it farther away from haiku by being too long compared to the length of Japanese haiku). I think I would venture to say that no, I’ve never seen a longer poem whose verses consisted of true haiku or senryu. I’d love to see one, though.

    For the record, I know Sam Hamill has published quite a few longer poems that consist of 5-7-5-syllable verses, but I’m nearly certain that he doesn’t consider the verses to be haiku. Nor do they qualify.

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