Three words come to mind when choosing a favourite haiku: translate, transport and inform.
- A favourite haiku translates an observation or experience through the artful use of language.
- A favourite haiku transports the reader into a present tense connection with a particular experience, place or time.
- A favourite haiku informs a deeper understanding of the other, the world or myself.
The selections below represent the haiku that most affected me early on when I first took to the haiku path. Without exception, each of these haiku resides in my memory. I only needed to double-check word order and line breaks.
To the Moon:
the old field
throbbing with insects
the summer moon
– John Wills
From among the many wonderful haiku inspired by and dedicated to the moon, this is one of my favourites. I love the contrast between the old field and the throbbing insects. The moon here is almost an afterthought. It is the sound that first comes to my attention: vibrant and full of life. The verb “throbbing” is perfect. It is sensual and carries a sense of desperation. Summer is the season of fullness, short-lived and too soon to end.
new year’s rain
the circles in the puddle
– Pamela Miller Ness
This haiku works for me on many levels. My literal understanding quickly makes way for the metaphoric. As the circles in the puddle widen, so does the New Year, expanding from its first day, only to disappear into the year after and the one after that. I believe the poet achieved her intent by placing the word “widen” alone on the last line. It is there my attention is drawn, awaiting the next raindrop.
of branches breaking
– Margaret Saunders
It is the backdrop of the winter stillness that makes the sound so pronounced. I find myself holding my breath. So much is implied in this haiku. Are the branches laden with a wet, heavy snow of the kind I witnessed in western New York or the icy veneer I am becoming accustomed to these days further south in Georgia? Either way, I am reminded of the aftermath and in awe of nature’s sometimes-destructive beauty.
from an old lover
icicles drip from the eaves
– Charles Rossiter
I love the notion that heat rises and that icicles are formed when energy slowly escapes through the roof, abetted by the late winter sun. There is promise in the thawing. Spring cannot be far around the corner. That the same can hold true in human affairs gives me hope. But in the same way nature is fickle so too are our hearts.
The One Among the Many:
the other way
– Kenneth C. Leibman
Early on, some of the best advice I received was to look for the one among the many when observing and then composing haiku. The whole field of sunflowers becomes an afterthought. This haiku encourages a fine-tuning of the senses in order to find the sublime in the ordinary.
a bare bulb
burning in the barn
– John Soules
I cannot think of another haiku that feels more melancholy. This haiku presents a starkness from which I want to flee. The alliterative quality adds an additional sense of longing. The verb “burning” is well chosen. What little glimmer of hope can exist in the illumination of a sixty-watt bulb?
between the years
– Francis Masat
The word play here is so very intriguing. Literally, the dash is punctuation between the dates of birth and death. This haiku reminds me to be in less of a hurry. The second line is perfectly arranged. I can see the slash in the cold, granite headstone.
in the woodpile
the broken ax handle
– Michael Facherty
I’ve seen few haiku that I feel work as two-liners, but this one is an exception. I had pondered whether the haiku would improve with an introductory word or phrase, but think not. It’s all here as written. I wonder about the woodcutter and whether she/he registered the irony and human folly?
the fly doesn’t care
– Stanford M. Forrester
What more can I say? I laughed out loud when I first read this haiku and get a chuckle each and every time I reread it. Such is life.
Editor’s note: Before moving to Atlanta several years ago, Tom Painting taught literature and creative writing at School of the Arts in Rochester, NY. In addition to haiku, his interests include hiking, and bird watching. He is married to Laura Brachman and has three children, Edith, Sarah and Philip who range in age from 23 to 13.
Since 2000, Tom’s junior high and high school students have had winning haiku in the Nicholas Virgilio Memorial Haiku Contest. His students have also been recognised in the United Nations International School Haiku Competition.
Tom’s own haiku have appeared annually since 1998 in The Red Moon Anthology of English Language Haiku, published by Red Moon Press. He was the 2012 winner of the Haiku Society of America haibun contest and most recently has a haiku included in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years published by W.W. Norton and Company (2013).