For centuries now, Japanese haiku poets have been seeking out teachers to help them with their haiku composition. Since before Bashō’s time, groups have been founded around one poet/personality and their particular style of writing. Disciples and followers were created, and those poets followed their leader’s/master’s style and aesthetic beliefs concerning haiku, oftentimes passing those teachings and belief systems on to future poets and generations. In effect, lineages were, and have been, created. A web’s been formed. The tradition is still present in 21st century Japan. In addition, haiku in Japan, up until the beginning of the 20th century, was primarily a communal activity. For the most part, it still is.
This tradition is not the same in the west, or with English-language haiku. Beginner poets have certainly sought out advice from more experienced poets, especially editors and individuals whose work they’ve admired. But no tradition has been created wherein individuals become publicly acknowledged as “masters” who help students, or who judge and award points for their work. No disciples have been established in the English-haiku world, at least not to the point where they espouse the poetic beliefs of a single person. There are many reasons for this, and it would certainly be an interesting topic to research and explicate.
And so what does one do in the west if they are new to haiku? What did you do? How did you begin your journey? Most people, it seems fair to say, work things out individually, in solitude—through knowledge and ideas acquired from books and examples in collections, anthologies, and journals. For most enthusiasts and poets in the west, it is the Japanese “masters” of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries themselves, who have served as their own teachers and guides concerning aesthetics and stylings.
What does one do though when they want advice on their work—on what they have created—in order to improve? The answer to this question has multiple choices and has expanded over the years, especially to the cyber world.
Readers of troutswirl (The Haiku Foundation’s blog) now have the unique, exciting, and tricky opportunity to help a newcomer to the English haiku cosmos. Her name is Laura Sherman.
How can we, as a community, as opposed to an individual, help Laura on her journey? What advice can we provide? How can we guide her? Thankfully, troutswirl has a huge variety of voices in its midst, voices from many different points of view concerning haiku. While the focus is on Laura, and her evolution as a poet concentrating on haiku, it will, at the same time, in many ways, be focused on us as a community. And so, what can we learn about our own preferences and expectations concerning haiku? How do we present our views to Laura? How do we couch them? Hopefully, this process will not only be a learning experience for Laura but for troutswirl’s readership as well, if not a large population of the English-language haiku community.
Quicksilver, or mercury, has been used for centuries as a precipitant to create gold. The process is called amalgamation, and it isn’t easy or necessarily always safe. Hopefully, our collective experiences, knowledge, and wisdom (culled from successes as well as failures and mistakes) will act as a bridge and allow Laura’s work, over time, to go from quicksilver to gold.
With all experiments comes a bit of danger, angst, frustration, and confusion, but also, and almost always, bits and pieces of clarity, and ways through to knowledge and understanding. Learning is not always immediate.
How many of us would have been brave or bold enough to allow a community of readers they’ve never met before to “have at” our first attempts? It takes a tremendous amount of trust and openness to do so.
So, kudos to Laura for opening up her haiku evolution, experiences, thought processes, and influences to us and to the world. Let’s make it a worthwhile, if not golden, experience for her. One we can all learn from.
New to Haiku
By Laura Sherman
I am new to the art of haiku and wish to explore this ancient art form. I am a freelance writer and chess coach, so the blend of syllable count and creativity really appeal to me. I am bold enough to give it a try, but I know that I have a lot to learn.
I went to the library and picked up a book and researched on the net, in an attempt to learn the basics. I quickly found that there are lots of different ideas about what makes a poem a haiku.
I began, as I imagine many do, with the common form of seventeen syllables, structured 5-7-5. I noticed that many poets later break from that, but was intrigued with the idea of working within that framework.
There’s only so much one can learn from a book. What I’d like to do here is to offer my experiences as a new writer of haiku, and hope to get some feedback from those more experienced than me. That’s why I’m reaching out to the members of The Haiku Foundation. I hope some of you will consider helping me on my journey.
From my brief study I know haiku traditionally should speak of seasons and that many involve nature. There seems to be a debate as to whether people should be included. Some feel people are a part of nature, but others feel they are an intrusion.
I also understand that there should be a break in the lines, so that there are two images. I see that this is done without punctuation, typically. That makes sense to me, as punctuation takes away from the simplicity of the art form. It adds complication where it isn’t needed.
I wanted to share a few of the first haiku I wrote and ask for your feedback:
slivers of lightning
shoot across the pitch black sky
leaves of many hues
pressed between worn white pages
pared from parent’s limb
stems hang by a thread
I would love to know what works with these and what doesn’t. Both kinds of comment will help me improve.
Do these haiku communicate to you? Are there unnecessary words? Am I breaking any haiku rules? What am I missing?
Thank you in advance for your help!
Quicksilver is a column on troutswirl, the blog for The Haiku Foundation, devoted to showcasing the questions, ideas, and evolution of a beginner to the art of haiku, Laura Sherman. Each installment will feature some of Laura’s new work as well as her ideas and thought-processes concerning them. It is hoped that readers will respond with reactions, ideas, and advice on her work and provide feedback on how she might develop and improve her craft.