Last year I had a big poetry manuscript project that I was working feverishly on. This year, I knew that I would finish that project in the first quarter, and I worried that I might just stop writing. This is a common fear of writers, that the last thing we’ve written will be the LAST thing we’ll write. I wanted to have a continuous practice that was small. So small that I would be able to do it every day. So small that I couldn’t ever say I don’t have time to do that.
So starting on January 1st, I began to write a haiku each evening before I went to bed. I thought it might last a month. Each evening I would sit down, write a haiku about something I’d seen during the day, and then post the haiku on Facebook and Twitter. Seventeen syllables, one image, in and out.
I finished the month and kept going. About two months into it, folks began to comment. Sometimes it was an appreciative nod. Sometimes it was to chime in with their experience of whatever image was featured in the haiku. Sometimes it was to share their own haiku. Two months turned into three, and now into eight. Every evening, a haiku.
This practice takes so little time, but it changes the way that I move through the world. I pay closer attention. I start to notice what I see during the day that seems to resonate as bigger than just a pretty “image.” I am acutely aware of how time influences both the physical environment around us through the seasons and the weather and the patterns of sunlight, and how I feel about those things. There is a sadness at the heart of most haiku, acknowledgement that what is beautiful will also pass, that all things are impermanent.
Haiku is also a celebration of the simple. Its language is often sparse, imagery stripped down to the essential. By practicing each night, I remind myself to get out of my own way. To not try so hard, to not overthink. If I can’t write a haiku in under five minutes, I know that I’m forcing it, that I’m not bowing to the fact that in their dailiness, each is expendable. Some good, some mediocre, some downright bad.
To make our writing an essential part of our life, this is one measure of success.
I leave you with a few spare haiku. May they spark your own writing practice.
two coyotes watch
the thumbprint moon disappear
frost clings to their feet
we are all walking
towards a place we don’t know
looking at the stars
memory finds me
as I put on your black gloves
my hands shaped like yours
a sudden snowstorm
catches earthworms unaware
those three piercing notes
like a child left all alone
ancient voices entangle
muscle, bone, and sky
squadrons of swallows
swooping above dusk-hushed roads
leaf tips kindling
those first bright sparks of autumn
breath cold in my throat