Favourite Haiku by Melissa Allen

There are so many haiku I love. I thought the task of choosing an arbitrary and small number of favourites might be difficult. In fact, I discovered that there was very little choosing involved. Our favourite haiku, it turns out, are not any harder to recognise than our favourite people. They’re the ones we have the most intimate relationship with. They’ve called us individually out of the classroom where we were dutifully learning the rules of haiku and spoken to us face to face. Maybe they’ve presented themselves to us as stern teachers or maybe as wise mentors or maybe as bosom friends or maybe even as ardent lovers, but it’s certain they’re more than poems.

That being said, the ten haiku I discuss below were quite difficult to distinguish from my next ten most favourite … so I’ve included those next ten at the end here without any commentary, in case anyone is curious.

I’ve organised the poems seasonally, not by preference.

pig and i spring rain

– Marlene Mountain

The transparent, childlike directness of this haiku and the poet’s complete immersion in sensory awareness put it in the category of “much harder to do than it looks”. I look to this poem often when I feel my own poetry is becoming too weighted down with words and thought.

their wings like cellophane remember cellophane

– Lorin Ford

This poem’s dreamy, intense nostalgia powerfully calls to me. Like most good haiku it begins with a simple, focused image; unlike many haiku it carries the image seamlessly into the poet’s mind without diminishing the power of the experience.

mosquito she too
insisting she
is is is is is

– Peter Yovu

The sound – the high-pitched whining and buzzing of those thin, high vowels and string of “z” sounds – is a vital part of this poem, a part that I think English-language haiku poets too often neglect. The poet’s recognition of the mosquito’s essence and ability to express it in a few well-chosen words makes this poem easy to recognise as haiku despite its unconventional language.

lightning strike
the mean streak in me
deepens

– Aubrie Cox

Poems like these remind me not to withhold myself from the reader when I write haiku, not when revealing myself in all my imperfection can illuminate human nature. Self-indulgence is not effective in haiku; self-awareness can be, especially when expressed in this kind of colloquial, genuine language.

middle age –
ripening in the distance
a night peach

– Sanki Saito

I can’t imagine any woman who has reached middle age not being moved by the sensual wistfulness of this poem. Just the mysterious phrase “night peach” calls up enough sense memories and is freighted with enough meaning to make it almost a poem in itself.

cold rain –
my application
to become a crab

– Fay Aoyagi

The idiosyncratic, compelling imagery and profound, almost raw personal revelations in Fay Aoyagi’s haiku make her a modern master. There are not too many haiku colder or rainier than this one. It perfectly expresses that chilly, sodden, strangely bureaucratic self-loathing despair we all experience from time to time (or is that just me?).

whenever I speak out
my lips are chilled
autumn wind

– Basho

This haiku perfectly conflates the literal and the metaphoric. It’s true on many levels – true all the way down, like the turtles of the myth. It’s also simple and obvious. It reminds me that great poetry does not require verbal gymnastics and brilliant philosophical insight; it can be created by looking simply at simple things and stating clearly what we see.

autumn wind
surplus serotonin
enters the sea

– Johannes S.H. Bjerg

The very traditional form of this haiku (kigo, short-long-short lines, fragment-phrase construction), combined with its very modern subject matter, makes it both universal and timeless and also contemporary and relevant. The poem is factually accurate – the drugs we excrete are contaminating our waterways – and also emotionally true – our collective despair, as represented by our collective mass ingestion of antidepressants, sometimes seems like it could fill an ocean. Poems like this remind us that we will never run out of topics for haiku, not so long as the world keeps changing. (And listen to the sounds: all those esses, like the rushing of the wind or the shushing of the waves.)

deep snow
in a dream, I find
her password in

– Mark Harris

The slightly garbled, dreamlike syntax of this poem is essential to its effectiveness. The seemingly unnecessary repetition of the word “in” emphasises its importance to the speaker; this is a very personal, internal discovery. We’ve become so desensitised to passwords from our many-times-daily use of them that the metaphorical weight of the password in this haiku – approximately equal to the weight of the snow – comes as a shock. I always want to linger in this haiku, the way you want to linger in certain profound dreams.

snowmelt…
she enters the earth
on her knees

– Bill Pauly

This haiku is both deeply personal and almost mythical. I think of Persephone when I read it, whether or not that was the author’s intention. Simultaneously I think of every scene of grieving I’ve ever encountered, which all seem here to be boiled down to their essence-the collapse, the descent into darkness. This poem feels like the expression of an archetype.

and ten more:

swollen rosehips
if you found God
in your body you’d die

– Chris Gordon

warm rain before dawn;
my milk flows into her
unseen

– Ruth Yarrow

The fence
Shall be assigned
To the uguisu.

– Issa, tr. R. H. Blyth

how quickly it comes back … dust

– Stanford Forrester

rain all day
I carve the darkness
from a peach

– Marilyn Appl Walker

Drawing circles …
finally one deformed enough
to be the earth

– Kuniharu Shimizu

 October light
I open my ribs
to pray

– Randy Brooks

I go;
you stay;
two autumns

– Shiki

knitting starts
my wife’s silence
starts

– Shuson Kato

walking the snow crust
not sinking
sinking

– Anita Virgil

Editor’s note: Melissa Allen is a working towards a post-graduate degree in library science and lives in Wisconsin in the United States. Her haiku appear widely and she also blogs her haiku at Red Dragonfly Haiku. Melissa is a member of the advisory board of the American Haiku Archives.

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