A Very Brief Art of the Haiku

I’m happy with this last year of haiku.

And I’m grateful to all who have chosen to follow the blog, and perhaps because of the haiku. So as long as you enjoy them, I’ll continue writing them, twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays.

As of this year, I’ve written just over sixteen hundred haiku and senryu, and it’s only in this last year that I feel as though I’ve internalized the art, possibly producing some beautiful examples. If the year is taken as I whole, as a single poem, then I think it’s the best that I’ve produced.

Anyway, what follows is a personal and incomplete Art of the Haiku:

Avoid abstract adjectives like “beautiful” or “profound” or, more simply, any adjective that does not evoke one of the five senses—sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing. Beauty speaks for itself.

Winter garden,
the moon thinned to a thread
insects singing

Basho ~ translated Robert Hass

Any adjective that evokes one of the five (or seven depending) senses is a concrete adjective. The brevity of the haiku lives or dies in its ability to vividly evoke the world we live in.

White dew
one drop
on each thorn

Buson ~ translated Robert Hass

Avoid the idea of haiku as simile. They can be successful, but that’s not what a haiku is.

Brevity is the soul of haiku. If a haiku can be made shorter, then the haiku is too long. If one is counting syllables, then every syllable should count.

open the window
a whole windowful
of spring

Santoka ~ translated Burton Watson

The haiku is at its best, as with all poetry, when the abstract is expressed through the concrete.

Summer grass
all that’s left
of warriors’ dreams

Basho ~ translated Robert Hass

Do not tell the reader how you feel. Describe what made you feel the feelings.

In spring rain
a pretty girl
yawning.

Issa ~ translated Robert Hass

Describe what you see, feel, hear, taste and touch and that will be enough. Haiku is the poetry of the startled body.

Naked
on a naked horse
in pouring rain!

Buson ~ translated Robert Hass

Second Angel - BlockPrint

Happy New Year! | Jan. 1st 2020

7 responses

  1. Happy new year Patrick! :)))

    I have been too busy to comment, but I have loved these last haiku of December. Your haiku always flicker :). I also appreciate this post; I will make sure to refer back to it when I feel the need. Which brings me to this: during my downtime, I wrote some haiku (well, only one really) that may seem to violate these rules, and I would like to know if you think it’s for better or worse.

    unannounced potted dirt– “Fragrence Garden”

    even under a scaffold, winter soaks through

    the moon’s perfection bore a hole in the sky

    Also, I have been meditating on the essence of winter. It seems, before now, I (and likely others) have thought of winter in terms of negation– the desolation, the frozen, the lifeless– i.e. the negation of summer. But, now this seems to be a malformed conception because, for winter to be conceived as a negation, summer would have to be isolated and conceived prior to winter; but the seasons seem to act as a coherent whole, relying on one another, making isolation impossible. In my view, I have up till now neglected the essence of winter. I was curious whether you had any thoughts on this.

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    • Yes! Three separate ones. I’m testing different waters and seeing how things are. What effect indentation has on the way it’s received and overall feel. I think it is possible for it to be another kind of tool.

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    • Okay, the first haiku perplexes me. Have to admit. There’s a sense of humor there—a pot of dirt “unannounced”? But if the punchline is in “Fragrance Garden”, then it slips through my fingers. I like the second haiku very much. There’s an austerity to scaffolding that compliments the feeling of winter “soaking through”, the sense that even in constructing or repairing, the chill of certain dissolution soaks through. I like the imagery of the third haiku. With respect to the “rules” to which I hold my own writing, I probably wouldn’t use “perfection”. It’s one of those abstractions that doesn’t invoke any of our senses. The intent of the haiku, ideally, would be to invoke the feeling of perfection without stating it. :)

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    • Yeah, now that I look back without context the first one doesn’t make much sense. It’s true I was going for humor, but nothing kills a joke like a scatterbrained delivery.
      Regarding the third one, I have to think on it. Perhaps I can attempt to make the same haiku with pure sense and compare the two.
      Thank you for your comments :) they are very helpful for my growth..

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