Haiku: Showing Essence, Shedding Skins

This morning’s bay was full of eagles. Laboured flyers, they fly in a “flap, flap, flap–glide” manner. I interpret the flaps as the purposeful, thinking mode, and the glide as a period of less commitment but continued progress. Later in the morning, the eagles are at great altitude, soaring effortlessly. ~ Robert Genn*

I feel like my blogging journey so far has echoed the flap, flap, flapping part of the eagle flight described so beautifully above. I post, I visit other blogs, I investigate links, I comment, I read comments, reply to comments, reply to comments on my own blog and somewhere in there, I glide and smile and my spirit soars when the connections form.

But then it’s back to the flap, flap, flapping and among all the seeds being planted, I’ve been forgetting to feed myself.

I’ve been missing my children – in the same house as them, but missing them. I’ve been missing my garden and the birds that flit in and out of the laurel bushes outside my kitchen window. I need to see birds, to become the birds I watch.

I  miss writing, too. Absorbed, totally engaged writing. One of my favourite forms of expression is haiku, but I haven’t been able to write those recently. When I write haiku – and I use the word loosely, for mine don’t follow the classic rules – I need to be still, to simply be. And many of my longer pieces grow out of simple haiku.

I once became so involved with the robin who lives in my garden that I grew to feel he symbolises all of life itself:

a robin appears
stops, breathes, hops along the fence
drops, pecks some crumbs, goes

I wrote the following poem last week as I was driving through the hills on my way home from the supermarket. This scene is exactly what I saw. Until I got it down on paper, I didn’t realise quite how much it revealed about how I was feeling.

a small bird flying
with a long, fat, dangling worm ~
a hawk hovering

The sound and rhythm are regular and steady in the first line – like the beating of wings – but an awkward, heavy struggling happens in the second line, which sinks towards the end. On re-reading this, I suddenly realised how troubled I’ve been by my growing obsession with blogging and its time consuming demands, by the constant undercurrent of feeding that pervades so many blogs. By the constant feeling of I must keep going or else…

What I love about writing within the framework of haiku is that it makes me feel the life in the life of things, allows me to become the world I’m observing. It helps me see, feel, hear, touch, taste and smell the world in a way that connects me to it and to the people who are reliving my experiences when they read a few of my words. When I’m completely absorbed, I become that experience so all I need to do is show it to you and you become it too.

Only the essence of the moment can make its way in. No similes, no explanations. No heavy handed “This is how you should feel.”

I write haiku constantly. I love the simple juxtaposition  – or merging –  of sensual perceptions, and I find the restrictions,  especially the counting of syllables, very liberating. Our lives are short, but the simpler they are, the more we appreciate the essence of all we contain, all we become.

For years I wrote short poems about nature, my daily life, the seasons, the world around me, never having studied the classic haiku masters. I’d only been taught the three line, 5-7-5 syllables ‘rule’ at school and was told to stick to images that evoke a feeling.

I wrote incessantly about cicada song when I was in Greece, entranced by the way a gust of wind in the olive groves would suddenly silence them. I felt that if only I could recreate the throbbing sound of their singing, I could capture some of the shimmering essence of summer, of love and of life itself.

It was only later that I realised that life is in the shedding of skins, the continual singing of the song, the continual bonding with what you’re trying to express. I’ve grown to realise that the moment is no longer there by the time you’ve captured it.

When I discovered the symbolism in haiku and related forms, the meaning attributed to a thousand elements of nature, the seasons and human life, my enjoyment of reading the haiku classics heightened.

Suddenly, my obsession with small birds and flowers, shells and cicadas and the symbols and details of our everyday lives didn’t seem so trivial. I felt connected to everyone who’d ever loved a robin or felt the throbbing pulse of cicadas in the heat of summer. I think I would have enjoyed a quiet seat next to Zen master, Basho, who wrote this:

the stillness —
soaking into stones
cicada’s cry

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Try looking away from your screen right now and writing three short lines  that show the world you’re experiencing, that make it come alive for us. (Follow the 5 -7 -5 syllable structure if it helps, but it’s not strictly necessary in English. )

13 thoughts on “Haiku: Showing Essence, Shedding Skins

  1. I like what you said about being in the same house as your children and still missing them. Cindy and I often laugh at ourselves because we’ll say we miss the children, or one another, and this is while we’re sitting at the opposite end of the sofa. You do drink your moments, Janice.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post..How to NEVER run out of ideas

    • I did some heavy moment drinking yesterday after seeing this draft written down on Saturday! We had a glorious indulgent day, Greek Easter feast in the garden, birdsong and cuddles, reading, music and simply enjoying each other’s company. ‘Our’ resident garden bee actually landed on the magazine I was reading! I woke today feeling totally refreshed.

  2. Hi Janice,

    Haiku is one of those writing forms that I always admire but do not quite understand how to write. I remember being in college and learning all the different forms of poetry in terms of the whole numbers aspect and it confused me tremendously. So when it comes to writing poetry, I follow the freestyle method. However, reading this post, helped to unmask the confusion. Thank you and by the way, I loved the tone and vibe of this post. It was like a song! You are truly creative, my dear friend! 🙂

    Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog post..How I Met a Real Life Master Yoda

    • Thanks, Nadia – I look forward to seeing one of yours! Apart from what I mentioned above, it often helps, too, to ask yourself if there’s an aha moment captured in your description, the bigger thing that the images first evoked in you. They often form the natural break that appears in a haiku. I don’t worry about that when I’m writing down my first impulses; if there is one, it shows up on re-reading. My foreign students wrote beautiful haiku in my classes because they didn’t have the same subconscious language ‘rules’ a native speaker of English had. I don’t write proper haiku, I just play!

      @Marinela,
      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

  3. Thank you again for your vivid, moving descriptions of living moments. I love how you embrace experience and yield expression ~ reminding us of treasures flowing by, challenges visiting to reshape us.

    As I read, I hoped for an invitation from you, which sure enough, Inspiratrix, you provided at the end of your entry.

    I stopped to use the structure. I merged with a soulful, found-treasure brought from Europe recently:

    A circle design
    on street-stranded wooden plate
    Centres me at home.

    Thank you for sharing your caring for Life, dear Janice!

    • Love it, Connie! Thank you for sharing this glimpse of your home, your travels and your heart with us with us so spontaneously. I’d never realised you had such ease with this form but am kicking myself because I should have guessed from the way we converse in emails!

      @Nadia
      Have fun! Just sit with it or forget it even, and see what simmers. I have an inkling this will suit your zen nature!

    • Beautiful. I was already in tears when I checked in here to see if I had any comments; a dear friend’s blog-post this morning moved me, floored me unexpectedly with its truth and had me on the point of logging off. But your words, all of the comments above, have got me reaching for my old haiku notebooks…and a pen.

  4. small, squinty box restricts
    birthday tulips remind me of
    color: loud, open, outside

    I’ve just started a new office-and-desk-bound, 9-5 type job and I’m missing my freedom(and the sunshine) immensely. Yesterday my thoughtful mother brought me a small vase of bashful pink tulips and bumblebee yellow daffodils from her garden, and they stand defiantly colorful on my desk. The bold crayon-like hues stand out in stark contrast to the drab greys, browns, and blacks of my office. Their spirit, open and playful, reminds me of better days.

    Danielle´s last blog post..The Pseudo Separation of Church and Colorado

    • Great to meet you, Danielle. Love the poem – and love the story of your tulips and daffodils! If I’d read this yesterday, I would also have sobbed at the thoughtfulness of your mum (I was having that kind of a day, where everything made me cry) but today, I’m rejoicing in their “crayon-like hues” – “bashful pink” and “bumblebee yellow” (beautiful!) and their/your defiant colour-lovingness. The banner of my website is a bunch of tulips and pot of hyacinths in front of my kitchen window. If you go to my Welcome page, you’ll see them and the jug I wrote about yesterday. Maybe you could photograph your flowers and use Paint or Gimp to superimpose the lines from “Yesterday…” to “….desk.” then print it and frame it for your mum for Mother’s Day. I’d love to know my daughter had shared me with the world in such a caring light! Hope you’ll visit again!

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