February 11, 2015

Haiku #1

The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches which I mentioned in my previous post contains a lot of the poet Basho’s prose in addition to his poems. This is very interesting as it allows the reader to understand the context in which each poem was written which I find really helps me appreciate his frame of mind. One thing that struck me was that most all of his poems were written in response to simple, even trivial events or situations. They basically document a stream of consciousness. He changes his clothes; he writes a poem about it. He was invited to a party; he writes a poem about it; he stops for lunch; he writes a poem about it. He failed to come up with any inspiration from a famous site; he writes a poem about that too.

I was thinking about this poetry of the ordinary while walking the other day and found trying to follow suit a good way to acknowledge one of the experiences of my own day:

Hints of spring abound
Under receding snow banks
The smell of dog shit.


Haiku and Me


[Warning: this post has essentially nothing to do with photography.]

I have for quite a long time had a sporadic interest in haiku poetry; an interest which seems to lie dormant for years only to emerge again. I am in such a period of interest now as I have been reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by that most famous of all ancient haiku poets, Matsuo Basho (translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa).

I occasionally try my own hand at haiku and it is helpful to know that there is more of an “anything goes” attitude about it that I had once thought.  That silences some of my own self-criticism about my attempts. Nobody else besides the extremely reassuring Fashion Queen has ever read my haiku but I’m thinking I’ll post a few of my attempts on this blog which has me squirming a bit about it’s reception. (Trust me, I’m a much better photographer than I am a poet.) So, before posting any of my haiku I feel compelled to set the stage with a little background.

Writings about what haiku is and how the Japanese form is best translated into English abound and contain much disagreement.  A useful but overly simplistic summary of the traditional form is that a haiku poem consists of 17 syllables in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 syllables each. In terms of subject matter, haiku contains the juxtaposition (ahem) of two thoughts or images that are different yet related, a seasonal reference, and a subject related to nature (often with only indirect reference to humans).

Suffice it to say that every aspect of the above simplistic description is either not entirely correct, or less strictly adhered to in modern haiku and some translations of the traditional poems. It is also the case that even the ancient poets such as Basho did not always strictly follow the “rules”.

Why does this matter to me? First because taking a looser attitude toward the actual rules allows me to not get hung up on form when I’m trying to appreciate haiku that does not toe the well-defined line. This is certainly the case in The Narrow Road to the Deep North as Yuasa’s translations typically contain four lines and more than 17 syllables. Not only that, but Basho talks a lot about himself and his friend in the included poems in violation of the scant reference to humans idea. It also matters to me because if any of the haiku I post seems to stray from the “true” form, I hope readers will assume I did it on purpose!

With that preamble, I’ll present a haiku in my next post.

POTD: Standout

POTD: StandoutStandout
Beartrap Canyon, Montana

Other than the color, this rock looked very much like the others it was nestled among.