Being more mindful, and appreciative, of life’s little pleasures and surprises is at the heart of haiku writing. Slowing down, paying attention, and observing our surroundings with all of our senses “turned on” opens up our possibilities to experience what haiku writers call the “Ah-ha!” or “Oh!” moments that inspire haiku.
“Haikuists” say open your “haiku eyes” (*) when they want you to stop and smell the roses.
While not originally a practice of Zen Buddhism, many practitioners of this spiritual movement use haiku writing as one way to exist more in the present moment. A centuries-old art form from Japan, haiku evolved over time from what you might almost consider a party game–developing from a practice somewhat akin to how we play a game such as “charades” today. Writing haiku was initially a group pastime among friends at social gatherings!
As I learn more about haiku, I’ll share what I learn here (and duly note my sources, so you can read further if you wish). We’ll want to explore outside of our 17-syllable boxes, eventually. Many English-language “haikuists” write much shorter poems, with fewer than 17 syllables. While our grade-school teachers challenged us to write something meaningful, poignant or even humorous in 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5, then 7, then 5 syllables, modern poets have interpreted the haiku form in many other ways.
Since the American Imagist poet Ezra Pound published the first English-language haiku a century ago (as opposed to traditional Japanese haiku presented in English translation), Anglophone poets have struggled to define haiku in English. Japanese and English are structured so differently, that quite a bit really is “lost in translation.”
A recent anthology, marking one century since Pound published his first haiku in 1913, illuminates the evolution of our thinking on English-language haiku (“ELH”); see Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, edited by Jim Kacian, et al. with an Introduction by Billy Collins; W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.
In homage to Pound, who started it all, we begin our haiku journey through Paris with his “In a Station of the Metro:”
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.”
(*) With a nod of thanks to Patricia Donegan and her book Haiku: Asian Arts & Crafts for Creative Kids (Tuttle Publishing, 2003).