Haiku Haiku

By Michael Shores
Pasted Graphic 1
The following was written in numerous 20 minute intervals over eight days: 
“Hey, how do you write a haiku?  LIke 5-7-5?”
“Eek—No clue.  Why?” 
“I read in this magazine that writing can be a good way to vent and express yourself.”
“And you think haiku is the way to go?”
“I guess so.  It’s worth a shot.”
I am no scholar of haiku, but I have been reading on the subject.  There are rules for writing haiku.  Some are simple, some are complex.  In Japanese, these rules are clear, but not so in other languages.  English, for example, cannot follow all of the Japanese rules at the same time.  But there is hope for us English speakers in the world.  Other rules and guides can set us on the right path to good writing.  Japanese haiku master Basho takes as his motto: “Learn the rule; then forget them”.  After all, one could argue is that purpose of haiku (if I may be so bold) is to condense simple images into words that reveal something special.  We may not be able to write Japanese haiku in English, but maybe we can write English haiku in English.
Beginners commonly start with three-line poems of five, seven, and five syllables respectively.  There can be other syllabic forms for English haiku.  Other than the basic structure, most rules tend to prevent the poet from using certain types of words that might confound the simple presentation of haiku.  Examples: avoid the use of pronouns like he, she, and they; only use present voice; avoid personal references like I, me, and we.  There are many guides and devices for the internal structure of the poem, but the lines should flow to some extent.  Keep in mind that simplicity and clarity are paramount.   

"Haiku focus on clear images expressed as words"

Haiku focus on clear images expressed as words.  Ideally, these images surface and mingle in the mind.  There is a connection, and the poem “makes sense”.  Even if the reader cannot verbalize it, there is insight.  The understanding is written deep on the inside, unlike other information that has to filter through the mind.  A lofty ambition, no doubt, since few of us will ever see so clearly.  I thought an interesting challenge might be to explain what little I know about haiku through haiku.  As with so many other aims, what you learn through trying far outweighs failure—I hope.  And so I go…
For my rules I will start with the 5-7-5 syllabic form.  I will try to avoid pronouns altogether.  Further, I hope to avoid judgment words like beautiful, ugly, and sweet.  Haiku show things as they are, and not how I feel about them.  Instead of writing “the coffee is bitter”, I might write “coffee curls the tongue”.  I am not a haiku master—is anyone?—but today I take the art as my own if only for the sake of curiosity.   
Haiku Haiku
One brush and four strokes
Rice field growing tall in rows
Sapling lay in wait
Writing stirring words
Pebbles rest on table top
Counting mindfully
Draw lines thick in sand
Crabs hide from rising surges
Now wave them away
Water dirt and sun light
Squash before the leaves will pass
Black point pen in hand
Fingers touch and trace
Wash down from head to the toe
Thickets running wild
One brush and four strokes
Rice field growing tall in rows
Falling Redwood leaves


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