Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2002

Angela D. Williams

Angie's Haiku



Haiku Authors Comparison:
John Dunphy and George Swede

John Dunphy and George Swede are both masters of haiku, and many of their haiku can easily be offered for comparison as some tend to deal with the same subject matter. However, though the subject matter is similar, Dunphy and Swede present some of the matters in different ways.

For instance, look at this haiku by John Dunphy:

a flickering candle
on the sidewalk
outside the abortion clinic            Frogpond 18.3, 1995

Now look at George Swede’s:

after the abortion
she weeds
the garden                                Almost Unseen, p 54

Obviously I paired these two up because they both dealt with the topic of abortion, though the writers seemed to have different takes on the subject. Dunphy’s haiku is definitely one I saw sadness in. It’s almost a haunting image. Generally you light a candle for someone you’re praying for. In this instance, the candle symbolizes the prayers for the lost—the babies that will never be born because of the abortions that were performed.

Swede’s haiku leaves me with a different feeling. It’s almost as if he wrote it from a totally objective viewpoint. My feeling on this haiku was that it was more of a moment of quiet reflection than one of mourning. I think it has a sad feel to it, but I think it’s more because weeding the garden is a very quiet task and when paired up with "after the abortion" the haiku has more of a "life goes on" feeling to it than one of sadness.

Some of the haiku by John Dunphy and George Swede present similar ideas. For example, look at the following haiku by Dunphy:

the hooker goes to bed
with her teddy bear                           Frogpond 19.3, 1996

Now look at the George Swede haiku:

on the bus
the teenager pulls out a mirror
and adjusts her pout                         Almost Unseen, p 19

I think these two haiku are comparable because they are both about people who put on facades for the benefit of other people. In John Dunphy’s, it is certainly a surprise to read that the hooker is going to bed with a stuffed animal. Obviously, despite the fact that she is a hooker, there is something about her that other people don’t see. When I think of someone who sleeps with a stuffed animal, I think of a child, or possibly someone who is very insecure. Perhaps the hooker is only a teenager, and has to prostitute herself in order to survive. It suggests to me that it’s not who she really is; that she is forced to hide who she really is to be what she has to be (a hooker) in order to survive in the world.

The George Swede haiku is similar, because the girl in it, at least in my opinion, is putting on a show to make herself look older, cooler, in order to be accepted. She hides who she really is because she doesn’t think she is okay the way she is. If she doesn’t pretend to be cooler and more mature, perhaps she will not be accepted by her peers.

The third set of haiku I chose deal with similar subject matter, but a different aspect of the topic. This is the Dunphy one:

frozen still
on the child’s grave                 Modern Haiku 31.3, 2000

Swede’s haiku:

a cold wind
dead child’s horse
rocks by itself                         Almost Unseen, p 36

These two haiku deal with similar subject matter as well: the death of a child, and movement (or non-movement in the case of Dunphy’s haiku). In Dunphy’s, I think the frozen pinwheel is symbolic of what happens to parents when they lose a child. A pinwheel is generally a bright and colorful object that spins in the wind; however, the one in this haiku is frozen, perhaps suggesting that all the joy the parents once felt is gone, or halted.

In Swede’s haiku, the rocking horse isn’t as symbolic as it is a haunting reminder that the child that once played there is gone. The horse rocks from the cold wind (and the fact that the wind is cold has a particular haunting feeling attached to it, as well) because the child is no longer there to rock on the horse himself/herself.

Another pair of haiku I found similar was this one by John Dunphy:

the mechanic’s grin
slowly broadening
as he peers under my hood          Modern Haiku 30.3, 1999

And this one by George Swede:

one button undone
in the clerk’s blouse I let her
steal my change                         Almost Unseen, p 97

I think these two haiku are an interesting pair because they’re both about manipulation—or at least that’s how I interpret them. The first one is one that I can relate to because every time I have ever taken my car in to get the oil changed, the guy working on it always tells me about all these other problems my car has, and how he can fix them for some really large amount of money. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know much about cars and how they function; however, I also generally know when someone’s trying to pull a fast one on me. I think John Dunphy’s done a swell job of capturing that moment of truth: will you allow yourself to be manipulated or not?

The George Swede haiku is similar, but a bit more subtle. At first read, I rolled my eyes in disgust and thought, "Pervert." However. After having read the John Dunphy haiku I paired this one with, I re-read the Swede haiku. I don’t think he was trying to be perverted. I think he was trying to illustrate that when it comes to women, men can be just as easily manipulated like women can when it comes to cars. Perhaps that’s an over-generalization. I’m not saying that all women have a complete lack of knowledge when it comes to cars, nor am I saying that all men have the inability to look away from an attractive female’s cleavage. I’m simply stating, that in my experience, both men and women can be masters of manipulation and it can be really easy to be taken in for a fool. Both Dunphy and Swede have illustrated this truth through their individual haiku.

While both Dunphy and Swede are talented haiku writers who take on some intense issues, such as the death of a child, they have very different approaches to the writing. Most of Dunphy’s haiku are tinged with a heavy feeling of melancholia, as where Swede’s tend to be more bittersweet and leave the reader with a sense of hope. I think it is very interesting to read haiku about the same, or similar topics by two different writers because when you put them side-by-side you realize that though the subject matter is comparable, the feeling that each haiku gives you is different. It illustrates the varied approaches that writers like Dunphy and Swede use in their work.

—Angela Williams

©2002 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors