The Haiku Experience

This informative article by Don Baird, published poet and Martial Arts Instructor, is reposted with permission.

don-bairdShiki Masaoka derived the name haiku and its technique from haikai/hokku which were originally the opening to a renga, a kind of poetic game played by many at a gathering or social get-together. Shiki only lived until approximately 35 years old. However, in his short life he changed the direction of this little intro poem called hokku forever.

Renga is a longer poem and is based on mutual inspiration that plays off one-another. The opening three lines kind of set the stage, so to speak, in regards to location and time of year. Eventually, due to Shiki Masaoka’s efforts, these opening lines became a separate art form which today is what we call haiku.

The concept haiku is that it should be more of a “personal experience expressed” than a poem “written”. Being centered and of an open, child like mind the haijin didn’t “try” to add anything to the poem but rather receive the moment at hand, see it freshly, clearly and then translate the simplicity of the moment while keeping the layers of meaning in tact for the reader to tune in to as well……. sometimes the reader “gets it” immediately through the “sudden revelation” experience. But, usually there are layers that reveal themselves through the reader’s pondering over time as well.

One day, early on, I was talking to my wife and complaining that I hadn’t gotten an inspired haiku for awhile. I was explaining how I just wanted to see something and be “in the moment” again…. something simple yet layered with profundity.

Suddenly, while chatting, I noticed my shoes on the floor. They were sitting next to each other perfectly. Of course, I wasn’t wearing them and there were no socks sticking out from the top. I looked at my wife and said, “see there is a perfect example”. “There are two shoes…. sitting side by side…. empty…. just there on the carpet.” “I want something like that which could be very meaningful because the person that wears those two shoes could be dead, on vacation, asleep and on and on… there’s resonance.” She looked at me and said, “well, there’s the haiku you wanted”……. LOLL

It became the simplest haiku I’ve written to date yet the layers are immense.

two shoes
side by side …

(notice there is no reference to a nature or time of year so it is a more contemporary haiku than not in terms of subject)

This could also be written:

late Autumn
two shoes side by side …

This would satisfy some of the requirements for being a haiku. The kigo is Autumn.

When I went to clear out my father’s house after he had passed, his shoes were in the closet, side by side. It really hit me…….. and so does the haiku today.

Being in the moment, of open mind to see through “the fog” to clarity lies the path to profound haiku. They aren’t something we just write but rather something we experience.

Of course, we can sit and ponder old experiences…. come across new ones and even grab a haiku or two through imagination. But, how ever we come across one, they should be “experienced” emotionally, intellectually and psychologically more than simply “written” and belabored to have another poem “under the belt”.

We can labor over the structure but not the subject. Revelation is the key here…. for the haijin as well as the reader.

old monk …
a waving brush
paints the sky

reading (Kusamakura 3rd Place; published in Ambrosia)
over my shoulder
the moon

afternoon shadow
a frog jumps over

storm’s end
a cricket greets
the silence

oh snail … (Published in Simply Haiku)
you were there

My best suggestion is to read thousands of haiku of the old masters and then also ones of “contemporary” haijins. Get a feel for them rather than just study structure. Sense their rhythm and timing: ponder them for layers and let the “haiku experience as a reader as well as an author work through you rather than you working through it”.

Now, try a few yourself!

Don Baird

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