Words that flow

I had occasion this week to paraphrase Martin Lucas, the late editor of Presence, while critiquing one of my own haiku at a group session, saying something like “I’ve made a weather report of the first line”, dissatisfied because I knew I was wasting the line.

Here is what Martin actually said, from his essay Haiku as Poetic Spell (click on the link to read the whole thing, well worth it):

The internationally accepted formula runs something like this (expressed here in 5-7-5 for my own amusement, though 5-7-5 is now outmoded as far as the arbiters of taste are concerned):

seasonal ref’rence —
then two lines of contrasting
foreground imagery

Seen in isolation, any one of these haiku can be impressive. Taken in quantity, the effect is numbing.

And towards the end of the essay, he describes what he wants in haiku: Words that chime; words that beat; words that flow. And once you’ve truly heard it, you won’t forget it, because the words have power. They are not dead and scribbled on a page, they are spoken like a charm; and they aren’t read, they’re heard.

Sometimes it does me good to remind myself of what I should be striving for, especially as the ‘dry’ spells become longer and more frequent.

This is not to say we shouldn’t use a seasonal reference in our haiku, just that they should be carefully chosen – the single-line ‘fragment’ carries just as much weight in a haiku as the two-line ‘phrase’; it’s not a throw-away scene-setter.

Here are some haiku from my bookshelf, ones that use a ‘weather report’ first line to great advantage, in my opinion. The first poem I shared with the group and it was one of those wonderful moments when everyone in the room reacted … by laughing.

mild winter day
the neighbour’s dog barking
till I’m hoarse

– Carolyn Hall
from Water Lines (Snapshot Press, 2006)

midsummer morning –
the dead tree’s shadow
stretches upstream

– Adele Kenny
from The Haiku Hundred (Iron Press, 1992)

outgoing tide
my mother’s togs
a year looser

Catherine Mair
from incoming tide (Quail Press, 2016)

twilight: across the lake
distant reeds take the shape
of a bittern

– Martin Lucas
from Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2008)

And to finish, an actual weather report haiku!

weather forecast
searching the sky
for an isobar

Jeanette Stace
from A to Zazen (Zazen Haiku Group) 2004

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