A couple of years ago I was approached by Hamish Ironside who was putting together an anthology of haiku. He wanted a different poet to write a haiku a day for one month, and would I do July? Some of the haiku writers who agreed to take part are haiku experts; others, like me, had never written a haiku before. I agreed for a simple and selfish reason. July in Santa Marinella traditionally means no intellectual/creative work and a lot of beach (where it’s impossible to read or scribble as I’m keeping an eye on my daughter in the sea). It seemed to me that writing 17 syllables a day would be an admirable way of being creative with minimal scribbling time attached. Recently, and with the project as a whole nearing completion, I looked over my proofs for July and liked what I read. My month of haiku is an imagist’s diary-- flashes of sight, sound, taste from that long hot month; sudden spiritual insights; small epiphanies.
I know, of course, that there is contention about the way some Westerners write haiku. (Even Richard Wright’s marvellous end-of-life haiku have come in for a slamming.) So when I began to be seized by the idea of writing haiku every day for a whole year, I did pause for thought. My haiku—in common with the Western tradition—do use language in a different way. They continue to play with metaphor. They deliberately open themselves up to the metaphysical. This is in stark contrast to the very direct and plain descriptions of the Japanese masters. And in any case, anyone can see that 17 syllables in English don’t equate to 17 Japanese ‘on’. On balance, my haiku have, perhaps, as much in common with early twentieth century Imagism as pure Japanese Haiku. Nonetheless, the discipline of the 5-7-5 ‘shell’ galvanizes me. Even if I break that shell, for the music of the haiku, I like knowing it is a line I choose to step outside.
The Japanese masters used the seasons and man’s place within them, as subject matter. Again, Westerners, and modern Japanese, have begun to break this mold. My own haiku are deeply attached to the season and also, within that, the liturgical year. They reflect the rhythm of morning Mass, they contemplate Mary, they will, I anticipate, contain something of the essence of my Lent, Easter and Christmas. They look to the semi-open skylight above us. Each haiku involves recollection and gives expression to the ‘sacrament of the present moment.’
I hesitate to call them haiku, as they are not very Japanese. The essence of Haiku is ‘cutting’—two images cut by one word or expression. I’d like to take this word, ‘cutting’ and attach it my imagistic, Western, Catholic haiku. Cuttings are also fragments taken from plants to replant and grow. They form a scrapbook. They represent what we salvage. For the Hermitage of the Three Holy Hierarchs they will form another point of meditation and celebration of God’s creation.