Favourite Haiku by Beverley George

It is intriguing what a small word, or two, can do. I have been prevaricating over Sandra’s invitation for far too long, scribbling in my notebook when a haiku particularly appeals. Will the 10 favourites I choose today be those I would select tomorrow? Some would; others would be ousted. Now it occurs if I mentally add “of” as in 10 of My Favourite Haiku, I can relax and enjoy making a somewhat tardy response.

I am restricting myself to contemporary haiku in English, rather than the Japanese masters in translation, and to those haiku that spring to my mind, unbidden and often, in relevant circumstances.

One of the dichotomies of haiku is that although they are essentially observations made without judgement or conclusion, the best of them can provoke emotions that resound long after we have read them.

I remember attending a poetry conference in a small tin-roofed community hall in Kendall, New South Wales. After sustained drought, unexpectedly it rained. Everyone, including the presenter, rushed to the small windows.

A haiku written from the other side of the world by US poet, Peggy Willis Lyles, sprang to mind:

summer night
we turn off all the lights
to hear the rain

Although the circumstances were different, the essence of the experience was not. This poem continues to be relevant to me, including now, in September 2013, when insufficient rain has fallen for some time.

Australian poet, John Bird, has written many haiku that linger in my mind. The most recent, from Windfall: Australian Haiku Issue 1, being:

cloudless sky
the village church
holds up a cross

Imagistic yes, but more than that, it evokes the values and standards in small town country life. Currently, as the threat of indiscriminate mining (open cut and coal seam) engulfs and irreparably destroys arable land and small, rural communities, this poem for me is a prayer for hope that established values and vision will be upheld.

deepening winter
darkness in the eyes
of a chained dog

The haiku above, by British poet and editor, Martin Lucas, encapsulates the loss of hope in man or creature, when constrained by dominant powers beyond their control, and contrasts with the streak of optimism in the following haiku by Clare McCotter.

at the schoolyard gate boy and pit bull embrace

Clare’s powerful haiku, which invites a breadth of reader interpretations, leads us to conjecture on the power-play, dangers, and loyalties that may lie in wait, on either side of the schoolyard gate.

Two haiku follow, which comment on human perception:

elevator silence –
our eyes escape
into numbers

amidst mountains
we pause to admire

Is ‘elevator silence …’ by Christopher Herold, haiku or senryu? . . . or a successful blend that proliferates in many quality ‘haiku’ composed by Westerners? In any case it is resonant. It works. Since reading this poem, I have consciously experienced the circumstance many times. If fellow lift-ensconcees glance down from the illuminated floor-indicator board they are earnestly studying, they may wonder, briefly, why I am smiling. Thanks, Christopher.

‘amidst mountains . . .’ by the late New Zealand poet Cyril Childs needs no commentary. Any thoughtful reader will engage with it; understand it precisely, and empathise with what the poet is saying so well.

two attempts
at the trouser leg
New Year’s Day

Irreverent, understated, and with an indisputable kigo, ‘two attempts’ by Owen Bullock celebrates the potential lightness of haiku, its humour, and its ability to be readily shared.

friend’s funeral
a stranger uses
her teapot

Deceptively simple, ‘friend’s funeral’ by Nola Borrell encapsulates a theme I have read in other haiku, but never more convincingly expressed. The everyday object of a teapot is intrinsic to the owner’s persona, her relationship with family and friends, and her own company. For a stranger, however well-intentioned, to use it after the owner’s death seems intrusive: a trespass.

sowing seeds
I open my hand
to the autumn wind

This haiku by Maria Steyn, encapsulates the element of haiku I love most. Man in harmony with nature. It puts me in mind of a description John Bird wrote several years ago: one which I have quoted many times, at haiku gatherings. “A haiku is a brief poem, built on sensory images from the environment. It evokes an insight into our world and its peoples.”

Editor’s note: Beverley George edited 12 issues of Yellow Moon, 2000-2006, and since 2006 has been the editor of Eucalypt: a tanka journal and since 2013 the new annual publication Windfall: Australian haiku (Blue Giraffe Press). Beverley presented papers at the 3rd Haiku Pacific Rim Conference, Matsuyama, 2007; the 6th International Tanka Festival, Tokyo, 2009 and a workshop at the 3rd Haiku Festival Aotearoa, Tauranga, 2012. In 2009 she convened the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference in Terrigal, NSW. Her haiku collection Spinifex was published by Pardalote Press. Her haiku and other Japanese poetic genres have won 12 first prizes and 5 second prizes in international competition. She was President of the Australian Haiku Society 2006-2010.