Favourite Haiku by Nola Borrell

Selecting up to 10 favourite haiku was harder than I thought. So many possibilities. I checked the haiku on my walls to remind myself of haiku that retain their appeal for me. My choices are personal, reflecting my interests and preferences. I like haiku to have ‘lift’ (‘how fresh it tastes’ – Brian Patten), and birds are a physical expression of that. There’s a sort of human celebration here too – though, indeed, the birds are just getting on with it. There’s a theme of quietness, space, timelessness. The appeal of the subject doesn’t mean that I haven’t taken account of the craft as well, however!

lifting mist …
a flock of knots fans out
across the creek

– Matthew Paul

An inspired opening – though this is probably how it was. Here in the most ancient of theatres, the action is about to begin. We are ready, expectant. And then catch our breath as – in a moment – . Part of the wonder is that this is not a temporary play at the local theatre, but a timeless happening. Magical. The ‘f’s and ‘l’ s flow with the knots. After that initial moment, there’s a sort of groundedness in the word ‘creek’. The knots may now be busily feeding. On with survival.

still water
only the wing beats
of the circling curlews

– John Barlow

Silence, space, timelessness. There’s something archetypal here. I like the contrasts in movement, in sound. There’s the poet’s customary sharp focus, clarity and concision. For the urban reader – and most of us are – there could well be a shift in perspective. Because words can only represent, and haiku moments exist outside our interpretations, the closer words can get to silence, the better.

a moment before sunrise –
ice singing
beneath the swans’ feet

– Martin Lucas

My initial – and continuing – response is delight: The imminent sunrise (with the poet up early), the ice singing, the swans. An auditory haiku (as well as visual) too. And then, the way the poet gets away with explicitly saying “a moment”. And “ice singing” for that matter. How new, how old the day is. A good time of the day to catch fresh haiku.

edge of the marsh –
the wind from rising geese
in our hair

– Ebba Story

Here’s another haiku that invites the reader into still, possibly bleak surroundings, to be there the moment the geese rise, and close enough to be a physical part of that moment. Again, we’re in that primeval space where events outside our own constrained lives become more significant.

palominos –
the curve of the winter hills
in moonlight

– Cherie Hunter Day

A long-time favourite. It remains fresh. Of course, moonlight always helps but the juxtaposed images retain their beauty and grace. There’s that skilled repetition of the curves and paleness of palomino, hills and moon. A painterly image.

the piano hammers
barely moving …
night snow

– John Barlow

Once more, it’s the silence that fills, stills this original haiku that attracts me. The poet makes a link between nature and human nature without the pianist being in the least intrusive. Perfectly perceived and crafted.

warm rain before dawn
my milk flows into her
unseen

– Ruth Yarrow

Yes, silence again, and another skilled nature/ human nature link. This is another haiku that has stayed with me. In a few words, the poet reveres the bond between mother and new baby, highlighted in the hush before the day rushes in. The moment is both personal and universal. It has a cameo-shine.

Coolness –
the sound of the bell
as it leaves the bell.

– Buson, translated by Robert Hass

The words instantly evoke and carry the bell-sound, and I am again visiitng a Buddhist temple in the Himalayas. Crisp, clear, sharp. Even the correct colloquial overuse of ‘cool’ for everything and anything does not tarnish it.

On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.

– Issa, translated by Jane Hirschfield

Here’s a whimsical and realistic/ optimistic view of life. All the more impressive, given the deaths of people close to Issa. Does a cricket sing? Given literary tradition, this would be hard to contest (e.g. ‘That most ethereal of all sounds’ – Hawthorne). To see/hear more go to this website.

And now a leap! At that point, I realised that I hadn’t included any ‘fun’ haiku or senryu. Or any New Zealanders.

grandson’s visit
we compare notes
on his parents

– Jeanette Stace

New Zealand writers frequently are very able at writing senryu (and winning contests especially if they happen to be Ernest Berry). Haiku are more my preference, but I do enjoy the fun aspect of senryu – the surprise, sheer unexpectedness. Jeanette Stace’s senryu does go beyond the moment (many senryu don’t) to suggest the perspectives and collusions within families. Irony, amusement, perceptiveness, fun: Very Jeanette Stace.

Editor’s note: Nola Borell is co-organiser of the Windrift haiku group in Wellington. To see some of Nola’s own work go to her Showcase page.

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