Favourite Haiku by Paul Miller

A tricky exercise, and vastly unfair! But fun … I am easily leaving out any number of excellent haiku by any number of excellent poets. But I offer here some of my favourite haiku, not in any particular order. My apologies to those aforementioned poems and poets.

dysle,xia s,ympto.ms? Sp,ring. fever

– Metod Češek

This one is recent, from one of the first issues of Modern Haiku I edited. It is so strikingly original, and yet it is more than just a clever syntactic idea. Spring comes in fits, we like to say here in New England. One day you think spring has arrived and the next it snows again. This poem stands in the middle of winter and spring, with its dyslexia, misspellings, questions, and a strikeout that almost acts like a border. Nothing is certain. Nothing is understood. Yet there is impatience. How fresh like spring.

just a minnow –
the granite mountain wobbles
on the lake

– Christopher Herold

An early favourite. I love the scale of this: tiny minnow and huge immobile mountain; yet the one in its own fashion impossibly moves the other. What’s the old saying about haiku? “Haiku shows us what we knew all the time, but did not know we knew.”

What can someone
mouth full of potatoes say
about the winter moon?

– vincent tripi

Tripi has written so many wonderful haiku that I find myself going back to, yet this one stands out. A humorous poem that rewards further reading. I love the enjambment of the phrase “mouth full of potatoes” smack in the middle of the poem whose first and last lines act like a mouth, and the pairing of a mouthful of potatoes (taste and texture) with the moon (visual) is delightful. That it is a winter moon makes the scene less romantic and perhaps more urgent.

in her favourite kimono-
small green plums

– Carolyn Hall

In thinking of favourite haiku this one immediately leapt to mind, and when I went online to make sure I got the wording right I found I wrote this a few years back: “Haiku’s strength as a poetic form is that it lets objects stand on their own with their own weight and associations. Hall doesn’t tell the reader whether or not the plums were a part of the kimono’s design or whether seeing the immature fruits prompts the poet to remember her lost friend. Through their greenness, however, she does tell the reader how she feels, and by letting the plums speak for themselves, she hopes to have the reader feel it as well. Like the best poets, she sets a scene and opens the door to it. The haiku moment is important to Hall, but she makes it her own, populating it with fresh images and a clear pinpoint vision.”

with his peashooter
falls short

– H.F. Noyes

I wrote about this haiku in an issue of the Haiku Society of America’s Frogpond, saying, “I don’t recall ever seeing the word ‘moonshot’ in a haiku, yet it is a wonderfully fresh and evocative choice that, given NASA’s current ambitions, immediately brings to mind all things nostalgic. In that shot lie the dreams of numerous young boys, and in a way the larger, but similar dreams of humanity. Despite the shot’s failure, we are confident the boy will try again as humanity always does. The poem is a tale of Sisyphus-ian pursuit – or perhaps Camus’s Absurd Man’s. That all this can be found in such a seemingly insignificant event illustrates the power of the short poem.”

August waves
I tell my history
to jellyfish

– Fay Aoyagi

Aoyagi was a timely influence on my work. While I had always written poems from my perspective, “I” wasn’t ever front and centre. Aoyagi showed me that it was possible to successfully have the “I” onstage. She is a very talented poet and I could easily find a number of poems to use, but I chose this haiku (from her book Chrysanthemum Love) because it seems to represent well what Aoyagi does in her haiku: she speaks of herself, and is not afraid to let her personality shine. August is the beginning of autumn, a time for reflection as the successes of summer start to wane, yet how appropriate is the jellyfish here – a transparent creature that is almost not even there. Additionally, I find the waves add to the sense of impermanence, how this applies to the importance of our histories I won’t say. A very affecting poem.

a deep gorge . . .
some of the silence
is me

– John Stevenson

There is such a great interplay between Stevenson and the gorge here, that I am near to capitalising Gorge as a person. Stevenson goes from observer to participant (my interpretation, your millage will vary) in discovering that he is a part of the large silence, and I feel this is one of those overflowing yet penetrating silences. The union of Stevenson and his silence speaks to another gorge – the gorge we all have inside ourselves. Looked at another way: there is the gorge with Stevenson inside, a gorge inside Stevenson, with perhaps another Stevenson inside that gorge, etc … like Russian nesting dolls, or an echo. A great sense of interconnectedness at work in this seemingly simple haiku. A powerful poem!

from a beach near Savoonga –
winter rain

– Billie Wilson

This is a haunting poem. It is so specific, yet not at all. It takes place not at Savoonga Beach – if there is such a place – but a beach “near” Savoonga. Savoonga, as those of you who took the time to look it up will attest, is a native-American town on St Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. The whalebone in the poem speaks to a vanishing landscape, a vanishing people, a vanishing way of life. I get that sense of finality from the winter rain. The vagueness of “near” doesn’t flat out say these things are disappearing, but hints at the possibility. This poem awakens me.

warm rain before dawn:
my milk flows into her

– Ruth Yarrow

Many haiku show parallel images and ask us, the reader, to make the connection. Here, the connection between the life-giving milk and the life-giving rain is unsaid. But Yarrow’s use of “warm” speaks to a tenderness that she feels toward the child, but also from the earth. A good example of how one word can show meaning. From her book No One Sees the Stems.

Inside of me
Bison are stampeding
Across caves

– Jack Galmitz

I first came across this haiku when writing a book review of Galmitz’s For a Sparrow, and it blew me away. I am usually wary of intellectual or conceptual poetry, and the first two lines easily fall into that, and if the haiku had ended there I’d have dismissed it as an interesting idea, but nothing more. Not a haiku, in any case. But the third line saves the poem and at the same time elevates it. The third line is grounded in reality, referencing cave-painting, and a timelessness of human experience.

Editor’s note: Paul Miller is editor of Modern Haiku journal, on the board of directors of the Haiku North America conferences, treasurer of the Haiku Society of America and an award-winning poet. He lives on Rhode Island in the United States.