Thursday, August 17, 2017

To the Lighthouse: Haiku Silence by Angelee Deodhar

(First published in Simply Haiku, 3:1, Spring 2005 and reprinted by kind permission of the author)

So much has been written about how to haiku that I wonder if there is anything really left to say. More and more books on the art and craft of haiku are being written, and there are innumerable websites expressing opinions and publishing haiku by the score. Some of these are conflicting in content and leave even experienced poets bewildered.

For some time now, I have been asking myself the questions which every haiku poet asks, where does one begin? What is the quality of a good haiku? Does the fact that a haiku is published mean that it is a good one? What does a haiku really mean? In my studies, over the last fourteen years, I have yet to understand a lot of things about haiku. When I was asked to contribute an essay for Simply Haiku I pondered over what to write. Many people, venerable teachers and editors of prestigious haiku magazines, have written so much already. Is there anything I can add? Having thought about it I felt I could share one insight, which for me, is the single most important affirmation towards a “haiku mind”, if we can call it that.

R.H. Blyth in the History of Haiku Vol. 1 lists thirteen characteristics of the Zen state of mind required for the creation and appreciation of haiku: Selflessness, Loneliness, Grateful Acceptance, Wordlessness, Non-Intellectuality, Contradiction, Humour, Freedom, Non-Morality, Simplicity, Materiality, Love and Courage. Not being a follower of Zen I don’t know if I can add anything to this exhaustive list. Tom Clausen, in his fine essay “A Haiku way of Life”, lists his own additional thirteen characteristics as Faith, Sharing, Discipline, Concision, Solitude, Humility, Awareness, Ritual, Creativity, Centering, Truthfulness, Curiosity and Patience. I am sure most of us have some criteria we can add to these lists. One does not have to be a practitioner of Zen to write haiku. For me these characteristics all begin and end in what I term "Haiku Silence".

The noise of the world drowns out so much. Most of us cannot leave home and set up residence near a pond as Thoreau did, but one can empathize with what he wrote. Most of us have jobs to attend to, classes to teach, bills to pay, meals to cook, meetings to attend, speeches to make. To experience silence and solitude, setting aside the baggage of negative connotations that may be associated with "non-doing", can be very challenging. How then do we, in spite of it all, write haiku? By returning to silence. By going on a journey deep within ourselves, to find a safe quiet place where the winds and gusts of everyday affairs do not trouble us, where, in silence, we can find our own natures in tune with nature around us. Silence is not the absence of sound; by listening with ones’ whole being, one can discover the silence within.

Dr. Eric Amman, in describing haiku, used the term “wordless poem”. If something is wordless how do we communicate it? How do we convey the depth of feeling of that particular moment to someone far away in time and place? How then does a haiku, the wordless poem, work when put into words? Let us examine one of his own poems which leaves so much unsaid . . .

The names of the dead
sinking deeper and deeper
into the red leaves
            —Eric Amman, The Haiku Anthology

Can haiku silence be expressed? Yes! Whenever I read a haiku which resonates for me, I ask, where did this originate? How has the person who wrote it communicated almost wordlessly that quietude? To illustrate this I will use two examples :

summer stillness
the play of light and shadow
on the wind chimes
            —Peggy Willis Lyles, The Haiku Anthology

Quiet afternoon:
water shadows
on the pine bark
            —Anita Virgil, The Haiku Anthology

Let us look at another example:

sand sifts through the roots
of a fallen tree
            —Con Van Dan Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology

Here one can actually see how these haiku work, there is a silent communion of peace, because of the poets’ stillness we pause, beauty pervades our consciousness, so also the play of light on wind chimes or shadows on the bark of the tree and the sand sifting through the roots of the fallen tree bring to us timeless images.

another year
the tallest trees shade
the oldest headstones
            —DeVar Dahl, Haiku Canada Newsletter, Volume XVII, June 2004

Stillness is a prerequisite for any creative art but more so for haiku. It is interesting to note that although Basho was a renku master. He frequently went away to find himself. Was his journey to the interior just a travelogue, or was it more? Here are three excellent examples of tranquility and quietude, in the spirit of Basho:

trickles noiselessly down
the moss-covered stone
            —Christopher Herold, a path in the garden

from winter storage
the prow of a canoe
entering sunlight
            —Jerry Kilbride, The Haiku Anthology

morning bird song-
my paddle slips
into its reflection
            —Michael Dylan Welch, The Haiku Anthology

Most of us are too busy churning out haiku trying to get published in one journal or another, sending in entries to contests or posting to various lists. It amazes me to see such frenetic activity. I agree with Zinovy when he writes,

On my palm
a lifeline wrinkled
with future deadlines
            —Zinovy Vayman, Modern Haiku, Vol. 33:1, Winter- Spring, 2002

While it is good to learn by exchanging ideas about how to write better haiku and join discussion groups, for me the main aim of writing haiku is to get to the center of my silence. Although that silence may well be interrupted . . .

time to quit
I hear the bell
before the bell
            —LeRoy Gorman, Modern Haiku, Vol.33.2, Summer 2002

silent prayer –
the quiet humming
of the ceiling fan
            —Lee Gurga, The Haiku Anthology

Does it mean that we should become hermits? No, not necessarily, but what will help is to develop a special quality of silent communion with oneself. Before one starts to put pen to paper, one must get quiet. It does not matter if we are commuting on a train, waiting in a doctor’s office, or at the airport. To write well we must bring our conscious selves into a state of silent graceful acceptance of everything around us. Here is a haiku which qualifies what I mean.

desert spring –
nothing, nothing in the world
but this full moon
            —William J. Higginson, Modern Haiku, Vol.33.2, Summer 2002

The late Robert Spiess, a long time editor of Modern Haiku, in his “Speculations” has said, “Another reason for the brevity of haiku is that the more words the more distance, the more silence the more proximity.” With just a few words Harter, Clausen and Swede have skillfully captured that noiselessness in their haiku,

meteor shower –
the glimmer
of the surf
            —Penny Harter, Modern Haiku, Vol.33.2, Summer 2002

everyone is gone . . .
the clock
            —Tom Clausen, Albatross, Vol. V, No. 1, 1996

alone at last
i wonder where
everyone is
            —George Swede, The Haiku Anthology

Spiess also cautions us, “ Chuang Tzu said, ‘If you have insight, you use your inner eye, your inner ear, to pierce to the heart of things, and have no need of intellective knowledge.’ This is how haiku poets should proceed in their endeavours. “

abandoned garden-
following the scent
of the hidden jasmine
            —Ion Codrescu, Mountain Voices

the long night . . .
a light rain
beats time on the cook pots
–Jim Kacian, Albatross, Vol. VII, No. 2, 1998

quiet evening,
a spider moves its shadow
across the wall
            —Tom Clausen, Albatross, Vol. VII, No. 2, 1998

Sri Ramana Maharshi said: ”Silence is never-ending speech. Vocal speech obstructs the other speech of silence. In silence one is in intimate contact with the surroundings. Language is only a medium for communicating one’s thoughts to another. Silence is ever speaking.” How well this is illustrated in this haiku:

temple yard    the sound    of stone buddhas
            —Stanford M. Forrester, still,  Vol.5, No.2, Spring 2001

Here the poet is at peace with himself, with his surroundings, with the world at large and in that silence he too becomes a buddha. And so also in the next haiku, we experience tranquility,

the snow-covered rock
under winter stars
            —Bruce Ross, The Haiku Anthology

Let us go deep into our own space to discover what it is that we belong to.

the space
where the lily was
            —Pamela Miller Ness, from the leaflet where the lily was

One must embrace silence and solitude to realize its full potential. In the next two haiku one sinks into deep tranquility,

deep in this world
of Monet water lilies . . .
no sound
            —Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Across the Windharp, Collected and New haiku

marble koi . . .
the silence
of lotus blossoms
            —Pamela A. Babusci, Evergreen, Vol. X111, No. 5, May 2003

How can we fully feel a moment’s essence if the mind is jumping from one thought to another? In a state of alertness, true awareness cannot occur unless we are in a mode of stillness. John Stevenson’s haiku puts it so succinctly,

a useless novelty -
each of us already has
a chattering skull
            —John Stevenson, Modern Haiku, Vol. XXXII, No. 1 Winter-Spring 2001

Recently, on one of the kukai lists of which I am a member, I wrote to the webmaster that this time none of the haiku impressed me or brought an `aha’ moment, and he very gently reminded me that our response depends upon what we bring to a haiku. What a revelation it was! I had used my chattering skull instead of my silent self and missed appreciating the haiku. Therefore the reading of haiku and their appreciation also requires an alert passivity.

I end this simple essay with a haiku which I keep on my table to remind me to write in such a manner that I (the host) can, through haiku, share with you (my guest) as pure a silence as that of the white chrysanthemum . . .

Silent communion
Between the guest,
The host, and the white chrysanthemum
            —Oshima Ryota

I have specially used non-Japanese, contemporary English language haiku to emphasize the point I am making about Haiku Silence. There are so many other haiku which I could have quoted to illustrate Haiku Silence, but since space is limited, I invite each one of you who visit Simply Haiku to share your haiku silence with me.

I thank all those who so generously gave me their permission to use their haiku and am grateful to the Editors of Simply Haiku for giving me the opportunity to share my views. Thank you.

Works Cited:

1. The Haiku Anthology, Cor van den Heuvel, ed. 3rd ed., W.W.Norton, 1999.
2. Classic Haiku, A Master’s Selection, selected and translated by Yuzuru Miura. Charles E. Tuttle
    Company, Inc., 1999.
3. Mountain Voices, Ion Codrescu. AMI-NET International Press, 2000.
4. Across the Windharp, Elizabeth Searle Lamb. La Alameda Press, 1999
5. A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, Robert Spiess, Modern Haiku, 1995.
6. Internet Sources:
a. Elizabeth St. Jacques website In the Light, for Tom Clausen’s essay, "A Haiku way of Life"
b. Sri Ramana Maharshi

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Paperbark Haiku by Jane Williams

English Original

spring afternoon
the paperbark sheds
layers of light

Daily Haiga, March 3, 2016

Jane Williams

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Jane Williams is an Australian poet based in Tasmania

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Funeral Haiku by Mike Gallagher

English Original

after the funeral
a family gathering
hatchets buried

Mike Gallagher

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Mike Gallagher, an Irish poet, has been published and translated worldwide. He won the Michael Hartnett Viva Voce award in 2010 and 2016, the Desmond O'Grady International award in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Hennessy award in 2011.His collection, Stick on Stone, is published by Revival Press.

One Man's Maple Moon: Midnight Deli Tanka by Marian Olson

English Original

icy wind
nicks to the bone:
inside the midnight deli
inside her loose wool coat
the naked hooker

Streetlights: Poetry of Urban Life, 2009

Marian Olson

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Marian Olson lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  She has published hundreds of poems— mainstream, haiku, senryu, haibun, and tanka—nationally and internationally for thirty years. She is the author of seven poetry books, including the first-place Snapshot winner Consider This and the HSA Merit prize winner Desert Hours.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Outback Haiku by Marilyn Humbert

English Original

a shooting star
arcs east to west

Paper Wasp, Autumn 2016

Marilyn Humbert

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Marilyn Humbert lives in the Northern Suburbs of Sydney NSW surrounded by bush. Her pastimes include writing free verse poetry, tanka, tanka prose and related genre. She is the leader of Bottlebrush Tanka Group and member of the Huddle and Bowerbird Tanka Groups. Her tanka appears in Australian and international journals.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Country Road Haiku by Ben Moeller-Gaa

English Original

the singer’s mandolin --
each and every curve
of this country road

Modern Haiku, 47:2, 2016

Ben Moeller-Gaa

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

歌手的曼陀林 --
Chinese Translation (Simplified)

歌手的曼陀林 --

Bio Sketch

Ben Moeller-Gaa is the author of two haiku chapbooks, Wasp Shadows (Folded Word 2014) and Blowing on a Hot Soup Spoon (poor metaphor design 2014). You can find more on Ben online at

One Man's Maple Moon: Persimmons Tanka by James Chessing

English Original

we talk
of everything
and nothing
the bowl of persimmons
not one of them ripe

Skylark, 3:1, 2015

James Chessing

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

James Chessing's profession is clinical psychology.  He is in his fifth decade writing haiku, and he published his first tanka in 2006.  His poems have appeared in many of the leading journals and anthologies, and he had the good fortune to place first in the 2010 Tanka Society of America Contest. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Rocky Ledge Haiku by Debbie Strange

English Original

rocky ledge
a wolf with the moon
in its mouth

Third Place, 7th International Haiku Competition, 2015

Debbie Strange

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Debbie Strange is a widely published Canadian short form poet and haiga artist. You are invited to visit an archive of her work at and Keibooks recently released her first collection, Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads, available through and at among others.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Silk Moon Haiku by Steliana Cristina Voicu

English Original

almond blossoms --
from petal to petal
silk moon

A Hundred Gourds, 5:2, March 2016

Steliana Cristina Voicu

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

杏仁花盛開 --

Chinese Translation (Simplified)

杏仁花盛开 --

Bio Sketch

Steliana Cristina Voicu lives in Ploieşti, Romania and loves painting, poetry, Japanese culture, photography and astronomy. She  has won a honorable mention in the 2015 VCBF, two honorable mentions in  the 2015 Betty Drevniok Award Contest, first prize in the Wild Plum Haiku Contest, first prize in the Fleeting Words Tanka Contest, and other prizes. And her haiku, haiga and tanka have been published in numerous journals and anthologies.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Poetic Musings: Kite Tanka by an'ya

that final spring
we were together flying
our kite — until
you let loose the string
and heart from soul divided

Ash Moon Anthology, 2008


Commentary: an'ya uses a flying kite to link the internal and external worlds. The midline break (a punctuation mark, "—") in L3 divides the tanka into "before/the past" and "after/the present" in a way that no word can do. The blankness of  "—" effectively severs the two parts of the tanka while simultaneously joining them ("Introduction," Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, 2009, p 17). Structurally and thematically speaking, this is a fine example of using punctuation to enhance the emotionally suggestive power of a tanka. For more information about the effective use of punctuation, see my "To the Lighthouse" post, Strategic Placement of Punctuation Marks.

In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear you the way you want to be heard. -- Russell Baker

Butterfly Dream: Nightfall Haiku by Simon Hanson

English Original

the wind in the curtain
the curtain in the wind         

Second Place, Shiki Kukai, November 2015

Simon Hanson

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Simon Hanson lives in Queensland Australia.  Sometime ago he spent a number of years  floating around Flinders University philosophy department but has more recently fallen under the spell of Japanese poetry, much preferring the challenge of writing something in a few words rather than ten thousand.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Passing Clouds Haiku by Goda V. Bendoraitiene

English Original

passing clouds before gale --
we stick to our own

WHA Haiga Contest, April 2014

Goda V. Bendoraitiene

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

在大風吹之前飄過的雲彩 --

Chinese Translation (Simplified)

在大风吹之前飘过的云彩 --

Bio Sketch

Goda V. Bendoraitiene lives in Klaipeda, Lithuania. She studied English at Vilnius Pedagogical University. At the age of 48, she was inspired to write haiku and joined the Lithuanian site for Literature. She publishes poetry, arranges national haiku contests, and takes part in the contests as a member of the jury.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Butterfly Dream: Blacksmith’s Hammer Haiku by Susan Constable

English Original

sun on steel
the echo
of a blacksmith’s hammer

Haiku Canada Anthology: Comparing Tattoos, 2015

Susan Constable

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Susan Constable’s haiku and tanka appear in numerous journals and anthologies. Her tanka collection, The Eternity of Waves, was one of the winning entries in the eChapbook Awards for 2012. She co-edited the 2014 anthology for the Seabeck Haiku Retreat and is a co-editor for the 2016 TSA Anthology.