Haiku Mind Book Cover Haiku Mind
Patricia Donegan
Poetry
Shambhala Publications
2010-10
234

Haiku, the Japanese form of poetry written in just three lines, can be miraculous in its power to articulate the profundity of the simplest moment—and for that reason haiku can be a useful tool for bringing us to a heightened awareness of our lives. Here, the poet Patricia Donegan shares her experience of the haiku form as a way of insight that anyone can use to slow down and uncover the beauty of ordinary moments. She presents 108 haiku poems—on themes such as honesty, transience, and compassion—and offers commentary on each as an impetus to meditation and as a key to unlocking the wonder in what we find right before us.

Poetry is one of those genres that’s been hard for me to get into. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve tried to live the past few years with narrative clarity. Poetry, much like lyrics to certain songs, leave so much to interpretation that it requires a certain type of patience to look between the lines and find meaning. Like impressionist paintings, we can ascertain significance into the pieces by projecting our experiences into them. So I believe, one has to be ready for poetry. Some people are naturally receptive to them. Their ears can sense the rhythm with ease and their hearts may absorb the song’s message with comfort.

Others, like me, turn near-tone deaf at the sight of incomplete sentences. Perhaps it’s a function of English not being my first language, but I need sentence structure so the content registers in my brain.  It’s been a somewhat frustrating journey, to say the least, as I have mad respect for poets and spoken word artists, and yet feel as though I have not a single knack for it myself. However, I so desperately want to pride myself as a full fledged, well rounded writer. Similar as musicians who all play several instruments, I’d like to at least be somewhat sufficient in my understanding of poetry.

So one of my new year’s resolutions is to read at least one poem a day, if not more.

My beautiful writer friend Youri once recommended a daily reader collection of poems by the mystic Rumi. And when she recommends something, I heed her advice, so I promptly got myself a copy, which then collected a bit of dust for a few months. I have now picked it up again, and have faithfully started to read a passage each night before going to bed. The first week was still hard, but then something started to shift in me. I began to stew on the passages that didn’t make sense, until well…, until they somewhat did. I was somehow miraculously able to connect on an almost spiritual level with the words. One poem a day began to not seem enough, so I picked up another near-forgotten poetry compilation off the shelf, this time The Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart, a collection compiled and edited by Patricia Donegan. Now we’re talking. I’m so happy I found this book. Not only found it, but had the sense to pick it up a second time after many failed attempts. I guess I wasn’t ready before, but I get it now!

I get haiku poetry.

Even if it’s “just” three-liners so far, but I have finally found my entry point. It’s got something to do with awareness and spirituality for me. Poems need time. They are meditations. They require work. You have to meet them on their terms and not yours. You have to appreciate them for what they are, not what you want them to be. Poetry adds richness to your life, even if it seems convoluted at first. Poetry is being present in the moment.

It’s no surprise then, that when I finally came to that realization, I tried my hand at a haiku. It took a couple of revisions, but I’m happy with it. It’s weird to feel such satisfaction with so few words. But mind you me, I did craft these with care and tenderness.

A traditional haiku’s pattern has three lines. Line one has five syllables, line two has seven, and the last line again has five. Haikus often invoke images of nature. They rarely ever rhyme. They were first used as introductions in longer poems to set the tone and mood, but quickly became popular as a full poems on their own.

Since reading poems every day, I have become a more spiritual person. It may also have something to do with the fact that I’m currently five months pregnant with my first child. My heart is cracking wide open, and my mind is trying to do everything it can with care. As I woke yesterday morning from my slumber, I reached for Donegan’s Haiku compilation, and I was suddenly inspired to write my own. One hand rested on my belly, while the other yearned to reach for a clementine I knew I would eat later as a snack. I usually don’t like fruits all that much, but have gotten into the habit of eating them every day now. Clementines, I found out, are marvelous. They are easily accessible, don’t make a mess (“wieldly”), and if they are sweet, I delight in them. I felt a strange sense of gratitude to these little orange balls of sunshine. They feed me valuable nutrition (“fortitude”) when I get antsy or hungry (“sweaty palms”).

Crisp wieldy to peel
Sweet clementine fortitude
In my sweaty palm

And then I was inspired to visually mark my gratitude with a water color painting. Oh, the amount of zen I’ve received just from reading a few haikus that morning was truly lovely.

So my conclusion? Buy this book. Keep it near. You may not like it at first, but it will grow on you, for it has so much to teach you. Whenever you’re actually ready, it will tickle your imagination.

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Also published on Medium.

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