Below the Surface: Haiku of Robert Gibson
by Brian Johnson
The art of haiku is meant to involve and stimulate the human senses, to provoke the deepest corners of one's imagination, to bring the words in the poem to life in the reader's own mind. Haiku is purposely written as sets of images or memories, almost a beginning of a scene for the reader, or a "jumping off" point, for the reader's imagination to take over the direction, purpose, and meaning of the original haiku, letting the reader interpret their own journey from the original verses lent to them by the author. In haiku, it is not only the author who gives the poem purpose and its meaning, but also those who read it.
Robert Gibson is an American haiku author who has been in the art form for over forty years. Beginning his studies and writings in the 1960's, he has been published all throughout America, and even in Japanese publications. Gibson, like other haiku poets, attempts to lead readers into an open space setting full of memories or experiences to allow the reader to create their own stories from then on, but Gibson chooses to put in an extra twist, a deeper meaning. Gibson looks to give the haiku's deeper meanings, to reach below the surface value and initial images that the reader will see, and to actually take in the poems for longer periods of time and give them deeper thought. Gibson, residing in the American and Canadian Northwest, sets familiar scenes for readers in the setting of nature and their interactions, attempting to give life to the lifeless, even inanimate objects to bring the entire "set piece" of the poem to life.
In this review, examples of Gibson's haiku will be displayed from his collection book: Children of the Sparrow, Robert Gibson, Holly House Publications, Seattle, Washington, 1999; to illustrate his unique twists and attempts to bring the scenes more to life, and his attempts to provide deeper meanings in the poems when further contemplated upon. Examples will then be discussed and further interpreted in my own words to give light and suggestions on how to interpret haiku for the novice reader, and to discuss what deeper meanings or pictures that the author is attempting to project, in my own opinions.
Poems & Responses
here and there
now and then
Gibson, COTS, 22
At first glimpse, this haiku appears to give the reader a setting of the season of spring. While reading the poem, most would likely picture a warm spring afternoon, sitting inside or on a porch watching outside as the spring showers come and go throughout the day, nurturing the plants and grass. This seems like a very simple poem of a simple scene that anyone can relate to, but when actually contemplated on further, this may hold a deeper meaning of wading through the trials and storms that life can bring through at any time, especially when situations are first blossoming, such as many forms of life do in spring. This poem on second look, makes me think of how many ups and downs, trial and error happenings occur during the beginning phases of love relationships between a couple, or the periods of health and uncertainty during initial treatment for life-threatening diseases such as cancer. In any situation, I believe in the deeper look, that Gibson is trying to convey that not all situations and events are without their missteps and storms, but that these trials are all part of the process, and that which make us human.
the whale's eyes
on the whale
Gibson, COTS, 49
This haiku, like many of Gibson's, takes a singular focus on a piece of nature and centers around it. This also is an example of the author giving human characteristics to an object that either may not possess the characteristics, or just does not naturally think in those terms. This poem either suggests the reader looking at the whale and noticing the miniscule size of its eyes in comparison to the rest of its body, or it even gives the reader the suggestion of the direction of the whale itself thinking this. On a deeper look, when reading this poem, I believe that Gibson is trying to portray the message of how to view or maybe even deal with problems in life. It makes me think of dealing with such inconveniences as a flat tire, unexpected bill, or lost keys, and even though these misfortunes seem almost catastrophic to a degree when they happen, like how big the whale's eyes are by themselves; when these are compared to the entire big picture and longevity of life, they become very small and insignificant in comparison.
in the spring sunshine
but not warm
Gibson, COTS, 31
During first look, this poem appears to speak to the reader about an early spring season day, the earth thawing from the frigid and harsh temperatures from winter, and bringing about new life. Once again, Gibson chooses to introduce the reader into a familiar scene involving the weather and change of seasons, setting the poem in motion through simplicity and relativity, allowing the reader to make of the poem and settings what they will. Upon deeper contemplation, I believe that Gibson is once again referring to a stage of change in one's life, coming out of hard times, but not just quite fully out of them yet, almost the phrase of "seeing the light at the end of the tunnel". When I read this, I imagine the ice of months of hardship melting from objects outside, and objects in one's personal life after hardship, such as their heart softening back up after the loss of a loved one.
the sun glows red
on the brick wall
Gibson, COTS, 87
Beginning with a familiar winter scene, Gibson invites the reader into the world of cold temperatures, past memories, and forgotten experiences. This scene will most likely take many readers back to their childhoods, with winter days being spent outside in the freezing temperatures playing in the snow, wondering where the heat and warmth has gone. While Gibson offers that initial memory to invite the reader into his work, through deeper reflection and thought, I read this poem as another example of dealing with personal experiences in life. The "freezing afternoon" makes me think of a dark time in my life and the feelings of cold and loneliness, with the next two lines "the sun glows red" and "on the brick wall" represent a lone warm spot for hope in a hardship, or the one area of hope or strength the person seeks and holds on to, to make it through.
she is gone
yet a row of pencil marks
still march up my wall
Gibson, COTS, 99
This poem seems to invite the reader into a familiar place for anyone over a certain age range, parenthood. Reading this poem will likely give the reader a picture of a home with dash lines along a wall, measuring the physical growth of a young girl into adulthood, the sadness that the parent feels with her departure, but the amazing memories that they have of her growing up. While thinking about this a little more in depth, I think that Gibson is inviting the reader to reflect back on what they have lost that was most precious to them in their lives, whether that be children that have moved on, such as in this poem, or cherished memories of valued times in their lives that have since faded. All in all, I believe that the author is attempting to relay the message of valuing the importance of irreplaceable objects in life.
oak leaves grip the tree
stir in icy wind
Gibson, COTS, 74
Gibson here leads us into a nature setting that is sure to be from his surroundings familiar to the area that he inhabits in the American Northwest, with colder temperatures and long winters that nature must endure. Readers will likely initially think of looking out of a window during a cold winter day, shortly after the fall's closing, when the few remaining leaves of a strong oak tree have died off and are still clinging onto the branches that once bore them, after their life cycle has depleted. When I read this, I imagine the aforementioned scenario and the passing of time signaling a change of the times and guard, yet after further thought, this writing makes me think of life once again, and the phases and stages that we move through when one time fades in our life and is replaced by a new one. This deeper meaning represented here, displays the passing or loss of an object or person, only remembered and living still through memories, just as the leaves have passed, but their memories of what once was, clings to the tree, our minds.
Many times in contemporary haiku studies, links are drawn between different authors and their similarities in either subject matter or idea protrusion. Robert Gibson, who brings forth his poetry mainly through focusing on seasonal settings to introduce the poem, can be compared to the seasonal based poetry of Peggy Lyles. In Peggy Lyles' book: To Hear The Rain, Peggy Lyles, Brooks Books, Decatur, IL, 2002; Peggy displays her use of seasonal imagery and settings to display memories of her life and deeper meanings to them, as does Robert Gibson.
the scarecrow in the garden
drops its other glove
Lyles, THTR, 31
the last leaf
blows down the street
Gibson, COTS, 83
Shown above are two similar haiku by the two authors, Lyles on the top, and Gibson on the bottom. The similarities between the two are very obvious at first reading, both using seasonal settings to introduce the poem, and both speaking of a last object leaving out of the scene. Yet, on a deeper look, as we have been doing with Gibson's writing, these poems both bring forth the emotional element of life and the changing of times. Both poems show and explain to the thoughtful reader of the passing of one season, either weather or in life, and the preparation for the new oncoming season. Through basic relatable imagery such as weather that we all experience, both authors provide the reader with an avenue for a deeper meaning if sought, and the proper introductions for reflections of those, if so chosen.
Haiku not only presents the author and the readers of it the opportunity of self-expression, employment of the imagination, and the recollection of cherished memories, it also gives both the opportunity to evoke deeper meanings within their writings and to share special messages to those seeking them. Robert Gibson has mastered this art and generously shares those meanings through his simplistic and relatable poems, setting vividly imaginable scenes for readers to enjoy, while also relaying important messages and lessons about life and how to endure through situations to readers. Even though haiku poetry is typically imagery based in its essence, it also is very poetic and meaningful to all of those who may touch this specific art craft, and Mr. Gibson blends these elements beautifully together, taking the reader on a nostalgic journey to begin, and leaving them with essential life lessons and messages for further consideration, giving him reason to be considered a very talented and valuable member of the haiku community.
Gibson, R. (1999). Children of the Sparrow. Seattle, WA: Holly House.
Lyles, P. (2002). To Hear the Rain. Decatur, IL: Brooks Books.