I found this a daunting, but pleasurable, task. As editor of Haiku XpresSions I read many, many haiku. Add to that the vast number of Japanese genre poems I have enjoyed over the years, to select, or even remember, has been a challenge. The following haiku, in no particular order, I have found memorable.
on a bare branch
a crow settled down
This haiku is quintessentially Bashō and, together with his ‘frog’ poem, his most well-known. The poem is mournful and austere, of objective portrayal, yet mesmeric.
if someone asks
say I’m still alive
Written in Gyōga Manroku, a private journal that Shiki kept in 1901-1902, this poem shows him through his own eyes; objectivity laced with humour.
day lily petals fold
Jan has been described as ‘the spirit of haiku in the southern hemisphere’ (William J Higginson). This haiku, written in memory of her first child who died at birth, is particularly poignant and one people can relate to. Day lilies have a brief lifespan. The poem encapsulates the ephemeral nature of our existence.
Mother’s Day –
takes a long walk
Bob Lucky, paper wasp 13:3 2007
The poem shows without telling and is one of my favourite senryu. As well as humour there is poignancy, almost sadness. Father cuts a lonely figure. He is excluded from the celebrations, superfluous to the occasion, in that moment maybe even feeling unloved.
of the spider’s web
Quendryth Young, 1st Prize NZ Poetry Society International Haiku Contest 2007
The five senses, sound, sight, smell, touch and taste are important when writing haiku but in a well-written haiku we can smell the sea, feel the cold of frost under our feet without being explicitly told, through the imagery. Haven’t we all backed out of a spider’s web, feeling guilty, as if we were intruding?
a tram brightly lit
Dietmar Tauchner, paper wasp 14:3 2008
The universality of haiku is important. Even if I have never visited the country in which the haiku has been written I should be able relate to the image presented. Frequently I will read a haiku describing a scene and relate to that scene, even feel nostalgic about a memory that the haiku might evoke. ‘suburban night’, although written about suburban Vienna, resonated, and instantly reminded me of the city in which I grew up – Melbourne.
all the way down
through cicada song
Margaret Beverland, Commended Free XpresSion Haiku Contest 2010
I love the sensory experience, the juxtaposition of sound and movement; the use of ‘free-wheeling’ adding to the sense of abandon. The sheer joy of this haiku I find compelling.
gunshot the length of the lake
Jim Kacian, Sailing 6 – long after
This classic one-liner is arresting. The shaping emphasises the sound carrying the length of the lake, stretching across the page and stretching the reader’s imagination: why, what, how? A powerful haiku.
hawk in flight
recycling the wind
Jan O’Loughlin, Jack Stamm hawk in flight anthology (paper wasp) 2008
This haiku embodies the sensation of freedom, the hawk at one with himself and with the wind. The poem is modern in concept by using the word ‘recycling’, projecting a seemingly effortless, yet engaging, image.
starry night …
what’s left of my life
Ron Moss, Shiki Internet Kukai, 1st Place December 2006
The haiku, winner of the Seashell Game 2011 and with a long pedigree, is deeply personal. Ron explains: ‘This haiku comes from a time when I was fighting a long-running bushfire in southern Tasmania. I was about to retire for a well-earned sleep when I looked at the night sky and a feeling of oneness and expansiveness came over me. It felt like everything was alright just as it was, and the danger that we were facing as fire-fighters would pass . . . as all things do in their own time. This haiku will always be special to me, and it continues to enlighten me in different ways.’
Editor’s note: Cynthia Rowe is president of the Australian Haiku Society and editor of Haiku XpresSions (in Free XpresSion). She has published seven novels and three collections of poetry, as well as short stories. Her first collection of haiku, Floating Nest, was awarded First Prize Poetry in The Society of Women Writers NSW Book Awards 2016.