Sunday, April 03, 2011

Toward True Haiku - Part I

music plays
the night rips away
nine thirty nine

On my lap right now is not a dog or a cat (which I sometimes think I'd benefit from and also be kind to if I had one) but a book. I cherish this masterpiece: Basho - The Complete Haiku, translated with an introduction, biography & notes by Jane Reichhold. I fear that my haiku are pseudo-haiku. Basho and Reichhold know and write the real thing. I am in awe of Jane, a living expert and master of haiku. First off, Reichhold points out regularly (she says it gets her hot under the collar) that it's a misconception that the main rule of haiku is that they must be 3 lines of first 5 syllables, then 7, then 5. She likes to give the example of "Tokyo," which in Japanese has 4 sounds, but in English only 3. When people translate American haiku that are 5-7-5 into Japanese they have a hard time because the translation ends up being laborious. I was surprised when I learned that today's American haiku masters consider - syllable wise - a haiku to be a poem that has 17 syllables or less (generally less) with the the middle line (usually) being longest. I'm a bit embarrassed that I've written a book that (most of the time) stands behind on the rule we all learned as third graders. Sometimes people will "catch" me if a haiku of mine doesn't match the 5-7-5 exactly. But I have a lot to learn, as we all do about true haiku. I speak more about this in my book's intro. I know of four books of joke-ey haiku (or haikus, as some of these books mistakenly refer to them). And while these books are not without their charm for me (probably they hold little charm for Jane) I didn't want my book to be joke-ey. I also didn't want it to be a work that a non poet/regular person (some of my best friends and family) would have a hard time getting into. I fear that I'm rambling and promised myself that I'd turn to other things by a deadline that's now 3 minutes away. I think this will have to be a part one of several posts about Basho, and Jane, and Haiku, and me. Please visit Jane's site - aha poetry. If you wish to be educated virtually by Jane go see her workshop on haiku writing (which starts with the major misconceptions about haiku) here. I will close with a few of Jane Reichhold's adaptations of Basho's haiku. And, at this moment another poet named Jane is coming to mind. And as I cut myself off from writing (I feel like I could sit and write forever) I will leave you with the touching words of that other master poet and heroine of mine named Jane. It is longer than a haiku, but very much in the spirit of haiku.

Five Haiku By Basho,
translated by Jane Reichhold

autumn night
dashed to bits
in conversation

the sun covered
by clouds for a while
migrating birds

today indeed
people grow older
first wintry shower

appearing easily
it now seems to hesitate
a cloudy moon

the oak tree
pays no attention to flowers
a pose



I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
-- Jane Kenyon


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