Haiku

by Ted Cleaver

Seniority

The tree has strong roots

Fresh leaves grow

This is my first haiku. It was a gift for Tony Montana – he turned 61 yesterday. Tony is part of my 30 Day Challenge group, and family in a way because he’s Buddha’s father. Wait what? We use nicks for privacy and swag. And now, Buddha is Tony Montana’s son. Ain’t that something. I could/should/might/will come up with a fictional story how that relationship worked out, the ultimate showdown between the American dream fuelled by dopamine overdose and the embodiment of relinquishing ego and desire. In real life, the two are an inspiration to all people around them. Their father-son dynamic is characterised by love, open communication, learning from each other, and so much more of the social fabric that makes a home your temple and a family your reservoir for unconditional love.

Tony joined our group to write one haiku per day. He is a seasoned karateka, takes his lovely wife on motorcycle vacations to the mountains, works as a personal coach for C-level managers, and is extremely knowledgeable and curious about Eastern philosophy. His haiku are inspiring to read. Key characteristics of good haiku are that they are internally sufficient and independent of context (thank you Wikipedia). Moreover, commonplace objects and observations should be used. In essence, the haiku represents some fundamental truth by contrasting simple objects with each other. There is so much beauty in the simplicity with which abstract concepts can be described. A good haiku is timeless. Take this one:

Ambivalence

How simply human it is

Relieve this burden

First of all it is internally sufficient, no information needs to be added. Second, it is independent of context. Psychologically it applies to all humans, throughout history and across cultures, and externalized, in terms of perception or communication, it goes for any social system as well. The juxtaposition between elements (ambivalence, human, burden) creates more depth than is apparent on the surface. We are all ambivalent once in a while, that is simply human. However, it is a burden because indecisiveness creates stress. The way I read this haiku is that although ambivalence is natural for people, it is possible to relieve the burden, which would make your life a lot simpler. A beautiful insight, and beyond that the representation of a timeless struggle with ambivalence. It is easy to associate Eastern philosophy with this haiku. A lack of action-orientation focused on the now leads to hesitation. Ambivalence is not Zen. Knowing Mr Montana personally adds more depth to the haiku to me, although an appreciation of the theme is all it requires to contemplate its meaning.

In terms of structure and syntax, the traditional haiku uses 5-7-5 Japanese phonetic units. For us, a phonetic unit is simply a syllable. It is surprising, we have 26 letters whereas the Japanese have 46 times 2, and yet we have more phonetic sounds. Think of the r and the l mix-ups in translations. But I digress; the point is that Japanese phonetic units are not always one syllable. The word shoujo for instance has two syllables (shou-jo), but three Japanese phonetic units as the long vowel counts double. The nasal n at the end of a word counts as a separate phonetic unit as well. Fortunately for us, English haiku exist in various forms. It is not a stringent requirement to follow the Japanese “on” system, although I did try to in my own haiku.

On a final note, mastering the structure and syntax to the point it becomes a routine is necessary to truly write a haiku. The idea is not to think about a theme and come up with real life objects to contrast for a desired effect. I did, it took me about 40 minutes. The idea is that the haiku comes to you naturally. Like a samurai’s sword becomes a part of his being, the haiku should not be a tool, but the expression and extension of your soul. I’ll leave that to the masters. If you became inspired give it a shot, do share, and please let me know how you interpret mine.

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