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Reflections on Modern Haiku

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

By Connie Goodman-Milone

Director of Community Relations, SFWA

The inspiration came in a new year and a time for new beginnings. As a haiku poet, I joined the Haiku Society of America (HSA). I submitted five haiku for the winter 2020 issue of frogpond, where I was met with a resounding rejection. While in despair, I read through their journal frogpond. My “aha” moment came when I realized they publish modern haiku. I submitted traditional 5-7-5 haiku. I called on fellow SFWA member and friend, Colleen. She is widely published in modern haiku. How better to learn about modern haiku than to interview a master of the form.

What sparked your interest in modern haiku?

I wanted to broaden my poetry horizon a few years ago, so I went through Lewis Turco's The Book of Forms. I came across modern sedoka, haiku, senryu, tanka, and haibun. I'd always liked traditional haiku and was eager to try some of the new forms. The differences in modern vs. traditional haiku appealed to me, as modern haiku tends to be tied closer to the human world and meditation. This seemed to fit my goals of journaling and meditation.

Who has guided you on your path as a haiku poet?

The HSA’s 40 Under 40 program has been a great help to me. This is an initiative to attract poets under 40 years old who are interested in haiku. The program provides workshops and mentorship in haiku for young poets like myself to grow in the field.

What are the essential differences between modern haiku and traditional haiku?

Modern haiku can have many different forms, including monoku (one-line haiku) or four-line haiku. These kinds of haiku focus on the kigo (season word) and volta (the turn or juxtaposition of two ideas). Most modern ku are either humorous or deal with serious subject matters.

Here is a humorous haiku by Colleen that appeared in frogpond:

ripped jeans

the moon poking

through clouds

Most modern ku involve a flash of insight and some editing to make sure the juxtaposition wording is exact rather than the ku follow a strict 5-7-5 syllable count. The syllable count doesn't translate as well into English, where words aren't as short as they are in Japanese. Modern ku is a

poem of a few words comprising only a metaphor arranged into a certain type of stanza. Modern haiku still involves nature references and a season-marker kigo.

Can I share your poem from Bundled Wildflowers? This is outstanding.

I did some government work investigating war crimes during my late teens, and the experience left me dealing with a lot of things I didn't understand at the time. Haiku and haibun have helped me organize those thoughts and feelings into metaphors.

Here is Colleen’s haiku that appeared in the HSA annual anthology, Bundled Wildflowers.

an old playlist looping

over and over

PTSD dreams

This article is based on a column published in Author’s Voice, January 2021

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