Contemporary Love Haiku
I’ve always had a rather active imagination, with a penchant for being a romantic. I think that’s why I found myself very drawn into the haiku of Masajo Suzuki; I was very intrigued by her story as she told it through her haiku. As I was trying to come up with a topic for this paper, she crossed my mind. But I didn’t want to focus solely on her. Instead, I chose to look more at the situations and scenarios of her haiku, which involve her love life and relationships and the struggles she faced loving a man who wasn’t her husband. I’m opening it up a little bit to include haiku that deal with difficulties in human relationships. Being the daughter of a psychologist, I suppose it’s in my blood to be curious about humanity! So here we go.
Masajo Suzuki herself said that love has had the greatest impact on her poetry and is “the source of all my artistic activities” (Love Haiku 15). I find this to be the case with the haiku I’ve discovered and written this semester and in the haiku of my peers. People choose to write about things that they love, whether they be other people or images in nature. Even if an author says they write about something they hate, I have found that hate is the result of love that has been treated carelessly or unkindly. It is not in anyone’s nature to hate anything; hatred comes from bad experiences. When authors write haiku about negativity in their relationships, they are writing about when the love they gave to the other person was wronged in some way. I find that incredibly fascinating, and the more I think about it, the truer it seems to me about any kind of writing.
Since I mentioned Masajo Suzuki, I’ll begin with one of her haiku from Love Haiku: Masajo Suzuki’s Lifetime of Love:
I detest the man
yet I long for him—
willow leaves falling
~ Masajo Suzuki, Love Haiku, 38
I love the feeling of self-contradiction that Suzuki describes in this haiku. It reminds me of the classic girl-falls-for-bad-boy scenario. She can’t help but want a man she shouldn’t have; this was the case with Suzuki herself, who fell in love with a man who was not her husband and had a wife of his own (Love Haiku 13, 15). It is an example of that love and hate paradox that accompanies so many things in life. And I don’t think it is the man that she detests – rather, I think she detests herself for longing for him. She is trying to blame him for her desire, when there is no one to blame for her feelings but herself.
I’m going to go a bit into symbolism in this paper, since for Acting II we have a nifty book called The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. In Love Haiku, “willow leaves falling” is said to be the seasonal phrase for autumn. Interestingly enough, when I looked in my Dictionary of Symbols, it said that the willow tree is a “symbol of immortality” (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1110). So the fact that the leaves of the willow tree are falling is hugely significant. I see it as a weakening of her resistance, one that she doesn’t think she can help. Her feelings change with the seasons, and the onset of autumn only means more stormy weather and harder emotions to deal with. So while this haiku doesn’t directly deal with her relationship to the man, that relationship is still somewhat being played out in Suzuki’s words.
not a word for me
he just continues to watch
the winter waves
~ Masajo Suzuki, Love Haiku, 42
I chose this one next because I think it shows a couple going through a difficult time or just having had an argument or difficult conversation. He’s not speaking to her for one of two reasons: he has either run out of things to say, or he doesn’t want to talk to her about the subject anymore. The third line also evokes two very different settings. On my first read, I took it to mean that they are literally near a body of water in the winter, but the water is not completely frozen over. In this case, their relationship is a bit icy and testy right now, but this moment will pass (or melt, since we’re in winter-imagery land) and the water and their relationship will come to be fully alive again.
However, “winter waves” also gave me the picture of an incredibly bleak, snow-covered landscape that shows no sign of any kind of life. The only thing that moves is the snow being blown about in waves by bitter winter winds. In this reading, the relationship is forever strained because of the argument that just ensued. All the woman can do is watch the man, who is watching the snow and ice while he himself is icily ignoring the woman and giving her the cold shoulder. I believe that the woman wants him to say something, and this haiku depicts that frozen-in-time moment when you want someone to speak, yet you are afraid of what they might say. There are a lot of these times in relationships, and they are incredibly tense. At any moment, the relationship could crack and fall apart because of what someone says or does. I think this haiku depicts that moment perfectly.
The aforementioned haiku creates a beautiful matched pair with this haiku from the Millikin University Haiku Anthology:
after the argument
~ Angie Hawk, Millikin University Haiku Anthology,23
I think it is the same moment as Suzuki’s winter haiku, but the picture is painted using the imagery of heat rather than cold. For argument’s sake, I’m going to say that the “you” in this haiku is the speaker’s significant other. At this moment in time, they are not speaking, but the other person’s eyes are saying it all. His eyes are ablaze with anger, and at the same moment, lightning flashes, signaling an impending storm. I love that image. His anger is causing the storm to come to a head, and at the same time, they shoot lightning at the speaker. Again, no words are needed; the only thing being focused on is the eyes.
So many poems mention the eyes of a lover as being a source of comfort and warmth. The eyes are also commonly said to be the windows to one’s soul, the things that reveal so much about someone’s true feelings. So when that familiar warmth and secure feeling is gone from the eyes, it is definitely a signal that something is not right between you and the other person. And if that other person chooses not to be honest, he or she is lying. And that knowledge easily creates further tension between the couple.
I also just want to add this one as a possible companion to these two:
off the Easter lilies
we don’t talk anymore
~ Emily Evans, Millikin University Haiku Anthology, 61)
I’m going to go into a couple of matched pairs that directly stuck out to me as I was researching haiku for this essay. Here is the first pair:
washing at night—
all the laundry
is my own
~ Masajo Suzuki, Love Haiku, 55
morning again without you
fried egg slithering
~ Rod Willmot, The Ribs of Dragonfly, 29
Both of these haiku describe moments of loneliness that arise in the aftermath of a separation or a breakup. In relationships today, it is common for girls to borrow the t-shirts, jackets, or sports jerseys of their boyfriends to wear themselves; the familiar smell of the guy’s cologne is a comforting thing. Soon enough, the girl finds pieces of her boyfriend’s clothing scattered amidst her own laundry, and it becomes second nature for her to do some of his laundry along with hers. But during a breakup, he takes back his shirts, and she has to relearn what it feels like to do her laundry and no one else’s. It definitely gives her a feeling of loneliness. Especially in the nighttime, feelings of loneliness are stronger; the Dictionary of Symbols describes night as “emptiness” (Chevalier & Gheerbrant 701).
By contrast, Rod Willmot’s haiku occurs in the morning at breakfast time. Meals are usually times for friendship and companionship. However, when one is eating by himself or herself, I think meals can also be times of great loneliness. In this haiku, I think the speaker has just gone through a rough breakup. They miss cooking for someone other than themselves. And without the other person there to talk to, the sound of the egg sizzling in the frying pan is elevated to being extremely loud. I find it a bit unsettling; even the word “slithering” in line two is an extremely uncomfortable-sounding word. You know when you’re home alone and every sound seems to pound in your head? That’s what I thought of as I read this haiku. The loneliness is so unsettling, especially after a breakup or separation, as you have to get used to old habits and routines, ones that you haven’t had to use in a fairly long amount of time.
To springboard off of the pair above, I’ll segue into this next haiku, another from Rod Willmot:
so long since writing you
grit of sugar
~ Rod Willmot, The Ribs of Dragonfly, 82
I think this one could go with the first two haiku I used in this paper. The last two lines are definitely a beach setting; sand, when incredibly fine, does indeed feel like sugar when you walk on it. I’m sure I’m not the first to notice this, but I think beaches are commonly used to demonstrate a passage of time. Day after day, the waves are constantly ebbing and flowing on the shore. That constancy, however, can turn into monotony, as in this haiku. The speaker has been waiting for a reply for a long time, but all he can do is wait. He faces uncertainty and questions about his relationship: why won’t she write back? Has she forgotten me? Or, worst of all, has she found someone else? When one is left alone with one’s thoughts for a long time, it is easy for the brain to start imagining the worst possible scenarios, no matter how much you trust your significant other. Sugar is supposed to be a sweet thing, but here, it is gritty, a rather uncomfortable descriptor. The speaker grows increasingly agitated as the days pass, and as they pass, it is easy for him to lose faith. There are so many “what-ifs” that I can see in this haiku, which is of course why I elected to use it!
I saved my favorite pair for the end:
lying beside you
thinking of her hair
all night the cries of gulls
~ Rod Willmot, The Ribs of Dragonfly, 62
he kisses me softly
i wonder if he’d like me
if i wasn’t pretty
~ Jordan Caulk, Kukai 3, Spring 2013
I loved the first one, from Rod Willmot. He either regrets what he has done or the fact that the woman he should be with might find out. And if she doesn’t, it is now a secret from her, and lack of honesty in a relationship creates a great deal of strain and conflict if or when the secret gets out. However, the haiku can be completely flipped and read as the opposite situation. He could be with his wife or girlfriend but thinking of the hair of his mistress. But what is unclear in either situation is how he feels about what he’s done or is doing. His mind isn’t working that way; he’s in the moment with this woman, listening to the seagulls and waves outside. What should be a peaceful image is instead one with a dissonant undercurrent.
I paired it with Jordan’s haiku from our own class kukai for that very reason. A kiss should be a sweet, intimate, comforting thing between two people who are in a serious, committed relationship. Instead, the speaker can only think of a “what-if” and therefore begins to question the sincerity of the man kissing her. In retrospect, I think this one was one of my favorites because I’ve had that very experience of questioning my then-boyfriend’s motives. Relationships are truly built on trust, and anything that threatens that trust causes a tiny crack in the foundation of the relationship, one that can only get bigger.
It is true that love is the foundation for all artistic endeavors, whether they be visual, written, or performance arts. Love is the basis for all other emotions; its fragility allows it to be easily twisted into other things. It is a universal emotion, which is why so many poets use it in their works. Haiku that deal with love are particularly effective, as so few words can convey so much. Even the most complicated of relationships can be expressed in just three lines, and the universal emotion of love is something that binds us all together as human beings.
Brooks, Randy, Emily Evans, Rick Bearce, and Melanie McLay, eds. Millikin University Haiku Anthology. Decatur, Illinois: Bronze Man, 2008. Print.
Chevalier, Jean, and Alain Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. John Buchanan-Brown. London: Penguin, 1996. Print.
"Haiku Kukai 3 - Mardi Gras & Ash Wednesday Favorites." N.p., 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://performance.millikin.edu/haiku/courses/globalSpring2013/3kukaiResults.html>.
Suzuki, Masajo. Love Haiku: Miyako Suzuki's Lifetime of Love. Trans. Lee Gurga and Emiko Miyashita. Decatur, Illinois: Brooks, 2000. Print.
Willmot, Rod. The Ribs of Dragonfly. Windsor, Ontario: Black Moss, 1984. Print.