Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2003

Paul Scherschel

Bruce Ross

Paul Scherschel

Paul's Haiku



Bruce Ross
The Tao of Haiku

“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 Amann’s Zen principles: wordless, suchness, nothing special, season word, selfless, oneness.

As 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.”

Ross 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 duckweed:

distant thunder . . .
a yellow leaf slowly spins
to the grass

The 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. Ross’s haiku captures a beautiful moment in autumn that did not use an overabundant use of words.

Similarly, 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 reader’s mind. This picture opens up our senses: hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. The following haiku from thousands of wet stones demonstrates suchness:

giant lily pads
float on the motionless pond.
a dragonfly whirrs

First, 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 Ross’s 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.

Next, relating to suchness, is the Zen principle of nothing special. Both haiku and Zen normally deal with simple events and things of ordinary life. Ross’s 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:

icy fall morning—
the mallard in the center
of its ripples

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. Ross’s 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.

Of 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 year’s 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:

November drizzle—
the squirrel’s head beneath
the wet leaves

Dave 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 Ross’s 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 element.

Haiku with Zen principles also have a selfless quality. The haiku is not specifically about the author’s personal perspective. Instead, Zen haiku do not include the author’s viewpoint so the reader can embrace the haiku with all of their own personal perceptions. As an example, I could almost use any of Ross’s haiku. I will use one published in The Haiku Anthology that still has an element of nature, but also includes a human element:

icy dawn . . .
the sparkling window frost
in the unused room

Ross 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.

Finally, oneness is the last Zen principle that will be discussed with Ross’s 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:

Thoreau’s gravesite:
the smell of woodsmoke
on the cold spring air

First 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 Ross’s 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.

Ross, 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":

abandoned house
the lilacs just as bright
this spring

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 Ross’s 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 Ross’s haiku to return to the simplicity of life so that they may reconnect themselves with nature. Ross’s 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.


Heuvel, Cor van den, ed. The Haiku Anthology. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999.

Ross, Bruce. “among floating duckweed”. London Ontario: HMS Press, 1994.

Ross, Bruce. Personal interview over email. 27 Apr. 2003.

Ross, Bruce. “thousands of wet stones”. Portlandville, NY: M.A.F. Press, 1988.

Sowers, David. Personal interview. 29 Apr. 2003.

World Haiku Association (WHA). 2001. <>

—Paul Scherschel

©2003 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors