haiku


Today I discovered senryū, thanks to Ellen Grace Olinger (a blogging poet I’ve followed for a few years) and, through her, Charlotte Digregorio. (Of course whether those Japanese characters in my title line are correct I do not know).

Haiku

Recently I wrote a post about my dissatisfaction with my attempts at haiku, and sadly most of the attempts of others other than Japanese poets (who I have no way to judge). Now it is clear to me that many that I have read, even most, are closer to sanryū than haiku and one reason, at least, for my dissatisfaction.

Haibun and ‘senbun’

It also explains in part why I am having difficulty keeping my daily diary for my current travels as haibun, which require at least a closing haiku. It seems to me that it will be easier, and more appropriate, to sometimes close with senryū rather than haiku, but the result will not then be haibun. Maybe I can call them senbun.

Senryū

A screenshot of the haiku and senryū page on the Shadow Poetry siteThe ‘English’ senryū, follows the syllable count of a haiku – 5,7,5 (the only form which interests me) – but is “usually written in the present tense and only references to some aspect of human nature or emotions. They possess no references to the natural world and thus stand out from nature/seasonal haiku” (Shadow Poetry). What seems to me a good start to understanding haiku is also on Shadow Poetry.

This also makes clear why 17 syllables in English is not equivalent to 17 Japanese kana (the Japanese writing system) characters (Japanese syllables), though I prefer to follow this ‘rule’ when attempting haiku. One of the characteristics of haiku which draws me to them is the discipline involved in writing them, and part of this discipline for a Japanese poet is following the rule of 5,7,5 kama characters. Throwing this discipline aside because kama characters are not equivalent to English syllables seems to me a lame excuse. The result may be great short poems but to me they have lost some of the appeal of haiku.

With all this in mind I may succeed better in turning my rough diary notes into acceptable haibun or ‘senbun’. I’ve only succeeded with July 29th and 31st (under menu heading ‘Dusty2RomaniaII’) so far though the consequences of the appalling weather since we left Holland have had a large part to play too.

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俳文

First haibun written in the open notebook, with Japanese characters for ‘haibun’ on facing page

This is my first attempt at haibun.

Discovering an old ‘diary’ of my first two months in Romania, in 1993, bringing to mind events and emotions I had entirely forgotten, and reawakening those I had not, I had the urge to record my forthcoming visit to Romania in some form of diary. But Romania, particularly the northern area known as the Bucovina, has had such a life-changing effect on me a normal ‘travelogue’ seemed entirely inadequate.

Haiku and haibun

My love of haiku is well documented on this blog, I even endeavour not only to write them but to experiment with them, so haibun – a mixture of sparse prose with haiku – seemed the ideal form in which to attempt a ‘diary’ of my latest visit.

Though this is my first venture into the ancient Japanese world of haibun, albeit necessarily in a westernised form, I cannot resist experimenting. So, just as my haiku sometimes became what I called ‘picture haiku’, some of my haibun may become ‘picture haibun’.

#0 because the journey has not yet begun. A trial run if you will. My aim (I won’t say ‘hope’, a word I’ve eliminated from my vocabulary) is that they get better as I journey through the forty seven days.

Haiku (translation):
an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water
Matsuo Basho, 1686

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know I like to write ‘short’ and have sometimes written so-called ‘English haiku’ following the format: three lines of 5,7,5 syllables or, more correctly, sounds. In fact recently I collected together my scribblings in this format and put them under a menu heading of ‘Haiku’

However, recently I have come to the conclusion, after reading hundreds of them from other writers/bloggers, that although they are often beautiful, sometimes moving, short poems, haiku they are not – for me. The same applies to tanka, which add another two ‘lines’ of seven syllables to a haiku (or rather, the haiku resulted from removing the last two ‘lines’ of tanka).

I have to assume that Japanese haiku are just that but as I don’t read Japanese I cannot make any judgement. I read translations of them but I’m certain they lose something. I know Romanian poetry, which I can read in the original, certainly does. I sometimes wonder whether I, as a native English speaker who speaks Romanian pretty well, could do better.

Few of the English ones I’ve read come close to a true haiku, in my opinion, but I haven’t read even one that I now consider to be a haiku – there’s an indefinable ‘something’ missing: Japanese culture perhaps? I certainly haven’t written one.

I find my little 5,7,5 poems easy to write when the moment grabs me, the same with poems that rhyme – haiku do not of course (most people I know say that it’s the rhyming they find difficult). I think I’ve become better over time with my ‘haiku’ attempts but I’m still a long way from being satisfied.

Despite these doubts, I will not stop writing them as I enjoy the discipline of writing to the 5,7,5 format and trying to get closer to a haiku; I think I’ve said before I always enjoyed writing headlines as a journalist and there are similarities. Also, the tanka, and so haiku, goes back 11 centuries and there is something satisfying for me to try to create something with this long a history. In the past one of these short poetic forms was often sent to a friend or family member who added to it and sent it back. It might go back and forth like this for years.

Capturing the ‘decisive moment’

Silhouettes of couple kissing and figure of person with umbrella jumping, with Eiffel Tower in the backgrounc

‘A decisive moment’ captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson

An essential characteristic of a true haiku is that it captures a brief moment of time, and as a keen photographer I cannot help but compare that with the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Substitute ‘haiku’ for ‘photography’ and ‘words’ for ‘forms’ and you have, I believe, the essence of a haiku.

So, here’s a challenge: add two seven syllable lines to the following attempt at an ‘English haiku’ I’ve just written, to make a ‘tanka’, and put it in comments. I’ll attempt to respond to each one with another ‘haiku’.

bluetit … food in beak

pauses outside hole in wall

cat waits patiently

My haiku which have been posted on this blog over the past five years or more have been collected together, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. They will be put on a page under the ‘haiku’ tab; until now that has had all the posts put in the ‘haiku’ category, which may not all have contained one, just ‘talked’ about them. It will hopefully make more sense. I’ll also put tanka there, few.

Five pictures of grumpytyke stages

Seven pictures of grumpytyke stagesFive pictures of grumpytyke stages

The first haiku below is not mine; it is probably my favourite, the one which first prompted me to try my hand at writing them. It was on a blog called ‘five reflections’; as far as I know it no longer exists. All I can do now is thank the author for many hours of pleasure he began, both reading others and attempting my own.
The pictures are a bit of fun with the 5-7-5 sequence which I posted soon after seeing that first haiku.
Each haiku has under it the title of the post and the date it appeared on my blog. The title is a link which will take you to the post. Very rarely do I post just a haiku; usually there’s some background. Some might not make much sense without it (eg ‘picture haiku), which probably means they are not very good haiku.
If you feel like wandering through them sometime I’d love to know which you like most (if you like any!) and why.


from the old locked box
photographs you left behind
my eyes become yours

Haiku – my eyes become yours
June 23, 2012

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from one year to three
from Shipley to Banbury
skiffle liberates

Picture haiku
June 23, 2012

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how does someone blind
who cannot see the sky’s blue
create this art work?

Inspiration from blogs and blindness – creativity in food, photography, haiku and writing

July 5, 2012

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take inspiration.
visit the God particle
on a pedal bike

The God particle and inspiration for a would-be creative writer
July 7, 2012

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celestial ships
from another universe
fantasy Yorkshire sky

Sky picture haiku
July 8, 2012

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my long fallen friend
hacked down from your majesty
rest awhile with me

Trees – picture haiku
July 9, 2012

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one destination
straight … curious meander
we wonder … and wait

Picture haiku – life
July 12, 2012

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imagine … differ
climb out of the commonplace
halt … think free … proceed

Haiku – three word prompt – no picture
July 15, 2012

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soul guide … hand taken
serene work on graceful curves
symbol stories writ

Picture haiku – an egg from Bucovina
July 20, 2012

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Earth to earth … to dust
twist … scream … turn … yet now return
games in the graveyard

grass is greener where?
bare footed … treading careless

leaving litter here

A pair felt in a graveyard
July 29, 2012

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biscuits cut from sky
baking in the summer sun
heaven gives …  look up

Picture haiku – sky biscuits in Iasi, Romania
August 3, 2012

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chirruping crickets
all else mute they look to dawn
winter waits … restore

Haiku – no picture this time

August 9, 2012

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a deep thought minute
click to click is time enough
the wind raged … sea calmed

Picture haiku: time cures all
November 29, 2012

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madness frozen out
bones interred together … warmed
peace … buds in waiting

Picture haiku – Daily Prompt: Through the Window
January 29, 2013

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witches tread with care
beware our bouquet … spiky
healthy human food

Picture haiku – Washburn valley, Olympus OM4
June 5, 2013

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green satiated
winter songsters’ sanguine store
shiver prophesy

Picture haiku: rowan
October 20, 2013

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This post does not include a haiku but charts my journey since I began to try to write them

Haiku – a journey through seventeen syllables
October 28, 2013

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white snow dying … grey
children’s faces sad … silent
birds sing … dreams of spring

haiku: snow
January 22, 2015

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office rules to rest
laid among timed paper clips
writing in my head

haiku – writer’s retirement
February 6, 2015

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time travel … from chat
to chat in another time
anaesthesia

anaesthesia – haiku. Hernia repair
May 30, 2015

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leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted … yet to fall

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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distant memory
fighting to recall your face
dementia kills me

sublime poetry
in lyrics of a sad song
speaking to my soul

appegios sooth
minor chords provoke … sometimes
love flows in … and out

The thrill of seeing your writing in print
June 20, 2017

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autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries

A special day doing nothing special. A haiku
October 6, 2017

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tanka

snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair

Performing again! A tanka and a short story
November 19, 2016

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river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

A trip to the English Lakes
April 21, 2017

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i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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