Saturday, June 18, 2011

Think About Haiku

writing good haiku:
climbing a tree and reaching
to the highest branch

Haiku are fascinating. They look simple, but, much like the moments and thoughts they represent, are deceptively so. Although my haiku attempt above has several elements of a true haiku, I'm not sure if it would actually count as one; I am, by no means, an expert.

I became interested in haiku about eight years ago when I came across (and subsequently bought) the book How to Haiku: A Writer's Guide to Haiku and Related Forms by Bruce Ross. But, as sometimes happens, my interest waned. Life went on. A few times throughout the years I tried writing haiku, but, getting frustrated or bored, I'd go back to other forms of writing that I was more comfortable with.

My interest in haiku was renewed, though, when I received the book, Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan, as a Christmas gift this past year. Maybe it was because I was older (more mature? wiser?!), but writing and reading haiku (and about it) felt more natural to me, less exasperating.

Haiku Mind is a book that you can pick up, read for a couple minutes, set back down, read another book, then come back to, without losing your place or having to backtrack several paragraphs or pages. Each poem and explanation is independent of all the others. Consequently, I was reading it slowly, two or three pages at a time, taking time for many other books in between.

Then, a couple weeks ago, my dad ended up in the hospital after a heart attack and open heart surgery. I found myself doing a lot of sitting at the hospital that week, which, ordinarily, would be a perfect time to read. I was between books at the time, though, and didn't have the concentration to start something new. So, a bit absentmindedly, I grabbed Haiku Mind to take with me to the hospital. It ended up being the perfect book to read there. Throughout the week I read two-hundred pages while my dad slept, ate, or just sat. It was a book I could easily stop, start, and stop again, if my dad wanted to talk or if the doctor or nurses came in.

Not only that, but haiku poems are excellent reminders of the preciousness of life and the value of each moment. Haiku Mind inspired me to write a number of hospital poems (although not necessarily haiku). The hours I spent at the hospital with my dad were the clearest moments of that week for me. I was living in a haiku state of in the moment...cherishing the present. In the book, author Patricia Donegan states that "[w]e are so caught up in hope and fear about the future or rethinking the past, that we are rarely in this present moment" (p. 197). How true! The combination of reading haiku, writing "in" the moment, and praying gave me clarity, understanding, and peace of mind. And, I was thankful. Very thankful. Of life. Of each moment. Of being in each moment.

One of the days, I spent several hours reading while my dad just slept. It was important to him that someone was there, though, and being there was equally important to me. Even though he was sleeping. Even though there was silence. Donegan tells us, though, that "[m]ost of our deepest moments occur when we are alone in silence or with others in silence. It is a gateway of nurturing, of healing, of renewal, and sometimes of revelation" (p. 151).

As a society, we tend to move so quickly that we forget the little moments that make up our lives. Donegan writes: "If we could but stop for a moment, if we could turn off the TV, computer, iPhone, or whatever gadget we are using, feel our breath moving through our lungs, smell the air, and see around us, we might be amazed by what we find" (p. 47). It is precisely that mindset that helped me really "feel" the moments with my dad at the hospital. Those moments led to poems. To thoughts. To lucidity and understanding of the situation.

I have a new awareness of haiku now, a new passion for it. I'll keep practicing being in a moment, valuing it; and I'll keep practicing recording that moment as well, even if it's in the form of an imperfect haiku.
(For more of my thoughts on being aware/being in a moment, see the post, Think About Being Present.)