Skin Of A River Birch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
This post was created for a very specific purpose: writing a haiku a day. Some of our readers have expressed an interest in haiku. And some have left haiku in our comments on various posts. I wanted to create a space for our readers to come back to, anytime they wanted, and drop in a daily haiku.
Last year for the 4 season Writing Intensive in Taos, we read Clark Strand’s, Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey. It is a book I go back to often to support the practice of writing.
Clark Strand is a former Zen Buddhist monk. In 1996 he left his position as senior editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review to write and teach full time. In Seeds from a Birch Tree, he describes haiku as the following:
A haiku is a seventeen-syllable poem about the season. Arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, and balanced on a pause, a haiku presents one event from life happening now. However much we may say about haiku, its history or its various schools, it is difficult to go beyond these three simple rules: form, season, and present mind.
loving its whiteness
I walk around the birch tree
to the other side
When we did our post a few days ago on the release of Natalie Goldberg’s new book, Old Friend from Far Away, one of our regular readers, breathepeace, made several comments on haiku as a practice:
Natalie introduced me to haiku poetry. This year, I am committed to write one each day (or more if I choose).
Haiku is a precise way of working with words and I have found that it does lead me to other writing: poems, essays, etc. I’ve also learned that it helps me to focus on detail, finding just the right word (with the right number of syllables!) and, yes, it is a bite-sized writing practice. I’m happy to hear others exploring and playing with the haiku form.
According to Clark Strand, all you need to write haiku is some familiarity with the form and a simple notebook:
The correct way to use a haiku diary is just to be very free and open. Don’t set a single format. Don’t organize the book five haiku to a page or limit it to poems and dates, excluding prose. You may even find that you jot down an occasional phone number or appointment in its pages when no other book is handy, or — if you are an artist — a sketch of some interesting scene.
Write down your haiku just as they come to mind, without too much deliberation over whether they are good or bad. Improvement takes place slowly, so set them down the way they come and stay alert for the next opportunity to write.
In the summer of 2006, Natalie took us on a field trip to some of her favorite places at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. We wrote, swam, and took a haiku walk up Box Canyon. For me, Ghost Ranch was one of the most inspiring trips of the year. Natalie had us follow Clark Strand’s outline for walking and writing haiku:
In the simplest form, writing haiku is closer to collecting shells than searching for the proper word. When you go to the shore to collect shells, you just walk along in a relaxed way, now and then stooping down to look at something interesting or beautiful. Sometimes you pick up a fragment for its shape or color, and sometimes a fully formed shell. If you take a daily haiku walk in this same spirit, soon you will find that haiku come all by themselves.
Loosely, Strand’s haiku walk goes something like this:
make sure your purpose is only to walk, to be outside in nature
you’re not trying to get somewhere, or even to write haiku
relax into the feeling of being outdoors
notice weather, plants, animals, but keep walking
let your body loosen and relax
let nature displace the ordinary day to day concerns
take time to pause over things that strike you as beautiful
pauses create space in your life for something to enter
end (beginner’s mind)
- let that something come in
- take your notebook out of your pocket and carry it in your hand
- the space you created in your life a few minutes ago now becomes the space to write a poem
Last year, I walked a local labyrinth in St. Paul to write haiku. But it can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood. Or walking around the block. After a while you won’t need to structure your walks anymore. You’ll know the right moment to write.
haiku - looking out, looking in
Haiku as a poetry form provides a way to be present to the outside, in order to go deeper within. Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, is known for his haiku. In the year before he died, he wrote the following verse:
in a gap between the stones
of a stonecutter’s yard
Near the end of Seeds from a Birch Tree, Strand speaks of Basho’s greatest work, The Narrow Road to the Deep North:
Haiku, in many ways the most outward, most concrete, and most perpetually grounded form of poetry, is also the most inward. It requires a lot of inner work.
Basho titled his greatest work Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North). Basho traveled a long way north on a journey with his student and fellow poet Sora and kept a diary of his travels. The diary contains some of his most famous haiku.
The way north is the way within. This kind of understanding comes when we realize that in looking out, we are also looking in. We learn it by looking carefully at the world.
Basho said: There is one thing which flows through all great art, and that is a mind to follow nature, and return to nature.
Feel free to drop a haiku into the comments in this post, any time, day or night. Tomorrow, or 52 days from now. It doesn’t matter.
Write a haiku a day for a month. If you wish, break structure and form. Be playful with your writing. With practice, you’ll find your way home.
-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
-one writer’s review of Seeds from a Birch Tree, Hyperion, 1997 (including more haiku from the book): Tony Lipka on Clark Strand’s Haiku of Mindfulness
-short bio of Clark Strand: World Wisdom