Posts Tagged ‘haiku’

Japanese culture: poetic aesthetics, artistry, and martial arts, inspired me to write haiku and tanka

January 9, 2021

Discovering and writing haiku and tanka

Many years ago, at a local bookstore I used to frequent, I came across a profound little poem on a poster with a beautiful image from nature. The name of the poet, Kiyo, appeared under the poem. It may have been the first type of Japanese poetry I’d ever read, in English translation of course. I had discovered haiku—a 3-line poem of 5-7-5 syllables respectively. I had written it down and recently found it. Here it is.

Softly unfolding,
Beauty awakens each heart
to wonder … to life.

I’d never heard of Kiyo. Did a search and found Ungo Kiyo (1582–1659), a Japanese Rinzai Zen master and poet. Couldn’t find any more poetry, just a quote on enlightenment in an antique book of calligraphy.

Even though we can’t adequately translate haiku into English due to the syntactical differences of a pictorial language, an important aspect of it was explained to me by a Japanese TM teacher I had met on an international course. Haiku was part of his educational upbringing. They usually have a seasonal reference. To be effective, the first 2 lines describe something in nature, but the 3rd line brings in another element that causes the mind to skip a beat, have an ‘aha’ moment of realization.

Kiyo’s beautiful short poem inspired me to start writing haiku and then tanka, a 2-stanza poem combining haiku with 2 lines of 7 syllables each. The second part would continue the theme of the first part, but give it a slightly new angle. In olden times, the Japanese court poets used to compete with each other in rounds of tanka called renga, linked verses.

I wrote my first haiku after a walk-and-talk about relationships with a lady friend. I noticed a furry caterpillar crawling on the ground. It became the metaphor for a poem on commitment and spiritual transformation.

Transformed

Caterpillars spin
increments of commitment;
Butterflies fly free!

I wrote many haiku and tanka over the years. I even wrote Haiku on The Nature of Haiku, which was very meta. These first 4 haiku—Defined, Discovered, Transformed, Translated—were among the 13 Ways to Write Haiku: A Poet’s Dozen, published in The Dryland Fish, An Anthology of Contemporary Iowa Poets.

Five Haiku, selected from The Dryland Fish; Cold Wet Night, a tanka; and Poetry—The Art of the Voice, a poem; were published in This Enduring Gift—A Flowering of Fairfield Poetry. The University of Iowa’s “Iowa Writes” program also published Five Haiku on The Daily Palette.

Defined

3 lines, 2 spaces,
17 feet to walk thru;
then,   the unending

Discovered

a poem unfolds
as words take their place in line
this one’s a haiku

Translated
(Inspired by Gareth Jones–Roberts’ painting “Egrets in Morning Light”)

on the edge of space
two egrets in morning light
woken from a dream

I recently came across a poem I had written a while ago, but never posted it. A photograph of cranes flying in a snowstorm inspired this Japanese Haiku.

Red-crowned cranes in Akan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. Photograph by Vincent Munier. Click on image to enlarge it.

Three Japanese cranes
Soar above trees in snowstorm
Grace under pressure

Tanka on the Japanese art of kintsugi

I discovered other aspects of Japanese culture, which inspired tanka poems. Click on the titles below for more information and images.

The first is about kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer thereby making it appear more beautiful than the original. Robert Yellin had tweeted an image of a repaired bowl to show this art, which is how I discovered it.

kintsugi tanka

kintsukuroi
turning obstacles into
opportunities

life’s lessons build character
what was broken is now whole

The Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs selected Robert to introduce Japanese craftsmen to the world in a special documentary, Takumi: Japan’s artisan tradition. Because of his expertise, Robert became a cultural ambassador. His film inspired people from all over the world to visit the country, and helped boost Japanese tourism.

How Robert ended up in Japan is revealed in the documentary film, Jerry’s Last Mission, about his father, Jerry Yellin, who was the last WWII fighter pilot, an author, and proponent of TM for veterans with PTSD.

Tanka on the Japanese martial art of Aikido

On a visit to see my son in California, I wrote this tanka after watching his Aikido teacher demonstrate how to defend oneself from attack. She stood in one spot and effortlessly deflected the repeated charges from her students. It was mesmerizing! It took me a while to process what I had seen before writing the poem. I had emailed it to my son to read to her on her birthday. A volunteer at the dojo found the poem and posted it with a photo of a leaning tree as a screensaver on the office computer. It’s beautiful. Click the title and scroll down to see it.

My Son’s Sensei

Rooted to the ground
She repels her attackers
Flowing, not moving.

In storms, trees bear great burdens
Bending, not breaking.

Two tree tanka

Speaking of trees, this tanka is from the perspective of a willow tree. Click the title to see a photo of a special one, and links to audio clips of me reading the poem on different media platforms.

Willow Tree
An Overflowing Fountain of Green

Willow Tree Whispers
People say … Weeping Willow
But I’m not crying

Just bowing down … to the Earth
Kissing the ground … with my leaves

Another tree tanka resulted when I saw the willow that inspired the previous poem, and the honey locust next to it, intertwined on top! They were on each side of the entrance to the place I was living in at the time.

Friendship

Trees like to hold hands
Bending branches to link leaves
They forge deep friendships

Swaying with the wind—they dance
Under the moonlight—romance

A two-haiku relationship poem

When it comes to a committed relationship, this two-haiku poem turned out to be prophetically true.

COMMITTED

when the tide rolls in
bows of boats bump each other
tethered to the dock

with our ups and downs
we remain tied together
solid as a rock

© Ken Chawkin

See more haiku and tanka archived on The Uncarved Blog.

Suggested Reading

Jane Hirshfield’s 29-page essay about the life and poetry of Matsuo Bashō—recognized as a master of concise, compelling Japanese haiku—is worth reading. The Heart of Haiku was named “Best Kindle Single of 2011.” It was the first Kindle I ever bought, and described it in a post, Haiku on The Heart of Haiku, with links to interviews and more.

Author and translator Harold Stewart‘s essay On Haiku and Haiga in A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings, was very edifying.

This classic was recommended to me: Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi. I see it’s been updated and illustrated by Bernard Leach and Soetsu Yanagi: The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty.

Although not Japanese, Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry by Chang Chung-yuan was also worth reading. A 2nd Edition is now available. I reference the Taoist concept of the uncarved block explaining How The Uncarved Blog got its name.

Good Medicine Haiku: Take quality time for yourself as this crazy year comes to a close

December 28, 2020

December 29, 2020, my son Nathanael emailed to say he was planning to go offline and take some downtime to close out this crazy year. I sent him this haiku, and he replied: GOOD MEDICINE. I used it as the title.

Good Medicine Haiku

Trust inner feelings
Let go; settle in silence
Honor your essence

© Ken Chawkin

So if you’re wanting to forget 2020 ever happened and are looking to refresh for 2021, think of this Good Medicine Haiku as a prescription to take a much-needed, guilt-free time-out. Try a digital diet, meditate, go within—take quality time for yourself. We owe it to ourselves. Peace out.

A photograph by Julia Preminger of the Catskill Mountains covered in snow inspired this haiku

November 27, 2019

I saw this photograph of an early winter forest scene that Julia Preminger had posted on her Instagram. It inspired me to write this haiku.

Snowy forest winter wonderland in the Catskill Mountains, NY. Photo by Julia Preminger

another winter haiku
based on a photograph by Julia Preminger

white wisps of winter
nature powders her features
we watch in wonder

®Ken Chawkin
Nov. 27, 2019

Here’s an earlier one: this snow buddha photo inspired a winter haiku.

this snow buddha photo inspired a winter haiku

March 22, 2019

My daughter Shara and her husband Toby live on Lopez Island, WA. On Feb 12, Toby took this photograph of their buddha statue covered in snow. About a foot tall, it’s located in their back yard near the clifftop seats overlooking the ocean. It’s quite the view! I visited them in June 2017. Toby said: “We had quite a bit of snow here, it was really lovely just for that week.” He recently added the photo to his impressive collection on Instagram. I was inspired to write him a winter haiku on this first day of spring!

a winter haiku

wrapped in white silence
contemplating nothingness
the buddha ascends

©Ken Chawkin
March 21, 2019
Fairfield, Iowa

Here is a later one: A photograph by Julia Preminger of the Catskill Mountains covered in snow inspired this haiku.

negative capability, reverse seeing, beauty & the desire for transcendence & unity in life & poetry

February 3, 2019

One day, while Angela “was reading the letters of poet John Keats,” she “received some small insight into this mystery. The young Keats would invest himself so entirely in the books he was reading (and in the lives he was living) he would become one with the creatures and emotions he encountered.” She said “the master poet wrote of—watching the birds outside his window, he would imagine himself scratching and pecking in the gravel alongside them.” She continues with this clear definition of what he called “negative capability”. I’ll underline the essence of it.

This “negative capability” Keats so prized — the impulse to negate The Self and become The Other, to inhabit a state of being perceived outside oneself—had overwhelmed our small son when he first set eyes on his hamsters, amazing little beings he had never seen before. Pierced by their beauty, his capacity to become them was outstripped by his desire, his five impassioned, puzzling words proclaiming the power and lamenting the limits of his imagination.

My response to Haiku: Pierced by Beauty

Lovely post, Angela! I never fully understood Keats’ “negative capability” until I read your clear explanation of it. Thank you. I remember reading what one writing facilitator described as “reverse seeing,” which sounds similar. I was lucky to have had such an experience once, not knowing that’s what it was at the time.

Around 30 years ago, a friend and I drove out to the countryside and ended up at Round Prairie Park. There had been a drought that summer and in a pond stood many large lotus pads. My friend, an artist, took out her sketchbook and started drawing them. I asked for a piece of paper and tried to write a poem about them, but it was nothing worth mentioning.

We had both read “The Secret Life of Plants” and talked about the lotuses and their sensitivity. She resumed sketching, and I tried writing again. Nothing notable. I didn’t realize it, but I was warming up by pre-writing.

At one point I wondered what the lotus pads were feeling about us looking at them. All of a sudden my mind took on a different, heightened perspective. The words came and I quickly wrote them down. When it was over, I looked down at a poem on the page! It was as if it was dictated to me. At that point a bird “blessed” my hand from the tree above me. Nature’s confirmation!

I had later read in The Fairfield Ledger that Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum had put out a call for poems, so I sent it in to their competition. Much to my surprise the poem won an award!

You can read, “Ode to the Artist: Sketching Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park” on my blog: https://theuncarvedblog.com/2011/01/16/ode-to-the-artist-a-magical-day-looking-at-lotus-pads/.

I also mention another poem that later came out of that experience. The editor had wanted me to submit a poem for their next publication so I wrote about how some poems come to be written. It was sort of a commentary on the first one. You can read “Sometimes Poetry Happens” on my blog: https://theuncarvedblog.com/2011/01/16/sometimes-poetry-happens-a-poem-about-the-mystery-of-creativity/.

I never planned to write this little epistle, but kept expanding and refining it to get it to this stage. Thank you tweetspeak for this opportunity to share this story about some of my early poetry!

My haiku response to Billy Collins’ poem, Japan

January 3, 2019

I love the poetry of Billy Collins and have a few favorite poems, readings, and interviews posted on my blog. They’re so accessible and humorous.

His poem, Japan, is about a favorite haiku. He wrote each of the 12 stanzas to look like a 3-line haiku. The imagery in the last half of the poem unravels in the most mind-bending of ways as he interchanges perspectives! You can hear Billy Collins read Japan on YouTube.

I remember first reading it in his collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, I bought over 15 years ago. Today, I found my two-haiku response written on a napkin among scraps of paper. It was also on the back of the receipt, bookmarking that poem! It inspired me to post both.

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

###

My humorous response to the moth and temple bell in the poem.

Haiku for Billy Collins’ poem, Japan, by Ken Chawkin

The weight of a moth
on a one-ton temple bell
excruciating

The sound of the bell
all hinges on the moth’s tongue
tapping the surface

###

On a more serious note, using the imagery of a tower bell, read a profound poem by Rainer Maria Rilke posted in my Response below, and in this PDF: Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XXIX. Source: In Praise of Mortality: Selections from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, translated and edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.

New Haiku: Late Autumn in Santa Barbara

November 21, 2018

I’m back visiting my son for Thanksgiving in Santa Barbara. The first time I was there, a little over 2 ½ years ago, I wrote Threshold Haiku upon entering his house. Here’s a new haiku, which starts where the previous one ends, inspired by those pillars of jasmine plants.

Late Autumn in Santa Barbara

Pillars of jasmine
Stand dormant for the winter
Waiting to blossom

Ken Chawkin
Santa Barbara
Nov 20, 2018

Poems~Pears for Breakfast Haiku

August 30, 2018

Today I saw Raffi tweeted a photo of two luscious pears. It reminded me of a haiku I had written and submitted eleven years ago to a Fairfield poetry competition. I decided to tweet the poem to him, which he liked. My Breakfast Haiku had won first place and I was invited to read it at Revelations Café. Since the photo and poem go so well together I decided to share them both with you in this blog post. Enjoy!

2 Pears 4 Breakfast Haiku

Photo of Salt Spring Island pears by Raffi Cavoukian used with permission

BREAKFAST HAIKU

Two poems, now ripe,
Waiting to be devoured,
Like pears on my plate.

Ken Chawkin
September 1, 2007
Fairfield, Iowa, USA

Freddy Fonseca had organized that Fairfield poetry competition, which culminated with the winning poets reading their poems at Revs Café. He also published my Five Haiku in This Enduring Gift – A Flowering of Fairfield Poetry, 2010. They were selected from 13 Ways to Write Haiku: A Poet’s Dozen published in The Dryland Fish, An Anthology of Contemporary Iowa Poets, 2003, edited by Matthew MacLeod. Freddy also included the tanka, Cold Wet Night, and Poetry—The Art of the Voice, for This Enduring Gift. See other haiku and tanka posted on The Uncarved Blog.

Dawn in Santa Barbara — Haiku by @kenchawkin

November 23, 2017

I’m here in Santa Barbara, California visiting my son Nathanael and his girlfriend Evangeline for the Thanksgiving holiday. They live high up in the hills of the Riviera overlooking this beautiful city and the ocean. The panoramic views are spectacular! It’s like living in a constantly changing painting. My first visit a year and a half ago resulted in a spontaneous haiku. Early one morning, Nathanael excitedly invited me out onto the balcony to watch the predawn colors. It inspired this haiku.

Dawn in Santa Barbara inspires haiku

Dawn in Santa Barbara
Haiku by Ken Chawkin

Golden glow of light
Brightening the morning sky
The sun is rising

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ken Chawkin

Nathanael posted 6 photos of that sunrise and of me taking pictures of it posted on his Instagram. Their wonderful friend Jada Delaney also posted photos and a video of that same sunrise on her Instagram.

Still Sali Haiku—the persistence of love over grief

October 15, 2017

Grief persists after the loss of a close friend, but so does love. In time, grief recedes and love predominates. Here is a haiku for my sweetheart: Still Sali. I see that ‘still’ has both meanings: continuing and stillness.

                         Still Sali Haiku
                (You are still in my heart)

             The love is still there
           Our souls are still connected
                   But I still miss you

                  © Ken Chawkin
                    Oct 13-15, 2017
                    Fairfield, Iowa

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