Haiku

2000-03-16

A gentleman named Mark Froemming sent me some waka and haiku that I published in the Monadnock Review at the end of February. Haiku are fairly familiar as the Japanese form containing 17 feet, split into lines of 5, 7, and 5 beats each. Waka are another short Japanese form, though less well-known. Receiving these poems has inspired me to do some research into Japanese poetry, so I headed to the library and read The Haiku Form by Joan Giroux and The Colors of Poetry by Ooka Mokoto. I've found this reading to be quite fascinating. Although I don't know much about Japanese culture, I have read a great deal of Chinese philosophy, and Zen is really a combination of the three main strands of Chinese thought (Taoism and Confucianism as seen through the lens of Buddhism), so I am finding a lot to like in the Japanese tradition (at least as filtered through translations into English).

Although I usually I go in for longer poetic lines (in fact lately I've been experimenting with "fourteeners", for example in On a Visit to the Musée Rodin and Looking up at the Sky), I'm finding myself fascinated by the possibilities of more condensed forms like haiku and waka. So in the last few days I've written two haiku:

Old woman crossing,
two thin legs and a walker:
good it's a long light.

Orange city light
reflecting from clouds above
bathes the swirling snow.

I still remember what Victoria Redel told us in freshman english: write what you know. So I see already that I might like to write a whole bunch of "urban haiku". Most true haiku celebrates rural experience, but why not urban experience, too? I suppose the subjects would be in opposition to the nature focus of most Japanese haiku, but I like to think of it as more complementary than opposed -- the urban yang to the rural yin, if you will. To me, the main thing is to keep the appreciative attitude that these short Japanese forms seem to exhibit. I like the idea of trying to capture certain moments and experiences -- I feel it might make me more attentive to the life swirling around me.


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