When I first saw this new feature about 18 months ago, I remember thinking, “What would my favourite be if I was asked?” Now I have been asked, and the choice was much easier than I’d expected. I was given a guide of choosing 10, but it was only one that came instantly to mind (and has for some time) that I knew I could, and would call “my favourite”.
– Why kneel?
– Jack Kerouac
I first read this haiku in early 2011 from Patricia Donegan’s Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart (Shambala, 2008). The book was a surprise and spontaneous gift from my then fiancé (now husband) at a time when I was struggling through the first National Haiku Writing Month in February 2011, where participants from all over the world commit to writing a haiku each day for the whole month. I slowly made my way through Haiku Mind; reading one haiku and commentary a day until the book’s end, feeling inspired and uplifted throughout. But why did this haiku grab me and not let me go . . .
The appeal of this poem is in its effect on me. It’s a haiku that often follows me around through my day; I almost use it as a mantra or affirmation at times. There are many haiku that I love; some times many I come across in a day! This one, however, speaks to me endlessly and deeply and I have never forgotten it. I guess it could be described as having a quiet power. For me, it sums up where I am in my spiritual journey. Where I am in my understanding and experience of God, of the power in Nature and in myself, and how I long for these revelations to be present within my own haiku poetry.
I like the way the haiku is laid out on the page; a little off kilter, just like a spiritual journey. I like the use of capitals; it brings the emphasis where it needs to be. I like the use of a question, the lack of description, the economy of language. One of those small, and yet so powerful haiku moments, laid bare for eternity, for generations to learn from, ponder on, and experience for themselves. It has a beauty that I can’t really describe because it isn’t on the surface. It’s almost as if the beauty of the poem is within me; because of how it can transform the bud of knowing which sits inside me ready to become all that it should.
Kerouac has brought us a multiple stimulation of the senses in this haiku. With the first line “The taste”, my mouth is suddenly engaged and saliva begins to increase in readiness for what’s to come. Then there’s temperature: is the rain a cold winter drizzle, or warm summer droplets? Touch is engaged with the rain on the tongue, on the body. And add to this the many sounds of falling rain, or was it a thunder storm? My imagination sees so much behind the scenes of this haiku. Sometimes I think back to childhood and playing in the rain without a care. Other times I see a man kneeling in the rain in worship, maybe it was the break in the drought, a celebration, and the writer was looking on … amused? curious? baffled? – Why kneel?
I feel very bold choosing just one haiku as my favourite. But it is my favourite right now, and probably will be for some time, considering the journey I’ve been on over the last few years. A spiritual awakening. A leukaemia diagnosis. A search for home. An urge to express myself through haiku.
Editor’s note: Kirsten Cliff is haikai editor for the NZPS magazine a fine line. She blogs about her haiku and life experiences at Swimming in Lines of Haiku. Read some of her work on her Showcase page. Kirsten lives in Matamata in Waikato.