~  poetics - a personal statement  ~

Part I -- Haiku

If you want it in a nutshell: I believe a haiku can be written in one line, without a deliberate seasonal reference!

ladies auxiliary meeting tea in thick glass cups

For those of you who are making this a rest stop, and care to listen to my pontificating, read on.

While a number of Australian haiku writers would like to see a distinctively 'Australian Haiku' develop, I am more cautious. I prefer to call myself an English Language Haiku writer. In embracing the Japanese Haiku artform each country will eventually internalise the poem's cultural origins and make the 'spirit of the haiku' its own. I don't believe any literary form, which has a highly creative level, should be reduced to doggerel -- particularly 'ocker' doggerel in 5-7-5 syllables.

I have never believed that the form of haiku in the English language should be dictated by a rigid syllabic count. What most writers call 'the spirit of haiku' is more important than its physical form on the page. Believing this, the treatment of a subject is then more important than the subject itself. This means, therefore, that war, death, crime, even sex can be written about.

Now having mentioned treatment I would like to explain my basic treatment of a haiku experience. The haiku moment is some happening which is keenly felt by the writer. The two components which make up the haiku, when experienced together, are what makes the moment memorable; which when brought together make the writer look twice; or notice something which usually ordinary, now appears extraordinary.

This unusual combination of environment and action is quite often why a haiku has two images in juxtaposition. I don't believe this is the strongest way to structure a haiku, but it can reduce the need for simile, metaphor, or personification, which is rarely used in haiku. Such poetic devices can become overpowering and melodramatic in a poem as short as the haiku. The reader is led astray, away from the true experience.

The first of the two components can be the natural environment, or the situation at the time. The second component is what the writer perceives is happening. The natural environment or situation is usually placed in one of the two short phrases or lines. What is then happening is usually written in one long and one short phrase, which usually reads on.

window closed
the sea's sound
rolls back

By now you, who have stopped to visit my site, will probably say: 'Yes, well, we all pretty much agree as to what a haiku should be.' But what makes some haiku better than others? Haiku come through the senses and many of mine are visual. Does one need a special view of life to create? One at least needs to be sensitive and perceptive to the smaller things, or the 'particular' which others often don't see. It pays to be alert to all facets of life. This is not only a cultivated attitude for 'finding' haiku , but a genuine natural bent which I have always had.

It may sound cliched, but haiku has become a way of life for me. After thirty years of reading, studying, and writing, I experience most of life through moments of haiku/senryu. As I experience these moments I hear the haiku words in my head.

I have found it interesting to follow the discussion on seasonal words in haiku. I have often written poems without seasonal words which I believe to be haiku. Although, I hadn't put it into words, I now recognise that I've always known that there were wider, universal awarenesses and references which make more sense and encompass every country and every human condition, than regional seasonal words might. It will be interesting to see where this idea leads in the future.

I rarely use punctuation. There is still a hangover from a bygone era when every line of a poem had to begin with a capital letter and full punctuation was necessary. In longer poems this may work, but because the haiku is so short, I don't believe it needs this treatment. Simply use lower case, and if there is a pause of any length, the dash is usually sufficient. To have two completed sentences, with capital letters, and full stops in such a short poem often reduces the 'poem' to two short prose sentences.

The haiku is a moment in time, and I think by leaving it with no marked beginning, or ending, gives it this suspension in time. I also believe that as haiku have recognisable components within them, they can be read without adding specific instructions through punctuation. Some say this raises the reading of haiku to elitist level. I don't agree with that! I only have an average level of education. After reading a few hundred haiku, I got the hang of it!

midnight storm intermittently the white horizon

There has also been discussion recently about haiku-like senryu and senryu-like haiku. Do we need to separate them? Is there a separate poem? If so, should it be mentioned in the same breath as haiku?

I always understood that a haiku was a perception, or an experience in which the human felt integrated into the natural environment. Or perhaps I was aware of human frailties because of the wider environment. This link is what makes many haiku work so well. After so many years of development in English we should by now know this link is important to haiku.

The way I judge the two poems is that haiku touches me deeply. Once more I must say that it is the treatment of the subject. And, once more, haiku should be able to record all of life's experiences. For example:

stationary bus
talking we visit places
within each other

This poem doesn't have a seasonal reference. It may be argued that it could have a link to 'travel' which could be a reference to 'summer vacation'. But many people need to also travel in winter. This poem has been called senryu.

I consider it to be haiku. The situation or environment has become encapsulated within a vehicle. There are predominantly human concerns. But what is said here goes deep, touches us keenly. We feel it as something which will be remembered for a long time, and may be returned to and re-read time after time. This is the way in which haiku should work.

Senryu produces a totally different reaction in the reader. We laugh spontaneously at the first reading. What is said should be funny, clever, witty, using puns and double meanings. But the effect on the reader is often shallow and soon dismissed or forgotten.

Quite often the human concern which is funny is one which normally would embarrass us. We don't want to dwell on our human weaknesses and foibles. If it happened to us we probably wouldn't tell anyone, anyway! Like toilet humour, it doesn't make us laugh when we are alone. It is usually a shared human weakness! This then is my criteria for judging whether a poem is haiku or senryu.

pottery class her lopsided mugs on everyone's lips

Similar to the limerick, senryu may often be recited on suitable occasions, but on a more superficial level than haiku ever would be.

End of Part I

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Part II -- Beyond Haiku

Because most writers these days, who are interested in haiku, also write some of the related forms, I also want to speak about some of the ones which I write. About the only common knowledge that we appear to have about tanka is that it can be more 'poetic' than haiku. Throughout the time of its long history as a literary form in Japan, the tanka has gone through a number of changes in fashion.

The haiku is written in the Japanese language in 5-7-5 sound symbols. The tanka is written in a sound symbol pattern of 5-7-5 7-7. Many literary forms in the Japanese language appear to have 5-7 sound symbol patterns. In the tanka there can be a slight subject change brought about by a pivot in the last section. The tanka also spent time as a popular verse with the symbol sound pattern reversed.

My belief is that a tanka works well if the first three parts are about nature, similar to a haiku poem, and the last two parts can add some human concern or emotion to the poem. This seems to me to be the ideal. As with any art form some variations occur. Often it is the variation which raises the ordinary to a higher level of creativity. An example of a tanka might be:

as a mouse seen
from the corner of the eye
in autumn -- you too
need to winter for another
season in this old house

Just as I believe we cannot be expected to write haiku in 5-7-5 English language syllables, neither can we be expected to rigidly conform to 5-7-5 7-7 English language syllables when writing tanka. I realise that there must be some 'form' for both haiku and tanka, otherwise one would only be writing three or five lines of free verse. My tanka approximates the form by being written as closely as possible in lines of short/long/short long/long.

With Tanka too, I believe the treatment of the subject of the poem will guide you as to whether it is a tanka, or merely a free verse poem. Just as there is a 'spirit of haiku' there is a 'poetic sense' of tanka. This seems natural as the haiku and tanka poems have shared roots.

The first linked verses were 'tan renga' or tanka. One person wrote the first section of the poem and then sent it to another person, who was expected to write the 'answering verse', or the last section. This form of literary socialising became so popular that eventually the tan renga was sent to more and more people and more verses were added in chains of three and two, alternatively. This linked verse became the 'haikai-no-renga'. The first verse, the hokku, later became separate from the body of the linked verse, and became what we know today as the haiku. In my mind there will always be a close connection between all of these related forms. The creative wellspring from which one springs is the same for all.

When I first learnt of haiku and became almost totally engrossed and influenced by it I noticed that the way in which I wrote free verse changed. Almost all of my poems began to lead up to a haiku as the final verse of the poem. For example:

First rain

drops widen
the surface
of the pond


against my

breath taken up
with sudden flight
from the reeds

I called it 'detail preceding haiku'. Later, I learnt that there was another Japanese literary form called the 'haibun'. I found I could easily slip into writing prose and haiku. Today, I would say that many writers are also doing what I did in the beginning. Perhaps they aren't writing in free verse, but they are simply writing detail preceding haiku -- and not true haibun. I understand that haibun can be any length from a few words, to book length. But it is the style of the prose which gives the form its character.

It is the 'treatment' of the prose which makes it distinctive and creates a piece which is always recognised as haibun. As the haiku is succinct and clipped in style, so is the prose of haibun. It may not have complete sentences as we consider them to be in English. It can be almost cursory and terse in style. The haibun is not a short story, neither is it a journalistic article. The haibun is unique.

It all began as a diary kept on a journey. There are a number of different types of haibun. There is the diary kept by a traveller; the diary of a non-traveller; the diary kept while on a religious pilgrimage; and the Imperial Haibun.

The haibun is always a journey of some kind. It may be a physical journey over geographic terrain; a journey through time; a journey of experience; or emotional development. Once more I would say that this variety of experience includes all of the human experiences.

As some of you might know my husband had a stroke a little while back. No subject is taboo as far as I'm concerned.


The hospital doors aren't automatic. I push. Feel heaviness in the abdomen. Long corridors allow composure. Reaching the common room familiar figures huddle. Bad enough . . . but better than the day of his stroke. The valium holds. Smile. Reach out. Look into his face . . .

puffs of mist
above distant mountains --
a bad shave day

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