Best of October Haiku Challenge
Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once observed that the difference between societies with writing and those without a written language was that the former wrote almost entirely on themselves – the human story of the rise and fall of empires – while the latter, called “primitive” people, had extensive oral traditions on plants and animals. They have experienced themselves in constant conversation with all kinds of beings, not just humans.
Each of the winning and honorably mentioning poems for last month’s challenge graced this “conversation” with the creatures of the natural world.
- Susan tamara darrow alludes to a famous cricket haiku, offering an implicit critique of anthropocentric ways of thinking.
- Alex Lubman asks her daughter what she likes about haiku and gets an answer that goes to the essence of art.
- Shelli Jankowski Smith finds his “indoor cricket” after the temperatures drop and eventually they all shut up.
Congratulations to all! To read more merit poems from last month’s challenge, visit our Haiku Challenge Tricycle Group on Facebook.
You can submit a haiku for the November challenge here.
Black lacquer armor
Becomes his funeral urn –
– Susan Tamara Darrow
Japanese haikus often use literary allusions to suggest meanings not explicitly contained in the poem. Haiku in English rarely does this. This is largely the result of how haiku, like the proverbial message in a bottle, first washed up on western shores.
During the first half of the 20th century, Japanese haiku was dominated by the literary theory of a single poet. Influenced by Western realism, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) advocates a style based on the objective description of nature. “What you see is what you get!” summarizes Shiki’s approach to haiku.
Because haiku arrived in the West when Shiki’s influence was at its peak, English-speaking poets developed the idea that a haiku should be limited to the concrete description of the thing itself. Their haikus became “little islands of the present” that rarely referred to anything outside of themselves.
The winner of this month’s challenge breaks that pattern by hinting at one of the most famous poems in Japanese literature: a haiku written by Bashō on September 8, 1689 and recorded in his masterpiece. The Narrow road to the deep north:
Oh, what a pity!
under the antique helmet
a cricket cry
While visiting the Tada Shrine in Komatsu, Bashō saw the helmet of the 12th century samurai Saitō Sanemori. At 73, Sanemori was the oldest warrior to die fighting for the Taira clan in their battle against the Genji. Sanemori dyed his white hair black so that he was not spared due to his advanced age – a ruse that was only discovered after the fact.
The story of Sanemori was told in the epic of the 14th century The Tales of the Heike and, later, in a Noh drama that bears his name. The opening line of Bashō’s haiku comes from the play. Sanemori’s decapitated head is brought to the victorious General Higuchi Jirō, who exclaims, “Oh, what a pity! “
So this month’s winning poem alludes to a Bashō haiku. . . which alludes to a Noh play. . . which dramatizes an even older story. It is not easy to compress eight centuries of literary history into 17 syllables. It’s even harder to do in a poem that balances pathos with play.
Crickets stop singing when evening temperatures drop below 50 degrees, then die in the cold of late fall. But they can expire for other causes, including disease, predation, pesticides, or contact with environmental toxins. In recent decades, their numbers have been strongly affected by habitat loss.
In 2017, Jean-Christophe Vié, deputy director of the World Species Program of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, predicted that “the noise of crickets in European grasslands may soon become a thing of the past”. Given its mournful tone, the collapse of global insect populations is the necessary backdrop for the poem.
The use of capital letters to start each line, the British spelling of ‘armor’, and the somewhat somber, song-like rhythm all suggest a formal lament. Only the last line retains the essential humor of a good haiku.
The words “samurai cricket” are reminiscent of Sanemori, but with a twist. Their purpose is not to commemorate the human warrior, as Bashō did. Driven by anthropogenic factors like climate change, the Sixth Extinction is a battle between Homo sapiens against all other species on Earth. The cricket is the warrior now.
You can’t come to a review like this without using humor. Such a great truth is impossible for humans to understand. Thus, the poet reduces his dimensions to those of a single cricket, a fallen warrior in the battle for the soul of a planet. . . whose own body “becomes his funeral urn”.
i ask my daughter
what she likes about haiku—
she answers… “crickets!”
– Alex Lubman
They all became silent
I guess I’ll have to be
my own cricket now
– Shelli Jankowski-Smith
You can find the word of the October season and haiku tips below:
Word of the fall season: “Cricket”
a small living room: the crickets
make it look easy
You don’t need everything to make a living. It is possible to live well and to live small. From the way they sang, the crickets did just that.
I wanted the poem to recognize the difficulty of a life lived on the fringes. At the same time, he had to retain the lightness and humor of a good haiku. This meant there had to be puns.
Submit as many haikus as you like including the word “cricket” from the fall season. Your poems should be written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively, and should focus on a single moment that is happening now.
Be simple in your description and try to limit your subject. Haikus are almost always best when they don’t have too many ideas or images. So focus on the word of the season and try to stay close to it.
REMEMBER: To qualify for the challenge, your haiku must be written in 5-7-5 syllables and include the word “cricket”.
HAIKU TIP: KEEP THE LIGHT!
Lightness is an essential virtue in haiku. If we try to say something too serious in such a short poem, it will usually feel heavy or forced. By keeping things lighter, paradoxically, we almost always accomplish more. So try hard, but don’t too much hard and never forget to preserve the spirit of the game.
In haiku, we learn to say things simply. If something is true it can be stated in 17 syllables, this is our first article of faith. It’s what gives us the confidence to deal with difficult emotions or complex issues, knowing that we can eliminate what is distracting or elusive and get to the heart of it.
Lightness and humor are closely linked in haiku. This is why the HAI character (俳) in haiku is sometimes translated as “funny” or “not to take yourself too seriously”. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t struggle to get the truth you want to convey in your poem. It just means dealing with this truth in the simplest and easiest way.
Learning to stick to the idea of a poem until it happens is the biggest part of mastering the art of haiku. That’s why we focus on just one seasonal theme each month. This type of training will be very useful to you as a haiku poet. It is also a good workout for life.
A note on crickets: Crickets are found in tropical to temperate areas, where they have adapted to a variety of habitats including grasslands, marshes, forests, beaches and even caves. Mainly nocturnal, they are known for the chirping songs of their males, produced by scratching their wings against a harp-like membrane that amplifies sound. They chirp at different rates depending on their species and temperature. Crickets have frequently appeared as characters in literature, especially in children’s books. In poetry, they are most often appreciated for the beauty – and sometimes the sadness – of their song. Crickets stop singing when the temperature drops below 50 and usually die soon after.