When In Doubt, Haiku


Working on my memoir last year, I re-discovered my old journals. Although filled with many boring entries, every so often, the pages revealed heartfelt poems, prose, and short stories. I was particularly struck by my poetry and regretted that I had not kept writing poems through the years. Seeing that some Facebook friends are writing haiku as statuses, I decided to reacquaint myself with this type of writing.

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form. Traditionally, these poems are 17 total syllables in 3 lines, comprised of 5 syllables for the first and third lines and 7 syllables for the second line. Here’s a good introduction on haiku and how to write them.

Many modern writers do all sorts of things and call them “haiku.” The purist that I am, I prefer the challenge of forcing myself to articulate my thoughts economically, so I stick to the traditional pattern, like this:

When in doubt, haiku.
Just seventeen syllables
To express your thoughts.

In the past, many Japanese haiku were about nature and the last line contained some sort of surprise, twist, or change. I can see why. When I started trying this out for myself, I discovered first-hand how easy it is to be inspired by nature and to see life lessons within it.

The three haiku below, I wrote in the same week, before, during, and after a major snow storm:

Clear. Crisp. New Year’s Day.
Blue skies slowly turning gray.
Calm before the storm.

Quiet, peaceful morn.
Dark with no promise of light,
‘Til after the storm.

Tracks on snowy mound.
Signs of life after the storm.
Can’t hide Beaver’s lodge.

My favorite of my recent nature-related haiku was the most difficult to write. I saw snow whipping up and traveling across our field and I said ”snow devil” out loud to myself.  Then I laughed, realizing that I was talking to myself and also that this was not an actual term. So, I decided to explain it in a haiku.


This is the final result:  

We say “dust devils,”
When wind whips up desert sands.
Here, “snow devils” dance.

Forcing my thoughts and feelings into these patterns has gotten somewhat addictive. On a particularly long and pleasurable training run with my dog the other day, I decided to articulate my feelings in a haiku. 

My running partner,
Always listens, never tires.
Four-legged “best friend.”

My dog, Cleopatra, has been the subject of a few other recent poems, including these below, written on different days when reflecting on playing fetch with her before my 90 minute drive to work:

Tossing ball for pup.
At peace, playing in the rain.
Montpelier waiting.

Playing fetch at dawn.
Reluctant moon. Purple skies.
Warm despite the cold.

Sometimes, I want to hold fond feelings close to me and preserve them, so I compose a haiku. This happened twice this winter, while I was skiing. The first one was inspired by a great time I had with my nephew Liam.  We composed the first two lines together on the chairlift and each had a different third line. My version is below:

Good light and powder,
Rewards after the clearing.
Welcomed by old knees.

The second flooded over me while I was skiing with my friend Blair. I had to pause on the slopes to count syllables with my ski pole in the snow, until the haiku was completed and memorized.  It refers to a close friend of mine who died four years ago. He’s the person who finally got me skiing again after nearly a 25-year hiatus:

First mogul run since
Stephen said, “You can do it!”
Great times, then and now.

Finally, I come to a haiku that requires more explanation than I can afford here. It’s about my maternal grandmother and the unintended impact her unorthodox and complicated personality had on me as a child. Hopefully, the words can speak for themselves, at least on some level:

Mémère’s voice inside
My head is unforgiving.
Self-doubt in disguise.

I hope you enjoyed this blog, despite its departure from my usual topics. Please feel free to comment with some of your own haiku. I’d really love to read them.


3 thoughts on “When In Doubt, Haiku

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