A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 3, September 2019

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| Introduction | Fay Aoyagi’s Comments | Ray Rasmussen’s Comments |

Ray Rasmussen

With the Work of Fay Aoyagi and Chad Lee Robinson

How to Read and Write Haiku

III. Ray Rasmussen's Comments

tornado siren
the wind lifts a sneaker print
from home plate

Chad Lee Robinson

Step 1: Read Silently and Then Aloud

Step 2: Sketch Your Associations: Here are some of mine.

tornado siren -> loud, penetrating, fear evoking, memories of natural disasters
home plate -> enjoying a ball game
home -> a place of comfort
sneaker print -> not cleats? Why? A child’s ball game, not a major league game.
print on home plate -> someone made it to home, the team scored a run, elation, then the siren, a sudden shift to fear, anxiety, concern for my child who’s in the game.

Step 3: Reach for Memories and Associations

1. Soccer Game

I’m in the stands watching my 6-year-old daughter play soccer (my Canadian children didn't play baseball). While the boys run after the ball in a tight little clump, and the coachs and other parents are screaming, "Get the ball! Kick it! Score!" and I see her, alone, sitting, having stopped to pick a daisy. The shrill voices emphasizing "winning" rather than "having fun" shift my mood from enjoyment to anxiety and I begin to regret enrolling her in the soccer program.

2. Air Raid Sirens

Where and when did I learn to fear sirens? Coming to mind is a scene from grade school. We were taught that when a siren sounded, we should get under our desks and stay away from windows. It was fun to scramble down and look around from that unusual vantage point. I never understood why, but now I know we were locked into a the cold war and the siren signaled an air raid. Someone called “The Russians” might drop a Eh-bomb (I’m Canadian, eh?) on us. Beneath the desk, heads down, arms over our heads, we’d be safe from flying glass and the ceiling falling on us.

At home, I remember creating a space under my bed where I kept some of my favourite games and picture books. When I heard a police or ambulance siren, I'd happily climb under my little cave. Sometimes, my parents would find me there in the morning. Now I clearly see it in my mind’s eye, the flashlight my father gave me and that I kept for so many years.

Step 4: Modeling Robinson’s Haiku

I find it useful to use worthy haiku as a learning exercise. It results in a derivative poem and I’d not use it without acknowledging both Robinson’s and Aoyagi’s inspirations. And, to be clear, I can almost never tell whether one of my haiku is worthy of a reader’s attention. I certainly don’t claim this derivative haiku is.

siren pierces the night
the flashlight
my father gave me

I actively share writing with others and we provide each other with feedback. I was particularly pleased when, after she read this presentation, Fay Aoyagi offered this comment::

Ray, one minor reaction to your haiku. Personally, I avoid using two verbs in haiku. Your first line can be

night siren


piercing siren

or just simply


Just a thought,


night siren
the flashlight
my father gave me
~ Ray Rasmussen, a derivative poem based on Chad Robinson's original and Fay Aoyagi's suggestions.

Closing Comments

Neither Aoyagi nor I have tried to interpret Robinson’s haiku. Instead, we allowed ourselves time to let our minds taste the phrases and make associations. In short, a haiku can be a starting point for associations. Of course, there's always the appreciation of the wordsmithing. I was taken with Robinson's inventive phrase: "the wind lifts a sneaker print from home plate."

Robinson’s “all show” haiku was sufficiently oblique, but not too obscure, to allow Aoyagi and me to make our own associations. I suspect that Robinson's haiku was associated with a scene from his life, perhaps he was watching his son or daughter play baseball. But we don't need to know. I do have the thought that perhaps he'll write a prose piece to go with his lovely haiku.

Whatever event Robinson observed and whatever his own associations that led to his haiku, I realize that my associations are connected to my present-day concerns. I worry about my (and the world’s) children and grandchildren as I observe the present news media's harsh, siren-like warnings about our global-level of political and environmental chaos.

As for the haiku I've written, I always worry about where a haiku will fall on the continuum between:

too obvious, telling rather than showing <- . . . just right area . . . -> too obscure, hard to make associations

My thought is that Robinson's haiku falls in the "just right area," inspiring and allowing Aoyagi and me to make our own associations. I'm not really sure what event or memory Robinson's haiku is referencing. Does it matter? Of course, he could write a prose piece about the experience and with the haiku, he'd have a haibun, a short memoir in this case. Some haibunists use a haiku as their starting point; others write the prose and then find a haiku.

Thank you Chad and Faye for helping me understand both how to read haiku and the importance of writing haiku in a way that allows the reader to roam in their own memories and associations.