Hacket about Haiku



The Haiku and Zen World of James W. Hacket



Twenty Suggestions for Writing Haiku
J.W. Hackett

1. Life is the fount of the haiku experience. so take note of this present moment.

2. Remember that haiku is a poetry of everyday life, and that the commonplace is it province.

3. Contemplate natural objects closely . . . unseen wonders will reveal themselves.

4. Identify with your subject, whatever it may be: "That art Thou."

5. Reflect in solitude and quiet, upon the notes of nature.

6. Do not forsake the Suchness of things -nature should be reflected just as it is.

7. Don't write everything in 5-7-5.

8. Try to write in three lines, of approximately 17 syllables.

9. Use common language.

10. Suggest.

11. Mention season when possible, as this adds dimensions. Remember that the season can be implied by the poem's subject and modifiers

12. Never use obscure allusions: haiku are intuitive, not intellectual.

13. Don't overlook humor, but avoid mere wit.

14. Rhyme detracts.

15. Lifefulness, not beauty, is the real quality of haiku.

16. Never sacrifice the clarity of your intuition to artifice: word choice should be governed by meaning.

17. Read each haiku aloud. Many times.

18. Bear in mind Thoreau's advice to "simplify! simplify! simplify!

19. Stay with each verse until it renders exactly what you wish to convey.

20. Remember R. H. Blyth's admonition that haiku is a finger pointing at the moon, and if the hand is bejeweled, we no longer see that to which it points.

Haiku is "a way of living awareness", and an "appreciation of each moment of life".

quoted from


"Haiku" and "Haiku Poetry"
James W. Hackett

The single term "haiku" has become so dominant and widespread it has virtually subsumed the use of haiku’s traditional designation as poetry.

Among the most sad and palpable consequences of using only the single term "haiku" is that it may invite not only good, bad, and ugly haiku, but often includes a banal, amorphous mélange: much of it antithetical to haiku's aesthetic and naturalist traditions.

I believe time has shown the terms "haiku" and "haiku poetry" are in dire need of re-evaluation and possibly redefinition. Significant differences in value, meaning, and intent have been ignored too often, resulting in the disparate, vulgar misuse of the genre.

Public recognition of the genre's dissolution is long overdue, and I believe some resolution deserves to be made. The terms "haiku" and "haiku poetry" bear upon the very definition, usage, quality, content, and indeed even the possible fate of haiku poetry in English. As these terms have come to be used, they often do not mean or even refer to the same thing, and are at times completely antithetical.

For an appropriate usage of the term "haiku poetry" (or "poem") I believe there are several characteristics that have traditionally distinguished haiku as "poetry."

– Certainly one traditional criterion for "haiku poetry" has been its dedicated focus upon "Greater Nature" that refers to the Far Eastern and current ecological view of life on Earth.

– Another salient characteristic of ‘haiku poetry’ is its depiction of nature's "suchness", or "is-ness" – as manifest in life's eternal present.

– And I agree with Basho that a haiku poem should be "selfless", a term known in Zen as muga. That is, to see things with God’s identifying eye. (The quintessence of "That Art Thou".)

– Moreover I believe haiku poetry should be written in at least a measured use of English syntax, wherein discretion, clarity and naturalness should govern any use of ellipsis (word deletion).

– Certainly the hallmark of a poem is some emotive quality: the subtle suggestion of some feeling distinguishes a haiku poem.

One or several of the above characteristics of haiku poems are absent in many so-called ‘haiku.’ Most often there are marked differences as well in the form and style of ‘haiku’ presentation that tends to make the latter amorphous or even unintelligible.

A haiku poem in English should reflect at least a quasi-English syntax so that a sense of naturalness is retained. To completely dismiss the syntax of our own great language seems a suspect and fatuous act, one that both R. H. Blyth and Harold G. Henderson would also condemn.

To this poet such fundamental differences between some so-called "haiku" and "haiku poetry" beg the questions of how and why haiku creation became so disparate since the 1970s. The advent of minimalism (and with it, obscurantism) seems to have been the principal cause for haiku's aesthetic anarchy.

And most importantly, to what end such dissolution means to the spirit and future of haiku poetry – questions which are generally ignored.

For as it is, I believe haiku's distinctive spirit is imperiled by shallow indifference and a limited understanding of the traditional values of haiku poetry.

Though the single term "haiku" can include some very worthy verses, the exoteric vulgarizing of the title ‘haiku’ has made it a catch-all term: one that is so all-inclusive it is virtually meaningless. And worse yet, misleading — as it ranges in content from true experiential haiku moments, to many forgettable "so what?" verses, and all the way down to obscure word puzzles, cyber-concoctions, salacious puns, to crass commercial ploys.

Moreover the rank license now evident in some so-called "haiku" obviously has led would-be writers with little skill (and even less understanding of the genre) to write virtually anything under the aegis of "haiku". This seems largely responsible for the aesthetic anarchy in some haiku creation, wherein an "anything goes" attitude prevails.

Doubtless the common term "haiku" is likely to always be with us. But "haiku" per se should not be assumed to mean the same as "haiku poetry". Indeed there can be (and often is) literally a world of difference between these terms; they are not, nor should they be understood as necessarily synonymous.

So on behalf of haiku's traditional spirit and the many gifted haiku poets around the world, I propose a resumption of the title "haiku poetry" be used when referring to literate verses that manifest writing skill, and some emotive suggestion.

Finally, I believe any bone of contention regarding haiku labeling may be laid to rest by the following query:

Can one even imagine depriving Basho and the other great haijin of the wreath of honor which the terms "poet" and "poetry" confer?

First published in Hermitage: A Haiku Journal
Ion Codrescu, Constanta, Romania (2006)


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