I’m no poet. I’m a long-form creative nonfiction writer–as attested by twelve books and hundreds of newspaper columns and magazine articles.
So why haiku?
It started the year Richard and I commuted to his folks’ house in Arkansas once a month to help with his Dad’s hospice care. A thousand mile-drive each way across the Southern Plains through landscapes of such wide horizons that it seems like there’s nothing happening.
Unless you pay close attention.
Which is the point of haiku. To witness the now, to distill the moment.
Too, when you’re driving for miles and hours, haiku are short enough to write and revise in memory without forgetting the words. Yes, of course, I could have recorded my thoughts with my smartphone, but….
I really don’t love the sound of my voice that much. If I can’t remember my thoughts, they’re probably not worth saving.
So I started writing haiku in my head. And once I thought they were not horrible, I began writing them down.
Why write haiku every day? First, the practice. Practice in slowing the rush of life enough to notice something haiku-worthy. And practice in picking just exactly the right words to capture that something.
Second, Twitter. Really.
A publisher pressed me to develop a “platform” on Facebook and Twitter as part of growing my audience.
I was skeptical. Thinking in sound-bites is not something I particularly appreciate. What could I say in 140 characters that would be useful?
Finally it hit me: haiku.
A form of three-line poetry that originated in Japan centuries ago as a kind of introduction or epigraph to a longer piece, haiku’s syllable limit makes it ideal for Tweeting and posting on Facebook.
(This book by Penny Harter, an extraordinary poet who just happens to be my friend, and her late husband, Bill Higginson, is an excellent guide to haiku.)
Haiku are actually much more complex than the ultra-short form indicates. These simple guidelines convey the spirit of the form:
The whole poem runs seventeen or fewer syllables, and is usually broken into a short/long/short format, meaning a short first line, longer second line, and a short third line.
Line breaks aren’t forced: If the poem needs to be 2/8/5 or 4/6/3, that’s fine. The breaks serve as punctuation or natural pauses in the “thought” of the haiku.
Haiku focuses on a moment; grows from nature, references the time of year and often the place (perhaps only with one word); eschews metaphor, and includes a “turn” or surprise. That may seem like too much to fit into so few syllables, but with practice, a haiku can say a lot.
Posting a daily haiku is not just idle digital chatter. It uses the virtual world of social networking to encourage awareness of the very real earth where we live, emphasizing the fleeting nature of any given moment.
It’s like sending out an electronic locator beacon broadcasting a signal of awareness: This is where I am, this is what I feel, this is what is happening now at this particular moment in time, here on Earth.
It’s a way to use the digital universe of Twitter and Facebook to foster appreciation and understanding of the living Earth that is our home, our refuge, our place of nourishment and renewal.
It’s a way to see life through new eyes. And a way to write even when you don’t “have time.”
Try it. Haiku is very much worth practicing. Every day.