Haiku Adjacent

Did I ever actually know the rules?

I have two favorite poems. The first is The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost. I like to think that this poem is how I live my life. I like to zig while others are zagging. Travel is my reason for being. I’d much rather go somewhere that I’ve never been than go back again and again to the same old stomping grounds. And that has, indeed, made all the difference. I have crafted a very unusual life for myself. It hasn’t always been pretty or successful, but by God, it was unique. I’m very proud of that.

My second favorite poem is Ozymandias, by Percy Shelley. It reminds me to tone down that pride a bit, and at least try to be humble. For me, the great takeaway of this poem is that you may think that things in your life are a big deal, but in fact, they only loom large for you. Eventually, over time, all the silly things we urgently build and accumulate, all the power we think we posess, all the b******* we spout, will crumble to dust and disappear. So live in the moment, Dear Reader! In the end, that’s all we really have. Everything else is a comedy of arrogance and impermanence.

The two poems mentioned above are not haiku, but, contrarian that I am, I’ve always said that haiku is my favorite style of poetry. I like how its restrictions force you to hone your concept to its sharpest edge. In their most common form, they consist of three lines, the first and last of which are 5 syllables, the middle is 7 syllables. There’s no room for flowery babbling. No space for tangents. Digression is not tolerated. Just the facts, ma’am. And despite all the stripping away that you are forced to do to get to this inner core, you often see that the core is a thing of perfection, and it needs nothing else. Haiku are pure. They are thought distilled. Those who chafe at wearing a mask during this pandemic would do well to realize that restrictions can sometimes bring out the best in you.

As a teenager, I used to write haiku all the time, even while bouncing down the road in the school bus as adolescent chaos roiled around me. I had a stack of notebooks full of haiku. I’m too far removed from the 16-year-old me to know if these poems were any good, and I couldn’t tell you the subject matter, either, because somewhere along the way, I fear those notebooks were lost. I have moved so many times that, as with haiku, I have had to pare down my possessions to the essentials.

I wish I had those notebooks. It would be nice to reconnect with the person that I was back then. It would be wonderful to look at these things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. But Ozymandias reminds me that all things are transient.

W.B. Yeats tells us that as well. He says “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” in his poem entitled The Second Coming. That’s another doozy of a poem, but it’s not one of my favorites, because it tends to make me feel anxious. It was written by him right after World War I, and the postwar despair permeates the piece. I do not need Yeats to help me with that. I can be anxious and despairing all on my own.

Haiku, on the other hand, make me feel calm. They are often about nature and quiet and they make you think deeply about the smallest of things.

Here are a few of the 21 best Haiku of 2021 according to the Society of Classical Poets:

Wisteria bloom
Along a sidewalk café
Coffee in the air

—Ravi Kivan
watermelon patch
I let the weathered scarecrow
try on my straw hat

—Darrell Lindsey
Curious concert—
crickets croon to a cornfield
of indifferent ears

—Martin Elster
taste of morning tea
the delicate ray of sun
through an icicle

—Daniela Misso

While refreshing my memory for this post, I learned from Wikipedia that there were even more restrictions than the 5,7,5 rule. I had forgotten these things. Or did I ever actually know them? Mine was a Florida public school education, after all. (If you think they are leaving out a lot in the curriculum nowadays, try going to school in a Florida backwater, back in the early 1980’s)

For instance, traditional haiku focus on nature or the seasons. I’m sure I intuited that much. That probably explains their peaceful nature. But I’m fairly certain that many of my haiku went off the reservation in that respect. I also didn’t avoid metaphor and similes, and I don’t see myself ever being comfortable leaving out punctuation.

Oh, to have those notebooks!

Well, even if my haiku were really not haiku, they were at least haiku adjacent. They were an outlet for my creativity. They allowed me to express myself. They appealed to my quiet, observational nature. They allowed me to feel, briefly, as if I were enough, at a time when that feeling often eluded me. So what if I made my own rules? I am still grateful to this poetic form on many, many levels.

I haven’t written haiku in years. I’m rusty. But I know you’re going to complain in the comments if I don’t at least hit you with a few. (And feel free to share yours in the comments section.) So here goes:

the waterway flows
never stopping to befriend
cork-like bobbing boats
bridges span rivers
man’s attempt to dominate
nature, patient, wins
above the gray clouds
I hold faith in the sunshine
if not, I’d go mad

A special thank you to Mor and Caly for inspiring this post.

The view outside my window as I thought about impermanence and wrote my haiku. Photo credit: Kevin Ross

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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