Most people know what a haiku is, I guess. It’s a traditional Japanese style of poem in 17 syllables arranged 5-7-5. The subject matter is usually something in nature and there is generally an allusion to the season of the year. Well that’s what the textbooks say. It might be fine to write a 17 syllable poem in Japanese which is a famously concise language, but in English? I’m not so sure we could get away with it. What I think really matters is the spirit of the haiku. It’s a glimpse of something, seen as if for the first time, described with complete clarity. And we know when a haiku works and when it doesn’t.  A good one always gives us that “aha!” feeling with the third line. The writer somehow manages to communicate that sense of wonder and discovery. It represents a pause in the flow of our lives in which we really notice what is happening in the moment. The American “beat” poet Allen Ginsberg described it like this; “The real test of a haiku is that, when you hear one, it creates a little sensation of vast space that is nothing less than the taste of God.”  I love that.

Here’s one by Scottish poet Alan Jackson which says all you need to know about hitch-hiking on the A9 in October:

Nae hat

An the cauld rain fallin

Dearie me!

What about this from the greatest haiku poet of them all, Bassho:

On a bare branch

A solitary crow –

Autumn evening

Another by Gary Snyder, an American poet, and one of my favourites:

Hammering a dent out of a bucket

a woodpecker

answers from the woods

You get the idea? The world is full (literally full) of haiku moments. So this week go for a walk on your own, notebook in pocket, and write some down. Don’t worry about the quality, just write. If you write enough there will be nuggets of pure gold in your notebook before long.

Haiku awareness is what happens when we approach the world with beginners mind. The details of life become a source of wonder, even the mundane and overlooked. There are just a few guidelines to help you in this task but they are important. 1. Use three lines, each line describing a different aspect of the experience. 2. Don’t use personal pronouns – “I”, “me” “you” and so on. 3. Avoid judging or evaluating anything, just describe the sensory experience as it comes to you. 4. Try to use language that is simple and evokes the experience in as few words as possible.

Haiku awareness is a beautiful way of connecting with the world, especially the natural world. Give it a go. Pick up a notebook and just do it!

Donald MurrayComment