Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Winter 2009, vol 7 no 4

haiku mind:108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart
by Patricia Donegan
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


Haiku mind is the awareness to tune in to the vastness of the moment. . . . to create and appreciate this tiny form of poetry [haiku], one needs a vast mind like the sky. This is known in Tibetan Buddhism as dzogchen: that our natural state of mind is vast and clear as the sky. When we can pause and relax in the moment, that is our haiku mind: the awakened, open-heartedness that we can always tap into.

—Patricia Donegan

The "Haiku Mind" is a term we see often in books, online and in printed journals. Its meaning is sometimes debated, of course, but most see it as something happening in the now that transmits to the mind a revelation, that is often simple, yet deep. In Patricia Donegan's new book, haiku mind, she begins with her conceptualization of the "haiku mind" and how she came to adopt this definition.

Writes Donegan, "I wanted to write this book to share the idea of 'haiku mind'—a simple yet profound way of seeing our everyday world and living our lives with the awareness of the moment expressed in haiku—and to therefore, hopefully, inspire others to live with more clarity, compassion, and peace. . . . A fine haiku presents a crystalline moment of heightened awareness in simple imagery, traditionally using a kigo or season word from nature. It is this crystalline moment that is most appealing. However, this moment is more than a reflection of our day-to-day life—it is a deep reminder for us to pause and to be present to the details of the everyday. It is this way of being in the world with awakened open-hearted awareness—of being mindful of the ordinary moments of our lives—that I've come to call the 'haiku mind'.''

Haiku Mind isn't a long, boring teleological treatise; nor is it advocating an Eastern philosophical doctrine or belief. The meat in her book, the core itself, is a haiku written by a deceased or living Japanese or Western haiku poet. After each haiku she gives her psychological interpretation of the poem.

On page five she quotes a haiku by the late Shuson Kato of Japan:

I kill an ant . . .
and realize my three children
were watching

Writes Donegan, "The microcosm of one ant crawling across the floor and our response to it. 'Be honest to yourself; and write what is there.' These words from the Japanese woman haiku master, Teijo Nakamura, given in a rare interview when I had asked her what was the greatest principle of haiku. At first I thought the interpreter had made a mistake, for her reply seemed much too simple; later when I tried to practice it, I realized how hard yet truly profound it was. This haiku reflects the courage it takes to be that honest with oneself in order to become a true human being who lives mindfully moment to moment. As we all know, not causing harm to oneself or others is the basis for creating more peace in our own lives and those around us, extending out to the rest of the world. But it can only happen if we are honest and start where we are now., for honesty is the root of this transformation. Starting this very moment with whatever is happening and seeing it clearly with a gentle heart, no matter how embarrassing, how painful, how sad, no matter what: this is the human journey."

She gives her interpretations of haiku by Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Issa, Jack Kain, Allen Ginsberg, Yosa Buson, Diane Di Prima, Jerry Kilbride, Gary Gay, Basho, Chiyo-Ni, Kiyoko Tokutomi, etc. (She comments on 108 haiku)

One of my favorite haiku in Patricia Donegan's book is one by Jim Kacian:

bright sun
the sheen of tall grass
when it bends

At first glance, Kacian's haiku too looks like a simple, easy to understand description of a moment in nature, but when you read it over, it begins to take on new dimensions, dimensions that perhaps even Kacian didn't think of when writing this poem. A poet's job is to write the haiku, and the informed reader's job is to interpret it via his or her own cultural memory, education, experience, personal biosphere, religious beliefs, etc., as each person is different and sees and interprets poems from their own unique viewpoint. This is the danger of subscribing to formula poetry such as the following made up haiku:

humid day . . .
my wife spent too much
time cooking

Another danger is adopting Japanese aesthetics in one's haiku when one has little or no knowledge regarding the aesthetic principle used. As Donegan said in the book's introduction, "When we can pause and relax in the moment, that is our haiku mind: the awakened, open-heartedness that we can always tap into."


haiku mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart
by Patricia Donegan
Shambala Press
ISBN 978-1-59030-579-9