Why haiku?


You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been writing a haiku each week since the beginning of this blog. I wasn’t sure that I would keep it up, but it seems I like haiku, and I don’t think I’ll stop writing them anytime soon…

Haiku is an old Japanese poetry form that most of us probably learned in primary school. Although the rules are a little looser in English, the general form is: three lines, with 5-7-5 syllables respectively. Haiku were often, but not always, about nature and life+death.

The most beautiful haiku written are in the category that I like to call “soufflé art”–ie, they are made up of very little by way of ingredients and look effortless, but require both artistry and divine inspiration to be done well. In the words of Paul Hollywood, ‘there’s nowhere to hide with something so simple’. (I’m sure he said that about something, maybe even a soufflé).

I started my blog with regular haiku for a few reasons. One reason is kind of banal and practical. I wanted to write and I knew that I would have to post to a rough schedule to last longer than 96 hours in the blogging world. They are the kind of poem I can write easily. I say ‘easily’, not necessarily ‘well’. I can write them in the pockets of time my small children give me and with the energy and brain capacity I have right now. Some of them I am happy with. One or two I am proud of. Some are just filling in the regular ‘Haiku-sday’ slot. Regardless, without much pressure associated with them, haiku simply keep me in writing.

Another reason is more complicated and may actually be a hundred reasons folded into one. I began this blog during a particularly rough period. The last few years have been hard but it reached a crescendo in summer, 2016. After hearing woe upon woe, a friend said that she hoped I would see the small beautiful things in the world around me and that would keep me going. I have always been orientated to noticing these things, often to the detriment of the tasks I need to achieve (as many in my life can attest to), but as life goes through the harder seasons, I have found it is more difficult to appreciate the these things.

I have only recently realised it, but regularly writing haiku has been an outworking of my attempt to be more aware of these small things and quiet moments. It is not so much that I look around trying to look for profound moments, or even think of how I can pare down this particular moment into 19 syllables. Rather, when I notice that I am really captured in a moment, it is crystalline why and it is easy for me to write them down.

Haiku help me to remember moments that I don’t want to spoil by taking out a camera. My favourite example of this is Absorbed. I only have to think of this haiku to be taken back to the warm days down by the river with my elder son stripped down, immersed in the water with his friends. Watching him, and my wee baby rolling onto the sand beside me, I felt so free. Like, just by sitting on the riverbank, I could offer them the whole world without having to give them a thing. Now and then I think of this poem and this moment in time, and I see that there is so more to this world than I can even name, and we are all a part of it, constantly becoming it (if we choose). I don’t know what would have happened if I had pulled out a camera at the river, but I suspect that a level of self-consciousness would have arisen, and then the reason why this moment was so beautiful to me would have unravelled and the moment itself collapsed.

Now I flick back through my haiku like they were a photo album. Some of them make me cringe, but on the whole I can see a pattern of my life, how beautiful the world the world can be, and how connected every moment is to every other moment. And then the crappy ones don’t carry quite so much weight.

So that’s why-ku. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist).


2 thoughts on “Why haiku?

  1. slowgrowingblog says:

    Yes. That river. There’s only patch where I feel ok about letting him in the water. He occasionally slips but it’s shallow and he really mostly just drapes himself over boulders and logs. He is also old enough, and has always been cautious enough, not venture too far. I think a different kid (maybe his younger brother? ;^) ) may require a different safety strategy! Let’s go down together in summer and experiment! (oh, and the photo is of that river, but a different part than where we go).


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