Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dan in Real Life/Haiku

I do a lot of reading. Since moving to the East Coast three years ago, much of that content has been American History, since these places I drive past, and to, and from, are connected to times much older than my experience out west. It is amazing how much of history is intertwined with conflict, and the biographies of great leaders and common people alike revolve around the wars of those and these times. George Washington fascinates me: I live in the capital city of Maryland where he resigned his commission from the Army after the Revolutionary War; I work near the Federal center of government that carries his name; drive on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway; and I see the Washington Monument every time I come up out of the Mall Exit at the Smithsonian Metro Station. I love to visit Mount Vernon, his restored estate, where near the memorial that honors his African-American slaves, is the columbarium that holds his and Martha's crypts and an obelisk engraved with the name Col. John Augustine Washington, C.S.A. Also, I am most fond of Arlington National Cemetery, where at its highest land point is the Lee Mansion where another famous general resigned one commission, and accepted another - the same army as Col. Washington - married to the great grand daughter of Martha, whose father adored his step grand father, our first President (1). The longer the record of family histories, the greater the opportunity for drama and heartbreak to occur, perhaps even more so for the lives of great leaders.

In addition to various books related to work and business that I also read, at times I pick up on some pretty random themes - though in retrospect when looking back over this blog, it turns out that they too are historic by nature. For example, a friend from work recommended a title "Casting a Spell: The Bamboo Fly Rod and the American Pursuit of Perfection" by George Black, which is an account of the history of the American bamboo fly rod makers. Another book I happened on that I have been working through slowly is "Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding" by Scott Weidensaul (2). However, a completely random pursuit of mine has been to investigate haiku - a Japanese style of poetry. I don't know what was triggered in my mind, but for some reason I just wanted to read up on it. About a year and a half ago, I bought a book that described and gave examples of different styles of poetry, of which haiku was one. But no matter how many times over the last year I have gone back to those pages, I never seemed to get what haiku was about, and visions of original haiku never appeared.

A month ago, and for what ever reason, I put "haiku" in the Amazon book title search, and saw several promising titles, and even more promising tables of content - I never judge or buy a book by its cover. I ended up settling on W.J. Higginson's "The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku" (1985, Kodansha International, Tokyo. I was disappointed when it arrived in the mail because it turned out to be a paperback and pocket book-sized. Also, when I opened it up and browsed quickly through it, I thought it was going to be pretty dry ..... but was I wrong. With the blend of history about the haiku masters, the short narratives highlighting the evolution in its forms, and the great examples, all made the book stimulating reading - at least to me. However, it took a flying vacation to Oregon and back, sitting through the jury selection process at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, and slowly pouring through the first 47 pages until I began to get a feeling in my head for the flow of what haiku is, and how to construct ones.

Below is my first haiku. It is not a wholly traditional one (no seasonal reference, and not with formalist 5-7-5 structure), but it is three lines and 17 syllables - not too bad for a first try, if I say so myself (3). I composed it while laying on my son's couch after watching as he returned with his high school church youth group from a mission trip to Pueblo Country. The convoy of vans arrived together, filled with kids and volunteers who trekked together in procession from Oregon to Arizona and back. Having slowly read the haiku examples, my thoughts began to collect around the images I had just seen earlier that afternoon - in living haiku.

The vans return
Across the upper lot
His children run to Daddy

The accompanying photograph helps make the meaning of the haiku lines more clear than a pure haiku'ist would want to do. But then, looking at the trees in the background and kinds of clothes everyone was wearing, you don't need a literary clue to hint at what is the season (4), or need to guess the result of the anticipation of the three kids, and Mom, to having Daddy back home. Perhaps, a snap shot photograph, itself is another form of haiku.


(1) To experience how the histories of George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and Arlington National Cemetery crisscross, see the National Geographic Society video: "Arlington: Field of Honor." There are also 4.2 seconds of content where this video visually crisscrosses our family history - connected through our Army son.

(2) The later of the two books is appropriate, because my wife has titled her blog "Empty Nesters", because this is our stage of life since moving to Annapolis:

(3) The point of haiku is not the content of the experience, but the quality of experience, and of perception. The Haiku Handbook, p. 91.

(4) Summer, July in Oregon, long past the time of cherry blossoms.