Early morning freeze
Catches plum blossoms off guard.
Withered pink petals.
-Roberta Fine, 2014
My friend Roberta is an octogenarian whose appearance and mental liveliness seem to deny her age. A retired teacher, writer, gardener and poet, Roberta wrote her first haiku over five years ago. For the first year, she created a haiku daily, and now she creates several each week, collecting them in a daily journal.
Every Christmas, rather than sending an account of the past year’s activities, Roberta sends friends and families a collection of haikus in which she’s captured the seasons. She calls her creations “the joy of the day,” and appreciates the discipline of capturing northern New Mexico skies, mountains and weather in the spare, Zen-like style of haiku.
Inspired by a book titled The Art of Haiku by Stephen Addis, she has studied the form, even as her practice has developed. She describes Haiku as follows:
“In Haiku, the words are plain, everyday, arranged in three lines of five, seven, five syllables each, although that rule is not iron clad. It is a descendant of the Japanese Tanka, an earlier, more aristocratic form of poetry of seven lines. Tanka tended to concern itself with yearning, loss, the subtle maneuvers of court life. As civil wars receded, the aesthetic changed. Today, Haiku can express the Japanese aesthetic in whatever language one writes.
“Basho, a Japanese poet of the seventeenth century, provides the model still. His life reminds one of Francis of Assisi, who trod the by-roads of Umbria, espousing Lady Poverty, preaching the Gospel and singing the praises of Brother Sun and Sister Moon five centuries earlier.
“Like Francis in Italy, Basho roamed the mountains of Japan, staying in huts and temples, sometimes teaching, attracting acolytes. Brushed by Buddhism, with its emphasis on the transience of life, he incorporated into his poetry an allusion to the season, the beauty of austerity, a loneliness, mysterious depth, an instant of truth. The reader is invited in to contribute his own perception and share the moment.
Haiku eschews the conventions of Western poetry. It communicates what is, not what it is like. Two contrasting concrete images in the poem spark a recognition in the reader. “Yes, I’ve been there, felt that.” Its plain words invite a similar, simple response. We all have the souls of monk-poets; like Basho and Francis we respond spontaneously to Brother Sun and Sister Moon and sing.”
Roberta has been rewarded by the discipline of the form. Haiku, she concludes, makes you think carefully about words even as you enjoy their music. She’s embraced Haiku as a way of looking at the world and expressing her thoughts, observations, and emotions.