Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Haiku, Another of My Favorite Things

'Tis the season to celebrate, to adopt that attitude of gratitude, and remember the many good thinks in our lives. Among these things is language used wisely and well to recreate a moment of sublime beauty. Few writers do this as well as those who practice the high arts of haiku.

Good haiku writers will appeal to as many of the five senses as is practical. Their goal is to make a moment live again for the poet and reader.

Consider these exquisite samples from a beautifully illustrated book by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto, A Haiku Menagerie: Living Creatures in Poems and Prints.

In the summer mountains
On the leafy treetops
The cuckoo sings--
And echoing back from afar
Comes his distant voice
--Otomo no Yakamochi

Summer’s heat invokes the sense of touch--sweat upon one’s brow or the feel of warm skin. “Leafy treetops on mountains” introduces the sense of sight, helping us recall verdant greens and cool shade. Tucked among those leaves is the cuckoo, an invitation to our sense of hearing, to summoning birdsong that reverberates in the hills. Yakamochi creates a sensual delight in just 33 syllables. (Note: The poem is a translation for a classic Japanese five-line waka consisting of 31 syllables; translations often exceed or fall short of the prescribed syllable count.)

Here’s another:

Fleeing up the wall,
The legs of a spider

Kichõ’s haiku represents an attempt to convey immediacy--a sudden sight that, like lightning, appears and is forever gone. It is also an image comparing lightning to a spider's legs, angular and geometric. In that brief image, flashed like lightning, readers experience a jolt in understanding.

One final example:

The does
Are licking each other
This frosty morning

A frosty morning. Surely deer are in the copse beyond
Photo by Al Griffin 

Deer send up misty breath in the frosty air as they open their mouths and expose their warm tongues to the cool air; such details link to our sense of sight and texture. We summon memories of deer, of rough tongues, of coats wetted by deer saliva. The deer's action also appeals to the reader’s auditory senses for the deer surely make a noise as our cats do while bathing themselves.

How many of the senses can you include in 17 syllables? That’s your Writing Challenge.

You will certainly enjoy reading haiku by buying the book referenced for this post or by visiting “Haiku for People” online, your Reading Challenge.

Connye Griffin
My Writing and Editing Coach
Informs and Delights

(She hopes)