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w. f. owen
Copyright 2007 w. f. owen
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations in reviews.
Published by Lulu.com
Many of the haiku in this book have been published in the following: Acorn, Agnieszka’s Dowry, black bough, bottle rockets, Frogpond, Haiku Headlines, Mainichi Daily News, Mariposa, Mayfly, Modern Haiku, New Resonance 2 (Red Moon Press), One Hundred Gourds (Two Autumns Press), Snapshots and tinywords.com.
This book is an informal bridge between a text on how to write haiku and a collection of haiku. As a writer of haiku, senryu and haibun, I present two hundred of my favorite haiku, most of which have been published, many of them with commentaries and musings. Although good haiku and senryu poems leave readers enough space to seek their own meanings, I offer some of my own thoughts, which will give those who study these forms insights into their own haiku writing. Prose sections before and after my poems give the reader an idea of my thought processes, topics I find interesting and a view into how and why I write haiku as I do. Such is perception, it tells as much about the perceiver as the moments perceived. Therefore, this is less a literary text than an autobiographical, interpersonal one. It is a notebook, an extended haibun. There is no contents page, there are no references. I wanted the freedom to engage in a stream-of-consciousness approach, as well as the opportunity to compose new poems along the way. The prose and haiku do not follow a chronology, but rather are arranged by linked meanings. Then, at the end, I include additional selected poems from the last decade for your consideration and study. I hope you enjoy this brief book as much as I did writing it.
w. f. owen
a spent salmon
Long walk by the river. Someone piled four dead salmon, brightly colored, jaws distended, in an overlapping pattern on some rocks twenty feet from shore. Why not eat them? Had they caught them or merely picked them up on the shoreline? Like a marathon runner collapses just across the finish line—spent. The river won. Fish did their duty by continuing the line, the people may have stacked the fish as a monument, a gravestone.
early winter grass
grows through them
Memories of my ten years living in Hawaii. Though I did some fishing off-shore with long lines of multiple hooks, most of my fishing was by impaling fish on spears while free-diving. But back on shore, during a time mainlanders would call Indian summer, Hawaiian fishermen cast nets just over the breakers. Pulling in, flipping fish within, one small one drops out in foamy surf.
a fish slips through
the gill net
another argument unfolds the futon
Exhausted from working in the backyard. Stretched out, drifting off, the overwhelming restfulness is like after arguments . . . A different view I get from going horizontal, everything is either up or down. Being flat I feel the earth, more connected to baser instincts, like lower animals. In death, if buried, we are buried flat, as if resting. A final resting place. After momma died I tried it.
long shadows I lie flat beside her grave
Feeling more support after a loss. How better to be supported than by Mother Earth? . . . News of a lost friend with whom I used to walk.
after his death
the width of our
As complex as life is, can it be reduced to vertical and horizontal? Explore the physical dimensions of life, our interaction with space, time, measurement. Haiku these days are sparked by visual things I notice . . . A friend told me she threw out everything that reminded her of him.
she cleans the ring
around the tub
My son skips to stay up with me, lengthened strides to keep up at just the time of year when daylight and darkness even out.
to match dad’s
The Marine Corps, so many memories, such as marching. The drill instructor said: “I want to see one giant caterpillar goin’ down the parade ground.” . . . A walk on campus. A few of those groundskeepers are ex-military, the way they move and stand, it’s muscle-memory.
shoulder their brooms
thumbs along the seams
of his jeans
This unity comes from nature, the symmetry of all things.
the planets align
at the bottom of a glass
left by a melon
the picnic blanket
It is a way of seeing to notice the wholeness of celestial bodies and earthly events and objects. I do not stop enough to notice how things mimic or mirror one another.
in her hair
a gentle tug
on my leg
At the river bank with a group of friends away from the city where stars can be seen, the Perseids meteor shower offers a show.
shooting star a gasp goes through the crowd
falling stars a boy searches the lawn
a match flares
As teens in Texas, we fished near this same bank pulling channel catfish from the Colorado. Rolled-up bacon in an old mayonnaise jar provided the grease, a Boy Scout mess kit served as a frying pan. The first fish I fried, the grease was too hot, popping up into one eye losing vision for three days. But nothing, nothing tasted better than a fish who moments before was flipping. Most nights we slept here with only rare nibbles.
a few bites
At daybreak, we used a seine net to get minnows, trying a change from red wigglers or cutworms.
After awhile, only stick-fish were reeled in (losing the bait and dragging in a stick). Hunger reeled us home.
on the bank
fish holding the curve
of the bucket
crescent moon my fishing rod bows
Shapes hold a special fascination because all matter, all things, occupy space—whether living or not. Nature will not be denied. There is no emotion, no sentimentality, only life-death. The knothole in the fence creates a space for a plant to reach its fingers through. A vine will find a boulder to go around. A shape hints at what is, was or will be.
the fruit trees
hold their droop
fallen fence the vine still climbing
brushing her horse
the young girl’s hair
back and forth
at the summit
from the center of a stump
New life, it is said, often comes from death. We grew blackberries a few years and, before spring planting, some wild plants sprouted and pushed the boundaries first set. Nature finds a way. Humans, too, find a way and this shows our connection to a universe of renewal.
on the shelf the last preserves she put up
Growing up, many friends carried good luck objects in their pockets. One had a lucky penny, another had a rabbit’s foot and another packed a small wrench his mechanic dad gave him. As if to compete, there were boys who had pocket knives and one had a small nail clipper attached by a small metal chain to the belt loop of his Levi’s. I never saw him cut his nails. This red-haired kid carried a bent-up photo of his dad who had died in a car accident. I didn’t understand that at the time, but I wanted to be different, too. I decided to carry the foot from a squirrel I had shot. These objects were like friends that kept us company and preserved connections to people.
a young woman
at the Wall
dog tags in her hand
The only thing I kept when my mom died was the lucky Kennedy half-dollar I had given her to use on scratcher tickets. I didn’t want to say I wanted anything. Other coins continued to give comfort for awhile longer.
tossing my lucky penny
in dad’s grave
Visiting mom and step-father to help out with momma’s breathing treatments. Living two thousand miles away, I could stay only a week. Every four hours she needed treatment and, even though much younger than my step-father, he got up in the middle of every night. It became the new routine. But, he had started to become erratic in driving, dangerous to himself and others.
I take away
dad’s car keys
They died within weeks of each other—him and then her. Attended his funeral, but missed hers. My plane circled overhead but could not land due to fog. Made her wake and later visited her gravesite, lying right beside him. The dirt was brighter and richer in color than undisturbed soil nearby. Like a crop of seeds had been planted. Leaving. I am sure something will grow, just as his backyard gardens grew any and every thing he planted. Nothing but a clothesline now.
not yet engraved
a dragonfly grips
Graves waiting for visitors. Like sentries. Erect, hard and tough. The new recruits easy to spot. Sharp-cut letters and numbers. A grit of stone to the touch. Clean, some shiny, unworn, unweathered. Among them the old salts, the short-timers, the lifers. They crumble, they lean.
fallen headstone the letters fill with rain
first day in the grave
I move his picture
for a better look
Children, of course, are at the other end of life, the start of the race. How far it is to the end is neither known nor imagined. They have a sense of timelessness and wonder. As an adult, I sometimes strive to recapture that sense of awe. Haiku and senryu help to see life as a child.
summer solstice fireflies on both sides of the jar
the rattle of marbles
in a can
girls play jacks
on the porch
his finger slows
the spinning globe
before she can tie it
the balloon escapes
from the kickball
The aged often are first to see the childlike humor, wonder, mystique of the world. Whether through some diminished abilities or wisdom, this vision of the world is vital for a haiku poet to attain. Look for the simple and snap the moment like a camera of the mind.
in the attic
for his marbles
the old man’s
last bale of hay
one strap holds
Balance. Though English-language haiku bear the stamp of different environs, how different are we from the Japanese—or Russians, Serbs, Croatians for that matter—in the basics of life. Many Asian philosophies speak of chi or some universal life force. But the girl who tries to tie a balloon and has it escape, or the old man whose heels are unevenly worn just at the time of a change in the length of days, have to balance nature’s forces (or not) as much as an elderly person gets up from a swing to do intricate tai chi. It is the same life thread as a bird who lands on a branch and bobs to and fro before coming to equilibrium.
a bird changes grip
on the branch
the tea cups