Simon Hanson is our judge for the Haiku open section of our international competition. Have you entered yet? If not, see our announcement page and starting writing some poems! Simon shares his thoughts on haiku poetry
There are a few things here that seem to me worth considering in practising haiku—and likewise you may have your own well considered aesthetics from which I might learn. It is the case that whatever I say is some kind of simplification, other things may be said, different perspectives taken.
Be adventurous in the spirit of creativity—art, if anything, must be the making of something new.
Many excellent haiku reveal things we already know yet may have forgotten or they might take us to new and yet paradoxically familiar places. There can be great value in that recognition of common experience, of our shared nature, reminding us of who we are and of our place in the world. Be real, strive for lifefullness.
Having said that; I am a fan of poetry that subtly renders the world magical. This is not necessarily opposed to the notion of lifefullness, of portraying things as they really are—for many of us the world really is magical, really is beautiful. Heaven forbid that poetics should constrain the imagination or be confined by the demands of rationality—cast a spell upon me.
Sometimes the ah moment—that moment of illumination for the reader comes as a flash of lightning and at other times unfolds in the mind and heart over time, not so much as a moment as a gradual emergence. Art is expanded when interpreted in the minds of others or felt in their hearts—so a haiku must never tell the whole story. Suggest, suggest—create a space in which the reader is free to move and explore. Naturally, our words will give some form to the images and emotions conjured by the reader and we try to minimise this intrusion by the minimal use of carefully chosen words—but remember, the images and emotions those words might engender will be of the reader’s making—it is wonderful that they will all be different. Vagueness and ambiguity have their merit.
Be fresh. If the subject is a familiar one, cast it into a novel form, speak of it in a way that hasn’t been done before—good luck! Sometimes children are best at this, it comes naturally and is something we might strive to regain—playfulness is a good thing, simplicity is a virtue. Be true to oneself, be influenced but never imitate; creativity is particular to the person, it is your voice. If you wish to move others, write of that which moves you. Find the flow, the open door, a way to invite the reader into their own interpretive space, it is after all our poem. It has been supposed that there is only one poem, an ongoing collaboration of all who engage authentically in the process, of all poets spanning all time. These sparks and flickers of flame are not ours as such, rather if we are fortunate, they come through us, they are of the great fire—so be transparent, leave the opacities of ego behind.
It is a great bonus if a haiku conveys that something beyond its words, or as T.S. Elliot suggested; genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. This vertical depth may be hidden in a concrete image or situation of things ordinary and everyday and especially so in their juxtaposition. We are sometimes surprised to discover the presence of such deeper intimations for they were not always intended—they come of their own, at times unconsciously. Don’t be afraid of metaphor and symbol, but never introduced them artificially—all kinds of situations, objects themselves, the world itself is imbued with deeper significance without being artificially construed that way—water is water, light is light; they contain within their nature something of the universal, and that is enough. If we are to understand the ocean, let the ocean speak—be immersed… be moved by Yugen. I hope you won’t ask me to define Yugen—something to do with unspeakable mysteries I believe, but that is already saying too much…
This is all a bit easy to say and I don’t pretend to have attained as much nor confident I will anytime soon; it is something to aim for along the way…
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
One resource (of many) I treasure, as much for the commentaries as for the haiku is Favorite Haiku: Brief Essays 1975-1998in 5 volumes by H. F. Noyes (THF Digital Library)