Out of Many, One
By: Jacob Salzer
Time and timelessness are connected. This moment and eternity are struggling within us.
Time and Timelessness
For many people, haiku is centered on the ability to capture a moment through our five senses (taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound). Similar to a photograph, a moment is outside any feeling of time. However, being in the moment is something that cannot be understood by the mind (see The Constant Now, below).
Others might say haiku is about the passing of time. It is not really about a moment, but rather “a fleeting moment” and therefore, carries a sense of time with it. In haiku, the feeling or sense of time is often accomplished by using a verb. As an example, here is a brilliant haiku by Dave Read who uses the verb “bumps” to capture movement against the seemingly motionless window pane and starlight:
a moth bumps into
— Dave Read
Akitsu Quarterly Spring 2017
Instead of seeing haiku as the ability to capture a moment or express the passing of time, I see haiku as a combination of both. As an example: I look at a picture of a hummingbird in flight. The picture is timeless, and yet the blur of the hummingbird’s wings implies movement and a sense of time.
In the following haiku by Nicholas Klacsanzky, we have a sense of time with “weekend” but also a sense of timelessness and immediacy with the last 2 lines:
I turn off
— Nicholas Klacsanzky
Under the Basho, 2017
The Constant Now
The constant now is, in fact, the only time we are ever alive. As the past is gone and the future is only an abstraction, we are always here and now. The only thing that can temporarily take us out of this constant now is the identification with thoughts about the past or the future (and even when we do mind-travel into our memories or imaginations, we do so only now.)
The ability to step back and watch thoughts come and go allows us to dis-identify with all thoughts, and we are back to simple Being. I find great beauty in just Being, seeing things as they are, and distilling haiku with simple language:
rows of teatrees
in morning mist
— Yanty Tjiam (1981-2015)
Yanty’s Butterfly: Haiku Nook Anthology, 2016
Being is not what we think it is. It is not something that can be understood. This is because Being does not originate in the mind. It does not originate in any thoughts, whatsoever. It is what is, before any thoughts arise.
The Value of Haiku
- Helps us notice the simple things in life that we take for granted
- Reminds us to be careful with what we say (and how we say it)
- Brings awareness to local and global issues
- Brings greater appreciation and gratitude
- Has the ability to quiet the mind
- Reminds us of the mystery of life and how many things remain beyond us
- Reminds us of the miracle of being alive, here and now
- Helps us realize our inherent connection with each other and with all of life
- Serves as a tool for contemplation and meditation
- Serves as a creative expression of the dynamic human spirit
Out of Many, One
The old saying: “a picture is worth a thousand words” has an inverse statement that seems equally true: “a word can paint a thousand pictures.” To better illustrate this: I just googled the word snow and found: about 851,000,000 results (0.51 seconds). Part of the beauty of haiku is how many different images can arise from reading a single word. In turn, the practice of reading and writing haiku has individual and universal aspects that I see as two parts of one life. It turns out, our sense of individuality is not as concrete as it may seem. Here is the beauty of haiku and collaborative poetry: the writer and the reader have become one, through Being, through haiku. We realize we are connected. It is a connection that bypasses the whole mind:
we move our bones
— Alan Summers
Brass Bell, July 2015
My Small Two Cents
There is great danger in having too many fixed ideas on what haiku is or should be. Haiku spans the width and depth of life itself and much, much more; it includes both sensory input and mystery. It includes joyful moments, sad moments, and everything in-between. I will also say: when we write haiku, we should have the courage to write about the tough things in life, the strange moments, and the harsh reality we face at times. We should not feel limited to write only about certain subjects. However, I do have some basic suggestions and guidelines that may be useful when writing haiku:
- Write from raw observations you see in daily life.
- Read haiku poems online, in journals, and/or in books.
- Let your own heart, inspiration, and intuition guide your writing.
- Write what you see, smell, taste, touch, and hear in your daily life (without judgment).
- Write without including any meaning or interpretations of what you observe.
- Use simple words.
- English-language haiku does not have to be 5-7-5 syllables.
- Ground the writing with a concrete image, seasonal reference, or reference to nature (kigo).
- Leave the interpretation and meaning to the reader.
- Practice juxtaposing 2 images using a powerful verb (also, consider disjunctive practice).
- A good practice is to let 1 line be its own image, followed by 2 lines that form another image that juxtaposes with the 1st line.
A 3-line haiku is the most common haiku form I’ve come across. However, there are many other haiku forms (and related forms) as well. I won’t go in-depth on each form, but it may be helpful to realize English-language haiku don’t have to be written in 3-lines, and there are related forms, such as tanka, haibun, shahai, and haiga that allow for powerful creative outlets, along with collaborative forms, such as rengay.
Haiku and Related Forms:
- 4-line haiku
- 3-line haiku
- 2-line haiku
- 1-line haiku
- Traditional haiku (5-7-5)
- Haiku Sequence
- Tanka Sequence
- Tanka Story (prose with tanka)
- Haibun (prose with haiku)
- Shahai (photo + haiku)
- Haiga (artwork + haiku)
- Tan Renga
I find haiku to be a vehicle for expressing time and timelessness. Haiku can capture the mystery of a fleeting moment, yet it also urges us to dive deeper within ourselves. There are moments when all thoughts dissolve into the depths of Being.
Time itself seems to hold no substance, as it’s based on thoughts of the past or future. The constant now (our sense of Being) is the only time we are ever alive. It comes before the mind, and does not require thoughts. To simply Be (without judging life) sets up a great foundation for writing haiku.
The beauty of haiku is its ability to connect people. Haiku is meant to be shared. Through haiku, we realize all of life is connected, in a myriad of obvious and subtle ways.
We should not be limited by subject-matter when writing haiku. Haiku spans the depth of life, death, and much more. It includes the challenges we face in life, sad moments, joyful moments, and everything in-between.
Haiku utilizes the complexity of the English Language using simple words. Its simplicity can also serve as a sign-post, pointing to what is within us, and beyond us.
I find the great beauty of this genre is its paradoxical nature: its seeming simplicity can simultaneously open our hearts, our minds, and the great doors of the unknown.
About the Author
Jacob Salzer lives in the Pacific Northwest. In 2015-2016, he served as the Managing Editor for an international Haiku Nook G+ anthology: Yanty’s Butterfly, dedicated to Yanty Tjiam (1981-2015). He has published two collections of haiku: The Sound of Rain, and Birds With No Names, and one collection of haibun, Origins. Jacob’s haiku are featured in Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Under the Basho, Chrysanthemum, A Hundred Gourds, and The Heron's Nest. His longer poems are featured in VerseWrights, and Phoenix. He is currently managing two haiku anthologies, and writing a collection of haiku, and tanka.
Yanty’s Butterfly website: https://jsalzer.wixsite.com/yantysbutterfly