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Field Notes: Where do your haiku begin?

Started by Peter Yovu, June 19, 2013, 01:09:53 AM

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Peter Yovu

Dietmar Tauchner:

My very first attempts in writing a haiku have been full of generalizations and abstract terms. I didn't trust in the unique and special qualities of the environment and in concrete language at all. This would be too simple for a smart writer, I thought.
But after a while I found out that these poems,  - I never ever would show these to any reader, even in case I should have them left in some dark corners of my early notebooks - aren't good to satisfy me or someone else, since they were typical "so what"-poems.
I decided to follow Shiki's advice to write sketches of my daily life, and wrote my first "real" haiku:
leaning against an oak
a stinking garbage bag
in the spring wind 
It worked! Though I wouldn't write the poem again in this way, I still like the mood and the images. My conclusion of this period until now:
Images may remain, since they combine subject and object, while thoughts mostly won't.
I learned to trust in my perceptions, rather than in thoughts. I learned to trust in the resonance of all things around. Perception means a conglomerate of feeling, senses & thinking. Haiku for me is the art of perception.
open poppy vivid the sense of life

Peter Yovu

Don Baird:

Haiku happen.  They occur everywhere all of the time.  I suppose it's a matter of me remaining "in tune" enough to recognize that one did occur and then, in addition, relate to its importance, if any.  My haiku begin there.  It's simple really, and most often not accompanied with much fuss.  I enjoy my surroundings; I'm aware of its parts whether large or small; and, I find it a fantastic challenge to translate what I witnessed/experienced into a haiku.  The pleasure of the moment is important to me and it is the moment of truth for me - of the beginning of my words that carefully form my poem.

Peter Yovu

Philip Rowland:

- in observation/renewed awareness of world and word

- in "the feeling of presence, not concept" (Robert Duncan)

- in other's writing, particularly where a word or phrase snags and suggests a different take

- in the stimulus of collaboration (linking to another's poem, kept in mind while conceiving one's own)

- in the next poem, in the sense in which "the next poem is always the aim of the prior poem" ["and this is how poetry develops, not offering us truth upon truth, but by reminding us how truth is always passing into a lie"] (Michael Heller)

- in the urge to begin again, to encounter the world afresh:

     to find just
     the right weight
     up against the fact
     of what the poem
     didn't create

(after Oppen)

- in the wish to acknowledge change and uncertainty; for a kind of home in homelessness:

     all the wrong notes granting bones life

Peter Yovu

Randy Brooks (part 1):

Where do my haiku begin? A quick answer focuses on the mechanics of writing. For me, I keep a journal, started in 1975, in which I write whatever I want. As my interest in haiku and tanka grew, the journal became primarily a haiku and/or tanka journal. As I became more computer-based, my journal moved from pen on paper to a digital journal.  On this most simple level, my haiku begins with my writing whatever comes to mind or whatever I'm experimenting with or exploring at the time. I write for myself. Later, I come back to the journal and look for pieces worthy of editing or sharing with friends, family, or strangers (through submissions to editors). My haiku begin as drafts in my journal, with some private entries going through an selection and editing process to get them ready for sharing with others through readings or publication.

Two years ago I wrote a related essay, "Genesis of Haiku: Where Do Haiku Come From?" which was published in Frogpond, 34.1, (Toronto, Canada), Winter, 2011, pages 37-50. This essay is available at <>. This essay was a mix of personal narrative about my early start as a haiku writer and writing theory on invention as it applies to writing haiku. As a theoretical essay, I considered 5 general theories on the genesis of writing: (1) imitation & the intertextuality of texts, (2) creativity & insight, (3) inspiration by a muse, (4) collaboration & co-creativity, and (5) consonance & dissonance as prime motivations for all human communication.

I am not going to revisit each approach as it applies to where my own haiku begin, but I will give a brief synopsis of these theoretical approaches.

(1) Imitation & intertextuality. Many haiku begin as imitations of other haiku admired or enjoyed by a reader. It is a natural response to write a haiku in response to a haiku that moves us. Therefore, all haiku are, on one level, connected to each other; each haiku has intertextuality relationships with haiku that have come before. Haiku come out of each other when we respond and alter haiku that have come before.

(2) Creativity & insight. In one of his essays on haiku poetics, Raymond Roseliep wrote, "Creation is still more exciting than imitation." His essay, "This Haiku of Ours." was published in Bonsai: A Quarterly of Haiku, 1.3, July 1976. Roseliep also wrote: "I believe we are preserving the quintessence of haiku if we do what the earliest practitioners did: use it to express our own culture, our own spirit, our own enlightened experience, putting to service the riches of our land and language, summoning the dexterity of Western writing tools" (p. 12). Haiku begin with the creativity and insight of the writer, using all the writer's resources (linguistic, mental, social, and literary) to be expressive.

(3) Inspiration by a muse. This Western theory argues that the best writing is simply inspired, a gift of genius from the Gods or a muse. Often associated with Romantic literature and writers, this approach emphasizes "natural born" talent or giftedness as the primary source of our best writing. According to this theory, writers don't know where their haiku begin or come from, they are just spontaneous bursts of creativity.

(4) Collaboration & co-creativity. This theory argues that all writing and communication come from social collaboration. With this approach, haiku begin with social play, a collaborative act of creation. In view of haiku's origin as a playful linked-verse tradition, this theory seems very appropriate. Often haiku begin out of the social interaction of a haiku group, a playful process of sharing and creative response. This approach also seems to fit well with the idea of haiku as a co-creative process with the reader. As Makoto Ueda explained in Modern Japanese Haiku, "Any poem demands a measure of active participation on the part of the reader, but this is especially true of haiku. With only slight exaggeration it might be said that the haiku poet completes only one half of his poem, leaving the other half to be supplied in the reader's imagination." Modern Japanese Haiku by Makoto Ueda, University of Toronto Press, 1976, p. vii.

(5) Consonance & dissonance. On a broad level, several writing theories claim that consonance and dissonance are the primary motivations for all communication, including writing. Some genres emphasize one of these more than the other, but all communication starts with either consonance or dissonance. Most writing plays with a human tension between consonance and dissonance or moves from one to the other. Briefly, this means that our underlying motivation to write often comes from either a feeling that something is wrong or broken or needs fixed OR that everything is perfect, wonderful, beautiful and it's great to just be alive.
In my 2011 essay, I ended with an example of the genesis of one of my haiku, "dirt farmer's wife" which won an award from Modern Haiku magazine in 1977. In this essay, I will share that example and a few more examples of where some of my haiku began.

dirt farmer's wife
at the screen door—
no tractor sound

Editor's Personal Favorite Award, Modern Haiku, February 1977.

Where did this haiku begin?

First of all, I was reading a lot of haiku in anthologies and haiku magazines, including translations by Makoto Ueda, R.H. Blyth, Harold Henderson and Lucien Stryk. I was interested in the idea of writing haiku, and I was especially intrigued by the power of silence and things unsaid in haiku and how haiku could focus on perceptions of emptiness and absence, such as Buson's imaginative haiku about stepping on the dead wife's comb. I began trying to write haiku about noticing things not there. I was writing a series of haiku about growing up in western Kansas, where I spent many summers helping my grandparents with the wheat harvest. I was trying very hard, without much success, to write haiku that were not merely descriptive but also emotionally evocative without being overt about the emotion. I wanted the emotion to be suggested by the actions and images within the haiku. Both of my grandparents farmed, but I was very aware of the differences in their lives. My mother's family was homesteaders who owned a ranch and kept a herd of cattle. My father's family were cash-rent farmers who depended on the success of each crop to pay the bills. I observed significant social and cultural differences in these two homes.

Of course, none of these things were the genesis of discourse for this haiku. This haiku did not come from these contexts and circumstances. It did not come from theoretical goals such as "objective correlative." This haiku came from me writing in my journal about a heartfelt memory of my grandmother who died in 1963 when I was nine years old. I remembered her in the farm kitchen made from a porch on the front of a little Sears-Roebuck house. I remembered her in an apron, listening for grandpa to come in for breakfast after his early start in the field. I remembered the feeling on a day when she returned to the screen door several times to listen for his return, to listen for the sound of his tractor, a sound that usually was carried easily across the Kansas fields on the south wind to her house. I realized this was an image that contained a felt memory of her care and concern and love for my grandpa as his biscuits and eggs grew cold on the dining room table. As I wrote this haiku, I wanted it to connect to a broad audience, so that they could imagine it for themselves, so that they too could wonder why she could hear no tractor sound, so that they could continue the emotion inherent in her perceptions at the screen door. To let more readers into this haiku, I didn't write "my grandma / at the screen door." I wrote "dirt farmer's wife" which brought the social context and suggested the urgency of the tractor's success. I thought this distanced me as well—presenting her as more alone and isolated on the prairie, concerned about her absent companion. This haiku is not about being a grandson. It is about a wife watching over and caring for her farmer husband. I wanted to end with "no tractor sound" so that the haiku would be forever unresolved, left open to the reader to imagine the rest of the story.

all our canoes touch
at the north mouth of the lake
more water lilies

Merit Award in the English Haiku Division, 15th Ito En "Oh-I, Ocha" New Haiku Contest. Award haiku are published in Jiyu-Katari [Free Talking], (Tokyo, Japan) September, 2004.

Where did this haiku begin?

This is a haiku that came out of a sense of consonance and wonder about the beauty of communion with loved ones and nature. I wrote this haiku on a family reunion in Glacier National Park in Montana. I enjoyed writing in my journal about the grandeur of these mountains, but more important to me was the sense of family coming together. So this haiku came from a collaborative social spirit . . . cousins, uncles, aunts gathering from around the country at pristine glacier lake. We canoed all morning, through slight rapids and gentle bends of the river, agreeing to meet up at the mouth of the lake for lunch. Coming into the lake out of the river was like entering the sky after passing through the trees and boulders of the mountain river. Whereas we had been somewhat boisterous and laughing down the river, now we gathered, almost with reverence. There was a great calm expanse of water and sky. Very beautiful. We felt no need to talk or shout out to each other. We all just quieted down, so much so that we could hear the bump of each canoe joining the cluster of others. Also gathered at the mouth of the lake, more so than any other part of the lake, were water lilies. They too clung to each other, providing support and holding against the slight current of the river coming into the great expanse of water and sky. Our canoes were surrounded by water lilies. We waited and enjoyed, for a moment, their daily life. This haiku came from that peaceful coming together.

tai chi
with my wife . . .
morning glories open

Editor's Choice Heron's Nest Award. The Heron's Nest: A Haikai Journal, 5.1 (Port Townsend, WA) January, 2003.

Where did this haiku begin?

This haiku is another haiku that comes out of a feeling of social consonance, a feeling of synchronicity with my wife. At Millikin University we have a wonderful theatre professor who teaches movement, and she teaches Tai Chi at our local YMCA. I'm a bit of a klutz, but my wife, Shirley, has grace and good kinesthetic memory. So when we joined the Tai Chi class, she was a natural while I was like the Tin Man trying to keep up. Eventually, I got better at moving my chi, although I never lost my dependence of following the teacher or Shirley's lead. So together, in synchronicity with my wife, I gained some grace with Tai Chi. This became a wonderful way to share the start of our days. I like this haiku because it captures our companionship and shared life energy. We share the chi. Of course, it is even better to do Tai Chi outside in the fresh air with companions, who like the morning glories, open up into full bloom and life-full-ness in the morning sunshine. This is a haiku about love and feeling vibrantly alive in morning glory.

This edited version of the haiku also comes from my playfulness with language. In writing and editing this haiku, I wanted the expression and subsequent rhythm to convey the calm, steady movement of Tai Chi. I wanted this haiku to imitate in style the graceful sign-language appearance of people doing Tai Chi. These movements can pause at times, like a morning glory open to the sunshine.

school's out—
a boy follows his dog
into the woods

School's Out: Selected Haiku of Randy Brooks, Press Here, (Foster City, CA), 1999.

Where did this haiku begin?

This title poem from my collection of selected haiku, School's Out, came from my recognition about different types of consciousness—the analytical thinking that occupies my mind as a teacher and administrator and the intuition, spontaneous playful consciousness as a haiku writer. I learn and thrive from both types of consciousness, but as I said in my author introduction, "When school is out, I get to step down from my analytical frame of mind as a professor, and spend more time in a reflective or meditative state of mind that is more conducive to writing haiku." This haiku comes from a feeling of letting go—letting go of direction, plans, to do lists. It is also about the companionship of a boy and his dog, how they can explore the woods together. It is both a breaking out of the confines (dissonance) of school to the freedom and endless possibilities (consonance) of the woods. I think the dog has already picked up the scent of some great adventure. Let's see where it goes!

the homestead cedars . . .
our toy cars follow a dirt road
through fallen needles

The Homestead Cedars, The Virgil Hutton Haiku Memorial Chapbook Competition, Saki Press, (Normal, IL) January, 1999.

Where did this haiku begin?

This haiku comes from a celebration of the playful, creative spirit of my ancestors. It recalls many summer visits to my grandpa's ranch in western Kansas. My great-grandfather homesteaded the ranch in 1885 and my grandfather was born there in 1888. My ancestors built or cultivated everything to be seen, except for the buffalo grass and cactus. They planted a couple of rows of cedar trees along the lane, slightly downhill from the windmill and its horse tank. No matter how hot it was outside, or how windy, under the cedar trees was fragrant, cool shade. The fallen cedar needles were dry and soft, a great place for grandsons to build a fort and hangout. This haiku comes from a sense of comfort, an oasis in a harsh land. It also comes from the appreciation of imagination and playfulness . . . about building things out of the materials at hand. My brother and I built a ranch in the cedar needles, with a toy tractor in the field and a dirt road for our toy cars. This haiku came from that feeling of being at home on grandpa's homestead and imitating our ancestors' work to create a home on the prairie.

creek water warm . . .
I swing the grapevine
up to my cousin

The Homestead Cedars, The Virgil Hutton Haiku Memorial Chapbook Competition, Saki Press, (Normal, IL) January, 1999.

Where did this haiku begin?

Pure consonance! The pleasure of playfulness with close cousins—the joy of sharing the fun of a discovered impromptu swing at the swimming hole. This is a haiku of pure summer playfulness—swinging over the muddy creek water, shouting a Tarzan yell and letting go. It comes from the comfort of the warmth of the creek water, and the social comfort of sharing this with cousins. Technically, I was trying to play with perspective and movement. The haiku starts in the warm creek water, but the focus moves to the cousin up on the creek bank. The grapevine connects us, with both the narrator and the cousin gripping the rough-textured grapevine.

cool haiku stone . . .
black ant down and out
of the kanji

Matsuyama Tourism Haiku Award sponsored by the Shiki Haiku Museum and the city of Matsuyama, (Japan), July 1997. Published in the Matsuyama Tourism Haiku Post Anthology, 1998.

Where did this haiku begin?

Literally, this haiku came from a journey to Japan in 1996 to meet several international haiku poets, editors and scholars. The haiku was written in my journal upon visiting a famous haiku by Shiki carved in stone in Matsuyama, Japan. I was a stranger in a strange land, so I employed a literary device in my journal, a haigo. I wrote a series of "black ant" haiku and tanka with the tanka being published by AHA Online Press as "Black Ant's Journey to Japan." This online collection is available at < >.

Figuratively, this haiku comes from an awareness of the impossibility of translation. It captures a tension between consonance and dissonance—the pleasures of experiencing so many new sites, new perceptions, new sensations, new artistic works and the frustration of being so limited by language and lack of cultural understanding. Like an ant, I use my feelings and enjoy the presence of things. Unlike an ant, I wish I understood so much more. This haiku comes from so many ironies in this experience. How can we read kanji? How long does it take to learn how to read the brush strokes, in this case, brush strokes carved into stone. This haiku stone is Shiki's ephemeral haiku memorialized as a stone monument near the location where it originated. I could touch the stone, feel the carved strokes. Like an ant, I could crawl over the words with my fingers, feel the coolness of the shaded stone. The ant makes no sense of the kanji, but simply passes down and out of it, experiencing the shapes. The haiku stone requires translation into words, into my own language. I could ponder the translation of the haiku, and again try to feel it. Perhaps the location of the haiku stone provides a similar landscape or perspective of the haiku poet? I touch the stone, feel the words and like the black ant, move on.

Peter Yovu

Randy Brooks (part 2):

after all these years
she asks about her mother . . .
I put on another log

Mainichi Haiku Competition Award, Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, 1997.

Where did this haiku begin?

This haiku that also begins with dissonance and suggests some hopeful movement towards consonance. We live with so many mysteries, so many things untold and unspoken because they may be painful. When a child grows old enough to start asking difficult questions, sometimes we have to pause and attempt answers. It will probably require a story or several stories of long ago. The exact story doesn't matter in this haiku, but the reflective pause of the father or grandfather or guardian is where this haiku comes from. Here the haiku pause, the cut, becomes a rush of memories and thoughts and feelings . . . hesitations . . . as the narrator stokes the fire with another log, buying a little more time to think. This will take awhile. The fire will need to last and not die down soon. The questioner has evidently been wondering and has come of age to imagine "about her mother." There is some implied distance or loss between the asker and the mother, and this is the moment of trying to find some connections and understanding of long-held unknowns. She is seeking some peace or resolution about what happened. The scene is a simple question while the narrator tends the fire. The underlying drama and emotion is one of love and tending of growth for a young person coming into adulthood. The haiku remains open to readers because it is about this moment of seeking answers and the caring, trusted mentor trying to answer difficult questions.

funeral procession . . .
snowflakes blowing
into the headlights

First Place, 1998 Harold G. Henderson Award, The Haiku Society of America (New York, NY) October, 1998. The New Pond: An English-language Haiku Anthology, edited and translated into Japanese by Emiko Miyashita, Hokumei-sha Press, (Tokyo, Japan), 2002.

Where did this haiku begin?

This haiku comes from a perceived sense of movement and suspended animation. Time seems to freeze and stand still, waiting by the side of the road for the funeral procession to pass, but nature continues to move on. I wanted to write this haiku in such a way that the reader could position themselves from a variety of perspectives. The reader can be anyone except for the dead person in the casket. You can imagine being in the hearse or a car in the procession, looking as the blowing snowflakes are visible in the headlights, or you can be on the sidelines watching the procession go by.

Most interesting for meis the "slow motion" feel of everything. Funeral processions don't hurry, and the snowflakes are coming down but not in a flurry. They are visible in the headlights and lively, but there is no rush to the cemetery. There is also the contrast of the black hearse and the white snowflakes . . . a time of death and the ritual of the procession goes against the flow of the snowflakes covering everything white. This will be a stark black and white funeral. Formal and quiet. A time to consider the ephemeral nature of life . . . in the blowing snowflakes.

razor wire
soldiers in the alley
tossing dice

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years edited by Jim Kacian, Allan Burns and Philip Rowland. W.W. Norton & Company (New York, NY), 2013. White Lies: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2008, Red Moon Press, (Winchester, VA), 2009. Dandelion Clocks: Haiku Society of America Anthology 2008. Edited by Robert Beary and Ellen Compton. New York, NY: Haiku Society of America, 2008.

Where did this haiku begin?

News stories, photographs, war stories, relatives home from Iraq and Afghanistan. This haiku comes from my attempt to portray the tension between ordinary playfulness and gambling with life-threatening risks. Soldiers are used to taking chances, of gambling with precious life. They are often in dangerous locations, with walls that must be protected, areas to be secured . . . against an ever-shifting enemy. Yet beneath the razor wire . . . they play, and, of course, the play in this case is gambling with dice. Sometimes you're lucky, sometimes you're not. Take your chances. Let the dice roll. Put your money down. Your money or your life. Razor wire is not friendly, not a fence to keep something in; it is intended to keep a dangerous enemy out. It often fails. You lose. In the darkness of an alley, another enemy lurks. Out of the public eye, away from the light of the street, the soldiers are tossing dice. Who wins? Who loses? Chances. What are the odds of survival, to odds of coming out ahead?

two lines in the water . . .
not a word between
father and son

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years edited by Jim Kacian, Allan Burns and Philip Rowland. W.W. Norton & Company (New York, NY), 2013. Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem by Tazuo Yamaguchi. A full-length feature film and book published as a DVD/book by Brooks Books, (Decatur, IL), 2008. School's Out: Selected Haiku of Randy Brooks, Press Here, (Foster City, CA), 1999.

Where did this haiku begin?

Most directly, this haiku came from a favorite folk song, "My Father's Only Son" by songwriter Carrie Newcomer. In this song, Carrie sings about her father having three daughters, so she became his only son, especially because she was the only one who would go fishing with him. The chorus is "You never talk much in a fishin' boat / 'Cause it just scares the fish away / You just give it time and watch your line". In the song, one of the key lines is that the daughter has some significant news, that "his only son was expecting a child." So they actually have lots to talk about! I wanted to imitate this admired song and write a haiku about not talking in a fishing boat.

I like this song because it is about the importance of just being together, just spending time together. No talking necessary. I wrote my haiku version starting with a somewhat abstract image of "two lines in the water" and did not want to hint at some sort of significant news. I wanted to focus on the "not talking" but leave the haiku more open-ended to the reader's imagined response. Some readers imagine this as not talking because there is some tension or problem between the father and son, so that if they talk it would destroy the fun of just being together. Other readers have told me they view this scene as being about not talking because everything is so perfect, no words are necessary. Words would just detract from the beauty and peace of sharing this time together. In other words, depending on the reader, this haiku draws readers into consonance or dissonance and I love that what the reader brings paints such a different resulting feeling. For me, I just like that status, that point of silent being where the relationship for this moment is presence, not words. The father and son are connected without saying anything. They are in sync. Their lines rest in tandem out into the water.

cookie crumbs . . .
she returns to the web page
where they met

Evolution: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2010. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2011.

Where did this haiku begin?

The Internet leaves a trail of where you've been—contemporary cookie crumbs. A history or cache of places visited enable you to return. Perhaps, in this case, the electronic cookie crumbs are postings on Facebook or a forum resulting in emails exchanged. In this haiku I sought the idea of trying to look back on a relationship through this electronic record. Remembering the excitement of meeting, of getting to know each other. If we consider the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, cookie crumbs were left intentionally so that they could find their way home after a daring adventure into the mysteries of the woods. So this haiku also links to that fairy tale. (Another form of intertextuality with a fairy tale loaded with dissonance.) Perhaps she is trying to get back to who she was before they met, back to some safe "old home" now lost. There is both a sense of nostalgia and loss in this haiku. She can return to the web page, but it is no longer active, no longer who she is. It is now just a memory of where she was . . . where they first met. She has moved on and the web page is a digital ghost, an electronic artifact of her past. It is an old web page that has either changed since she last visited or has become dated and no longer relevant, except as a memory.

I also like that this haiku because it has very little sensory presence. At best, we can imagine her sitting at a computer. Computer screens are visual and provide some aural elements, but they are ultimately flat and lacking full sensory presence. Somehow, the computer screen context makes this scene more artificial and detached from our human need to touch and connect. There is no wabi to an old web page, no human touch. It's just an old html file pretending to be something of lasting value.

October light
      I open my ribs
             to pray

Haiku 21: An Anthology of Contemporary English-language Haiku, edited by Lee Gurga and Scott Metz, Modern Haiku Press, (Lincoln, IL), 2011.

Where did this haiku begin?

I will end with a haiku which exemplifies the movement and tension between dissonance and consonance. This haiku comes out of a year of hardship and longing for things to get better. The October light is a thin light of a grey sky that is chilly. It is a forewarning of the coming cold of winter. This light doesn't warm us up. Yes, it is light, but seemingly colorless. It's hard to see through the gray sky to the sun. Everything seems muted and half-alive. That's the context, the opening of this haiku.

The second half comes from the importance of breathing, how our ribs expand and compress to breathe. For me, this connects to the sense of the spirit moving within us . . . how the spirit is held and released through our breathing, protected beneath our rib cage. The spirit is alive within us, but in this haiku it is constrained. When we are troubled, we feel like the weight of the world is bearing down on us making it difficult to breathe. We just can't take a satisfying breath. Our breaths are shallow and frequent but not fulfilling. The spirit is caged in the ribs and can't get out, can't connect to God. Like the muted sun in the October light, the narrator of this haiku can't breathe, can't pray.

At last the narrator sighs, takes a deep breath, and opens his lungs . . . to pray, again. It's going to be a long prayer, with so much held in for so many days. This haiku is a breaking out of the spirit from the cage of being constrained in our all too human shells.
• • •
I look forward to questions, suggestions and responses to sharing these examples of "Where do my haiku begin?"

June 14, 2013

Peter Yovu

Aubrie Cox:

Philosophically, my haiku begin with the desire to create and share a moment, art, imagination, and good conversation. But as for the actual process and origin of individual poems, I would say, they often do begin within a "haiku moment"—I see something while walking, driving, looking out the window that does make me "ah!" and however fleeting the moment actually is, it lingers. Other times, though, it can happen more subtly as I come across a word or phrase (or sometimes just a sound) while reading or listening to music. Sometimes it's in a photograph or piece of art (sometimes my own, sometimes not). Regardless the source, as I feel something stir in me, the words start to come.

But even though I may start stringing words together at that moment, the haiku in its entirety or final form may not happen for some time (though it's a happy day when it all falls into place at once!). I may get half the poem at the moment and have to search for the other for days or weeks; sometimes they never get finished at all even though the moment remains in the back of my mind. For example, a week ago I saw what looked like the end of a rainbow touch down in an open field. A little spark went off inside me as I thought, "Haiku!" I've fiddled with a few lines here and there and haven't found anything satisfactory, but who knows, this poem may still find its shape.

Peter Yovu

Richard Gilbert:

silence, what is

to be mentioned:

as far as how to speak where things concatenate

seems to be there is no me to be

I say "I prefer," the preference for a given word,

definition of rhetoric:

to persuade. silence

is what I see, the power of symbols to create reality. it serves no purpose

to belittle language, what is silence

for a languaged being.


an argument against.

opting out.

co-opting in.

choosing "not."

choosing not to knot or unknot.

no having to cut silence in two.

before / after.

craving something.

just a minute or moment.

between space and fear.

not having to compose a list.

not having to beg a word for prayer.

mostly not.

not that anyone would care to listen.

not a performance.

not silence, not the choice not to utter.

not shutup not invisible not mine.

that's what i like; when i prefer not

to communicate.

you remember the shapes of silence

as time transmits space, time unburdens itself

time does not dream or have a past or a book

time fuck shit piss blue mine love mend leaf kiss must call

an instrumental four letters, analogous

silence because I want you to find out

silence because I want you to look

silence because I want you to take the time

not to speak, silence because the ear

is made more sensitive to pressure variation

surrendering to the plenum of acoustic space

alive with endless reflection; all what has

been said, to rest to rest to rest, at times

silence is like this repeating itself

a book with pages of folded knowledge

silence has levels of silence,

resting silence

thoroughly resting silence

completely thoroughly resting silence

silence which is neither thought nor unthought

silence which has no name

so with a will I need to be

so I must call to you

without sound.

         Haiku as groupings of trees

it was in the trees that the smell of the air came through her writing

never at night in the radiator sounds of home-baking and old bones

along the slice of water and sky where beneath the surface a poem

glides along. time stopped for the present. a moment or two. then

with new determination an ecology of selves shining and new

what was in the trees to begin with just before and just after love

when he had almost saved her. that she could write.

as a body born of words, inasmuch as clinginginto forms thoughts

as a body bones of words, in arrears as forms of whatstheuse of

words to which the world happens to be. how my furthering

unfurls against moving horizons as she writes preoccupations.

not everyone is safe, who can be saved, who can be safe and

these days our world tilts while I hold the sun without capture:

backlit skirted pantsuit in umbral fortitude descending the nautilus day.

taste the asian pear, gingko berry, the seed hidden within.

moon cradled you recall the voice of another I might be the distance

measured by drawing out string from here to there: do you remember

someone will remind you one day will say not I am here but I am there

that the thine that becomes the subject of one stroke of genius no as-if

about it, on the beach by the trees between two moments. that is me.


Commentary on track

I don't know that I can write "where do your haiku begin" in a prosaic manner. I seem to psychologically strongly resist the thought -- so I'm glad you left the form and genre style open, as to comments. A lot of my writing is about some kind of contemplation of origins and poetic/consciousness process-experience (in my fantasy). Referring to the two poetic statements I sent to you, I feel they are sincere or honest in addressing the question, in that their answers have arisen as unintended consequences, coming to your question at a tangent. In both writings, I later published a line (of four-letter words from "silence"), and several lines from "trees" as haiku, with little or no alteration.

As praxis, the answer of "where do your haiku come from" is "they came from there" (in these instances). In the midst of composition of (such) a longer piece, when writing those (later-extracted) haiku lines, I was sometimes partially consciously possibly aware of perhaps composing something with the power and form of haiku then and there in it; like hey, that cuts well, says it; yeah, Daddy-O. Yet it was after the fact of writing, later (much), working from an editorial head – like almost everyone, I've come to realize – that I saw there was autonomy. Luckily Roadrunner Haiku Journal is open-minded regarding experiments—the fact of R'r's existence can't be overstated; I felt encouraged, knowing there was potentially a place for them, a collegial, even receptive audience—unlike the longer poems themselves, which were posted as notional letters to a few friends; kind of like nightstands with doilies.

This compositional method isn't typical; it's just something I thought to try. The pieces were written within a week of each other; and I was thinking about haibun; the idea of embedding haiku into longer poetic forms; loosening the genre-concept of poem versus prose; hardly new ideas. Yet if writing for the reader always ends in 'goodbye'; to give that goodbye gist is something like "mono no aware" -- that cutting moment of resolution, wholeness/emptiness in presence/absence -- where a world breathes, dissolves, and conjunctives such as 'and'; an abiding 'with' or an 'or,' or 'however' may exit the palette (so, an elemental palette?), along with similes like 'like being': A flowering world, lacking simile? Isn't language always "like" something? Isn't a poem, read, heard or sung a dynamic simulacrum? Simulacrum, yet paradoxically, the real thing. It's good to ask the question, though as a self as a national park as a managed trail as an air there I don't immediately find the ferry. Haiku take us here to there; wee ferries of the invisible or surely certain ineffable secret fantasies. Plus cargo. Like any good instrument that places the cosmos in your hands, it takes time to work the tools; the payoff is they can effect novel navigations to near and foreign shores. That's why I like reading excellent haiku, because haiku always begin there. And goodbye.

Peter Yovu

Kristen Deming:

  Where does my haiku come from?  It comes from a love of the form, from reading a lot of haiku over the years, and from a long struggle to write haiku.  Sometimes I feel like the snail trying to climb Mt. Fuji!
   Writing haiku is taking up the challenge of expressing in words and images what is often inexpressible. It is a encounter with the world, a search for what feels true, beautiful, and what uplifts and inspires.
  My haiku come from a pleasurable anticipation of play and discovery. I always hope to find fresh inspiration and to capture something that pleases me and that will find a response in the reader.
  Journalist and poetry lover Bill Moyers once wrote "Poetry is news: news of the mind, news of the heart."  It begins with who we are and the sum total of our life experiences to date.

Peter Yovu

George Swede:

I wrote down the following reasons as they arose on June 15, 2013, between 9:27 and 10:02 a.m. (with a few additions between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m.)

From a morning cup of coffee while sitting on a sofa with an inner city view thru seven windows.

From childhood years spent hiking with my dog thru orchards, evergreen forests and across grassy hills dotted with cow skulls.

From gazing into the windows of a locked farmhouse whose Japanese owners had been forced to leave immediately for internment camps during WW II.

From a Myers-Briggs assessment of my personality as suited for writing poetry.

From the Nazis shooting my father and dumping his body into a common grave.

From the Russians shipping my paternal grandparents from Riga to somewhere in Siberia where they died.

From the memory of being nursed by a young woman who cared for me when the Nazis imprisoned my mother for six months.

From a need to seize the moment.

From getting teased for wearing lederhosen on my first day of school in Oyama, British Columbia.

From learning English as a third language.

From studying Japanese and Chinese history for two years at the University of British Columbia. 

From taking LSD at Indiana University in 1965, when it was still legal.

From learning about the psychology of creativity and the psychology of art.

From a desire to be original.

From the inability to write a novel.

From the study of Makoto Ueda's Modern Japanese Haiku. (University of Toronto Press, 1976).

From being together with Anita Krumins for over four decades.

From writing down the comments of my two stepsons, Andris and Juris, when they were preschoolers, the age of linguistic genius.

From praise for my poetry.

From the reflections natural to old age.

From being told that poets have no status in society.

From watching a butterfly balance on a begonia.

Peter Yovu

Alan Summers:

My haiku began in two countries,  first back around 1991 in England, and then later in 1993 when Ross Clark's Local Seasoning: A Haiku Journal was launched.  Ross Clark, Australian Book Review Poetry Prize winner, had his haiku book announced by the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Queensland, of which I'm now a Life Member.

The first experience, when something called a haiku was read out, it left me cold, and for all I know it wasn't a haiku.  There was no explanation, it was just dropped into a reading by a local English writing/reading poetry group, and it was never raised again.

Thankfully I was heading out to Australia, and by chance discovered the Queensland Poetry Association (now defunct) and Fellowship of Australian Writers, Queensland, still going strong.  It was the FAWQ newsletter that announced Ross Clark's book and a forthcoming workshop.  I was able to buy the book, and I became hooked by its simplicity and accessibility.  The evening's event following the workshop further hooked me as Ross Clark performed his haiku differently than I had supposed with while reading his book.  That delighted me, seeing there was far more to haiku than appeared at face value, and I decided to know more, research more.  By chance the little local library in the Ipswich town outside Brisbane had two copies of The Haiku Handbook, plus other books on haiku.  The Haiku Handbook consolidated the growing realisation that the haiku approach would be a strong factor in my poetry life, and it has been ever since.

That's the background, in a very small nutshell, as to the first set of factors.  After I read The Haiku Handbook through twice, cover to cover in little over a week, I joined the Haiku Society of America, and subscribed to Modern Haiku.   Bill Higginson's Seasonings Column in the HSA newsletter was something I looked forward to every quarter, and both Frogpond and Modern Haiku magazines were devoured page by page and then back again before I started my own attempts at haiku.  I was published in Frogpond by Elizabeth Searle Lamb, and in Modern Haiku by Bob Spiess, as well as Francine Porad in Brussels Sprout, then Bill's call out for haiku for The Haiku Seasons Project culminated into my first major publication in an anthology, the classic English-language saijiki called The Haiku World.  I had already sent out submissions of haiku to every haiku magazine that was around during that time so I had nothing to send, but a stroke of magical luck was about to happen, and that was perhaps up to a million Flying Foxes were to fly over Ipswich (Queensland) through a blood-red sky,  very Hammer Horror/Dracula fashion.   Two of my Flying Foxes haiku were accepted by Bill Higginson which later he told me how much he'd enjoyed them, that it had made his day, that day.

I have to thank first of all Ross Clark of Queensland for his timing, and then Bill Higginson and The Haiku Handbook, then Francine Porad for publishing my first haiku, and Bob Spiess sending me so many notes and comments and believing in my work, followed by Elizabeth Searle Lamb, all great American names in haiku literature.  Then back to Bill for his Haiku Seasons Project, and The Haiku World.  Those people made me keep going with haiku, and still do, although sadly those Americans have all gone from our lives.

above the mountain
earth's shadow
blocks a moon

Note:  eclipse of the moon, Queensland, Australia, Friday 4th June 1993

Alan Summers
Publications credits: Frogpond (Summer 1994) ed. Elisabeth Searle Lamb; Fellowship of Australian Writers, Queensland, Scope magazine Focus feature on myself (paid feature)  (1994); Micropress Yates (1994); Haiku Friends ed. Masaharu Hirata  (Umeda, Osaka 2003)

That's where my haiku began as a writer, but where do my haiku begin?  They started in the farm country of Queensland, getting up at 4am everyday to feed the horses, then go cycling, and never missing a sunrise, accompanied by the neighbour's dog.  This would be followed by either several hours being quiet on my Queenslander veranda in total silence, except when I adopted two Murray Maggie fledgling birds who would sit on my shoulders as I filled my notebooks.  Or going into landcare duty on a big project reclaiming a couple of thousand acres, where I'd be the first there, and sit by a billabong (yes, really) for several hours around dawn to sun up, and before other volunteers came in.   Haiku and an incredible abundance of birds and other wildlife, and the flora as well as the fauna, kept me busy writing long and short poems off and on throughout the day.

In those days I needed complete silence other than a Riflebird call, or the cicadas, now I'm in an urban setting, often plugged into contemporary dance music.  Either way, what I now know is a writer zoning in, was and still is occurring.  That space between silence and noise when something gets written, and later I do not recognise the poem as having been written by me, because I couldn't possibly try to write like that if I tried.   It's a strange sensation, akin to an iPhone game I play against the odds, not thinking I'll lose or win, it's a blinking out of normal space and time.   It does its thing so I don't overanalyse it, or break it down to repeat the whys and wherefores, because I'm not concerned with churning out haiku to a template.   Each one of those haiku I've written from the early failures to the successes, mostly, of today, are both extraordinary gifts, and there'll be a time when it will end, either due to death or dementia.  Time is short, so haiku on, to misquote the Wayne's World guys.

this small ache and all the rain too robinsong

Publications credits: Modern Haiku vol. 44.1 winter/spring 2013

Peter Yovu

Eve Luckring:

Honestly, I don't know if I know.

If I try to trace it, from something/somewhere beyond me that tingles and quivers something/somewhere inside my body, hangs on a few words, and then slips away again.

In the Between.

Where language becomes physical.
Where memory meets the present.
Where the body meets the world.
Where the world becomes spirit.
Where the heart is mind and the mind is heart.
Where knowing becomes forgetting.

Peter Yovu

Michael McClintock:

Personal Notes on Where Haiku Begin
I remember how the world was at age six --- a bloom of red geraniums.  I lived and slept for twenty-five years in a crummy room; now my fortunes have changed and everything surprises me.
My haiku begin in memory. An experience an hour ago --- or days, weeks, months, years ago. As a little bump of something felt, with maybe a word or two stuck or adhering to it. A memory with a tactile presence to it: raw material, pre-lingual. I think it's probably something my subconscious has already done a lot of work on.
The haiku begins when I begin dredging it up. Meditation is my dredging tool. I sniff for words I can adhere to the memory . . . and then I start writing the words, just pencil on paper, keeping some, crossing out others, again and again, all kept in notebooks. Layering one memory on  another happens, too. This process can take a minute or it can take much, much more time --- hours or days. I have returned to unfinished haiku after many years.
Of course, in another sense, haiku have no beginning, they have no ending. They are sliced out of our experience of material things in space-time, our stream-of-conscious.
But, still, a haiku is an artifact of that stream-of-consciousness, isn't it? A deliberate act of the will to isolate, cut-out, and give that little bump of experience a linguistic texture --- a kind of translation of it that can be read and shared.  As an artifact, once read and experienced, it goes into our memory. And there it exists as a kind of portal back to that other experience, where it originated. The ink on the paper isn't the real poem, it is the poem's physical tracing, its representation in language. When we read a haiku our mind peels it off the paper and transforms it into another kind of energy; it's that energy that goes into our memory as "the poem."  That is how a haiku becomes a metaphysical reality. Finally, it comes down to finding out what words can do, full of holes as they are. I used to think that haiku began in the external phenomenal world but, no, that no longer is my thinking.
I wrote this poem a few years ago, trying to get at the subject in a more direct way:
I've this memory ---
riding my father's shoulders
into the ocean,
the poetry of things
before I could speak

Peter Yovu

Peter Yovu:

Where Do My Haiku Begin?

A bird. And where a bird begins.
A wing and where.
I wear an atmosphere a bird breathes with me.

A well. And where a well begins.
A pebble and a sow. No, keep going . . .
a pebble and a sound. A sound
sown in. I own
a needle and an atmosphere.
I stitch in time.

The night and where by light
I am undone and done again.

A word. And where a word begins.

A wind and where.
The wind begins.

A shoreline and a line of fire.
A howl and where a whale begins
to find a sound.

The unfathomable

fall of lip on lip.
A bird, a pebble and a sea.
The benediction of a cloud.
A cloud and where.
Where rain begins
to wear stone down.

Surrender. A tender
twenty dollar bill forgotten in
last winter's coat and found
where all my words begin

to fail.

I'm falling through the sound
of snow about to fall
and where the sea begins
not gray not blue unseen
a bird among the shaken reeds
a wind around the field within
the notes that take me


Peter Yovu

Chris Gordon:


My haiku begin about 3,000 years ago in a wasp's nest in Iberian Gaul. My haiku begin about 2,000 years ago in the writing desk of Martial, known for his epigrams and fits of melancholy. My haiku begin about 100 years ago in the phlegm-soaked handkerchief of a dying poet who loves persimmons. I hate persimmons.

My haiku begin where my ability to explain things fails. My haiku begin in discarded trash left on the pavement in the rain. My haiku begin where thoughts and emotions hide in common everyday objects. My haiku begin when I pick up a pen and defile the perfect emptiness of a page.

My haiku begin when I fall down a flight of stairs and spend three years in bed. My haiku begin when someone else says "yes." My haiku begin when my father dies and I realize he was never there.

My haiku begin when I notice I'm in love with insects. My haiku begin when I notice I'm in love with the moon. My haiku begin in the place where you discard your panties.

My haiku begin when I have nothing left to say. My haiku begin with an article because this is how I talk. My haiku begin in lowercase because it's not a sentence it's a poem.

My haiku begin to imitate themselves, so my haiku begin to change. My haiku never begin and so they never end. My haiku begin to bore me, so I write other kinds of poems. My haiku begin to get noticed, so I let them go their own way.

My haiku begin with objects. My haiku begin with fragments. My haiku begin with sensations and ideas. My haiku begin with no expected outcomes. My haiku begin with you.


"The Haiku Moment" or "Is it Representation or is it Art?"

Sometimes I think our haiku are so focused on exactitude, verisimilitude, that we lose the opportunity for storytelling, for open meanings. We get stuck in the process of representation and miss the subtle opportunities for innuendo, for hinting at the narrative fragments our haiku may possess if we change our lenses and allow for uncertainty. Here it's difficult to resist the language of film. Are we tourists taking snapshots? Are we artists composing still lifes? Are we storytellers suggesting complicated meanings?

On the other hand, like the contents of our diaries or dreams, the snapshot or home-movie can become openly aesthetic once it is separated from its intended audience. Prior to that it is banal and pedestrian. Once it is unencumbered by those pretensions it becomes more than merely documentary. It becomes meaningful as an artifact. Artifacts cannot resist our curiosity. They make us tell stories.


I never know how people are going to feel about my poems. I've been embarrassed later by some of the work of mine that editors have chosen to publish. I also have personal favorites that no one else has ever noticed. There is one haiku I love to death that others have appreciated as well:

a loveletter to the butterfly gods with strategic misspellings

It came fully formed into my mind without any warning. It just sounded so beautiful and mysterious and profound. Who sent it to me? That's up to you. I will say that it arrived in the midst of a fit of writing. I didn't just sit down with my pen and pull it out of thin air.

Much of my best writing, in my mind, occurs because of the process of writing itself. Hence my belief in the muse. While I have chanced upon compelling images and written a haiku on the spot, these poems later often have a flatness to them that prevents me from taking them any further. Often it is my intention that gets in the way of a satisfying piece of art.

As my writing practice has developed over the years this has been an enduring phenomenon, and there was a time when I discarded the bulk of my work because it seemed to lack purpose or focus. These qualities are necessary with certain types of writing, but seem to get in the way of the process of discovery that occurs with the creation of compelling art.

Where do my haiku begin? Everywhere and nowhere.


Where do your haiku begin?

My haiku begin on foot, most often. I walk each day as most of us do, to get from Point A to Point B. But I make it a point of my daily writing practice to walk from Point A to wherever I end up. Of course, my dog helps lead me astray. On these walks come poems. Not always, but often. Many unformed, rough-edged, mundane observations but a few beginnings worth taking back to the shop for polishing. All this takes time, which I would argue is the key ingredient in most quality writing. Even if a poem or two lands fully formed at your feet, it is the result of the patient work that comes before.

All poetry comes from some passionate need to give voice to the unexpressed.

Haiku happen at just the right speed.

The haiku I choose to pursue often begin with a phrase, a word, a feeling. Each seems to lure me closer. Haiku are the Xs on my life map in the making. The result of some voracious need to wander. A treasure hunt for language. What must be said? What has to be shown? Then . . . how to sing it.

My haiku begin where there's a void.  A silence. An open space that might fit the poem taking shape in my head. To be honest, I have no idea where my haiku begin. The worlds I discover in my haiku are the moments I'd like to remember. Life bookmarks. I place one here, drop another one there like bread crumbs just in case I need to find my way back. At the same time, my haiku begin by getting lost.

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