When I was in primary four (fourth grade), I took part in a haiku competition on Children’s Day. It was also World Haiku Day or something, and everyone in school had a chance to participate. I submitted three, complete with drawings to go with them. One was about a spider, one was about a pig, and I can’t remember what the last one was.
I actually won something. I won a set of colouring pencils from Japan, with a Mickey Mouse motif. I was also given a book on haiku from children around the world. As a kid, I looked at the pictures more than I looked at the poems from children who were my age.
As I grew up, I would revisit the book every now and then. I also did something that I would never have done as a kid, and that was read the foreword and introduction. It was in Japanese, but there were translations. The foreword said to the effect of “Haiku by children are always the most precious things. They say things as they see them, and that is surely the true essence of haiku.” (I don’t have the book with me right now, I’m just writing from memory.
And that is quite true. If you look at haiku these days, people think as long as you keep the 5/7/5 syllable (or mora, in Japanese) structure, you basically have a haiku.
The above is a t-shirt design from this online store Threadless. Haikus sometimes don’t make sense on sight, but like any poem, sometimes readers have to work at them to get them. This ‘haiku’ has nothing more to it than a buffoonery of what a haiku is. People sometimes think that because the structure of haiku is so simple, the only way to be smart and outstanding is to be clever with words.
But traditionally haiku is visual poetry for the mind. The words are unassuming, but in the images they conjure, they reflect, capture and convey some truth in the natural world. Let’s look at a famous example, Bashou’s “Old Pond”.
From Wikipedia, it translates as: An old pond, a frog leaps in, water’s sound. All of them simple images but powerful.
The haiku book I had said children see these images best. Have we as adults lost this ability forever, to see the natural with simplicity of mind and words? Maybe if we try hard enough, we might realise that perhaps what seem lost to time is merely buried and forgotten, but a good shovel and with some arm work, we might possible recover it.
I dropped my ice cream!