Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2002

Dorina Aguilar

Dorina's Haiku



John Stevenson’s Touch of Familiarity
Chiyo-ni’s Touch of Femininity

Dorina Aguilar

Although some may beg to differ, I feel that there are very distinct characteristics between the way women and men authors write their Haiku. There is a certain feminine essence that protrudes through the haiku author’s words when it is a woman. I myself feel that my words would derive a different effect than that of a male writer’s. This is not say that one is better than the other; I am merely stating that different feelings may be drawn from different styles of writing.

I would like to open with a poem from p.60 of Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master:

my energy
can only defeat a butterfly
this spring morning

This poem possesses a feel for the delicacy not only of the butterfly, but also of the woman that is recognizing it. It’s frailty and exact feeling is a primary acknowledge of a woman’s soft weakness. In several haiku by Chiyo-ni we may find this type of reference to feminine appeal. Her approach is derived from using several of the Zen principles to create almost enchanting images of the more simple things.

When I read the poem above, I immediately thought about my grandmother. She is getting older and her health is not well at all. I wonder how she wakes up every morning and completes all of her chores before 9am, and doesn’t even begin to complain. She is a very strong woman and I can only hope that I have inherited her will. The fact that Chiyo-ni recognizes the lack of energy but does not deny the strength that is still within, is a very encouraging idea. It suggests an outer frailty with a much deeper significance.

I chose to match this with the following haiku by John Stevenson from Some of the Silence:

old slippers
the comfort
coming apart

I chose to match this haiku with that of Chiyo-ni’s because I feel that it was the western, male counterpart to this poem. The matching elements were of course examples of Zen principles. The first would have t o be the "suchness" of these two poems. They both accomplish that idea of capturing things fro what they are at that particular moment. The second prevailing link is the "nothing special" approach. This is exemplified by the fact that Chiyo-ni may very well be writing about a usual morning, where as Stevenson is writing about these everyday shoes.
These elements incorporated within the poem, allowed me to reminisce about my grandmother as well. There is a certain pair of slippers that she bought me when I was younger that I didn’t think I could ever do without. I eventually had to get rid of them, but that wasn’t my idea. It is these types of memories that continue to be triggered by such haiku. It’s these memories, the memories of the simple everyday things that you take for granted until they are totally spent. I never thought my slippers would wear away, and I’ve always wished my grandmother would never lose her energy and keep living forever. But this is not the reality of life.

The cultural differences between Stevenson and Chiyo-ni also reflect in their haiku back grounds. Being of Japanese decent allowed Chiyo-ni to experience the tradition early on in her life. Of course she was not recognized immediately, but her poetry flourished just as Stevenson’s has. Stevenson has had the "advantage" of being male and encouraged to pursue his endeavors. His first poem was published at 8 years of age. His beginnings were not very common. While Stevenson was making friends that would eventually attend Harvard, Chiyo-ni was surrounded by her family’s scroll making business. These are opposite beginnings and seem to coincide with the differences in their environmental poetry. For example the following haiku is from p. 35 of Chiyo-ni Woman Haiku Master:

bird’s song
left to the world
now it’s just the sound of the pine

Chiyo-ni wrote this haiku after a renewed appreciation for it. She had handed down her family’s scroll making business to her niece and her niece’s husband, as it was traditionally done in her culture, and made it a point to incorporate her natural surroundings to symbolize the actions she had taken.This is similar to John Stevenson’s approach in that he too has written haiku about his environment during a certain event, although his would not necessarily pertain to nature.

The poem that would exemplify this approach is one that he sent to me through our e-mail interview:

father’s day
she tells me
I’m not the father

The connection I found between this poem and that of Chiyo-ni’s is because each one of their individual life changing moments is captured in the haiku that they have written. It is almost as if they are both hit with reality and have no answer to it, but to face it. The poem written by Stevenson is from when his ex-wife announced that she was pregnant by her new beau after their separation. Although these circumstances weren’t the usual, they had such a good relationship outside of marriage that she asked him to be her daughter’s godfather. There was absolutely nothing to say to the announcement, so Stevenson captured that blank response in his haiku.

The images of intimate thoughts or of wanting and waiting may also be sought through the haiku of Chiyo-ni and Stevenson. There are several instances when these authors make note of the interaction between two people, when they don’t even know it. There are moments of mutual desire, but no revelation for one reason or another.

In The Haiku Anthology, I found one of my favorite haiku by Stevenson (p.204):

under the
blackest doodle
something unerasable

I know that this haiku does not really scream intimacy or desire, but to me it does create this innocent want that I think everyone has felt once or twice in their lifetime. When I read this haiku I immediately reverted back to when I used to doodle my crush’s name on paper, and then quickly scratched over it, so no one knew what I had just admitted to myself on paper. I understood exactly what it was like to be the only one on earth who saw the announcement made on that paper. It was an innocent desire because it was a crush and what some may call "puppy love."

This poem can be matched by the same concepts to Chiyo-ni’s (p.82):

to tangle
or untangle a willow—
depends on the wind

The connection I found between these two poems is the idea of choosing, and wanting to share something special with another individual who has deemed themselves worthy by your standards. According to the collection of Chiyo-ni, in Japanese poetry, the willow tree is a very sensual image, traditionally regarded as beautiful and feminine in shape. The shape is associated with hair, eyebrows and hips. Chiyo-ni used this image in approximately forty haiku. This poem represented the selection a woman’s heart makes about who she would like to share herself with. Any woman who values her being is as sensitive and selective about such a matter. Your doodle and your thoughts are valuable and discrete, only the "lucky one" will get to read them.

On of my favorite characteristics of haiku is their ability to physically affect you with the fewest words. This can also be recognized as the Zen principle of being "wordless." Poetry that can convey a physical impulse is that of well-chosen word proportion. We may find one word with the energy of physical effect. The kid of poetry that I am referring to is shown in Stevenson’s haiku on p. 204 of The Haiku Anthology:

cold Saturday—
drawn back into bed
by my own warmth

This poem affects the reader physically because it invokes a pulling sensation. As the reader begins to read the first line, they may begin with the sense of chill, on a morning when you would not have to worry about waking up for class, or anything important. You find yourself not resisting the pull from the warmth of your bed. The soft welcoming feel of the sheets and comforter apply themselves to you, and guard you from the chills out side that particular element.

The poem that best matched this physical element was Chiyo-ni’s on p. 202:

Sleeping alone
By the frosty night . . .

This poem brought the cold back into the physical appeal of the haiku by Stevenson. Not only does it become a seasonal element, but it also depicts the type of striking effect that any chill would bring to a person. It reminded me of the various experiences with waking up in the morning for class and hoping my body would convince itself to rise out of bed in time.

The poetry by each of these authors is in very many ways, similar although writing from their environment may have distinguished them to a certain extent. I find that these authors exemplify the differences between Japanese and western imagery.

—Dorina Aguilar

©2002 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors