Haiku Journey by Barbara Strang

This is not a list of favourite haiku. Rather I would like to present some which stood out when I was a beginner and gave me some idea of the possibilities. Let’s start with my first encounter with these petite Japanese poems, some time in the 1980s. The subjects of grasses and butterflies appealed to me then and now, I am not sure why.

Summer grasses
all that remains of great soldier’s
imperial dreams.

– Matsuo Basho

A fallen blossom
is coming back to the branch.
Look, a butterfly!

– Moritake

Quite by chance I happened to be at a book launch in 1993, and acquired The New Zealand Haiku Anthology edited by Cyril Childs. This was a revelation: haiku which were present day and composed in my own country.

in moonlight
even my children
are strangers

– Glenda Fawkes

We didn’t have to do 5-7-5! This was an example of how minimalist you could get, and still present a sharp image:


– Jeffrey Harpeng

I waited eagerly for each yearly NZPS anthology. Here I found some fine overseas work as well as the locals. This one intrigued me, with its small sound traversing a huge space:

end of summer
someone across the lake
slams a screen door

– Yvonne Hardenbrook (US)

Cyril gave us another anthology in 1998. This haiku stood out, presenting a striking image in well-chosen simple words:

turning the light

– John O’Connor

The moon is still a fascinating subject: this one still remains fresh and vivid:

at every step
the hill-top steals
a little more moon

– Elena Lindsay

I am attracted by humour, and if you can do an image as well, so much the better.

amongst children –
head held high

– Nick Williamson

This is more recent, from the taste of nashi, 2008, but I class it with those to admire and learn from. The humour is mingled with pathos, and what an image!

outgoing tide
my mother’s togs
a year looser

– Catherine Mair

Some haiku are beautiful and others you can’t help liking. For instance this one of Cyril’s, with thanks for everything:

child’s voice –
the old dog
settles lower in its box

– Cyril Childs

Editor’s note: Barbara Strang is a long-standing member of the Small White Teapot haiku group, based in Christchurch. She edited the New Zealand Poetry Society’s anthologies in 2009 and 2010. Read some of Barbara’s own haiku on her Showcase page.