Reflecting on a Year of “Daily” Haiku

It’s been a year since I’ve taken on the challenge to write a haiku everyday. Before 2014-11-19, I was only writing a haiku tweet about once a month. I had only starting writing haiku tweets in 2014 after my grandpa passed away. On 2014-10-01, I wrote my first haiku tweet in over 10 months.

Huge air shuts my book/
They say that, “The wind rises! /
We must try to live!”

The haiku was a reference to the poem The Graveyard by the Sea and the movie The Wind Rises, which I had recently seen. The passage I sampled from had to do with living even in the face of death, which was salient with losing my grandpa.

The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!
The huge air opens and shuts my book: the wave
Dares to explode out of the rocks in reeking
Spray. Fly away, my sun-bewildered pages!
Break, waves! Break up with your rejoicing surges
This quiet roof where sails like doves were pecking.

See http://unix.cc.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/fr/daylewis.html

I followed the 2014-10-01 post up with one on the first of November, 2014-11-01, all about visioning.

Go The Artist’s Way/
“Where will you be in five years?”/
Answer truthfully

Then on 2014-11-19, I decided to write haiku daily, or at least try to meet that goal. For a month up until that date, I had much lower energy than I was used to. I was, in parallel, facing the aftermath of losing my mentor and patriarch, feeling the pressure of a new job, and reeling from a relationship that didn’t work out. I needed something to do that would keep my brain busy. I needed a creative outlet that could help me find my voice again. I already had the haiku Twitter, and I’d written a number of haiku as a fundraiser, so it was familiar enough to keep going, but challenging enough to increase the frequency.

Writing 5-7-5 everyday is hard, at least to write haiku that mean anything. I could have cheated and just assembled random seventeen syllables each time, but I wanted each poem to represent something I’d seen or felt. I think some of the haiku turned out beautifully, and some are a stretch. I found that several haiku talked about the same subjects and ideas. Sometimes I had to resort to clip shows.

As of today, I have written 301 haiku on the daily cadence. There are a few more I squeezed in the next day after I missed a day, but I’m not counting those. I’d like to share some of my favorites from the exercise below. They aren’t ranked, and they may not even be the best of the batch. But I think they’re worth sharing.

1. This haiku (2014-12-20) is a translation of John Steinbeck’s letter to his son and some thoughtful advice on relationships. This advice has helped me get through some seemingly rougher times.

Main thing: not to hurry/
If it is right it happens/
Good won’t get away

The original words:

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
—John Steinbeck, to his son Thom

2. This haiku (2015-01-05) was my reflection on the book Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. I volunteer as a store clerk in a fake robot store that is actually a nonprofit tutoring and writing center. This haiku made the newsletter there.

Robots don’t need sleep/
They can do your job, better/
Player Piano

3. In this haiku (2015-01-08), I was upset about the relatively low temperature outside.

Check if Fahrenheit/
Indeed, still zero degrees/
My scarf needs a scarf

4. This haiku (2015-02-15) turned out to be advice, as I found several others in this series to be. They feel kind of like fortune cookies. This is advice about learning.

Slow cook mastery/
Broil not, lest lesson be singed/
All good things take time

5. This haiku (2014-02-17) is about a quiet, starry night.

No wind, stars are loud/
Gripped by wonder, vast blackness/
Ghosts of long dead suns

6. Two pieces of advice within a week. Maybe I needed some inspiration and comfort when I wrote this haiku (2015-02-21). I get some comfort in reading it again.

Move at your own pace/
Be good at being alone/
Then it’s not lonely

7. I wrote this haiku (2015-03-05) on the day I celebrate as “my favorite day of the year”. (There’s no particular reason it’s my favorite date of the year. I do think it’s important to have such a date. For some people it’s Halloween or Christmas or the first day of summer.) It’s about timeless moments. Note that I accidentally put the line break after the last line. Is there more to this poem?

Short breathlessness, peace/
Rare bird spotted once in life/
Elusive feeling/

8. I wrote this haiku (2015-03-08) about winter’s retreat, which seems nice given that I’m currently looking out at the first snowfall of the year as I write this.

Chrome sky, soft mauve, blue/
Air thick, sweet with snow’s retreat/
Dripping percussion

9. This haiku (2015-03-09) sampled from A Tribe Called Quest’s track Push It Along, which itself sampled from Grover Washington, Jr. It’s about keeping at it, like Sisyphus. I read Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus that winter, and I had learned to appreciate tenacity even in the face of futility. The absurd hero pushes the boulder along.

In my way, a boulder/
Strength in character, not arms/
Just push it along

10. This haiku (2015-03-18) is about naked trees and their gnarly branches. I see in trees a lot of personality, mostly in their shape and not actions.

Inverted talons/
Witchy claws scrape baby blue/
Begging for new leaves

11. This haiku (2015-03-20) creates a metaphor out of dealing with difficult situations. Louis C.K. is very good at observing true things (and thus very funny), and he advocates that knowing how to sit with pain and sadness is how to be a person.

Acceptance as moss/
Sit with it and it’s pleasant/
Know your own way north

12. This haiku (2015-04-04) is about the rise of spring and the surprises buried beneath the snow. When I first learned about haiku, the samples I read were usually about seasons and nature. I think these are important ones to highlight in this series.

Branches a-dancing/
Rich spring soil beneath leaves/
Wind blows fall away

13. I wrote this haiku (2015-04-19) while feeling sad during my road trip through the southern United States. I had stayed in some hotel rooms by myself, with very populous cities outside. I thought about the millions of people surrounding me and how I didn’t want to meet any of them. I looked out my hotel window at a skyline I didn’t recognize, and I hated the skyscrapers I saw. Conceptually and architecturally they were impressive, but by that time I’d seen building after building in different cities, and they were all starting to look the same: just metal, concrete, and glass. My best friend P says, “Home is the skyline you smile at.” This wasn’t home.

City far away/
Buildings are generic blocks/
Hotel room quiet

14. I wrote this haiku (2015-05-25) about a stunning mutt named Zeke.

Soft, cool plot of grass/
Gallop gives to gravity/
Dog day afternoon

15. I wrote this haiku (2015-06-22) in thinking about the joy of exploration. When I was little, the forest outside my grandparents’ cottage seemed to unfold larger and larger as I walked through it. That forest is now someone’s property with dusty driveways and not the fresh, untrodden paths I once knew and still yearn for.

Loamy, twiggy floor/
Soft, wild, and new to the step/
Undiscovered glade

16. This haiku (2015-06-26) is about Lake Michigan at night, to my left as I was driving to my grandparents’ old cottage. The moon had risen white, and the small waves on the lake were picking up its quiet, clear light.

Licorice lakeshore/
Ripples like vigil candles/
Soft and sure in dark

17. One common trait among haiku in this series is the subject: clouds. I hadn’t before recorded how often I look out windows at clouds, for significant lengths of time, and it became very clear that’s my most practiced hobby after writing so many haiku about it. This one (2015-07-17) is one of my favorite “cloud haiku”, in that it doesn’t have the word “cloud” in it, and it doesn’t need a picture of a cloud to support it, but a nice picture is attached anyway. (Most of these cloud haiku have an associated cloud picture attached, but I think the haiku should stand on its own.)

Turquoise shines from soot/
Late day sky ponders next move/
Lumbering liftoff

18. This haiku (2015-07-29) is another “cloud haiku” that doesn’t mention “cloud”, but finds ways to express what I’m seeing in metaphor.

Suspend in gray clay/
Sun is somewhere, butter spread/
Ambiguous light

19. This haiku (2015-09-04) is another “advice haiku” about using the right words.

Diction is a knife/
Too sharp, certain injury/
Honed just right, a tool

20. I have a fascination with rivers. When I stopped going to church, my temple became the riverbanks. I wrote this haiku (2015-09-09) to express my reverence.

Rivers never end/
To sea, to rise, and to fall/
Infinity stream

21. This haiku (2015-09-10) is about “the little things”. It’s also about my grandpa going on a walk with me through the woods on a cool summer morning when I was maybe 8. He told me to look closely at the sparkling morning dew on a spider web below a fern along the trail. I’ve been looking at those kinds of details ever since.

“Is all common, base?”/
“Have you seen the morning dew?/
There’s no rarer gem”

22. This haiku (2015-10-13) is about a dream I had the previous night, where I was lost at sea and questioning some of my values.

Silent sea beckons/
Great water doesn’t douse your/
Roaring inner flame

23. I wrote this haiku (2015-10-27) about the impermanence of the beauty of fall. Some people living near deciduous trees make rituals out of seeing them in their traffic light state. I’m one such observer. About 10 years ago I remember falling to the ground as one of my crutches landed incorrectly, and I didn’t get up because I was lost in the golden leaves of a tree. I was feeling a similar awe when I wrote this.

Rush and lust for gold/
Great treasure needs reverence/
So impermanent

24. Precisely one year after I started this practice, I wrote this haiku (2015-11-19) about the practice itself. I think to live up to the phrase, “We must try to live!” we have to do more than merely passively survive, but create artifacts, ideas, and practices that can help and inspire others. (The owner of a local bookstore here replies to “That author has a gift!” with “No, he has a practice.”)

Create or consume?/
The former a firmer stance/
Against entropy

25. I wrote this haiku (2015-11-21) at the first snowfall of the season, rounding out the weather observances for the year.

Light and sound diffused/
All will be immobile soon/
As silver dust falls

That’s it for the highlights, but there are plenty more haiku available at my Twitter page, @ArthurHovinc.

I intend to continue the “daily” haiku practice for the rest of the year. I’ll decide then if I want to keep the frequency into the new year, or resume a monthly contribution.

—Art

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