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Haiku Rebellion Studio

Plan your writing time for Spring 2018 with The Poetry School's new list of courses. I'll be leading Haiku Rebellion Studio again, an online course that runs over three to four weeks next April with lots of opportunity to practice and receive feedback on your own haiku. It sold out last time so book early!

In the meantime, here's some background to my haiku practice and the course.


Small is the New Big

I started this blogpost with the question, How do you write a poem like a haiku? And then really wished I hadn’t. Because the next question that popped out of my brain was, How do you catch a moment on the page? No? Nothing? I’ll give you a clue: ¯¯How do you solve a problem like Maria? ¯¯ Apologies for the Sound of Music ear-worm.

Our minds are full of patterns. Habits, even. And while habits and repeated actions can be comforting, like reading the Sunday papers in bed or summer sunsets, the unconscious repetition of habits in our writing, a continued reliance on what’s familiar, what we know or what we think we know, can lead to stasis, inertia, a lack of growth for us as writers and a bit of a big yawn for readers.

My discovery of contemporary English language haiku happened at a time when I was reflecting on my own writing practice. It was after my first collection of poetry, Learning How to Fall, was published in 2005 and there’s nothing more effective at highlighting writing patterns than trapping poems between the cover of a book. Not just favourite (over-used?) words, or images (I loved water, a lot!) but approaches too. And I was very (overly?) fond of an extended metaphor.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t embarrassed or disappointed by the collection. I was proud of it, and still am. They’re well-crafted, image driven poems with sharp attention to line-break. But the recognition of my reliance on extended metaphor made me question my practice. And haiku provided one of the answers.

There is no space for extrapolation within a haiku. And rich figurative language risks showing off rather than the illumination of an idea. Haiku force you towards economy, straightforwardness: the bare, but shining, bones of your language.

bare bones

Unfortunately, the (deceptive) simplicity of haiku combined with Twitter’s 140 (now 280) character limit gave rise to, and continues to breed, a whole new form on the net that people refer to has haiku but which I call no-ku, as so many of them are completely devoid of any poetry.

Segue into a paper I delivered a couple of years ago at the PALA (Poetics & Linguistics Association) Conference in Canterbury, entitled, Haiku: A Poetry of Absence or An Absence of Poetry? Because, how do you manage to make a little clutch of words read, and feel, like poetry?

Haiku Rebellion Studio will prove to you that this short form can contain all the poetry you need to make you feel and think. Both in the published work of current haiku practitioners and in the haiku you’ll write during the course. It will be challenging and thought provoking. And at times frustrating. But mostly enjoyable as we discuss English language haiku by poets in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, and share our own work too.

And in the spirit of wonderful coincidence, as I come to the end of this blogpost, the postman has just delivered my copy of The WonderCode, Discover the Way of Haiku by Scott Mason (Girasole Press, Chappaqua, New York 2017) who opens Chapter 1 with a quote from Virginia Woolf:

Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.

ant shadows


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haiku: a poetry of absence or an absence of poetry?

The following paper was presented at the PALA (Poetics and Linguistics Association) 2015 Conference at Canterbury University, Kent, UK on 16th July 2015. 
Abstract: HAIKU: A POETRY OF ABSENCE OR AN ABSENCE OF POETRY? Minimalism in Contemporary English Language Haiku
The popular perception of haiku as three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables persists in the mainstream poetry world and beyond as if nothing has changed since the first Western translators counted the onji, or sounds, in traditional Japanese haiku and created that misconstrued but enduring template fleshy enough to support a traditional English syntax.
And while putting flesh on bones might be a useful metaphor for the construction of formal and free verse, contemporary English language haiku practice is often more akin to the trimming and polishing of bones to create a form where point of view, adjectives and even verbs may be dispensed with entirely. 
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When in doubt say ‘yes’ 

November: a month that begins with a syllable of prohibition then slowly denies us colour and warmth. My father's brother has died at 91. This morning’s frost refuses to melt. I watch a day moon swallowed by smoky clouds; leaves shroud the bare earth beneath the apple trees.
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First published in CHO July 2017

haiku commentary ~ Annette Makino

Sometimes life and poetry intersect naturally. I had a brutal wardrobe clear-out yesterday, as witnessed by the pile of clothes hangers in the centre of the bed and a bulging large carrier bag destined for the charity shop.  And then, through one of those random extended internet excavations, I came across this haiku by Annette Makino, published by tinywords a few years ago which I'd commented on briefly. 

hanging in my closet the person I used to be

Reading it again still elicited a similar variety of responses: laughter, recognition, resignation and sadness. And this time part of ‘the person I used to be’ was neatly folded at my feet! 
Most of us keep clothes that no longer fit us, or suit us. I still have an ostentatious, ostrich feather bolero that I bought in the early 1980s and will never wear again but hold onto from a sense of nostalgia. But the haiku also propels me towards imagining clothes that belonged to someone else, a husband, wife or partner who may have left, or died…