Brevity can be a cop-out or pack a punch, depending on the topic and the writer. It takes discernment and honesty to assess whether or not a poet is producing quality writing or merely trying to get the task of writing over with. Writing, after all, is hard work. The production of a poem, no matter how brief, should be the result of hours of thought. But because it is too tempting to take the easy way out, we writers often abuse the short form.
The Haiku is one such example. From unmeditative schlock to the insult of computer generated “poetry,” the Haiku has been torn from its Buddhist roots, transplanted to an often lazy American form. But perhaps I believe this because I am just getting old and more closed minded, in spite of my efforts to resist both conditions.
I am not suggesting Haiku be relegated to seasonal references because, as David Lanoue, Japanese translator and poet says, “nature” can be interpreted as “human nature” which is inherently broad. Nor am I insinuating all contemporary Haiku are substandard. The Haiku Society of America, for example, preserves the integrity of the form while publishing variations in its journal Frogpond. I guess what I really rail against is the idea that Haiku need not reflect a certain amount of meditation.
Indeed, all poetry should reflect meditation, well crafted word use and imagery. However, since Haiku is planted in Buddhist thought (which requires meditation), I believe it is important to respect that tradition. Thus, if I write a Haiku, it reflects my deepest meditative efforts and words derived from “being present,” no matter how paltry compared to the Masters’.
My collection includes some Haiku. While I do not claim to be any poetic icon, I can claim first, former success of being published in Frogpond, and second, receiving good reviews on at least one Haiku in my collection.
While I generally do not share entire selections from my book here on this site (after all, I do want readers to buy the book), I will break my tradition here in order to show which Haiku received positive feedback.
He said it was about pride,
some kind of principles.
I see dead people.
The most humbling compliment I received on this poem came from Army Veteran Mr. Al Alborn, an incredibly well spoken, local political commentator. Embarrassingly enough, I cannot recall the exact words he used in reference to the poem, but he indicated it was strong and that it is his favorite in the book. (Sometimes I do not know how to respond to compliments, particularly when they come from people who are much smarter than I; thus, I was flustered enough to forget Al’s actual wording.)
My Battlefield Haiku represents hours of walking the local Battlefields, contemplating the images from the National Archives and considering the war in the Middle East. Without that contemplation and the culmination of writing in the moment, this Haiku never would have been generated.
Perhaps readers will not agree with Al, and perhaps they will say I have no idea what I am talking about. After all, my graduate course in Haiku and Tanka were years ago, and I am no longer part of any academic poetic circles.
Still, I hope I have lived up to some of the tenets of the Buddhist tradition and have complimented the Masters, as Al has complimented me.
Thank you, Al, and Buddha.