Traditional haiku are written in the context of a particular season. The primary subject that represents the body of the haiku is imbued with the rich imagery associated with that season, creating a natural setting in which the haiku can resonate with the reader.
Modern haiku tend to focus on events and imagery that freeze time without regard to a natural context. September 11th resonates with us, not because of a sense of approaching autumn, but because of the horror of a collossal act of violence and the intensity of human suffering that followed. In these first few years of the 21st century, our seasons are defined by pre-emptive wars and color-coded terror alerts.
Hence my dilemma as a haiku poet: to frame a unique moment as an extension of the timelessness of nature, or to rivet it into the granite of my own psyche, in which a certain universality is exchanged for a sense of personal relevance.
Case in point: Sunday April 24th began the same as many other Spring days in New England—rain, fog, temperatures in the 40s. I drove from Boston to Bridgeport to pick up my two youngest sons as part of my perennial season as non-custodial dad. We had dinner at a local barbeque restaurant, where I noticed a row of blossoming trees. I didn’t know what they were. “Dogwoods?” I asked. “Cherry trees”, my wife replied, correcting the haiku poet.
Later that evening, the phone rang. It was my eldest daughter’s boyfriend. Given the momentum of their rejuvenated relationship and the unique season of their own lives—less than two weeks until graduation—I had an inkling of what it was about.
cherry blossoms — a shaky voice asks me for my daughter’s hand
This is the first haiku I’ve ever written with the words “cherry blossoms” in the first line. It isn’t about cherry blossoms.