I think it's a wonderful article and I wish you all a lot of reading fun. Maybe you can used it for your own growth in haiku composing ... that's what I hope of course.
!! I have asked Jane for permission to use this article !!
Building an Excellent Birdcage by Jane Reichhold
All the haiku used in this article are by Matsuo Basho and were translated by Jane Reichhold.
quickly doing their best to show
one hundred scenes
Picture this. A woman is standing at an open window. Just staring into space, a bit unfocused, lost in a world of thoughts and ideas. Suddenly a small, brown bird alights on the window sill. She knows she should carry the bird out the door and let it go but before she does, she has to do one more thing.
She builds a cage out of words. A cage she can share with others. The work on the cage goes on for days, maybe it is even years until the cage comes under the eyes of another person. In that moment, when the cage of words enters another's mind, it begins to expand. It breaks up into thought - images created by the reader. Through the maze, and amazement of the reader, two cupped hands come forth.
The woman relaxes and lets the bird go. Now its dry feathery weight is in the man's palm. What does it look like? What is it like? Slowly he makes a tiny finger-crack window in his hand and he sees the same eye staring at him that stared at the woman a long time ago when it stood on her window sill. With a flurry of feathers, that shed a magic rarely found, the bird flies back into the sky. It is impossible not to say, "Ah ha!"
So that is what haiku is all about. How to build the cage of words to hold the miracle safe and full of sound until the images in a reader's mind open the door to the wonderment and delight the author found in one part of the world. It is the cage that will attract and intrigue the reader, but it must also be well-built enough to bring the experience intact across time and space. Part of what makes haiku so interesting is that in learning how to read it you have to learn how to build these images.
a frog jumps into
the sound of water
"a frog jumps into" and your mind sees a frog, jumping left or right or straight ahead and every one of us imagines a different frog.
I believe that every person has the ability to be a poet, whether you think you can or not. Some of you may suspect this about yourselves because of an undefined yearning - a place within you that you cannot scratch or reach. Perhaps some times this yen sublimates into a joy in words, a delight in the melodies of dialect, or in other forms of writing. Often it manifests in an interest in reading poetry by others. Or it can come in the simple desire of noticing a beautiful thing and wishing to hold on to the feeling it gives you.
|Credits: Frog pond|
You can be a poet if you really want to be and to the degree you want to be, and I believe Basho can show you how. He can at least show you how to write haiku.
Learning to write haiku has advantages for learning to write anything. This was his final poem ...
scattered on the waves
green pine needles
and its revision ...
no dust on the waves
the summer moon
It begins where you are - in the present. Kierkegaard said that the unhappy man has no present, and I think much of our unhappiness lies with old memories that are painful and fears of the future, but if you come to this moment, this place where you are and think about your uncomfortable chair or the temperature of the room, and accept them, that helps everything.
Haiku are brief and that makes them easy to write because you don't have the chance to make that many errors. You always write them in the present tense, keeping them simple, keeping them brief and using common words, not fancy ones.
The other good thing about haiku is that it will connect you to the world outside - one of the ways of learning to write haiku is to take a walk. You will see things, things will call out to you and you will suddenly see something different that you've never seen before or you'll see a relationship between the rolling surf and a cloud above; or you'll see something odd and you'll watch and your whole focus will leave your body and go to what you're watching.
And that is the most freeing thing you can do. I think you live longer if you can do that. We'll see.
seeing them extends my life
seventy-five more years
|First Cherry Blossom (© Chèvrefeuille)|
When the Japanese tried to translate English haiku into Japanese they ended up with big, clunky poems and way too many words. So we've taken the idea of using short-long-short lines and this conforms to the haiku form, but it allows us a little more freedom in how many words we use. Also, in Japanese instead of having a full stop or a comma or a dash they have a word for the break the punctuation creates, and those words take up a couple of sound units so that's another way of shortening it.
Well, you learn addition and subtraction in the 2nd grade too, but that doesn't stop you from studying calculus and algebra. And the same is true for haiku. The more you know about the form the more there is to learn.
I would like to see haiku, or Japanese genres, taught in universities because I feel there is so much more to be learned. In the 1920s when poets first began to be exposed to translations, like Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, they got this idea of how important it is to work with images instead of abstract ideas, and so they began to use these methods with their own poetry.
But they didn't take it far enough. They didn't study the form so they could write really well. But it is possible, I believe, to write very good English haiku. I suppose I'll be struck dead for saying it, but I take a Japanese magazine of haiku in which they translate Japanese into English, and I would say that what is being written in English is better.
The Japanese are working with the ideas of how to build a haiku, but we've had to study it so much and we've had to figure it out. A lot of Japanese have heard the Japanese poems from their childhood and therefore think they can do it. And they can. They bring a spirit to haiku that I don't think English-speaking people will ever have - their sensitivity, their grace, their elegance. We can't do that. But we can bring what we are to that form.
again I'll lean on
That's not haiku. Haiku focuses in, it goes right to the very heart. In this story you would focus on the water hitting the cat and that's all you would talk about because that's all that's important in that story.
This is something that it takes a while for people to understand. One of the best ways of finding out what haiku are is to read them.
all night I listen to rain
in a basin
|Basho Tree (banana-tree)|
When they were first introduced in English people thought they were epigrams or aphorisms and that implies that they are one sentence long. Haiku are not sentences. A haiku is built of two parts: The phrase and the fragment. The fragment is usually in the third or first lines, and the phrase combines two lines, usually the second and third, or first and second.
I think Basho is the one who can show us most clearly that haiku is poetry. When he started writing they were like a game or a pastime, and unfortunately this aura still hangs around haiku and you see with this the online jokey haiku.
Basho took the idea that if you're a serious, deep person then your haiku will be serious and deep. Even though haiku are very small, they're extremely elastic (but remember that brevity doesn't leave room for mistakes). You can put in everything that you can feel, and it's only your lack of writing skills that would make that not possible.
Haiku can be, and sound extremely, simple but they hold vast reservoirs of meaning in their layers, like the Basho poem about the crow:
a crow settles down
on a bare branch
I hope you did like this article and I hope it has given you new ideas and thoughts to work with ... I have read this article with joy and it inspired me to write the following haiku ... in which I think I have caught the essence of the article and the beauty of Basho's haiku:
with my bare feet
Ah! what a feeling
Well ... see you ... I am always searching for nice articles about haiku ... so if you have an idea? Than please let me know it.
Chèvrefeuille, your host