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Coneflower, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Coneflower, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



This is the sequel to red Ravine’s haiku (one-a-day), a practice born from reading Clark Strand’s Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey during a year-long Writing Intensive with Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico. Last year we had a great response from our readers to the practice of writing a haiku or senryu each day, and wanted to continue the practice into the New Year.

The idea for the sequel post came after doing further research on the history of haiku. This year’s challenge is to co-create and build on the poems of other haiku writers, a kind of word play running through the poetic forms of tanka and renga.



haiku & senryu (part one)


Haiku uses simple, direct language, words that evoke a season, and usually incorporates a cutting or pivot word, so that one half of a haiku seems to speak to the other. According to Patterns In Poetry, haiku is closely tied to the Japanese aesthetic of Yugen and the spirituality of Buddhism. It is written in a 17-syllable form (usually three lines of 5-7-5) that looks deceptively simple. Yet if you read the work of the masters like Basho, Buson, and Issa, wandering poets who lived during Japan’s Edo-period (1600-1868), it becomes clear that the practice of haiku can take years to master.

Senryu is similar to haiku but strays from seasonal or nature themes. According to Simply Haiku, senryu focuses on people and portrays characteristics of human beings and foibles, and the psychology of the human mind. Senryu can express human misfortunes or the hardships of humanity, and even when they depict living things or inanimate objects, human attributes are emphasized.

What both haiku and senryu have in common is that they derive from a form of Japanese court poetry called tanka.


Characteristics of haiku:

  • 17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)
  • Simple, direct, non-metaphorical language
  • Captures a transitory insight or moment in time called satori or the aha moment
  • Contains a kigo, an image of nature that evokes a particular season
  • Contains a cutting or pivot word that turns the movement of the poem
  • Based on experience, speaks of the common, in the moment, just as it is

 

tanka (part two)


Tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form, was often written to explore religious or courtly themes and had a structure of five lines with a  5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. One person would contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the tanka, and a different author would complete the poem by composing a 7-7 section and adding a pivot point such as in this tanka from George Knox at Aha! Poetry:


in the check-out line
a worn face ahead of me
turns tentatively. . .
realities of desire
fade in final reckoning

-tanka by George Knox


There is an excerpt from an article, Come Pivot With Me by Jane Reichhold which explains the pivot point or bridge in this way:

The use of a pivot word is a beloved technique from tanka, still being used after 1,300 years, in that form and its much younger grandchild — haiku (only 3 centuries old).

One of the trademarks of a tanka (besides the traditional five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 onji — syllables) is a short poetic statement depicting nature (here it may seem much like something you could call a haiku) which is linked to a designated feeling or emotional attitude of the author. This latter aspect is a basic one dividing the two forms today.

By expressing emotional feelings tanka affirms a connectedness between something unseen but real — our feelings — with the observable world around us. Tanka gives the mind a picture which can, if it is successful, joins for and evokes a felt emotional state.


Characteristics of tanka

  • 31 syllables, 5 lines
  • Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku.
  • Another person picks up the first 3 lines and writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables.
  • Can reflect nature or lean toward senryu
  • Emotional, contemplative, imaginative, reflective, written to be chanted


Here’s a final example of classic tanka from the same site, translated from the Kokinshu by Donald Keene, and written by Anonymous:


Because there was a seed
A pine has grown even here
On these barren rocks:
If we really love our love
What can keep us from meeting?

-tanka by Anonymous
 


renga (part three)


Renga (linked elegance) is a form of linked poetry which evolved from tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form. In renga’s 800 year history it has gone through many ideological changes. (And it was Basho who, after 500 years, snipped off the first three lines of renga to form haiku.)

In renga, one person would often contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the poetic chain and a different author would complete the chain by composing a 7-7 section. Then another author would build on the previous 7-7, with another 5-7-5 passage. This chaining of verses or renga, could sometimes add up to hundreds of linked tanka.

The first part of the poem, called hokku or “starting verse,” frequently sets the tone for the rest of the poem, and the authors of hokku often earned the respect and admiration of their fellow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.


Characteristics of renga:

  • Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku. Hand this poem to another person.
  • Second person writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables. Then the second person hands off the completed tanka to a third person.
  • Third person writes another 3 lines of (5-7-5), beginning a new tanka
  • Continue in this way until you run out of time or feel that the poem is complete.
  • Contains a bridge or pivot point that links to the emotional element
  • Don’t try to force the storyline. When writing a response to the previous poem, focus only on the last section of the tanka, not the whole poem.
  •  Think of each stanza as a springboard from which you are going to jump. The important thing to watch is what happens between the links. 



Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



haiku practice


Feel free to drop a haiku into this space anytime, day or night. Or join the word play and collaborative effort of tanka and renga. I’m a novice at the latter two; the first time I read about tanka and renga was when I started the research on this post. I thought it might be fun to explore these ancient forms of linked poetry, and see where the journey takes us.

Also, it’s okay to experiment, break form, and move out of the traditional structures. English syllables translate differently than onji. And according to Richard MacDonald (from his essay What is Tanka?), Japanese poetry is syllabic by nature and not metrical or rhymed, because like the French language, the Japanese language lacks stress accents.

There are different schools of thought about how rigid one should be in counting syllables. From what I have read, it is a matter of personal taste whether to stay close to the Japanese model, or stray from it for personal reasons or aesthetics in order to incorporate the heritage of the West into poetic work. The most important thing is to have fun with it. Last year’s practice was so enjoyable, I can’t wait to see the new collection we have by December!


Option 1 – haiku

  • Drop in a haiku or senryu, 17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)

Option 2 – tanka

  • Grab another poet’s haiku, and write the 2 additional 7 syllable lines to create a tanka

Option 3 – renga

  • Grab a tanka created by 2 other poets, and, focusing on the last 2 lines, start the beginning of a new tanka (5-7-5) to be completed by the next poet


Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Petals, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

DEFINITIONS:


bridgeword, or words leading the reader from the nature image to the statement of emotion

cutting (kireji) Punctuation mark or word that divides a haiku into two parts. A cutting can be a hyphen, ellipses, colon or a word.

kigoA seasonal reference in haiku. Usually a kigo has accumulated resonances and associations with earlier haiku and Japanese aesthetics about time.

onji Japanese syllables. The language differences between Japanese and English are vast and complex. Converting onji to syllables may not always be a one for one process.

pivot word A word in a haiku poem that changes, or turns the direction of the poem

rengaJapanese poetic form made up of linked tanka verse; the word renga means “linked elegance”

satori A moment of insight or reflection that emerges in a Haiku poem (usually around the cutting or pivot word)

tanka Japanese poetic form that is made up of 5 lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count. Haiku derives from tanka.

yugenJapanese term for beauty that suggests mystery, depth and a tinge of sadness


RESOURCES USED IN WRITING THIS PIECE:



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, February 9th, 2009

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Naked at Birth, Aunt Olivia’s poppy in Taos before blooming,
photos of flowers © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Early in his book Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey, Clark Strand laments that we Americans have lost the vital connection to nature that haiku requires. This essential something is “the sketch from life.” Just as the landscape painter draws what he sees outdoors, the sketch from life is a way for writers to see nature as if for the first time.

In America, as we come to the end of the 20th century, it is questionable whether we ever really see nature at all. Most of us live our lives behind walls. We drive nearly everywhere we go. We work in temperature-controlled environments. When snow falls, we salt our driveways to melt it right away. Few if any of us know the names of more than twenty birds or flowers.

Did you catch the last sentence? Few if any of us know the names of more than twenty birds or flowers.

Because we have lost our connection to nature, Strand goes on to say, modern people carry a feeling of loss. We carry a unique sadness, which may account for why many of us feel that our lives have lost meaning.




                 poppy                                columbine

 




Morning glory!
Another thing
I will never know

~Basho





              wild rose                                geranium

 


 

Few if any of us know the names of more than twenty birds or flowers.

It’s a simple thing, being able to name flowers. Yet, it’s true — many of us don’t know the names of even the flowers that grow in our own yards, much less the bigger world around us.

Let me show you. Here are the flower names I know:

rose, hollyhock, lilac, delphinium, larkspur, columbine, iris, lily, geranium, pansy, petunia, zinnia, marigold, cosmos, dahlia, snapdragon, sweet william, sweet pea, morning glory, bird of paradise, daisy, sunflower, lavendar, flax, poppy, porchulaca, gladiolus, tulip, daffodil, cornflower, mum, mexican primrose, datura, statice, bachelor button, black-eyed susan, carnation, hyacinth, yarrow, lambs ear, aster, poinsettia…

Ah, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still, do you have any idea how many flower names I don’t know? Hundreds? No, thousands. Botanists estimate there are more than 240,000 flowering plants in the world!



  


Natalie Goldberg, in her book Old Friend from Far Away, offers these suggestions, among many, for writing memoir:

  • Use your senses.
  • Get concrete.
  • Stay detailed.


These recommendations are related to being connected to nature, to knowing the names of flowers and birds. Open your eyes. Carry with you on nature walks a book of flowers that grow in your part of the world, and when you come upon a blossom you don’t know, look up its name.

Summer is one of the best times to learn the names of flowers. Just the basics. Great if you can distinguish between a California poppy and an Oriental one, but isn’t it enough to know a poppy from a primrose? And how much more rich my writing if I can paint a picture of the decades-old potted geraniums, ancient and spidery, versus just talking about the potted plants my mother-in-law tends.

So do this: walk around your yard or down the road, to a place where flowers are in bloom. Which ones do you know? Look at the ones you don’t know. Consult your book to see what they’re called.

Come back and write about flowers. Use their names. Or, if you prefer, pick a flower you knew by name and write only about that one.

Walk, observe, write. For fifteen minutes. Prose or haiku.

When you’re done with this Writing Practice, keep on learning the names of those flowers. Your writing will blossom.



Cornflower Blue, wild cornflower blooming on Morada Lane,
photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



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Skin Of A River Birch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Skin Of A River Birch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



haiku (one-a-day)


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


haiku practice


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.


Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



haiku walk


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:


beginning

  • 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

middle

  • 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:


Chrysanthemums bloom
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.


Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


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

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