Haiku Commentary #2
The first book of Haiku I read was “Alaska in Haiku” by David Hoopes and Diana Tillion, published by Tuttle in 1972. I was going to school at that time at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. As I recall the book was sold at the school bookstore and that is where I bought it.
I still like it. I think it has staying power. Here is one of the Haiku by Hoopes I keep going back to:
Night below zero,
And the long valley’s echo
The sound of the stars.
The opening line gives us the season: this is a winter Haiku. It also gives us a sense of geography with the ‘below zero’. ‘Below freezing’ is also winter; but ‘below zero’ is a deeper winter, the kind of winter one experiences in Alaska. (As this is an American Haiku, I’m thinking in terms of Fahrenheit rather than Celsius; ‘0’ Degrees Fahrenheit is about ‘-18’ Degrees Celsius.)
The ‘long valley’ gives the Haiku more focus. My feeling from reading this Haiku is that I am looking at the valley from an elevated view; perhaps not a mountain top, maybe more like a hillside. In my mind’s eye I am looking at a frozen river valley spread out below me. Perhaps I am wearing snowshoes, walking from my own cabin to the cabin of a friend. I lived for two years in rural Alaska without a phone and there were no cellphones at that time, so I can see myself doing something like this.
I pause and notice that the sound of my steps echoes in the valley. When winter plunges to below zero snow takes on a crispness that warmer, though still below freezing, temperatures don’t impart. There’s no feeling of slushiness; the snow is dry and brittle and can form a thick crust over the more powdery snow beneath. In this still night the smallest sound fills the valley and bounces back.
I look up. The night is clear; perhaps it is moonless, or maybe just the sliver of a moon. And the sound of my footsteps and the vision of the stars seem to blend. I am poised between earth and heaven, between the winterscape and the stars, and all of it seems to be speaking to me in the reverberant silence.
I don’t know much about David Hoopes. I never met him when I was in Alaska. And the only other publication besides ‘Alaska in Haiku’ that I know of with his Haiku is an early volume that Billie at the Alaska Haiku Society kindly sent to me when I requested more information. It is called ‘Haiku Drops from the Great Dipper’ and was published by the Poetry Society of Alaska in 1973; it is an anthology of Haiku by Alaskan poets. That’s the year after Tuttle published ‘Alaska in Haiku’. But the ‘Foreward’ states that ‘Drops’ was seven years in the making. It also states that all of the submissions for ‘Drops’ were ‘judged and critiqued’ by Harold G. Henderson. Nice connection. Hoopes’ Haiku in ‘Drops’ have many of the same characteristics found in ‘Alaska in Haiku’. Hoopes seems particularly fond of rhyme. Here are two examples:
Spring winds and warm rains,
Blossoms can begin to grow –
Two new teeth also.
An unscreened window –
Humming unseen past my bed
The first mosquito!
Interestingly, at least two other poets in the collection use rhyme as well:
Over clusters of clover
Drunken with summer
Marauders of night,
Rearing and pawing you go . . .
Wild wind-horses whoa!
As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of rhyme and think of it as generally underutilized in short-form syllabic verse. So it’s intriguing to me to find rhyme used in this early collection by a number of authors. Hoopes is the most consistent rhymer, but clearly whatever group put this anthology together was open to rhyme in Haiku.
Returning to the ‘Night’ Haiku: the construction of this Haiku is syllabic, in classic 5-7-5. Each line has a distinct focus; there are no run-on lines. Line 1 gives us the weather and the season. Line 2 gives us the setting. Line 3 places the setting in a cosmic context. There is a movement in the Haiku from the constricted sense of cold, to the valley scene, finally opening up to heaven above.
Rhyme is used to define the lines: zero/echo. And there is also internal rhyme with ‘below zero’ having a particularly euphonious effect. The rhyme is used with ease. There is a gracefulness about this Haiku, a lyrical quality which I particularly like. And it is this lyrical quality which makes Hoopes’ Haiku so memorable and so enjoyable.