A Haiku Circle

Glen Snyder

My first experience with a haiku circle was while visiting Rinsenji, a Soto temple in Tokyo. Lay practitioners would get together there to sit on Wednesday evenings (Zazenkai), and afterward there was always a big social get-together that went on late into the night. After going for several weeks, I noticed that there was a small group of people sitting at a table on one side, passing books around with their own haiku. They carefully read each other's haiku, considering the sound of each word, and at times an older man who was the haiku master would gently offer a few suggestions. A woman who was very talented at calligraphy would then ink each of the haiku into their books.

My Japanese is not very good at all, and there were only a few people there who felt comfortable with English. The haiku master turned out to be an artist who had journeyed to Spain many years ago to study Impressionism. So my first lesson in haiku would be Basho's frog jumping into the pond, inked on the back of a napkin, accompanied by a sketch and a short discussion, not in English but in Spanish. That was enough to inspire me to try something similar at the Houston Zen Center.

Adapting haiku to English has always been a challenge, particularly the visual impact of the words themselves. The concept of season words is also not easily described. Setting aside the technical aspects, I wasn't entirely sure if there would be a way to create the same intimacy of the haiku circle as I had seen on my visit to Rinsenji. Fortunately, I found that there were others who had also either studied or lived in Japan who had the same interest, as well as those who were simply willing to try something new. We structured the haiku circle around suggestions by Abigail Friedman in her book, The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan.

The haiku circle has been meeting together for nearly two years now. Initially, a group of 6 of us met weekly, but we now meet more infrequently, generally once a month. We copy our haiku on index cards, shuffle them, and distribute them, then copy them down so that the original author's handwriting will not be recognized. Then we pass them around, and copy down our favorites. Then we take turns reading our favorites. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for some was the recommendation by Abigail Friedman that, in the absence of a haiku master, it is preferable not to make any comments or suggestions about the haiku of others, other than just reading your favorite haiku.

During the two years, we have delighted in the way that often a similar theme will inspire several of us during the course of the week, be it a storm, a hot day, the blooming of ornamental plum trees, or flocks of grackles. It has also been an opportunity to express our feelings over time, in the context of descriptions of nature. There are also a number of other possible activities that we have considered, including putting together haiku scrapbooks that would incorporate words, art, and collage; and linked verse, or renga.

(Glen Snyder, glen.snyder@gmail.com, Mar 19, 2009)

1 comment:

rzhidov said...

I found reading this section of the article fun, interesting and a story within itself.

"My Japanese is not very good at all, and there were only a few people there who felt comfortable with English. The haiku master turned out to be an artist who had journeyed to Spain many years ago to study Impressionism. So my first lesson in haiku would be Basho's frog jumping into the pond, inked on the back of a napkin, accompanied by a sketch and a short discussion, not in English but in Spanish. That was enough to inspire me to try something similar at the Houston Zen Center."