It is always present within you. You can use it any way you want, is a description of the Tao in the Tao Te Ching. Similarly, haiku is a wordless poem that places people in the haiku. Bruce Ross, as a Haiku poet, aims to capture a feeling held in a certain moment of nature. His writing style includes many of Eric Amanns Zen principles: wordless, suchness, nothing special, season word, selfless, oneness.
you will see later, Ross uses these principles to take the
reader from where they are and places them into the haiku.
Ross wrote, In the 1950's I and my friends became aware
of haiku through the Beats' interest in Zen and Japanese culture.
We liked the sensibility that linked feeling to nature in
haiku and read what we could, usually in translations from
the Japanese (Ross, 2003). As he writes a haiku he believes,
There is a kind of synchronicity that somehow registers
in my feeling for an object or happening in an instant of
time (although the actual event may spread over more than
an instant). This experience has been called the "haiku
moment (Ross, 2003). These reasons given by Ross
are what initially attracted me to him. I enjoyed the beauty
and connection he uses with each haiku. In this fast-paced
world reliant upon modern technology, it is nice to read a
haiku that reminds people that the world still has life and
nature that is not simulated by a program on a computer or
a compact disc with noises of nature.
Bruce Ross possesses the haiku spirit to write a sensible haiku that connects human feeling with the nature that surrounds us. The qualities mentioned above has allowed him to publish his own original haiku in thousands of wet stones (1988), among floating duckweed (1994), and Silence: Collected Haiku (1997). He has also written How to Haiku, A Student's Guide to Haiku and Related Forms (2001) and is co-editor of the annual anthologies American Haibun & Haiga (WHA, 2001). "He is a past president of the Haiku Society of America. His haiku, senryu, haibun, collaborative renga, haiga, reviews, translations, and articles have appeared in haiku journals worldwide"(WHA, 2001).
Ross describes himself, I am a poet, editor, and professor. I have taught haiku and related forms in various educational venues, including the University of Vermont and the University of Alberta. Beginning in Fall 2003 I shall be teaching in the Honors College of the University of Maine, Orono.
has a consistent style used in several of his haiku. The principles
held in Japanese haiku with Zen can also be seen in his haiku.
We shall first look at the principle of a wordless poem. A
wordless poem is able to show you the moment without creating
too many distractions, as in a storm haiku in among floating
first line of the haiku allows me to hear the thunder off
in a far place. The next two lines create an image without
directly saying that it is taking place during autumn. I can
visualize the storm the clouds coming closer in the sky. Some
of the leaves have already turned from green to yellow. It
is still early enough where the ground is not covered with
snow, and the grass is still showing. The incompleteness of
this haiku can also be seen in its simplicity that guides
the reader to a moment. As Ross puts it, a moment can be an
event that can be longer than just an instant. The author
should not have to directly say what is going on. Therefore,
the haiku allows the reader to make their own visual without
the use of too many words that try to define a certain moment.
In this haiku, I can see the green grass, the brown trees,
and the leaves on the trees that are beginning to fall. Autumn
is starting. The leaves have not yet covered the ground, or
the fallen leaves could have been chopped up on a freshly
lowed lawn. It could be a really nice day. A father comes
home from work to take care of the yard. As he finishes, he
can hear the thunder off in the distance. He is happy that
he was able to finish mowing the lawn before the storm actually
got there. And, as he walks inside he sees a yellow leaf fall
from a tree on top of his newly mowed grass. This haiku portrays
a beautiful image of a yellow leaf sitting on top of an evenly
cut grass. In short, Ross was able to create a wordless poem
that only took 3 lines. Whereas, I took several lines to try
and describe a similar moment to what Ross was trying to capture.
Rosss haiku captures a beautiful moment in autumn that
did not use an overabundant use of words.
haiku has a certain sense of suchness that tries to convey
a certain image, and not a deeper meaning. A haiku not only
tries to use the least amount of words as possible, but use
those strong words to draw a picture that can be expanded
by the readers mind. This picture opens up our senses:
hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. The following
haiku from thousands of wet stones demonstrates suchness:
the giant lily pad places me at a pond somewhere in a countryside
scene. They are floating on a motionless pond. It is a pretty
clear day. There is no rain, wind, or people swimming in the
pond. In fact, the pond may be motionless because a family
just finished lunch and are waiting to go swimming in the
pond. For the moment, a dragonfly is the only playing at the
pond. It is easy for the reader of this haiku, and most of
Rosss haiku, to place themselves in the haiku since
there is no I or me. The reader is allowed to use their own
senses to draw from what Ross is writing about in the haiku.
Ross allows the reader to see the image for what it is, and
allows the reader to draw in the rest of the picture. In this
haiku, the images are described just as they are. Otherwise,
the reader is open to use their senses as they wish from the
suchness provided by Ross.
relating to suchness, is the Zen principle of nothing special.
Both haiku and Zen normally deal with simple events and things
of ordinary life. Rosss haiku can serve as an outlet
to escape from the human created chaos in our modern world
to go back to a sense of simplicity in nature. For example,
there is nothing special but a sense of nature in this haiku
from among floating duckweed:
A duck is resting peacefully on a lake as it migrates at the end of fall. I picture a dark morning with ripples surrounding the duck. Again, there is not necessarily something special we are expected to understand. This haiku, actually, takes us out of the chaos of modern life. Rosss haiku transforms us into a moment of true life in nature where we can experience a duck that is a part of the circle of life while floating at the center of ripples. There is nothing special about this duck, but its simplicity.
course, a haiku about nature needs to include some type of
season word. The season element takes the event or thing presented
in haiku and puts it in perspective of the years changing
cycles. A seasonal element gives our mind the additional guidance
needed to visualize the environment and setting for an event
or thing described in a haiku. Season can designate a time
of year that enables us to imagine different colors and sounds.
Ross uses this element to do just that:
Sowers, a junior nursing major, says, I visualize a
squirrel trying to bury his nuts in the middle of fall. The
squirrel is trying to prepare for winter. However, he has
to get out of the rain to keep dry. Because it is November,
I see the squirrel on the ground under old leaves that have
fallen from the trees. I think it is truly wonderful
that Ross can use the seasonal element as a form or structure
enabling the reader to fill in the spaces. It is the seasonal
element in Rosss haiku that allow him to refrain from
using too many words. One Zen principle adds to another Zen
principle. Ross realizes that Zen principles rely on each
other to develop a true Zen haiku, such as using the seasonal
with Zen principles also have a selfless quality. The haiku
is not specifically about the authors personal perspective.
Instead, Zen haiku do not include the authors viewpoint
so the reader can embrace the haiku with all of their own
personal perceptions. As an example, I could almost use any
of Rosss haiku. I will use one published in The Haiku
Anthology that still has an element of nature, but also
includes a human element:
still includes the sense of season and nature, but by the
use of window the reader can visualize himself in a house.
However, this room is not used. This does not mean that the
house is abandoned, but perhaps that the family that is living
there has decided not to go in that room. I think of a room
in a two-story house that a child lived in. The child has
died, and the parents find it is too hard to go into the room.
During the winter, an icy frost forms over the window. The
frost just stays there since no one uses the room. The selfless
Zen principle allows me to make my own image of the haiku.
The haiku guides me to a certain setting, and then sets me
free to make my own interpretation.
oneness is the last Zen principle that will be discussed with
Rosss haiku. This principle focuses on the realization
that everything is connected. People are not to view themselves
as separate beings, but to feel as one being with the rest
of the world. The western notion of Self is not applicable
to Zen principles. Self and Nature are both connected as one.
Life goes through a circle, and is not specific to one specific
being. All of life is going through death and birth:
of all, I think this haiku is wonderful. Throeau, who went
to the woods to find himself, can also show this connection
between Self and Nature. People tend to disconnect themselves
when they do not realize they are a part of nature. As Thoreau
did, people need to discover nature. Also, we need to enter
into the nature conveyed in Rosss haiku. The haiku written
above shows the connection between life and death. Ross wrote
to me that writing haiku should have, Honesty of feeling.
Connection with nature. Linking two aspects of the world in
an "absolute metaphor." Evoking beauty, joy, sadness,
insight, etc. We can smell the woodsmoke, visualize
the gravesite, and feel the coolness. The gravesite can represent
death, but spring represents birth. This haiku by Ross includes
the Zen principle of oneness to combine the reader with the
haiku, and the nature expressed in that haiku.
as a haiku poet, uses Zen principles to embrace a moment of
nature that may or may not be longer than an instant. The
readers of his haiku are able to enter into the haiku, as
well as enter into the nature contained within the haiku.
Of all his haiku, Ross enjoys one that is, Probably,
linking sadness and beauty, what the Japanese call "sabi":
Ross would like for his readers to, Try to participate in the feeling of a given haiku to experience its beauty, joy, sadness, insight, etc. Try to sense the interconnectedness of all things often represented in a given haiku. Additionally, I would like to share this final comment from Ross, Most haiku poets seem to develop over time in terms of the quality of their haiku. I know I did. Haiku is valuable as a special kind of poetry that links us to nature through the interconnectedness of things, particularly at a time when more and more time is spent in connection with cyperspace and the like. In Rosss haiku, Zen principles are utilized to connect the reader and the haiku as one with nature. I encourage anyone caught up in the chaos of the modern world to read Rosss haiku to return to the simplicity of life so that they may reconnect themselves with nature. Rosss haiku ranges within topics, scenes, and content of nature that evoke a sense of well-being as one with nature. He does not simply define a moment in nature, but brings the reader to nature with all of the Zen principles.
Cor van den, ed. The Haiku Anthology. 3rd ed. New York:
W. W. Norton & Co., 1999.
Bruce. among floating duckweed. London Ontario:
HMS Press, 1994.
Bruce. Personal interview over email. 27 Apr. 2003.
Bruce. thousands of wet stones. Portlandville,
NY: M.A.F. Press, 1988.
David. Personal interview. 29 Apr. 2003.
World Haiku Association (WHA). 2001. <http://www.worldhaiku.net/eng/us/b.ross.htm>
©2003 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors