No Zen in Haiku
(Trevor Maloney)

Some folks think that haiku has everything to do with Zen; a famous Indian teacher even said that haiku are poems that Zen priests use to express their enlightenment experiences. But, fortunately for us, this isn't true. Anybody who really wants to can write a haiku. In fact, here in the States and in Japan, anybody does write haiku. Normal slobs like you and me. Sure, the religion of Zen and Japanese artistic expressions share some interplay, but you don't have to be a Zen practitioner to write a decent haiku, and you definitely don't need to have any kind of Zen-ish glimpse of enlightenment. I started studying haiku in the Fall of 2007. Why haiku? Because I'm lazy, I think. You can write three lines - or even two - and then sometimes you're done. Tah dah! The instant coffee of poetry. Almost. The more you get into it, the more you'll want to refine it. I've spent weeks refining eight to ten words, only to come back to it months later. Sometimes I get the same feeling working on a haiku as I do when I clean out an incensor, picking out the little stubs; So, this is what my life is reduced to, huh? It's all come down to this...

ice skating with friends
watching children

Around the Spring of 2008, I put 84 of my better haiku together in a little book called "Too Bright to See." I made and gave away about 300 copies to friends, family, sangha members, acquaintances, and a few strangers. This project remains one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. Knowing what I know now about haiku, I'd say there might be eight verses in "Too Bright to See" that are really within the tradition of haiku, and probably three of them are quite good. You have to start somewhere, I suppose.

went to the bay
to see some boats
alone with the fog

A young fellow at SFZC asked me, "Trevor, would you say that your practice of Zen informs your poetry?" "No," I answered, "I would never say that." He was surprised, "Really, why not?" "Because I think that would sound pretentious. Besides, I'm only getting started on the Zen thing. And I don't write poetry." Now, though, I would say that I want my Zen practice to inform my haiku writing, but no more than I want it to inform every aspect of my life.

small Texas towns
get bigger
final descent

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1 comment:

Trevor said...

Kim. Title should be, "No Zen in Haiku."