Jacob Salzer’s Checkmate

shadows become still

on the marble steps

© Jacob Salzer (USA)

Chrysanthemum, No. 19, April, 2016
(from the book: How Many Become One) 

Today, we have a special edition, as we have a father and son commentary team—Mark Salzer being the father, and Jacob Salzer being the son.

I would say this is a metaphor for mindfulness.  Our days are filled with many steps—there is a need to pause and be still between the steps.

In dealing with some over-reactive people in my life, I’ve learned to become still, even in the midst of apparent chaos.  I say apparent, because the “emergency” is in their own mind—not real for me, but to empathize, I have to pause and try to understand where they are coming from, their inner “why,”  not react myself with anger or defensiveness…become still on the marble steps before taking the next step, which needs to be a step of compassion most of the time!

– Mark Salzer (USA)

This haiku was inspired by Nicholas Klacsanzky. Playing chess is a meditative activity that involves both movement and pauses. Similarly, there seems to be a natural rhythm to living that revolves around a central point, much like the calm eye of a storm. With the growing demands of daily living, I feel it’s important to remind ourselves to pause sometimes, to simply be, watch, and reflect. On one hand, I feel it’s important to be completely immersed in something at times. On the other hand, I also feel it’s wise to sometimes take a step back and observe. The mind appears to be busy producing ripples on the pond, so to speak, but even those ripples are one with the depth of the pond beneath the surface. So, it seems our daily lives are not separate from the mystery. What are “shadows” in this haiku? For me, the shadows are the great mystery itself: something that is permanently beyond the mind or comprehension, beyond the “me.” It is the unknown breathing life into empty spaces.

– Jacob Salzer (USA)


Susan Marie LaVallée’s Power Outage

power outage:
everything goes out
but the wind chimes

© Susan Marie LaVallée (1950 – 2011) (USA)
(HSA Newsletter, Volume 27, Number 1 — March 2012)

This is a fine example of focus within haiku. Often, haiku allow the reader to zero in on a specific sense or observation. When something is concentrated on, its full nature seems to unfold. A simplicity of mind, or getting rid of distractions, can be a meditative experience as well. Too often, modern people multi-task. Sometimes we forget to simply experience what is happening to us. And sometimes, nature practically forces us to be present.

In the case of this haiku, a storm took down power lines, and the strumming of wind chimes can be heard. No television, no radio, no other noise, except for the melody the stormy wind is making. In poetry, we mention the song of wind, the whistle of wind, and so on. However, in this haiku, we get a highly illustrative scene where the wind is putting on a show, allowing us to feel the power behind nature.  The writer does not say what the wind chimes sound like, but that is the beauty of it: as readers, we can impose our own imagination into the sound. Strong haiku commonly leave room for readers to internally interact with the imagery and meaning.

I think the use of the colon is interesting. It seems an ellipsis could have been used as well, but the colon brings a unique sense of focus to the second part. The lines are also arranged in a way to make the third line impact the reader more. If the lines were reversed, the effect would not have been as significant. The sound should also be mentioned. In the first two lines, the “o” sounds gives the impression of the flow of the wind, and in the last line, the “i” sounds provides a sense of the sharpness of the wind chimes’ music.

A masterful haiku in its simplicity, economy, and availability for interpretation.

If you want to learn more about Susan Marie LaVallée and read more of her work, please visit: https://livinghaikuanthology.com/index-of-poets/livinglegacies/2686-susan-marie-lavall%C3%A9e.html

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Do you enjoy this haiku? If so, please write a comment below.

Francesco Palladino’s Flat Sea

flat sea
the sail swollen
with light

© Francesco Palladino (Italy)

What I enjoy most about this haiku is the mixture of serenity and awe one feels while reading it.  With the first line, we have a calm sea (emphasized by the dash). Seeing a calm sea, or a flat sea, is one of the most tranquil things to witness. It puts us into an instant state of meditation.

With the second line, we get a contrast with a sail of a ship being swollen. It is a great use of the word “swollen” and provides alliteration, making the haiku more musical (having a sense of karumi or lightness as well). In addition, the “l” sounds coursing through the haiku make this poem cadenced, much like how a ship goes through the sea. In terms of sound and construction, the poem could be said to illustrate the principle of karumi in its simplicity, grace, and immediacy.

In the third line, we get a surprise that the sail is swollen with light, which gives a fine, awe-inspiring image. The contrast between the calm sea and the epicness of a sail swollen with light gives us a sense of human endeavors among nature’s balance and the ambition of people. Many interpretations can be made, but this is what I feel. Interpretations need not be made in haiku, as well. It also can be seen as a wondrous image that puts us in the moment of the author, thereby providing us with a sense of presence. Often, we forget about the simple joys of perception.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Do you enjoy this haiku? If so, please leave a comment.

Elizabeth Searle Lamb’s White Chrysanthemums

halfway up the stair—
white chrysanthemums

© Elizabeth Searle Lamb (1917-2005) (USA)

The first thing that caught my eye about this haiku is how the juxtaposition between the two parts of the poem can create different meanings. For instance, we don’t know if the white chrysanthemums are pausing, or the narrator pausing. In any case, the dash is used to make the reader feel the pause. It is also interesting to note that the word “pausing” is a single line to allow for more of an interval for the reader.

Another aspect of this haiku that drew me in is the state of meditation it could be possibly pointing to. The narrator could be so entranced with the white chrysanthemums that she has got into a state of meditation where no thought is disturbing her mind. She is simply admiring the beauty of the flowers. Though the chrysanthemum is sometimes referred to as a seasonal reference for autumn, I don’t feel it has any significance for this haiku in particular. However, I can say that the white chrysanthemum could be a representation of the state the author is in: a blank mind, peaceful in its emptiness.

The “a” and “s” sounds in this haiku create further serenity and starkness. The long “a” sounds make for slower, meditative reading. The “s” sounds pop to make this haiku more stark. Also, looking at this poem technically, there is the right amount of words to convey the moment and mood, especially with the formatting of the lines. As I mentioned earlier, even the punctuation helps to express the meaning and atmosphere of the poem.

An entrancing haiku from the “First Lady of American Haiku.” To learn more about Elizabeth Searle Lamb and to read more of her work, visit: https://livinghaikuanthology.com/index-of-poets/livinglegacies/5938-lamb,-elizabeth-searle.html

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

What do you think or feel about this haiku? Let us know in the comments.

Tia Haynes’ Hands

support group
I never know
where to put my hands

© Tia Haynes (USA)
Failed Haiku, Vol. 2, Issue 20, 2017

This senryu has a significant breadth of meaning. On one hand, it brings about a feeling of mystery, where one does not know where the narrator’s hands will go. This type of mystery can put the reader in a state of pure consciousness, as thought cannot comprehend it. Another interpretation is that it is expressing the nervousness we feel in group environments, even groups that are aimed at support (we have all felt this nervousness within groups, and therefore this makes this senryu highly relatable). Lastly, it could be about how people need support equally, and to know who to give aid to is difficult to determine. This could also relate to self-help and collective help. Sometimes, it is hard to decide if we should give support to ourselves or others first.

I think the lack of punctuation works well, as a clear separation between the parts are made between line 1 and line 2 (though traditionally, senryu didn’t use kireji). Also, intuitively, the structure works better with “support group” as line 1 rather than as line 3. Making “support group” line 3 would have made the lines more normal in the short/long/short structure; however, this senryu has more impact and sounds better in the form it is now. At times, you have to use your gut when formatting a senryu or haiku.

Looking at the sound of this senryu, the most prominent sonic features are the letter “o” and “p.” The letter “o” gives an emphasis on the emotion behind the senryu, and perhaps the letter “p” adds importance to the action within the poem. Whatever the interpretation, the author has made this an aesthetic senryu through the use of sound.

A poignant, introspective senryu.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Do you enjoy this senryu? You can tell us why in the comment section.

Zdravko Kurnik’s Clear Night

In the clear night
a fisherman pulls in a net
filled with stars.

© Zdravko Kurnik (Croatia) (1937 – 2010)

This haiku showcases the precept “as above, so below” which was first laid out in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. The stars not only rest in the sky, but also in lakes, oceans, and other bodies of water by way of reflection. The fisherman pulls up an empty net, but to his surprise, he catches stars. There are many possible interpretations of this occurrence: there is always good in bad situations, we can achieve celestial awareness if we empty ourselves, sometimes we wish for something mundane but receive something spiritual instead, and numerous other meanings.

However, the word “clear” leads me think about the connection between humanity and nature. This haiku could be implying that when we have a mind and heart devoid of impurity, we get connected to the cosmos, or heaven.

At first I questioned if the first line was needed, as the second and third line imply it. However, the first line sets the scene, and adding the word “clear” into the mix gives more resonance.

You might have noticed that the haiku is written in a more old-fashioned style of English-language haiku, with a capital letter in the beginning and a period at the end. Kurnik wrote during a time when haiku in the West was forming and ideas about what exactly is the West supposed to do with the form was less certain (though we, of course, are still trying to discover and learn more about what English-language haiku is supposed to be). In my opinion, this style does not take away from the wonderful image and its implications.

Also, this haiku could be said to be a one-image haiku, as it not clearly separated into parts. However, sometimes one-image haiku work well, as they carry a strong significance and resonance, like in this poem.

Turning to sound, the letter “n” caught my eye the most, having an almost “pulling” sound. The second letter that seems most important is “l” which also provides the feeling of something being pulled, and also the fullness of which the stars fill the net. This is, at least, my projection. Sounds can mean different things to different people.

Learn about Zdravko Kurnik and read more of his haiku at: https://livinghaikuanthology.com/index-of-poets/livinglegacies/2667-zdravko-kurnik.html

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Do you enjoy this haiku? Please let us know in the comments.

Joshua Gage’s Pre-dawn Coffee

pre-dawn coffee
the smell of cedar
on my wool shirt

© Joshua Gage (USA)
The Heron’s Nest, Dec 2014.

The details in this haiku make it effective. The scene of pre-dawn is one of mystery, introspection, and calmness. The poet is drinking coffee to wake up and get energy for the day that has not begun yet. The smell of cedar, which has a strong scent, could either make the poet think of the work he did yesterday (probably) of cutting wood, or make him feel more calm and centered. So, we maybe have two opposing sides: the energy of the coffee, and the soothing scent of cedar. The mention of wool is a fine touch, as it relates to the season of winter. This is a great example of using a subtle seasonal reference. The poem, and the image it portrays, would have been weaker with just “on my shirt.” Not only is pre-dawn a quiet, reflective time, but doubly so in winter.

I think technically the poet could have added a dash or ellipsis after the first line. However, I understand not adding one due to already using a hyphen. As you might know, haiku poets try to avoid punctuation when not needed. We try to not jar the reader with too much punctuation.

Another consider would be to change the last two lines to:

the waft of cedar (scent)
from my wool shirt

… but I also enjoy the simplicity and sound of the original. “smell” connects musically with “wool” through the “l” sounds. Also, the long “e” sounds in “pre-dawn” and “coffee” show the calmness of the moment. In fact, the “e” sounds are carried into the second line with “the,” “smell,” and “cedar.”

This haiku showcases an enjoyable meditation on the sense of smell and time. The poet packed a lot into the haiku through details and a subtle use of a seasonal reference.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Do you enjoy this haiku? If so, please tell us why in the comments