Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2002

Justin Matthews

Justin's Haiku



George Swede and Paul Miller:
Two Ways to Haiku Success

Paul Miller, who is more commonly known as Paul M. in most of his haiku, discovered haiku through Yuki Sawa’s book Haiku Master Buson. He discovered this book while he was putting together an undergraduate poetry project he ironically entitled Seventeen Moments. He completed this project as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego. A major theme that he developed in his research project was "poetry’s greatest strength is its ability to closely examine any brief, revelation-filled moment." Paul believes that because of the potentially small size of haiku, it is a form of poetry that can do a very effective job of mimicking and isolating such moments. Paul says that after reading Yuki Sawa’s book, he’s been "hooked on haiku ever since." After his undergraduate work, he moved to San Francisco in 1990 to pursue a Master’s Degree in English. Although he has undergone much literary education, Paul is an employee in Finance for a pair of Investment Banks. Paul has not quite published any chapbooks yet, but he has won several awards for his haiku.

Canadian George Swede is a leading figure in contemporary haiku today. He has won numerous awards for his work as a haiku author. He also works as an editor for other collections of haiku. Swede believes that expanding and condensing haiku as creatively needed is perfectly acceptable. As visible in much of his work, he does not believe in necessarily sticking to a three-line haiku, all the time. He does; however, tend to write haiku in the present tense, which does an effective job of putting the reader into the moment. George Swede is also a distinguished fiction and non-fiction writer. George Swede was born in Riga, Latvia on November 20, 1940. He moved to Canada and has resided there since 1947. He went to the University of British Columbia received his B.A. in 1964. He then went on to get his M.A. at Dalhousie University in 1965. In 1967, he moved to Toronto and practiced as a school psychologist until 1968 when his career as the Department Chair of Psychology and the School of Justice Studies began at the Ryerson Polytechnic University, where he still works today. Through distance education, he received his Ph.D. from Greenwich in Australia in creative writing. George Swede’s work has won him over 70 awards and grants.

Paul M. and George Swede both have written brilliant haiku. When placing their haiku side-by-side, it is very difficult to choose the best. This remains true, even though the two write very differently. Paul M.’s approach is directed toward the moment, naturalist imagery, and the self-discovery present in his haiku. On the other hand, Swede writes haiku that are in the present tense, which display creativity, and not limited to any type of boundaries whatsoever. Both writers show emphasis on a personal note that can be reflected upon from reading their haiku. Let’s take a closer look at haiku written by the two, side-by-side.

an elusive butterfly
the warm wind
through meadow grass

Paul M.

among the yellow roses
the butterfly
grows still

Swede, Almost Unseen, p.64

This first haiku does a wonderful job of putting the reader directly into the moment. The haiku is simple, but the moment really is captivating. Readers can be sent directly to the warm, grassy spot where the butterfly can be observed. We really notice a lot about the creature because of the word elusive. This butterfly has a very subtle presence, which gives Paul M. his moment of self-discovery. There is plenty of beauty in the image, but the butterfly, which is elusive, is noticed. Paul presents us with a wonderful image, a captivating moment, and self-discovery in this haiku.

Swede’s haiku is also a very nice one. It is a very colorful haiku that is full of movement. This haiku also concentrates somewhat on nature, like Paul’s. However, Swede’s haiku moves away from self-discovery, and concentrates more on the presence of the butterfly. The reader can be taken directly into the spot, and turn his or her focus to the "now" that this haiku creates. While both haiku concentrate on nature, Swede’s haiku tells us a great deal about the moment, and puts the reader into what is going on.

below the falls—
a stepping stone
just out of reach

Paul M.

dropping stone after stone
into the lake I keep

Swede, Almost Unseen, p.25

This first haiku demonstrates those aspects of the moment, as well as self discovery. We are immediately taken into the setting. Then, the third line generates that feeling of self. The reader can genuinely sense the reaching for the stone, and the will to make it past that point. Readers may interpret certain aspects of the haiku differently, but there is no question of the moment present, as well as the self-discovery created from this haiku. Reading the haiku can have the effect on the reader of being in this beautiful setting around the water, but an alternative route to cross will have to be found. Otherwise, the traveler(s) will have to head back. The language is rather simple, but it is a very nice haiku.

In some respects, the second haiku, by George Swede, is similar. The element of self-discovery is present. This is true in this particular haiku, but readers will not necessarily find that theme common in all Swede haiku. The fact that the subject of the haiku is the beauty of the lake and the dropping of the stones, yet this person still sees his or her reflection, is an example of self-discovery through haiku. However, this haiku also has the element of creativity present. The reader can see how Swede utilizes the break in the second line. This is an effective way that Swede often uses to write some haiku. The imagery is also very nice in this haiku.

mountain shadow
river water runs
through my fingers

Paul M.

the fisherman’s shadow stretches
across the river

Swede, Almost Unseen, p.106

This haiku presents readers with a very captivating moment. We are placed in a setting where the river is flowing and the mountain shadow is very visible. This is truly a beautiful setting in nature. Yet, we still have that element of self-discovery. Paul M. achieves this with one simple word, "my". It is his fingers through which the river water is running. Readers almost get the feeling that he is lucky enough to be in this place and feel the water. It shows a great appreciation for the nature around.

Swede’s haiku that follows contains a focus on something much different. Once again, Swede presents the readers with a haiku that focuses on "right now". The haiku is written in present tense. We are taken directly into the moment in which the sun is rising, and we can see a hand of a fisherman extended across the river. This is a truly captivating moment. As usual, Swede has the reader thinking about that exact moment, and everything that is profound about it.

milky way
the thud of acorns
when they fall

Paul M.

still channel waters
the bow of the ferry plows
through the Milky Way

Swede, Almost Unseen, p.73

This haiku is a great representation of self-discovery. Possibly observing the stars, a huge area, we see the attention drawn to small acorns. The galaxy is beautiful to observe, vast, and often can bring one to awe. However, these acorns, too, become marvelous. The thud of the acorns is very noticeable. We are drawn outdoors, where we speculate that concentration is upon the Milky Way, yet quickly taken away at the sound of acorns. This appreciation and attention shows more self-discovery in Paul M. haiku.

The haiku that follows, by Swede, focuses solely on the Milky Way. The imagery is very astronomical. We are taken into the beauty of the galaxy, rather than coming to a conclusion about the person involved with the haiku. This haiku, once again shows us the importance of the moment in the present tense. Like most of Swede’s haiku, the reader can identify plenty of creativity within this haiku.

In both the haiku of Paul M. and George Swede, plenty of similarities and differences are present when compared. Paul M. presents us with a nice outlook on haiku. We see a naturalist who writes with simple language, often with brevity, and most importantly, with the component of self-discovery. On the other hand, George Swede also provides the readers with a beautiful outlook on haiku. At times, his haiku show some of the same components that Paul M. does, but there are also plenty of differences. Swede often concentrates on the present tense. Perhaps more signature to the haiku of George Swede, he shows us the element of creativity. Whether the reader of haiku enjoys the beautiful pieces that show us an element of self-discovery within the body of the haiku, or the creativity that makes some haiku great, Paul M. and George Swede show us that when comparing their works, success in haiku comes in more ways than one.

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