(Above Photos by Tom Clausen)
A very dear friend of mine, vincent tripi (who always used the lower case when writing his own name) passed away on August 17th. I’d spoken to him on the phone about a month before—his passing was completely unexpected and, to my shock, I learned about it on Facebook. vince and I became friends in 1988 when he sent me a copy of his first book. We’d heard of each other through the Haiku Society and various haiku journals, and I was honored to receive an inscribed copy of his book.
A close friendship developed over the years that was
uniquely special—a long-distance friendship of sorts because (for much of the
time I knew him) vince lived in California, and I live in New Jersey. We only
met in person once after he moved to Massachusetts. On that one
wonderful afternoon, we talked, laughed, prayed, and ate peanut butter and
jelly sandwiches. He was the only person ever to call me “Delly.” The
inscription in one of his books reads, “Dearest Delly, You’re the gift. The
poems are the wrapping. God is the Giver.” I came to know vince as a believer, one with a childlike sense of fun and enthusiasm for life.
vince called often, and many times when my mom was visiting me he would spend a lot of time talking to her on the phone. They, too, became friends. After my mom died, he dedicated his book somewhere among the clouds, poems from a year of solitude to her memory in the kind of loving and generous act for which he will always be remembered.
vince was a haiku poet with immense vision and superior technical skill. His expansive spirit informed his writing, and he left a legacy of haiku that bears testimony to his dedication to the form. His books (many from his own Tribe Press and meticulously designed and produced by vince himself) will continue to delight and inspire all who read them. There is so much richness in vince’s writings—they are filled with his love for literature and the natural world, his philosophy, and his faith.
Although most of his haiku and reflections are memorable, this one from paperweight for nothing took on deeper meaning in August:
And change is forever ... it will not leave me here.
No, change did not leave you here, my friend—
but wherever you have gone, you remain with us in memory and through your words.
May your dear soul rest in light and peace.
pine cones falling
where i knelt to pray
(from between God & the pine)
For this prompt, I’m honoring vince’s memory by revisiting haiku as a form for you to work with. So far, I haven’t been able to write a poem in vince’s memory, so I’ll be working with you on this one.
Haiku, a minimalist form of poetry, has enjoyed considerable popularity among modern poets. Allen Ginsberg and Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon wrote collections of haiku, and haiku-like poems are found in the works of such literary notables as Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Richard Wright, and Gary Snyder. During the 1960s, a haiku movement began in the United States, which catapulted haiku into popular consciousness. Since then, haiku has been widely taught in schools, and hundreds of haiku journals have published the works of numerous haiku poets.
The Haiku Society of America, Inc. was established in 1968 and continues with a membership of many hundreds. Although something other than “mainstream” poetry and very much its own genre, haiku are compact and direct, and are usually written in the present tense with a sense of immediacy (a sense of being “in the moment”). The natural world and our responses to it are integral to haiku. While haiku appear to be light and spontaneous, their writing requires profound reflection and discipline. Haiku 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.
Haiku inspire detachment. That is, detachment from self-interest or self-absorption. The best haiku are life-affirming and eternity-conscious. They are spontaneous and unpretentious but are entirely focused and either gently or startlingly profound. Through haiku, both the writer and the reader are invited to reflect upon minute details that lead to larger realities.
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. A 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 humankind.
The haiku’s origins have been traced to a form of Japanese poetry known as haikai no renga, a form of linked poetry that was practiced widely by Matsuo Bashō and his contemporaries. Bashō infused a new sensibility and sensitivity into this form in the late seventeenth century. He transformed the poetics and turned the first link in the haikai no renga (the hokku) into an independent poem, later to be known as haiku in the sense that we understand the term today. Following is one translation of Bashō’s most famous poem (certainly the best known haiku in Japan and possibly in the world).
Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu frog jumps in
mizu no oto water’s sound
Traditional Japanese haiku were typically written vertically on the page from top to bottom. Each “line” contained seventeen sound symbols. These were usually divided into 3 sections, with the middle one being slightly longer than the others, and often with a pause at the end of the first or second section to divide the haiku into two thoughts or images. These thoughts or images contrasted or pooled to create a sense of insight or heightened awareness and uåsually involved nature. A kigo (season word) was used to indicate the season or time of year.
While most traditional Japanese haiku contain 17 sound symbols, early translators were mistaken when they assumed that a sound symbol is equivalent to a syllable 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 adopted by many.
A more acceptable standard for English-language haiku is 10-20 syllables in 3 lines having a longer second line and shorter first and third lines. Three lines have become the norm, but haiku of one and two lines are also seen, although less frequently. Typically, haiku contain two phrases (or images) that are inherently unrelated but are juxtaposed to show some commonality within a particular experience. That said, the parameters are often stretched depending on content and meaning, and successful experimental haiku of a single word have been written.
A structural feature of the haiku is the kireji, or “cutting word.” In Japanese, kireji is a word used as punctuation, often signifying a question or an emotional subtext. It also signifies a break or pause at the end of a line. In English, cutting words are generally replaced by punctuation like exclamation marks, question marks, and dashes, or less often, commas or ellipses, depending on how sharp a “cut” the author wishes to achieve.
Haiku describe things in very few words—they never tell, intellectualize, or state feelings outrightly. They never use figures of speech (similes, metaphors, etc.) and should not rhyme, nor do they have titles. Some haiku poets feel that one measure of a haiku’s success is its ability to be read in a single breath. Note: The word haiku forms its own plural; haikus is not correct.
1. Bashō said that each haiku should be a thousand times on the tongue. Before writing anything, read many haiku from a range of sources (there are lots of them online) 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.
2. After you’ve read some haiku and have a sense of what they’re about, think about an experience that you’ve had.
3. 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 approach of winter’s darkness (shortened days, longer nights). While many haiku appear to have a nature focus, they are more-specifically based on a seasonal reference that is not necessarily about nature.
4. Organize your thoughts into approximately three lines. First, set the scene, then suggest a feeling and, finally, make an observation or record an action. Use only the most absolutely necessary words. Write in the present tense, don’t use figures of speech, and keep things simple.
5. Be sure to include a contrast or a comparison. Many haiku present one idea for the first two lines and then switch quickly to something else 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. A Japanese haiku achieves the shift with what is called a kireji or cutting word, which “cuts” the poem into two parts. One of your goals is to create a “leap” between the two parts of your haiku. Creating a haiku’s two-part structure can become a balancing act because it’s difficult to create just the right equilibrium without making too obvious a connection between the two parts or leaping to a distance that’s unclear or obscure. At the same time, you must work toward sparking the emotions (not ideas) that you want to communicate.
6. Try 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.
7. In a nutshell—focus on a single moment (detach from everything else); recreate that moment in words.
Write simply and clearly,
forget about 5, 7, 5 syllabic
start with about 10-20 syllables in three-line format,
include a season word,
make sure you create a two-part juxtapositional structure,
include a shift between the two parts of your haiku,
avoid figures of speech, rhyming, anything forced or contrived.
Making Connections—A Good Place to Start:
1. Spend a little time walking outdoors. Then find a place in which you can relax. Stay close to your house if you wish or find a more secluded place.
2. Once you’re settled and comfortable, look around carefully. Notice things (objects, trees, plants, water, stones, birds, etc.) around you and write down several sets of two things that capture your attention (and, hopefully, your imagination). You might select two things that are similar or the same (flowers, trees, blades of grass birds, clouds).
3. Now notice the details of those “things.” Jot down some notes. Remember, you’re working in sets of two.
4. Next, pick one set of two things that you especially like and write a haiku that’s based on, about, or that includes the two things you selected. Look for connections between those “things” and yourself. How do they “speak” to you?
5. Think about how you can link your two objects and switch from one to the other.
6. Let your environment become the “landscape” of the poem. Write in the present tense—here and now. Let the objects direct the content of your poem. Let your haiku take you where it wants to go, but don’t let your two “things” get lost.
7. When you finish one haiku, try another! You might just find that writing haiku is a little like eating your favorite candy—impossible to stop with just one!
or maybe a thousand haiku
(from to what none of us knows)