Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2009, vol 7 no 3


Haiku Art Revealed
(notes of a beginner)
Camilla Sayf


You don't have to speak Japanese to understand haiku today. This form of literary art is available in all languages known to man. It's a blessing, really, because sometimes our experience is so intense and so captivating that all we are able to produce when asked about it after all is only a few lines. And haiku is just perfect for this job.

A haiku poet needs to see the essential in order to put it into a memorable combination of syllables that will stay in hearts of his reader for a lifetime, something that will be imprinted in the reader's brain. Haiku doesn't need excessive metaphors, epithets or various other literary inventions that help a writer deliver his message to the reader. Haiku is different. The task of a haiku poet is not to squeeze all important stuff into just three lines, but rather to re-create his intense experience, making it available to his reader so that after reading those three lines the reader will be walking the same path the poet did when he created his haiku.

Another aspect of haiku is its capability of carrying emotions. No doubt you've seen a pearl some time in your life. Do you remember what you thought when you first saw it? Did you maybe find yourself captured in a short moment of admiration and bewilderment as to the fact that something so tiny, so simple and so vulnerable can carry such an eye striking beauty? Was it that you thought of the magnificence of this world and of all the miracles to yet be discovered? And all this might as well be what you felt when you read your first real haiku. Don't be surprised and do not push your feelings away either because when you encountered a high quality haiku you in fact encountered the pearl of poetry of all times.

Orchid breathing
incense into
butterfly wings.

Matsuo Basho.

Writing haiku doesn't need to be a complicated process, yet it is. It all starts with the author contemplating about the object of his poetry and choosing just the right combination of words and sounds that will reflect the vision the author has for his object. Producing a poetic stance can take days. Sometimes, however, when a poet approaches haiku, he already possesses the ability to express his thoughts and emotions in a poetic form. It merely is a result of a persistent exercise and a successful merge of both talent and character.

Most of the time haiku doesn't need a title. It's the task of a poet to create such a haiku that its theme will be apparent from its content. This haiku will speak for itself. Yet sometimes we might observe haiku sequences that do have titles, collecting a number of haiku under each item. That's because each event or object of our reality can have dozens of aspects that can be differently presented in haiku.

Another peculiarity of haiku is its humble character. Because of its short length it can easily be incorporated in other forms of literature where haiku can either form a link between possible parts of a story revealing previously unknown aspects of it, or become a final accent concluding a narration. It can add to the story or take from it, depending on the author's intentions.

And sometimes it takes life of its own, creating a different picture than the author originally planned. This twist however has to do with how each particular reader deciphers the symbols that the author put into his haiku, because while there is such a thing as an intentional symbolization of haiku constituents, yet each object appearing in haiku has a definite connection with the reader's reality and can be viewed in relationship to a particular object of that reality, thus sometimes reflecting not the same reality the author experienced but rather the reality of the reader.

Can haiku also cross cultural boundaries, go worldwide, be a universal form of art, or is it designed to be bound to the Japanese cultural heritage as it originated within the Japanese culture? I once wrote a haiku that contained terminology specific to a special group of people. My reader responded with an offbeat criticism that those did not belong in haiku because haiku is a Japanese invention and as such can only be in harmony with the Japanese reality. In other words, can haiku contain, say, a Lebanese cedar and an Eskimo igloo, Egyptian pyramids and the Australian tea tree, can it speak about the Eiffel tower in Paris and a Canadian maple tree? Or should it be confined to the Japanese sakura, karesansui and tea ceremony? To me, the answer is quite simple. Haiku has already crossed linguistic barriers through translations and new creations in different languages. We also know about Basho now because haiku once did go worldwide and we learned how a Japanese poet saw the world. After centuries of exploration, haiku appeared to be such a versatile art that shows us myriads of ways to explore the Universe. And yes, it makes a place for others to blend in and create another beautiful experience with haiku.

Haiku is about sharing life. And life is a Universal entity.


Camilla Sayf Currently residing in Holland, Camilla Sayf, a mother of two, is a haiku poet, freelance writer and the author of various works that include poetry and short fiction. She is a former language teacher and translator who finds her greatest inspiration in researching cultural heritage left to the world by past civilizations. Some of her writing, including "Lebanese Chronicles" and "Innocent Heart" have been translated and published in other languages. Her favorite quote is "A single rose can be my garden, a single friend my world" by Leo Buscaglia.