Moreover, composing a daily haiku is not only a way to quickly capture classroom, campus, and extracurricular moments and moods, but also a mindful method of “microjournaling,” as well as an evocative exercise in stylistic subtlety. As Harold G. Henderson’s An Introduction to Haiku (1958) observes, “[G]ood haiku are full of overtones. The elusiveness that is one of their chief charms comes, not from haziness, but from the fact that so much suggestion is put into so few words.”
Nor should such writing require lawyerly redlining or other formalities. Clark Strand’s Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey (1997) insists that “[C]omposing a haiku by revision is unlikely to result in the kind of clarity, the feeling of reality that is the unique hallmark of haiku and the true source of its meaning.”
Simply staying alert for the topic of the day’s poem is a training of its own. Strand’s chapter, “Taking a Haiku Walk,” discusses how he found poetic inspiration when he “worked on Wall Street as a proofreader for a corporate law firm”; elsewhere in the book, he recommends maintaining a “haiku diary” (“a moderately messy notebook. . . neither cumbersome nor tiny,” in which one “can feel free to scribble notes and random moments of the day”).
Similarly, Beth Howard, who originally adopted the daily-haiku practice for a year, and then just kept going, is quoted in her teacher Natalie Goldberg’s Three Simple Lines (2021) as advising, in part, “Small memo pads are all you need, nothing fancy. . . . Put down every line that comes. . . . You don’t have to finish the haiku in the moment, but you don’t want to lose it.”
The HSA’s accompanying Discussion Notes elaborate that
“Most haiku in English consist of three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables, with the middle line longest. . . . In Japanese a typical haiku has seventeen ‘sounds’ (on) arranged five, seven, and five [and] include a “season word” (kigo), a word or phrase that helps identify the season of the experience recorded in the poem, and a “cutting word” (kireji), a sort of spoken punctuation that marks a pause or gives emphasis to one part of the poem. . . . The most common technique is juxtaposing two images or ideas (Japanese rensô). Punctuation, space, a line-break, or a grammatical break may substitute for a cutting word. Most haiku have no titles, and metaphors and similes are commonly avoided.”
According to Lee Gurga’s Haiku: A Poet’s Guide (2003):
“The primary poetic technique of the haiku is the placing of two or three images side by side without interpretation. At least one of the images, or part of it, comes from the natural world. The second image relates to the first, sometimes closely, sometimes more ambiguously. . . . Traditional Japanese haiku aesthetics recognize several kind of interactions between the images, including echo, contrast, and expansion.”
Gurga’s chapter, “The Craft of Haiku” reviews general techniques; and a subsequent chapter on “Writing and Revising Haiku” provides twenty-six specific guidelines (rather than rules).
Traditional haiku rely on rustic imagery, and often illustrate the evanescence and transitions of natural phenomena. Modern authors might choose to highlight such themes as gratitude, resilience, and perseverance.
To dismiss as foolishness such a promising practice, which involves such a small investment of money, time, and energy, might well be, in the language of literary commentators, a pathetic fallacy.
Following are selections from Robert Hass (ed. & trans.), The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson & Issa (1994):
has settled on a bare branch—
The old pond—
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
the cicada’s cry
drills into the rocks.
Blow of an ax,
the winter woods.
Cover my head
or my feet?
the winter quilt.
In the summer rain
Calligraphy of geese
against the sky—
the moon seals it.
Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
Climb Mount Fuji,
but slowly, slowly.
walks along there
as if it were tilling the field.
Children imitating cormorants
are even more wonderful
Other notable collections of haiku include:
● Robert Aitken, The River of Heaven: The Haiku of Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki (2011). This posthumously-published work provides a Zen master’s translations of and commentary on selected poems. Roshi Aitken also wrote A Zen Wave: Basho’s Haiku and Zen (1978).
● Issa’s Best: A Translator’s Selection of Master Haiku (trans. David G. Lanoue) (2012), is a “guided tour through the work of Issa, gathering together in one text 1,210 of what I consider to be the master poet’s most effective and evocative verses,” categorized by season (New Year; Spring; Summer; Autumn; Winter; and, Non-Seasonal).
12,440 of Issa’s haiku are available on the author’s website (click on its “search” buttom without specifying a keyword).
● Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson (trans. M.S. Merwin & Takako Lento) (2013). Categorized by season.
● Basho: The Complete Haiku (trans. Jane Reichhold) (2008, 2013).
The introduction notes that “Becoming familiar with Basho’s single poems, reproduced here in the approximate chronological order in which he wrote them, gives the reader a marvelous overview of the process through which Basho changed as a poet and how he changed the poetry of Japan—and of the rest of the world. The accompanying notes provide a true sense of the times and culture in which the poems were written.”
One of the appendices identifies thirty-three “Haiku Techniques” such as association, comparison, and contrast, and illustrates each with an example from Basho’s haiku.