about my haiku practice

Dwelling, © Belinda Broughton, acrylic on canvas,110 x 170 cm
Dwelling, © Belinda Broughton, acrylic on canvas, 110 x 170 cm

Like everyone else, at school I was taught that haiku was simply a matter of counting syllables. I disliked it but then I disliked most ‘rules’ at that age! About a dozen years ago I came upon The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel and I loved lots of those haiku so I studied what he had to say in the intro and began trying it myself. Of course mine were fairly bad in retrospect but at least I was freed from the arbitrariness of 5-7-5.

From there I began surfing the web and found my self at Jane Reichhold’s ‘aha poetry’ site http://www.ahapoetry.com/haiku.htm Later I bought her book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku. (There’s not a lot in it that isn’t on the website, but it’s a lovely book. And good to have it all in one place with decent formatting!)

The bit that helped me most is when she quotes Betty Drevniok: “Write [haiku] in three short lines using the principle of comparison, contrast, or association…. This technique provides the pivot on which the reader’s thought turns and expands.” http://www.ahapoetry.com/haiartjr.htm and goes into somewhat prescriptive ways of writing haiku that I tried and had some success with. Also her ‘Fragment and Phrase Theory’, http://www.ahapoetry.com/haiku.htm#frag, helped me.

I do wish I had Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga a bit earlier. It is the best book I have come across for learning haiku.

I also read a lot of essays, some useful, some not. But nothing beats reading good poems, and taking time with the ones you like. I also write out my favourites in a notebook; I learn a lot doing that. http://www.hsa-haiku.org/haikucollections.htm is a good source, especially the Henderson and Gerald Brady Awards. Plus there are many good online and print journals.

We started a local haiku group called Haiku Bindii in, I think, 2010. It was instructive to get and give feedback and to run the odd workshop. Nothing teaches the teacher like teaching! haiku-bindii.blogspot.com/‎

But regarding actual writing, I found that the most important thing is to keep it concrete, to rely on sensory experiences to convey a feeling. Things seen, heard, touched, or the taste of something, and the most poignant of the senses, smell, are the details (images) that draw a reader into the experience. The interaction between images (usually two) is what makes a haiku ‘more than the sum of its parts’.

I often write from prompts because I have the discipline of a flea. Prompts get me thinking about things, situations, and happenings. I usually free-write or free-associate for a while and then begin a sort of distilling process. Most of my work is ‘desk-ku’ but any writing relies on having lived through things and been aware, awake and sponge-like. Plus I couldn’t live without editing. I love the process; it’s like doing a puzzle or making jewellery.  Also I spend a lot of time in nature. We have a few acres and I like gardening. Also we camp. Sometimes I ginko with friends, but I just take down notes; it’s rare for anything to come fully formed.

Little Bird, © Belinda Broughton, acrylic on canvas,110 x 170 cm
Little Bird, © Belinda Broughton, acrylic on canvas, 110 x 170 cm

The Haiku Anthology http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/211530.The_Haiku_Anthology

Writing and Enjoying Haiku. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/211515.Writing_and_Enjoying_Haiku

Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/211517.Haiku

19 thoughts on “about my haiku practice

  1. Useful to retrace ones journey ( if only i could remember it! ) I too started with Corr Van de Heuval, and after an initial enthusiasm and membership of the BHS fizzled out. Having a word press site has encouraged me to write as I never felt good enough before, not that i am now, but it seems to give a reason to do it which means actually practising. I’ve joined a haibun study group, and their response to my hastily penned and little crafted first attempt has beem slash and burn!!If I can take it, then hopefully I can learn the craft…my worry is that it is one persons perception of how a thing should sound/look, are they knocking out my individual voice…? Although ..it is making me realise that I have the freedom to write in anway I desire on my site…yeahh!, Thanks for the book links , they look interesting..what’s happened to your book? I see that you are busy with family joys an worries…Put me on the list to purchase said book on it’s appearance…enyoy the garden, regards Nicole..

    1. I generally find that the best editing tool I have for my own work is ‘slash and burn’. by which I mean questioning the worth of each word or phrase and cut cut cut (but you probably mean something else by ‘slash and burn’).
      a critique group can be very good. I’ve been to a number. Most things people say are worthy of consideration. But in the end I find that sometimes they are just wrong.
      And don’t worry for a moment about having someone knocking out your individual voice. I don’t think it’s possible. Learning a craft or genre is about trying lots of things out. Writing in another voice on purpose can be a really good exercise for example. Your own voice will always come through in the end. How can it not?

  2. Haiku is such a wonderful art form. I like to write them and find so often that there is yet another layer to discover when reading them. They feel like meditative exercises and I enjoy saying them aloud to myself.

    1. They are wonderful to hold in your mouth aren’t they. yes, I think it’s mediative to write them and to read them. also to experience (or re-experience) the subject matter. I imagine they could be a wonderful balance for your rich surreal poems.

  3. Hi Belinda, I’m loving your blog very much… I don’t know how you found my blog but I’m so glad you did as it has enabled me to find here.
    This is an excellent post on haiku and in particular haiku development, a one in which I can appreciate because of similar experiences I have had.
    The first time I ever heard of Haiku was when I was 18 and read a Jack Kerouac book called ‘The Dharma Bums’, and it would seem that what I took from that was mainly the fact that it was 5-7-5 and that it was something to do with nature. For years and years I wrote a lot of poetic 17 syllable descriptions of things I saw in nature and was quite happy.
    Even up until about a year and a half ago I was still doing this after having resisted several attempts by many people in poetry websites to get me to change my ways. Although I suppose eventually all these combined efforts must of had some effect on me because I eventually did dump the 5-7-5 habit and became a student and advocate of the ‘one breath’, minimalist, brevity approach to haiku writing.
    It’s really good to see that there are other poets like yourself who have also seen the need to change and even more excellent that you are willing to write a post about it which may help others to change.
    I went through a certain period of dismay at what haiku had become in the blog world and was even cheeky enough to put a post in my blog called “Not Haiku” where I wrote…

    This is not Haiku
    just seventeen syllables
    split between three lines

    and then posted a wikipedia link about Haiku. (although on reflection this was a bit too much… I don’t think many people saw the funny side). However, I should have approached the situation in the same measured way that you have done.
    Thanks for the excellent links and information….

    Finally… I did write a post on my blog once about how I discovered haiku and the Jack Kerouac book that I mentioned earlier. In that post I used this quote that I managed to find from the book…

    “A real haiku’s gotta be as simple as porridge and yet make you see the real thing, like the greatest haiku of them all probably is the one that goes ‘The sparrow hops along the veranda, with wet feet.’ By Shiki. You see the wet footprints like a vision in your mind and yet in those few words you also see all the rain that’s been falling that day and almost smell the wet pine needles.”
    Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969)
    The Dharma Bums

    I wish I had paid more attention when I first read this 20 years ago…

    1. Well, from what I’ve read of your haiku you are enjoying something similar now. That’s a wonderful quote from Kerouac.
      I only began blogging last november, and was really surprised how many people still miss the best points of haiku. Such a lot of trawling to find other poets with a similar outlook. Blogger has more.
      Not quite sure how I got to your blog but I followed a commenter from http://randalane.wordpress.com/ and saw your comments there (can’t remember the middle blog)

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