Thanks to Sandra Simpson’s suggestion that I contribute to “My Favourite Haiku”, I have had the opportunity over the last few months to reread many hundreds of amazing haiku. Choosing just ten to discuss was difficult, as there were so many more that spoke to me. But in the end, these are the ones I kept coming back to:
Write me down
as one who loved poetry
– Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth)
Hallmark Treasures Reflections
This is probably the first haiku I really paid attention to, in terms of how it was written, and what was and wasn’t said. Of course, as it is translated from the Japanese, much is at the translator’s discretion. But for someone brought up on Peter Pauper Press and Harold Stewart’s translations, this haiku was a revelation. Shiki was talking about himself, and offering me a momentary insight into his life. This haiku is one of 24 in a small beautifully illustrated paperback book published by Hallmark years ago (there is no date anywhere in the book, which I still have). Back then I was a big fan of Tagore’s Fireflies, and this small book of haiku seemed a fine counterpoint.
we would rescue
– Carolyn Hall
How to Paint the Finch’s Song, Red Moon Press 2010
Some haiku immediately resonate with a reader, and this one did with me. I envisioned a couple long married who perhaps look out at the world quite differently – or maybe I simply saw myself. My husband, ever the CPA [chartered professional accountant] has our financial lives backed up and ready to be picked up and packed at a moment’s notice, and he would probably remember the passports, too. What would I choose? How to separate the wants from the needs, the moments, memories – the notebooks and photos that accumulated pre-cell phone and computer, the books that aren’t on my Kindle, the presents my daughter made me when she was five, and ten, and twenty…What actually makes up a life?
I often think about this haiku when I read about catastrophes around the world, and I wonder whether the people involved were able to save anything at all, and if so, what they chose?
virginia rail the voice of the mud itself
– Sheila Sondik
No Longer Strangers, Vandina Press, 2014
This haiku had to be written as one line. Cutting it anywhere would have destroyed the impact of the words, the thought, the sound itself. The edge of the water world where the Virginia rail lives out its life is as close as we can get to our origins, the moments when we started our lives on ocean mudflats, no longer part of the water, not yet part of the earth. This haiku echoes that moment with that deep primeval scream, “the voice of the mud itself”.
what’s left of my life
Montage: The Book, Alan Burns editor, The Haiku Foundation, 2010
In this haiku, I see the winter sky filled with stars, and I am pulled into their orbit, so far away from myself, helping me to recognise I am only a small part of everything out there. Our lives need to be lived without regret for might-have-beens that never were, or things that were but are no more. We can’t change the past. Today, tonight, this moment is the first moment in the rest of our lives. Embrace it with gusto, with love, with thanks for everything still to come.
on this thousand-year-old pot
Montage: The Book
In our world with its constant focus on the new and the young, on everything that science can do for us, where change and innovation are the ever-present goal, this haiku stops us in our tracks. Here is the past, the connection between who we were and who we are, something that has survived through time, along with our sense of wonder. Despite how different our world is today from when a woman sat patiently moulding this pot, the thumbprint tells another story, one of continuation of rituals, of the survival of the human sprit, and of how much the sense of touch can teach us.
we lower a kayak
into the sound
Montage: The Book
This haiku plays with the idea of sound, with the noise of the foghorns breaking through the silence of the fog. It evokes a picture of quiet serenity: a kayaker insulated by the fog, wrapped up in his own world, encountering only what comes into his limited vision and able to absorb them within the silence. But this haiku is also a good example of where the fourth line of haiku, the poet’s name becomes part of a deeper understanding of the poem. In this case, knowing that Christopher Herold lives in Port Townsend on Puget Sound in northwest Washington state adds another dimension to the whole idea of lowering “a kayak into the sound”, a lovely, effective and seemingly effortless play on words.
the river knows
Shiki Kukai Poets’ Choice Award, 2009
Here we have another fog haiku, but with a totally different feel to it. There is a sense of uncertainty and dislocation, of hesitation, and then a realisation that you are not alone or lost at all. The river is there. The strength and might of the river are offering a path through the fog to the light of understanding. As it has for eons, and will continue for the foreseeable future, the river will show you the way. It is your choice, though, whether to follow.
a warm fall day
learning from the rock
to do nothing
Paul O. Williams
haiku mind, Patricia Donegan, Shambhala Press, 2008
Fall is a time for both new direction (think first day of school) and retrospection. The rock was here long before me, will be here long after I am gone. It simply exists, doing nothing. Today it sits in the warmth of the sun, another day in the rain or snow or falling blossoms, part of the world of nature that surrounds us, offering us a respite from our busy lives. If we take a moment to open up our hearts and minds, to sit and just do nothing, it will wrap its warmth around us and offer us insights we might otherwise never consider.
without leaf or flower
the shape of the tree
L. A. Davidson
Most of my mornings begin with me sipping tea and writing in my journal in front of a window overlooking several old cherry and Japanese maple trees. In winter what I see is the shape of the trees and their branches, the play of light and shadow as dawn breaks across the sky and the solidness, the groundedness of the trees themselves. I have written so many poems with these trees as the focal point, and yet they have never quite worked, and now I know why – this is the haiku I have been trying to write!
Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth)
Hallmark Treasures Reflections
Although there are many other haiku I could have chosen for this last spot, I’ll return again to Reflections, and another haiku by Shiki. In a very few words, this haiku points out the need to be comfortable with yourself, at peace with yourself. Only then can you be open to the world around you, observing it from that tranquil place deep inside, letting it wash over you. And this can only happen when you are alone, freeing yourself to break open and finally see.
Author’s note: I have included publication credits to reflect where I first encountered these poems. This may not be where they first were published.
Editor’s note: Angela Terry is a Seattle-area poet who started writing haiku in 2004, although her interest in the genre extends back decades. Her work has been published in a number of print and online journals and anthologies, and has won awards in contests in the United States, Canada, Croatia, and Japan. She is Washington state regional co-ordinator for the Haiku Society of America and president of Haiku Northwest, and has served on the executive committee of the Haiku Society of America. Angie retired in 2006 after 35 years in the insurance industry. She is a master gardener, an avid traveller and a keen bird watcher.