Today we celebrate the summer solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere—
the longest day of the year and the shortest night—
a good time to discover or revisit Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
(which you can read online by clicking on the title above).
I thought today would also be a good time to share some of my favorite recently-published poetry books by way of recommendation for your summer reading.
Before I list the books, and I know I promised myself that
this wouldn't be an "about me" poetry blog, I'm breaking my own rule because I'm so happy and
honored to share that my book A
Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing At All is a 2016 Paterson Poetry Prize
finalist (for books published in 2015).
Mark Doty's book Deep Lane is the winner and here are the finalists:
I'm so happy to share the exciting news that my most recent poetry book, a collection of haiku (new and selected), has been published by Muse-Pie Press. It's been almost 20 years since my last haiku collection, so this book is really special to me. It's also very special to me because it's dedicated to my godson, Gabriel.
Not Asking what if
ISBN: 978-0-918453-51-8 Library of Congress Control Number: 2016902139
I thought that this week, in keeping with the subject of haiku, we might revisit a haiku prompt from some time ago (Prompt #187).
Haiku: Honoring the Art of Detachment
origins have been traced to a form of Japanese poetry known as haikai no renga, a kind of linked poetry
that was practiced widely by Matsuo Bashō (1644-94) and his contemporaries. Over time, the
first link in a renga, the hokku, evolved into the haiku as we
understand it today. A minimalist form of poetry, haiku has been popular among
modern poets since the 1960s, when a western-world haiku movement generated
increased interest in the form. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder,
Billy Collins, John Ashbery, and Paul Muldoon have written haiku, and
haiku-like poems are found in the works of such literary greats as Ezra Pound,
Amy Lowell, and Richard Wright. Although something other than “mainstream”
poetry and very much its own genre, haiku is a unique and demanding form to
Japanese, the haiku is typically written vertically on the page (from top
to bottom). Each haiku contains seventeen onji (sound symbols). However, early
translators were mistaken when they assumed that onji were equivalent to
syllables in the English language and that haiku should be written in three
lines containing 5,7, and 5 syllables respectively. Although incorrect, these “defining”
qualities of haiku are still regarded as “haiku format” by many. A more
acceptable standard for English-language haiku is 10-20 syllables in 3 lines
with a longer second line and shorter first and third lines. That said, the
parameters are often stretched depending on content and meaning. Three lines
have become the norm, but haiku of one and two lines are also seen, and
syllable count varies.
haiku contain a kigo (season word) to
indicate the season or time of year in which the haiku takes place, along with two
phrases (or images) that are inherently unrelated but are juxtaposed to show
some commonality within a particular experience. Normally, one idea is
presented in the first two lines and then a switch occurs in the third.
Alternatively, a single idea is presented in the first line and a switch occurs
in the second and third lines. Nearly every haiku has this kind of two-part,
juxtapositional structure. The shift is achieved with what is called a kireji or cutting word, which “cuts” the
poem into two parts. The kireji is a
kind of caesura (and similar in theory to the volta in a sonnet) that signals a pause in the poem’s “thought” and suggests a parallel to
the preceding phrase, the following phrase, or provides a “dismount for the
poem that offers a finely tuned sense of closure.
is, in a sense, an art of detachment in which the poet is removed enough from
the subject to write without self-interest or self-absorption but, rather, with
a sense of both inward and outward direction. The best haiku are life-affirming
and eternity-conscious, spontaneous and unpretentious but entirely focused
and either gently or startlingly profound.
Note: The word haiku forms its own plural – haikus is
Acknowledgment: The essay part of this prompt (above) first appeared in
Tiferet: Literature, Art, & The Creative Spirit (Digital Issue, April 2014)
describe things in a very few words – they never tell, intellectualize, or
state feelings outrightly. They never use figures of speech (similes,
metaphors, etc.) and should not rhyme.
is more than a simple genre or form of poetry—haiku is a way of seeing, a way
of capturing experience, a kind of “aha” moment or instant when something in
the ordinary captures our attention and leads us to a closer, more concentrated
look at its connection to nature, and human nature.
don’t have titles, although haiku sequences do.
is key, along with a sense of immediacy (written in the present tense) and
often a sense of relationship between nature and human nature. Some haiku poets
feel that one measure of a haiku’s success is its ability to be read in a
single breath. Most will agree that a successful haiku is characterized by
crystal-cutting clarity and in-the-moment presence.
are about spiritual realities, the realities of our every-day lives, and the
realities of human- and natural-world relationships. Most importantly, haiku
honor the inside of an experience through attention to the outside.
and direct, haiku appear to be light and spontaneous, but their writing
requires careful reflection and discipline—haiku may even be considered a kind
of meditation. Finely-tuned powers of observation reveal the haiku moments that
happen continually in the world around us.
be bound by any notions of 5,7,5 syllable structure—focus instead on use of
season words, two-part juxtapositions, and objective sensory imagery.
said that each
haiku should be “a thousand times on the tongue.” Before writing anything, read
many haiku from a range of sources to get a “feel” for the form. Be sure to
read some haiku that have been translated from the Japanese, but spend more
time on good haiku written in English. Read some of the haiku aloud.
you’ve read many haiku and have a sense of what they’re about, think about an
experience you’ve had.
Remember the season in which you had the experience, and then think of a word
or phrase that suggests that season. For example, peonies is a season word for
spring; snow and ice are season words for winter. A simple phrase like “autumn
leaves” can evoke feelings of loneliness and the coming of darkness (shorted
days, longer nights) in winter. While many haiku appear to have a nature focus,
they are more-specifically based on a seasonal reference that as much about nature as it is within nature.
Organize your thoughts into approximately three lines. First, set the scene,
then suggest a feeling and, finally, make an observation or record an
action. Write in the present tense, don’t use figures of speech (similes,
metaphors), and keep things simple.
sure to include a contrast or a comparison. Remember that haiku often present
one idea in the first two lines and then switch quickly to something else in
the third. One of your goals is to create a “leap” between the two parts of
your haiku without making too obvious a connection between the parts or leaping
to a distance that’s unclear or obscure. At the same time, you must reveal the
emotions (not ideas) that you want to communicate without stating them overtly.
to think of haiku in terms of your five senses—things you experience directly,
not ideas or your interpretation or analysis of “things.” Think in terms of
sensory description and avoid subjective terms.
time working on punctuation. In poems so brief, punctuation is important. Read
some of the examples and see how other haiku poets make punctuation work for
them in their haiku.
Winter seclusion –
Listening, that evening,
To the rain in the mountain.
My life, –
How much more of it remains?
The night is brief.
Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.
No one travels
Along this way but I,
This autumn evening.
Contemporary Haiku from Frogpond (Journal of the Haiku Society of America)