The pleasure, and serenity, of all those haiku

Photo/courtesy of Aaron Burden from Unsplash

by Steve Harrison | Special to the Courier

I don’t count sheep, but I count lots of other things. While out for my walk, when it isn’t too hot, too cold, or too wet, I find myself counting my steps. I count calories, but more often count the number of cookies I have in a day’s time. Suffice it to say, too many.

I also count syllables. I’ve been writing haiku for the Courier for over 10 years now, and last year surpassed 100 published. Of course, I have written a lot more than that, but publication seems to suggest those are the more important.

I taught haiku to my junior high students for years, especially when creativity was stressed over multiple choice tests. Frequently, I assigned a poetry notebook and taught many different forms of poetry, many structural or patterned, so that those kids who didn’t feel creative or poetic could fulfill the requirement. My hope was to get them to experiment and to play with words.

As has been noted on a recent Claremont Connects Facebook page, much of what gets passed off for haiku is really senyru; a haiku’s focus is on nature, while senyru can be more general about the human experience or emotion.

When the Courier put out the call for people to submit haiku pertaining to Claremont life in 2011, I figured I would give it a try. What I found for a significant period of time was that the structure and the act of counting syllables was soothing, just like the serene comment about the natural world found in many haiku. As my mind would race about so many things in my world and outside it, there was something about fitting a thought or a description into three lines and seventeen syllables that was reassuring and deeply satisfying when it lands on the page. Frequently, the haiku (or senryu for the stickler) comes out of nowhere as one complete entity, just like these columns often times write. Occasionally, with the haiku, and more often with this column, I have to tinker and revise or scrap and do again.

I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, and some of you might think that is a good thing. As an English major in college, essays were my nightmare. Gnashing of teeth comes to mind. I would put off writing them until the last minutes, surely using that torment to brainstorm and collect ideas until I was full enough to write.

Once an English teacher, I was surprised to find that the teaching of writing filled about half of my curriculum. I did all I could to make it as easy as possible: structure can help, as could models and rubrics, and schematics and templates for those students who really struggled. Haiku was easy, steeped in such structure: three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Kids thought it funny when I taught them that “if-you-talk ver-y slow-ly, you will hear the num-ber of syl-la-bles in each word.” Of course there were more complex ways of figuring it out, and looking at a dictionary entry or Google can help clarify when uncertain.

I’ve refrained from being snarky when a haiku gets published which doesn’t follow the correct pattern. Once I couldn’t contain myself and emailed the Courier editor that what had been published wasn’t a haiku. I swear the next one I submitted didn’t follow the syllable count either. There is a lesson there which may start with proofreading!

The haiku “column” is entitled “Adventures in Haiku” and, interestingly, it has been an adventure. I have found these short observations and comments centering, the reflection calming. So it has been an adventure, leading me in directions I didn’t plan, including this column, forcing me to focus and analyze what I really think or see. I’m grateful the Courier sent out the challenge lo those many years and haiku ago.


Submit a Comment

Share This