Memoir and haiku are unlikely playmates. Memoir, of course, is rooted in the past.. The haiku that I’m talking about here, by contrast, is focused, deliberately and explicitly, on the present. Writing haiku is, in fact, a kind of mindfulness practice. Writing what I’m calling “the memoir haiku” grounds me firmly in the present, while it preserves the moment (maybe even better than a photograph) for posterity. Classical haiku poets may cringe at how free I feel to twist their format to my whims. So be it.
Here’s how it works for me.
- At least once or twice a day, anytime, anywhere I can, I stop the action, scan the interior landscape, survey my surroundings, and notice – really notice! – what’s going on.
- I take out my smart phone (old fashioned paper and pencil, or the palm of your hand, will work too) and write a 3 to 6 line “haiku” about that exact moment, with explicit detail but without deep thought. I don’t worry about exact length or the number of syllables, rhyme or meter. I rarely use metaphor. My goal is to capture the essence of the moment, unintellectualized, then to let it go.
- At the end of the day, I look back at what I’ve written, sometimes change a word of two to sharpen the focus, but often leave it as written.
- I recall the moment, smile and savor my creation.
The Joy of Haiku
Taking a moment in the middle of a busy day, stopping the action, just long enough to write a haiku poem shifts my awareness from semi-automatic, future-think to conscious, present now-think. It refreshes my soul. It may not produce great poetry, but it produces great moments.
Rigby, old black dog, sniffs a tree, squats and
Folds himself down on the driveway.
No worries. Just this moment.
* * * *
My body – like an old car –
Leaking oil, sputtering, creaky noises
On average, I spend 5 minutes on a poem. Sometimes, it comes to me almost written. Sometimes, it starts from an image or a thought, that I let simmer briefly before I know what I want to say. The joy is in the creation. I am one with my life in a way that I often am not when I’m lost in my head, focused and “productive”. Weeks after writing a haiku memoir, I can return to the poem and remember exactly where I was, what I was feeling, inner and outer mood. I relive the moment, like being with an old friend, and I feel enriched.
The lawn mower sputters.
The butterfly flutters.
As my mind roams and mutters.
I didn’t set out to write a rhyming haiku, but that’s the way this one emerged and I went with it. It captured the moment, and then, like the butterfly, it flew away. I think of these little moments as meditations, moments of memoir, time out of time, slices of joy and reflection. Writing the haiku memoir is a momentary vacation, a change of brain wave, a dip into an alternate reality. Reflecting at the end of the day, I notice that it is often these moments of haiku that live on for me, like the lingering sweet smell of good cooking.
Cows in the field
All of us, seeking contentment
this is a great post, Peter! as it is an untapped topic worthy of more discussion among memoir writers.
Nancy, thanks. I love writing haiku. Fills me with life, the moment. I’m planning on teaching a class in haiku memoir, this fall through SOU OLLI. More here, I hope.
Chimes wander with the wind:
Sometimes robust, sometimes just thin.
The breeze now scarce across my face and gone. Their tune erased, no trace.
Leslie, lovely. “wander with the wind.” Yes! Here and gone. Thank you.
Haiku even Basho was changing the landscape and form> Sonia Sanchez social activist and poetess with many honors writes haiku concerning injustice and racism. Haiku is profound, gentle and freedom