Haiku writing: a personal random reflection as an Indian poet

Ram Krishna Singh

--R K Singh

When I wrote my first haiku, perhaps in the early 1980s, I knew little about it except the basics of the form that it contains three short lines in 5-7-5 syllables, a reference to nature, and uses concrete images of things we can see, smell, touch, taste, or feel.

I had no teacher or guide to learn its deeper structure. I had no clear idea how best I could use the form inmy socio-cultural context, or adapt the Japanese norms to my native experiences, my own first-hand observations and subjective feelings.

Earlier, in the 1970s, I sometimes wrote mini poems in 3, 4, or 5 lines which are in free form. To give a few examples:

1. The best poetry
is a woman
concrete, personal, delightful
greater than all
(22 October 1972)

2. Naked
without ring
my finger
looks a widow
(29 September 1973)

3. I smoke and see
in the the upgoing fumes
dry ashes of life
(5 November 1973)

4. There is no tree
over the mountain
I rest under the shade
of a wandering cloud
(31 October 1974)

I thought these were like haiku, or had haiku possibility. Despite my preference for brevity, and haiku-like sensibility, and even use of 3-line stanzas in my regular poems, I doubt I knew enough to be confident to compose haiku that create an image, or show what I experienced which the reader, too, could feel. Honestly, it took me time to realize that all 3-liners are not haiku, nor all 5-liners tanka, even if my fascination for the form brought about a sort of consistency in the syllabic structure of my regular poems without wasting words.

Haiku as an independent poem, however, could start happening from 1982 onwards, though initially, what I composed as haiku, and succeeded in publishing them too, continued to baffle me. For example:

1. It’s utter helpless
true, but to survive
one must be tamed
(29 December 1983)

and

2. The mirror is so small
I can’t see the ocean
beyond my own look
(6 July 1985)

But the following three pieces seemed good:

3. A stray sperm
grows in the ovum
booms as a puffball
(7 February 1985)

4. Among the white hairs
a solitary black one
keeps her hope alive
(5 January 1987)

5. After cleaning
the maid leaves behind
an oily smell

So is true with the 5-liner:

1. Layers of dust thicken
on the mirror water makes
the smuts prominent:
I wipe and wipe and yet
the stains stay like sin
(2 July 1986)

I used to share some of my poetic pieces with my American poet friend, the late Professor Lyle Glazier of the University of New York at Buffalo, USA. Reading my first collection of haiku, he wrote me in a letter (dated 8 June 1999):

“I’ve read your collection of haiku and found much to interest me, but there have been so many collections of haiku. I think of them as good finger exercises for a poet, but except for a few collections—like Cid Corman’s Back Roads to Far Towns, a translation of Basho with original Japanese text and Cid’s own translation and commentary, I think it is very rare to have a book that stands up to what Basho and other oriental poets so beautifully wrote. Such collections can go on forever, and never become more than practice poems for the poet to perfect his technique…

“I am wondering if you wouldn’t better spend your time on a less formalized structure except for your own amusement and private gain.

“It seems to me that your own form is more interesting and suits you better.”

A month later, Professor Glazier wrote me again, dissuading me from writing haiku:

“At 88 years of age, I have reached a time when my vitality begins to wane, and I trust you will come to understand that I only think of your future welfare when I advise you not to spend valuable hours on haiku, a temptation that is shared by many poets persuaded that admiration from other poets writing in that genre is more than mutual admiration that has little worth outside that circle.

“If you can bring yourself to look objectively at the poems in that form, you will discover how boring it can become to read them. A few haiku can be admired if they avoid the common practice of moving away from a concentrated objective visual/auditory/sensory revelation into a virtually didactic statement, as if looking at the poem and remaking, ‘See how clever I have been to achieve this insight.’ The purely sensual haiku is very difficult to achieve, and especially difficult to achieve a collection of such depth and vision as to win a total commitment from the rear…

“At your best you are a poet with remarkable talent and insight. Don’t be betrayed by joining a mutual admiration society, no matter how successful.”

It took me years to understand, and effectively practice, that haiku carries one’s deep, personal, spiritual experiences, expressed in shortest possible way: these are brief, lyrical self-experiences, and experiences of life on earth, experiences of a passing moment, here and now, not to teach or preach or analyze or philosophize or moralize or argue, but to stir the spirit, to become aware of the images of life and various events associated with it. It is connecting with what is there around us, outside in nature, and inside our mind, heart and soul. It is experiencing and expressing our emotions of joy, sadness, admiration, or strong feelings through the form of an object that we see with our own eyes, as Koko Kato notes in her haiku magazine, Ko. The attempt is to create an image with purity of feeling and sincerity of experience, and communicate with a sense of wonder and majesty, rather than verbal cleverness.

Also, haiku writing to me could not be confined to mere nature poetry with seasonal reference, nor is the 3-liner with human content, that is, senryu, a different entity. I practice haiku and senryu as one: simply haiku, which happens with the momentness of a lived moment and communicates our faith in the unity of man’s being with all existence. It instinctively images what the creation around us means.

It’s limited form, characteristically short-long-short lines, has a lot of possibility if the poet could develop a sense of proportion, or harmony, the expressive side of language or rhythm which permeates the words, as also if the poet could evince sensuousness, imaging life in all its hues, from the most intimate to the most uplifting beyond, with room for readers to connect.

With these few random thoughts about my haiku writing in English as an Indian poet, I wish to end off with a few haiku I composed recently:

1. cleaning the remains
of burnt out earthen lamps—
dusky temple yard

2. smoked fish
in the elevated hut—
honeymoon

3. flour dough
between fingers
despair sticks

4. midnight moon
senses aroused—
lift the veil

5. pecking
behind the mask
magic-seekers

6. sudden downpour—
even in sleep I worry
about the virus

7. pandemic:
bullying before vaccine
the November wave

8. left alone
a covid patient:
restless turn

9. mid-June morning—
the gardener’s muddy fingers
scratch the itching scalp

10. rainy night—
he shuts the windows
saves his books

Bio-note:

Ram Krishna Singh, a well-known Indian English poet, has been writing for over four decades now. He has published20 poetry collections, including You Can’t Scent Me and Other Selected Poems (2016), God Too Awaits Light (2017), Growing Within/Desăvârşire lăuntrică (2017), There's No Paradise and Other Selected Poems Tanka & Haiku (2019), Tainted With Prayers: Contaminado con Oraciones (2020), A Lone Sparrow (2021), and Against the Waves: Selected Poems (2021). He retired in 2015 as Professor at IIT-ISM, Dhanbad. More at https://pennyspoetry.fandom.com/wiki/R.K._Singh

Email: profrksingh@gmail.com

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for publishing my random thoughts on my haiku journey as an Indian poet.

    ReplyDelete

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