Favourite Haiku by Scott Mason


Over the last year or two the nearly 250 poems included in the recently published Nest Feathers anthology (“Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of The Heron’s Nest”) have provided me with such good company I’ve decided to return the favour and introduce a chosen few to you here. I ask for understanding from those poets, past and present, whose haiku treasures my cupped hands could not accommodate in this forum.

At least four dozen poems from Nest Feathers would qualify as “favourites” of mine, so even this narrow focus required winnowing. As I reviewed those favourites, I was struck by a rare quality that a number of them had in common: a simultaneous sense of surprise and veracity. It’s easy enough to generate surprise – as advertising legend David Ogilvy once memorably said, “If all you want to do is attract attention, then put a gorilla in a jockstrap”. But surprising us with what also, somehow, “rings true” is one of the best ways to not only attract but to move the reader.

The “somehows” that enable surprise and veracity to cohabitate are a source of fascination to me. In the following sections I explore four different approaches haiku poets have taken to achieve this wondrous feat. Each such approach is illustrated by five haiku.

Welcome to the surprise party!

Innocent Surprise

In one of his best-known and most-loved poems 1, e. e. cummings describes how children “down they forgot as up they grew” into adolescence and adulthood. So too have most of us forgotten how to see with “innocent” eyes; both our vision and worldview have long since become occluded by the lens of “learned experience”. Only through conscious effort and discipline can some of us reclaim what once required neither: our Beginner’s Mind. But when we see (with) it – as startling as it may appear to us – we believe it.

woodland path –
a small flower
bends our knees

Connie Donleycott


midsummer stream
a grackle dips its beak
in shimmer

Robert Gilliland


along the roadside
Dixie cups
of summer wind…

Michael McClintock


under the rainbow
a hundred cows with
one expression

Peter Yovu


receding tide the gasps of little shells

Sandra Simpson

Cinematic Surprise

Haiku poet and anthologist Allan Burns has written cogently 2 about how techniques of the film medium can be applied to haiku with remarkable results. Each haiku auteur featured below has used lighting, editing or some special “camera” effect to not only surprise us but to create his or her own mini cinéma vérité.

among the silent earth movers
a fawn

Charles Trumbull


mountain torrent –
the water ouzel flicks
a white eyelid

Ruth Yarrow


heat lightning –
Christmas beetles
spangle the fly screen

Lorin Ford


shanty town –
the jagged edges
of moonlight

Sanjukta Asopa


winter landscape
one more raven flaps out
of her paintbrush

Marian Olson

“Logical” Surprise

Great mystery writers pull it off all the time: they manage to surprise us with a “solution” wholly in keeping with the clues they’ve planted along the way. See for yourself if each of these last lines strikes you, too, as not just unexpected but strangely preordained.

the day begins
descendants of dinosaurs
darting, singing

George Swede


dead hamster –
my son invents
a religion

George Dorsty


no way out
Death’s at the door
demanding candy

LeRoy Gorman


far upriver –
the villages
with nothing to sell

Ruth Holzer


circle of lamplight –
I complete the baby quilt
begun for me

Carolyn Hall

Lateral Surprise

If logic sits in our brain’s left hemisphere, so-called lateral thinking reclines in the right. Each of the following poems makes a surprising connection that seems to evince an intuitive, if personal, truth.

maybe I’ll
say yes

Francine Banwarth


cold moon –
a moment of hesitation
years ago

John Stevenson


near the horizon
a wave forms
touch me there, again

Eve Luckring


morning fog…
when my embryo
had gills

Tyrone McDonald


the vermillion glow
from the pistachio trees –
I knew your father



We’ve come full circle from release (of “grown-up” preconceptions) to control (by the director’s bullhorn or the mystery writer’s pen) to release once again (through intuitive connections untethered by logic). But regardless of how they get there, the miraculous haiku that wed veracity and surprise earn our highest form of affirmation … an aha!

1 anyone lived in a pretty how town, e. e. cummings, Complete Poems: 1904-1962
2 Allan Burns, “Haiku and Cinematic Technique”, Frogpond 30:3 (Autumn 2007), 55-64.

Editor’s note: Scott Mason began writing haiku in 2001, a dozen or so years after first learning of it on a hiking trip in Japan. Since that time his poems have appeared widely and have won over a hundred awards in international competitions. For the last five years he has happily served as a member of The Heron’s Nest editorial team.

Scott credits the practice of haiku with making him more attentive to and appreciative of his everyday surroundings and experiences – in other words, more mindful and balanced. He lives and works in Westchester County, New York about an hour north of New York City.