On a bright spring day, before the May gray and the June gloom, I strolled along the boardwalk, dodging skateboarders and runners.Old men and a few women lounged on plastic tarps under their tents next to shopping baskets filled with all their worldly possessions. Chaos and misery. I found an escape, a narrow doorway, a real hole-in-the-wall leading to a new world. A bookstore! Brick and mortar.An endangered species. Towering bookcases.Poetry leading to politics, history to mystery, photo books to cookbooks. A calico cat rolled on the floor begging for a belly rub.I lifted a book and parted the covers.My hand caressed a soft page.I remembered my youth—long warm days of reading in the backyard .I could download this book. It would be cheaper.But this species must be saved; there are far too few now.So I bought the book and went home.
English lavender in bloom
Bird! Don’t plop on my book!
I am not an expert on Japanese poetry. I don’t read or speak the language, and I have not studied the history of the genre. I could not tell you the difference between a hokku, a haikai, a renga, or a waka. I do know a bit about haiku and haibun because I have tried my hand at writing these two forms in English. I enjoy reading translations of the most famous haiku writers: Basho, Issa, and Buson.
Why do I like these forms of poetry? It is simply that I like the clean brevity of these poems. Only a master of the written word can convey an entire scene in just 17 syllables or a paragraph of prose poetry. Haibun in general, and haiku in particular, capture moments of clarity, mundane actions of ordinary people, and subtle movements of animals and plants in their natural settings. They evoke, sometimes in just single words, the physical experience of entire seasons. These forms are like a Polaroid snapshots of time and space.
Such poetry is often imbued with subtle, engaging humor or deep emotion. For example, these two haiku by Basho:
Even from unskilled brushes
They look elegant
The first day of the year:
thoughts come – and there is loneliness;
the autumn dusk is here.
Haiku and haibun are elegant, timeless, and completely human.
Here are some links if you care to learn a little more about these forms
Many people think that sunrise is the most peaceful time of day, perfect for meditation. I look for that slow and reflective time there as well, yet today all I hear are the muted beeps of a neighbor’s unattended clock radio through my wall, the relentless tinkle, tinkle, tinkle of wind chimes from across the street, the raucous arguing of a murder of crows, and the roar of jet engines from a distant tarmac. Who would’ve thought that morning could be so blasted noisy. I guess I’ll write some poetry instead.
Zephyr from the east
Slate and gold rain clouds ride it—
Parched earth opens wide.
Rains, long promised, still hold off. Sycamores and cottonwoods spill their life force like blood over cracked dry hillsides. This does not seem like a place where paradise exists. Glass towers float like castles in the air on a layer of smog, yet I still discover beauty. This is where I was brought during my Black Friday travels. This is what I found in the middle of the frenzy.
On a sun soaked day Among flaming cactus spines hummingbirds battle.
These photos were taken in the gardens of the Getty Center Campus.
Traditional Japanese haiku is written in a pattern of 5 sound units in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third. I recently learned that this pattern is discouraged when writing haiku in English since English syllables are not the same as Japanese sound units. The focus of English haiku should be to capture a physical setting and a moment in time, hopefully with some sort of “twist” or “aha” for the reader.
Haiku is a lens through which nature and seasons are observed. I live in the city, so these haiku depict this non-traditional setting.
Twilight clouds roll in
Crows roost on high wires —
A “No Parking” sign.
Waxing gibbous moon
Dog droppings on the sidewalk —
A jogger missteps.
Cold afternoon rain
Slick white Beamer blows by —
Salt from my lips!