Thoughts and meanderings from my corner of the state
A little over a week ago, I looked out my west window first thing in the morning and saw a near-full moon I knew I couldn't capture. I have neither the skills nor the gear to photograph the moon, although I've attempted it. Nearly every time I've been rewarded with a featureless white dot against a black background.
The moon is so much smaller than our minds see it. On a full moon night, extend your arm straight and hold up your pinkie. You can block out the entire disk with just that one finger.
I couldn't capture that moon in image, but I have words:
full moon looms, a pearl
low on twilight horizon
face cracked by branches
I might not have been able to make that moon a picture, but I knew someone who could. I texted the haiku to my artist brother, and he painted my moon on his wall and sent it to me to use with this post. I was amazed. It was perfect. It was my moon.
I've never felt as if I understood haiku, although I occasionally write one, or try to. I was taught oh-so-many years ago in grade school the 5-7-5 structure, and like all my classmates, I dutifully counted the syllables.
Even now when I know that syllable count isn't carved in stone, I find myself fearful to stray from it. At what point, I wonder, is it no longer haiku? And obviously, just getting the right number of syllables doesn't make it one.
I asked two good friends, both of whom write haiku often, for their advice. Beth Howard wrote, "For me, a poem that is much longer than 17 syllables or much shorter becomes a short poem or an experimental poem." Makes sense to me. She went on to say, "There is a LOT of discussion and disagreement on these questions within the haiku world. But, there is also a lot of freedom to use the form which works best for you…"
Art Elser sent me such a lengthy response it could be a blog post in its own right, then attached two articles from the blog he used to have. (The man has a wealth of knowledge, and he doesn't mind sharing it!) His rule for himself is he doesn't use more than 17 syllables, but beyond that it varies -- sometimes a 4-6-4, sometimes uneven, sometimes with the middle line the shortest. I'll share my favorite of the examples he sent, since we both love crows:
dozens of crows
crisscross late afternoon
Beyond lines and syllables, though, he wrote, "The most basic idea of writing a haiku is that it should represent a 'haiku moment,' some brief observation or feeling that the poet observes. It could be, for instance, the observation of the waves as the tide comes in or goes out. The observation of a child and its mother dancing in a coffee shop, exuding joy and love."
I follow the Daily Meditation Podcast, and the week I saw my moon, her challenge to listeners was to "look for the miracles in ordinary life." Maybe that's what a haiku moment is -- a miracle in ordinary life. Like a dance of crows or a perfect moon.