Monday, October 28, 2013


A cold wind as the dusk starts to gather
The azure day departs,
A meaning darkness imparts
Found within our silent hearts

Friday, October 25, 2013


Junkyard cars rusting
Under crushed metal thunder

Aspects of Old Age

My left knee is stiff.
The years flew by like a swift.
Dusk falls as a gift.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Five Types of Haiku at "Under the Basho"

Five Types of Haiku

One of the views I have about Haiku in English, a view I have touched on repeatedly at this blog, is that English Language Haiku (ELH) has split into a number of different poetic forms.  Further, I believe that these forms are now so different from each other that they have little in common; that they are as different from each other as, say, the Sonnet is from the Villanelle.

This is a fringe view among ELH haijin.  And I can understand why that is the case.  For a long time these different approaches to ELH have lived in the same journals, met at the same conferences, and intimately interacted with each other and so it makes sense that participants in ELH would view the different approaches as in some obscure way the same form.

Yet, I do see signs of a growing understanding of just how different these forms have become.  I first noticed this at the Haiku Foundation.  The Foundation held a Haiku contest and they divided the contest into three separate categories of Haiku; a free verse, 3 line approach with a minimalist esthetic; a 5-7-5 approach, and a more consciously avant-garde approach.  This seemed to me a tacit admission that the different approaches to Haiku have become distinct enough that they need to be evaluated on their own terms as opposed to one approach as the standard by which all ELH is judged.

A new website further supports the view that these forms have matured and become distinct forms.  The new website is called “Under the Basho” and it can be found here:

I believe it was started by Don Baird who is a longterm ELH Haijin and has familiarity with many individuals in the ELH community.  When you go to the home page, notice that at the top there is a tab called “Haiku Styles”.  Click on that tab.  What you will find is a list of five styles of modern ELH Haiku: Traditional, Stand-Alone Hokku, Modern Haiku, One-Line Haiku, Concrete Haiku.  The first category, ‘Traditional Haiku’, is what I mean when I say ‘Syllabic Haiku’; that is to say a three-line poem of 5-7-5.  The site also contains descriptions of each form, so that the reader can discern both what the various approaches have in common, and also what distinguishes each type from the others.  I think it is very well done.

At the site the author of the page (Baird?) writes:

“Into the 21st century the descendants of Basho's hokku multiply daily into various styles of poetic expression but all bearing still a scent of the Basho hokku dna. While the family resemblances may sometimes seem tenuous, those examples of high seriousness and individual accomplishments of poetic expression deserve to be appreciated.”

I like the way this is put forward.  I often think of the various approaches to ELH as the children, or descendants, of Japanese Haiku; I think of them as siblings and view many of the arguments between them as kind of like sibling rivalries.  Each descendant wants to claim the inheritance of the Japanese original, but the truth is they all have the requisite ‘hokku dna’ to make such a claim.

One of the consequences of viewing the various approaches as distinct forms is that it allows one to appreciate the forms on their own terms instead of evaluating the other approaches based on one’s own specific approach to Haiku.  For example, recently I wrote a very enthusiastic review for Amazon of a Haiku collection that was all done in what I think of as ‘free verse Haiku’; what “Under the Basho” refers to as ‘Modern Haiku’.  I did this even though I, myself, take a syllabic approach to Haiku.  I had no problem doing this because I see free verse Haiku as a distinct form; that is to say it has its own standards, techniques, and esthetic ideals.  Just as I would not evaluate a Villanelle based on the formal requirements of a Sonnet, so too I do not evaluate free verse Haiku based on the standards of a syllabic approach.  Comprehending the different approaches to Haiku as distinct forms has the effect of opening one’s self to these other approaches and allowing for the appreciation of each of them.  That is why I find “Under the Basho” such a worthy project; it is allowing space for these different approaches to breathe without imposing the standards of one approach on the others. 

So take a look at the website and, if you are so inclined, you might want to submit some of your own Haiku for the next edition of “Under the Basho”.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


A grove of ancient oaks
Like a dream that recently spoke
Night song

Friday, October 11, 2013

Donegal Haiku: A Review

Donegal Haiku by Francis Harvey
A Review

I enjoy reading Haiku collections that are centered in a specific geography.  I don’t always get the specific references, because I won’t always be familiar with specific geographical features and what local residents feel about them.  Even so, there is something rooted about these kinds of collections that I find appealing.  Charles Walker’s Haiku and High Timber is a good example of such a collection.

A new one that I have come across, published just this year, is Donegal Haiku by the Irish poet, Francis Harvey.  I am not familiar with Harvey’s poetic output; but from what I have read he has received many prizes for his poetry.  Harvey’s approach to Haiku is in most respects traditional; seasonal reference is common, but also absent in a number of Haiku, and the Haiku are structured syllabically.

In the world of English Language Haiku (ELH) there seem to be three main approaches to Haiku construction.  The first is the single sentence Haiku, next is the list Haiku, and the third is the juxtaposition Haiku.  Harvey uses all three modes of construction.  Here is a list Haiku:

Snow on the mountain.
Crowsfeet and your first white hair.
The end of autumn.

Each line ends with a full-stop period.  Each line is its own image or statement.  There is in this Haiku an interesting seasonal shift.  Line 1 would seem to place the Haiku in the winter season.  But line 3 goes on to clarify that it is a late autumn Haiku; late enough for snow.  So the seasonal placement is nicely ambiguous.

Line 2 invites us to think of it as an analogy to Line 1 without explicitly saying so.  This analogical inference weaves the two lines together.  And Line 3 seasonally resonates with the two images. 

Here’s another example of the list approach:

Five crows in a tree.
The wind ruffles their feathers.
The leaves of my book.

Again the three lines end in full-stop periods.  Again there are three distinct images listed.  The season is inferred here rather than stated.  My inference is that this is a summer Haiku, because he is reading outside.  The use of the word ‘leaves’ in line 3 resonates with the ‘tree’ of line 1, creating a point of unification.  This Haiku is a kind of collage and is an effective use of the list approach to Haiku construction.

Here’s an example of the single sentence approach:

The sea slinks off to
its lair on the horizon
to dream of the moon.

The image here is difficult to grasp but tantalizing; my sense is that Harvey is communicating a feeling through images.  As the last line indicates, the Haiku is in a dream mode which is a legitimate arena for Haiku.

Here is an example of juxtaposition:

I watched him that day
take his last walk on the strand.
The tide was ebbing.

Line 3 is a mild juxtaposition; it is not startling, but it shifts our awareness from the human being who is being watched by the author to the world of nature, placing the incident in a larger context.  And the ebbing tide is a nice resonance for a ‘last walk’.

Here is a stronger use of juxtaposition:

Dreams of the Trappist:
snow falling on snow and clouds
colliding with clouds.

The relationship between the two parts (line 1, and lines 2 and 3) is more distant than in the previous Haiku.  It takes more energy to link the two on the reader’s part; but I find it an effective use of the juxtaposition approach to Haiku.

Sometimes Harvey’s Haiku are humorous:

He was so obsessed
with death he began sending
mass cards to himself.

This is a single sentence zinger Haiku; designed to give us a laugh at someone’s obsession. 

A few times Harvey uses poetic devices such as rhyme:

The sound of the sea
in the middle of Ireland.
The wind in the trees.

I like this Haiku.  It creates a mild tension in lines 1 and 2 (how could there be the sound of the sea in the middle of Ireland) which is nicely resolved in line 3.  I would have preferred no punctuation at the end of line 2, so that line 2 could function as a pivot line; but that’s just my preference.

Here’s an example of personification:

Not a breath of wind.
The vanity of clouds
in the lake’s mirror.

I think this is nicely done; it’s a good usage of personification (which was also used in the above Haiku about the sea going to its lair).  I enjoy personification in Haiku because it opens a door to greater intimacy with the natural world.  I think the attribution of human psychological characteristics, such as vanity, to the natural realm makes sense if you think of the realm of nature as also conscious.  That is to say if clouds have consciousness, then attributing psychological states to them is not that great a leap.

I enjoyed this collection and have read it several times.  Harvey effectively uses a variety of techniques for Haiku construction all within the confines of a traditional syllabic approach.  Harvey has a distinctive voice or tone which I find attractive.  I suspect it is the tone of his locale.  This little book is an invitation to join him there.

A cloudless blue sky.
The wind blows wisps of black smoke.
Her hair in her eyes.

Donegal Haiku
Francis Harvey
ISBN: 9781906614744

Available from Amazon

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Where the river meets the sea at land's end
Once again I feel free
As strong waves of memory
Drift into eternity

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tanka River


My latest book is called "Tanka River" and it is now available for purchase.

Tanka River contains five collections of Tanka:

Sketches from Life
The Gallery at the Gate of Repentance
Still Life
A Sequence on Love

In addition to the five collections of Tanka, the book "Tanka River" contains seven Tanka Melodies.  These are melodies specifically designed for the Tanka form.  The melodies can be used to create songs by combining verses from various sources.  The melodies function well for Tanka in general; they are not specifically for the Tanka I have written.  I have used these melodies on several occasions to create Tanka songs using Tanka from various sources and the audiences enjoyed them.  The melodies are simple, folk-like tunes.

Tanka River
ISBN: 9781490550756

Available from Amazon and it can be ordered from your local bookstore.