Impressionism and Haiku

We were together with friends on Monday for dinner. Ruth is a writer and Ray is an artist. Read his bio here. We got to talking about his artwork, and art in general, ending up in a discussion of Impressionist paintings. He was saying that impressionism shows something the viewer can identify, but nothing too detailed. General colour and/or detail indicate the subject, but it’s not meant to be a clear picture. Rather a scene the viewer gets as they view it from a distance.

Before I went to bed last night I spent a good hour reading various haiku at Troutswirl, the blog of The Haiku Foundation. * I had a good long read in the section on A Sense of Place: The Shore, verses all about the sounds of the seashore. Oodles of them! And then read over Haiku Master Alan Summers comments on various verses. I found this altogether so enjoyable and enlightening! (If you’re reading this, Alan, I really appreciated your long commentary.) Check out Alan’s blog here.

I should also mention Cattails, the journal of the United haiku and tanka society. Another of my favourite haiku haunts. 🙂

It dawned on me while we were listening to Ray’s artistic experiences that haiku is much like impressionism. The goal is not to produce a detailed description but rather give a few words to paint concepts and call to the reader’s imagination a scene, a thought, or feeling.

A paragraph in the introduction to the book, Japanese Haiku, © 1955 by Peter Pauper Press, says this:
One final word: the haiku is not expected to be always a complete or even a clear statement. The reader is supposed to add to the words his own associations and imagery, and thus to become a co-creator of his own pleasure in the poem.

For example, Issa’s verse — translated by David G Lanoue:
one man, one fly
one large
sitting room

Just words, until you recall your own experience of what a pest one fly can be. No matter how big the room, especially if you’re sitting quietly waiting that one fly with be a constant annoying buzz and/or it will find you and pester you no end!

Though I’m just a learner myself, I know what I like and what I don’t when it comes to haiku. The verse shouldn’t be so detailed the whole picture is there. I’ve seen some verses called haiku that may have the three-line form but are like one long sentence. Straightforward; no layers of meaning. I’ve written two verses as examples:

red and blue flashers
accident on the highway
traffic rerouted

A reader might make something of the idea that an accident reroutes people’s lives, but it still doesn’t say much beyond the initial words.

the cricket crawls
over the ripe pumpkin
a long journey

My thought is, “Oh, thrills!” However, if this says anything profound to you, please let me know.

Here’s a delightful verse from Chosu, a poet from ancient Japan.* Can’t you just picture this scene?

broken and broken
again on the sea, the moon
so easily mends

*from HAIKU HARVEST,
© 1962 by Peter Pauper Press
Verses translated by Peter Beilenson and Harry Behn

Here are two of mine: senryu, actually, dealing with people and their feelings. I hope you can find some layers in them. Critiques welcome.

the war is over
soldiers go home
to strangers

Sometimes I get into quite a dither over one word and how the meaning might change. For example, I could have written the verse’s last lines as:
soldiers go home
as strangers

Would it have made the poem better or worse? I need a second opinion. 😉

escaping
into my tears
memories  of you

Since I doubt any of the “One-word Challenge” prompters will give us the word HAIKU to write on, I’ll post these thoughts and hope some of you will find them interesting. Coaching comments and other good examples welcome. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Impressionism and Haiku

  1. Thanks Christine!

    As President of the United Haiku and Tanka Society, a deep bow for mentioning our journal Cattails!
    The deadline is coming up fast! 🙂
    SUBMISSIONS FOR THE OCTOBER 2018 ISSUE OF CATTAILS CLOSE 15th AUGUST MIDNIGHT (GMT).

    So I hope you submit some of your poems.

    re senryu, I’ve long been fascinated by its potential, just as haiku has really grown, and is its own genre from the hokku and other haikai verses composed by Basho etc…

    What is interesting about your verse which could be either senryu or haiku with justification:

    the war is over
    soldiers go home
    to strangers

    Christine Goodnough

    I actually read it this way “as strangers” so perhaps it’s inferred, and we know haikai verses (senryu or haiku, or hokku) can say more with fewer words.

    I’ve just recently judged a senryu contest run by the Sonic Boom journal, and it was amazing how versatile the genre is nowadays. We are also running a course called ‘The Spectrum of Haiku and Senryu’ because each of those genres takes so much from each other nowadays.

    Coming back to your verse:

    the war is over
    soldiers go home
    to strangers

    Christine Goodnough

    It is certainly powerful, and keeps resonating within me, and I can’t fully decide, but I am slightly leaning towards:

    the war is over
    soldiers go home
    as strangers

    Christine Goodnough

    Thankfully not all soldiers come back as strangers, but I’m mindful of all the long wars that have been around since World War II, and how much the world would have changed around them.

    Both versions are deeply thought-provoking, and I keep wavering, as they are both powerful.

    warm regards,

    Alan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for your comments, Alan. Maybe I’ll try again to contribute some verses for the upcoming Cattails issue. Ever learning; one day I’ll hit it just right. 🙂

    As to the “to” or “as.” Funny how tiny words bring such deliberation. The sign of a perfectionist, I guess. 😉

    As to the war: According to Mom, Dad came back a stranger — and he stayed in England, never even entered active combat. But their lives were turned upside down, the worse and the best brought out. Uncle Bob came back with lead in his leg & a life-long limp. Definitely a different man. Anyway…

    The original writing of this poem was:
    the war is over
    soldiers go home to wives
    two strangers

    –playing on the homonyms.
    My debate over wording of my second senryu:

    seeping
    from my eyes — memories
    of you
    I see The Haiku Foundation has a forum; I should check that out.

    Thanks for letting us know about your upcoming course. I do hope this post inspires someone to try haiku.

    Like

  3. re:

    the war is over
    soldiers go home to wives
    two strangers

    Could even be:

    the war is over
    soldiers home to wives
    two strangers

    or

    the war is over
    soldiers home to wives
    as two strangers

    And mentioning homonyms:

    the war is over
    soldiers go home to wives
    the stranger

    So you have a great ‘base draft’ and a tough decision which draft version to let loose. 🙂

    re:
    “Thanks for letting us know about your upcoming course. I do hope this post inspires someone to try haiku.”

    It’s delightfully surprising how many advanced writers come on and realise they can learn from novices, and others who have been writing only a year or so. We have great dynamics with people of different backgrounds and experiences impacting in a positive way with each other. 🙂

    warm regards,
    Alan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Fire + Verse | Christine's Collection

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