Favourite Haiku by Jacqui Murray

Favourite haiku are old friends. And I have lots of them – far too many to list here. I love them, I trust them, I embrace them and I turn to them for solace or inspiration when the Muse has fled. They are for visiting time and time again and for staying in touch with, remembering, bringing alive old friends, including those that are no longer with us. Favourite haiku speak to me and they touch me. As through John Knight’s

at the airport
wrapped in that last kiss
the still blue sky

Here John, who loved love, captures the essence of great haiku – conveying insight into a special moment best summed up by the early American haiku poet, J W Hackett: Lifefulness, not beauty, is the real quality of haiku. Thus his most famous and enduring haiku

searching on the wind
the hawk’s cry
in the shape of its beak

is indeed a thing of beauty but also of the very forces that give life – a theme revisited around half a century later by Jan O’Loughlin in a different time with different issues that she combines in one astounding haiku.

hawk in flight
recycling the wind
into himself

Life forces were well understood by another of my favourite poets, Janice M Bostok. A farmer whose own life was surrounded by the scenic wonders of the Far North Coast of New South Wales in Australia, Jan wrote breathtakingly beautiful haiku but, above all, she was a very confident writer and never afraid of confronting life’s duality.

pulsating
with cat’s breath
butterfly wings

The best haiku are multi-layered and suggest a great deal more than is immediately obvious. Ross Clark’s

somewhere
under half a moon
a baby cries

never fails to touch me. It too is a thing of beauty and, as any parent knows, conveys a great deal more besides. Unfortunately, much of the depth in the haiku of the old Japanese masters is lost in translation because of their reliance on cultural nuance/inference or allusions simply lost in history. Fortunately, Buson’s

 perched
 on the temple bell
 the butterfly sleeps

is more accessible. The use of the word temple is significant. It is Buddhist and its bell sonorous, heavy cast iron, which ages to a dark green black. But beyond the obvious contrast between bell and butterfly lies the insinuation that monk or pilgrim will unwittingly awake that bell’s deep resonance … and the butterfly. Which is one reason why I return again and again to the old masters. Buson’s

walking on dishes
the rat’s feet make the music
of shivering cold

is a glorious lesson for us all. Buson has turned what could have been a horrifying image neatly on its head by a shared experience of winter’s chill. And wouldn’t it have been nice if an introduction to haiku included Basho’s

lonely silence
a single cicada’s cry
sinks into rock

instead of his ‘frog pond’ which is profound in Japanese but defies translation and thus confuses adults and utterly baffles children. Basho himself argued for, and wrote, poetry for the common man … and woman. He called for everyday language, familiar imagery and had a healthy sense of humour.

from all these trees
in salads, soups, everywhere
cherry blossoms fall

My sense of humour appreciates the early haiku experimentation of Irish novelist J P Donleavy, who infamously wrote:

there was a man
who made a boat
to sail away
and it sank

It does kinda have a feel of ‘tuning in and dropping out’ were it not for that touch of Irish fatalism. But it would probably have touched a chord with the old masters. Someone else who would have done that is Australian poet Katherine Samuelowicz whose Polish roots can shine through her haiku in the most astonishing images.

another glass of wine
twilight carrying
the world away

I am also always moved by Jim Kacian’s

whittling
till there’s nothing left
of the light

and Jo McInerney’s visions of the Australian inland.

dry floodplain
a billabong holds
the last light

Endings seem to appear more often in English-language haiku than beginnings which may be a subconscious hearkening back to our longer poetry traditions. Not that Japan’s old masters were unfamiliar with finality. Take, for example, Sampu’s spine tingling

the skylark
its voice alone fell
leaving nothing behind

But I am running away with enthusiasm for this marvellous Favourite Haiku project so I too will end – leaving the last words to Catherine Mair.

beneath my feet the sound of water running away

Editor’s note: Jacqui Murray, a founding member of the Paper Wasp haiku group, is an historian and broadcaster who holds a doctorate in Asian Cultural Studies. Jacqui is a founding editor of the Paper Wasp journal, an international haiku judge and her haiku have been published throughout the world. She lives in northern New South Wales in Australia.

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