A Writer’s Notebook: Haiku

Since I mentioned Benzaiten (and suggested a possible connection with haiku) in my last patrons post, I’ve had haiku on the brain. I am not a poet — or, certainly not an accomplished one — but I have always felt comfortable with the haiku. For me, haiku represents the best of what poetry can offer: deeply spiritual yet deeply personal content, extreme compression and so extreme precision in the language, and a high attention to form without letting that form dictate the content or the expression. That isn’t to say I’m a master of haiku, not by any stretch, but it’s a form I can both read and write over and over with great pleasure, and without any of my usual fears that I’m somehow missing something.

So I decided to write some haiku this week.

This reads like a series, but that’s because I am playing with an exercise that calls for it, which I explain and link to below.

March palms
Workmen talk through open
car windows

March palms
The sun white
on the dusty asphalt

March palms
The rumble of construction
and trucks

March palms
Our neighborhood mosque gleaming
white, gold dome like a sun

March palms
Squat villa in the sand, old
white-washed door peeling

March palms
Pigeon pecking among the palm
hulls and the trash

March palms
Sky the faded blue of work clothes,
so much light

March palms
Soda-can pull tab caught in the gap
between sidewalk paving bricks

March palms
Sand swept from the street to gather
at the curb like an urban shoreline

March palms
My coffee hot, the bricks warm against my back, the minarets
bright and serene in the breezy spring sky.

March palms in blue sky,
wood door peeling in the sand —
work trucks rumble past

The exercise comes from haiku poet Timothy Russell. His exercise is actually lengthier than the one I did, extending over several days, and for the sheer practice of it, I might return to this exercise and complete it in a future post. But the short version is this: Start with a line about the month and an attribute of the day, and then go outside and write down ten random observations. Then, using the first line as the initial line of each haiku, write ten haiku using the observations (each broken into two lines). Hence, my ten haiku above.

Actually, I added an eleventh, because while English-language haiku (outside of grade school) have long ignored the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic rule for haiku, I’m a bit of a purist, and I love the new expressions that kind of attention to language can force you into. So I culled the details of the ten and tried an eleventh haiku adhering strictly to the syllable rules.

None of these is particularly good, but I see a lot of potential in some of them, so I might also return to these and post them as revised, better haiku later.

For more on haiku, check out Haiku for People (friends from back in Texas: the Haiku for People site includes an excellent haiku about Dallas in the summertime, by James Dolan). And to read a couple of beautiful Timothy Russell haiku, click here.

Want to try some of your own haiku? Feel free to share them in a comment! I love reading others’ haiku.

* I can’t write a post about haiku without thanking my dear teacher Dr. Qui-Phiet Tran, who was my first proper teacher in haiku as well as in Taoism and Buddhism.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

2 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: Haiku

    1. My pleasure, Jim! Seriously — I very much enjoyed your haiku, and I enjoyed getting to share it with others. I hope others click through to your website and find your other work. I’m looking forward to reading your fiction. 🙂

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