For today’s New to Haiku, I chose to reprint an article from the late James W. Hackett. These suggestions previously appeared in World Haiku Review, March 2002, Vol 2-1. (Older issues of WHR can be found here.) Hackett prepared an earlier version of this list for his 1968 books, Haiku Poetry, Volumes I-IV. My thanks to Mr. Hackett’s literary executor, Chris Thorsen, for giving me permission to reprint this article, and to Maeve O’Sullivan, who pointed me toward Hackett’s suggestions in an email exchange.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CREATING HAIKU POETRY IN ENGLISH
By James W. Hackett
C 1968 Revision C 2002
1. NOW is the touchstone of the haiku experience, so remain centered in this eternal present of life.
2. Remember that Greater Nature — not human nature — is the province of haiku.
3. Contemplate natural objects closely: unseen wonders (and dramas) will reveal themselves.
4. Carry a notebook to jot down subtle haiku moments, for these intuitive experiences may be easily forgotten.
5. Spiritually interpenetrate and empathize with nature. Become One with ‘things,’ for ultimately, “That art Thou.”
6. Reflect upon your notes of nature in solitude and silence. Allow these recollected feelings be the basis of your haiku poem.
7. Write about Nature just as it is. Haiku are neither word games nor puzzles. Basho brought haiku poetry back to life and nature; let us emulate his noble mission.
8. Choose every word very carefully. Use words that best suggest the moment of haiku experience you wish to share.
9. Use verbs in present tense, and singular subjects whenever possible.
10. To add aesthetic dimension, choose modifying words that vivify, including those that suggest the season, location, or time of day.
11. A haiku poem can be more than a verbal snapshot. Avoid such “So what?” haiku by suggesting your emotional reaction during the haiku moment.
12. Use common language in a syntax natural to English! Don’t attempt ‘minimalistic’ copies of Japanese usage. Haiku composed in English must seem ‘natural’ and uncontrived.
13. Write in three lines using approximately 17 syllables. (Forego the traditional Japanese line arrangement of 5-7-5 syllables, as this practice can invite contrivance in English.)
14. Read each verse aloud to make sure it sounds natural. (Avoid end rhyme.) Make use of articles and punctuation common to English.
15. Remember that lifefulness, not beauty, is the essence of haiku.
16. Never use obscure allusions: true haiku are intuitive and direct, not abstract, symbolic, or intellectual. Include humor, but omit mere wit.
17. Avoid poeticism. The haiku poem should be direct, sensuous, and metaphysically ‘real.’
18. Work on each poem until it suggests exactly what you want others to see and feel. Remain true to your initial experience and the feelings elicited.
19. Remember that haiku is ‘a finger pointing at the moon,’ and if the hand is bejeweled, we no longer see that to which it points.
20. Honor your senses with awareness, and your Spirit with zazen or other centering meditation. The ‘haiku mind’ should be reflective as a clear mountain pond: reflective not of thought, but of the moon and every flight beyond . . .
In 2012, Mr. Hackett expressed strong feelings about the “aesthetic anarchy” and “the inchoate state” of haiku today in the forward to a reprinting of this list at World Haiku Review, which you can read here. I thought it was fun to look at how his list evolved over time. I found this earlier version (below) in his 1968 Bug Haiku: Original Poems in English, which can be read for free at THF’s Digital Library as part of our James W. Hackett Archive.
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This biography of James W. Hackett appears (in slightly different form) in THF’s Haiku Registry:
A pioneer of English-language haiku, James William Hackett was born in Seattle, Washington on August 6, 1929. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Washington, and earned a graduate degree in art history from the University of Michigan. He discovered haiku in the 1950s, and was mentored by R.H. Blyth. A near-fatal accident became a spiritual turning point that led him to a life devoted to Zen and haiku. He spent many years in California before settling in Haiku, Hawaii. Some of his early haiku appeared in the premiere issue of American Haiku, the first English-language haiku journal, including a variation on this oft-cited poem that won the Grand Prize (two round-trip tickets to Japan) in a 1964 National Haiku Contest sponsored by Japan Air Lines:
A bitter morning: sparrows sitting together without any necks.
Another of his signature haiku, the opening poem in that premiere issue, won first prize in a contest sponsored by the journal:
Searching on the wind, the hawk's cry . . . is the shape of its beak.
These two haiku, along with Hackett’s twenty “Suggestions for Writing Haiku” and his “credo about haiku” were included in Harold G. Henderson’s 1965 classic Haiku in English. Hackett’s work was cited by Henderson, Blyth, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Thomas Merton, and others. A comprehensive essay, “Shangri-La: James W. Hackett’s Life in Haiku,” by Charles Trumbull, appears in the inaugural issue of Juxtapositions: The Journal of Haiku Research and Scholarship, available on The Haiku Foundation website. Hackett died on November 9, 2015.
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