Interesting to hear that Simon Armitage has been spending the last year writing haiku. This week, in The Poet Laureate Has Gone to His Shed (Radio 4), he talked to Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess and wrote her a ‘sheep’ haiku. If you want to catch this episode, you can hear it on BBC iPlayer.
Sheep aside, I started to wonder what is it about lockdown that seems to have turned people on to haiku, not just the poet laureate, but lots of other people, writers and otherwise. Perhaps at first sight, haiku are small and manageable – anyone can have a go (and why shouldn’t they?). The tools are minimal – pen and paper. And of course there was more free time for a lot of us, especially during the first lockdown. There’s also that hard-to-define, spiritual element about haiku which seems to offer something life-enhancing. I’m reading a book about James Hackett at the moment. Apparently, he considered himself ‘a life worshipper, not an apostle of poetry or art’. Maybe this is what haiku demands, that we foreground living.
Back to Simon Armitage. In the episode I’ve mentioned above, he reads a fantastic poem about the wildflower yellow rattle, as well as airing his ‘sheep’ haiku, which I’ll own up to not liking quite as much. Not that I’m in a position to judge, and nor do I want to, because I’m glad Armitage has taken up the haiku baton. It might get more people interested in the form. In the meantime, I’ve transcribed his poem below so you can read it for yourself (I’m hoping I’ve got the line breaks and spacing correct).
wire wool tumbleweed
sheep drifting across high moors
clouds grazing the sky
Wire wool and tumbleweed in the same line, both describing something else in the second line – that’s a hard trick to pull off in such a small space without it looking too forced. I like the use of the verb ‘grazing’; it’s unusual, and metaphorical of course, but maybe it’s just a little too ‘literary’? Remember last week’s post, that Kerouac quote – ‘haiku should be simple as porridge’? I’ll leave you to ponder. Nevertheless, it’s great to have a big name poet in the UK working in this form and I’m keen to hear more of his haiku.
Paul Russell Miller, The Wild Beyond Echoing: James Hackett’s Haiku Way (Grandad Publishing, 2021) – £10, plus p&p, available direct from the author: email@example.com