“Haiku is a way to open our awareness to the natural world. To see, hear, touch, taste and smell what is going on right here, right now… In haiku we regard the Earth tenderly, one moment at a time. Each moment is a glimpse into the pulsating life of the world, including sky and stars with all its pathos, beauty and joy. In these glimpses we enter a deeper reality that is our unity with all of nature – a luminous world alive to the sacred. As we embrace the natural world we embrace ourselves and each other.”
These are Jeannie Martin’s opening words in her book, Clear Water, released by Red Moon Publications in 2013. Jeannie grew up in the Nebraska countryside, where it was challenging to grow things, and nature did not have the attraction it has for her today. Not until she arrived in New England did she become attracted to a form of poetry that is deeply rooted in our natural surroundings.
“Haiku is a simple, short poem that connects Nature and human nature,” writes Jeannie. “Haiku is a poem of direct, immediate experience. It is natural and uncluttered. Haiku conveys a single event, perhaps a single moment, in all its fullness.”
Originating in Japan in the 1600’s, Japanese haiku is written in 17 syllables using a 5-7-5 pattern, although American haiku is written in 17 syllables and sometimes less, according to Jeannie who has been writing and teaching haiku for 15 years. With an economy of words, each poem conveys a depth of experience, centered in the moment.
Jeannie studied comparative religion, went on to Andover Newton Theological Seminary to study pastoral counseling, but discovered social work along the way. She realized that was her true calling. She then received a master of social work degree from Simmons School of Social Work, a master of Theological studies from Boston University School of Theology, and a doctorate of education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
She has worked in community programs with seniors and settled in the Boston area where she now works with homeless older men in the south end through Kit Clark Senior Services, where she is a coordinator of the congregate program. She is also a faculty field advisor at Smith College School of Social Work in Northampton, Mass. and teaches at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. She brings expressive arts into nursing homes and facilitates retreats and workshops sharing her love of this brief but intensely mindful poetry form.
In her 40’s, she recognized that something was missing in her life. Jeannie longed to return to a spiritual path. Her pastor recommended she begin a journaling practice as a process of discernment. That writing quickly led her to writing nature poetry, and eventually picking up a book of haiku poetry that led to a love story, her love of haiku.
“Haiku is a poem of the five senses, heightening awareness for people,” says Jeannie. “I think of it as opening the door to a spiritual path, a sense of wonder to the created world. Haiku is great because it can be for people who don’t like poetry. It’s more a mindfulness meditation in poetry form. I think of haiku as a folk art…very popular and it is open to everyone, and is shared really well. It’s very organic and very accessible.”
According to Jeannie, haiku is the most popular poetry form in the world, with 10 million people writing haiku in Japan. They have televisions stations there devoted to haiku. And she understands the broad appreciation that people can have for this form of poetry, having offered it in a variety of settings including healthcare, prisons, nursing homes, Alzheimer units, church groups, retreats and senior centers.
Another interesting feature of haiku is that it can be written pretty well with the very first effort, and at the same time, it can take many years to be a real haiku master. There are different ways to look at it. When asked if there can really be any bad haiku, she points out that there are jokes and people fooling around with it on the internet. But that’s not the true form.
“Haiku is defined as concrete images of nature connecting nature with human nature,” she says. “It has a gentle and spiritual path. Some people would debate that there is a spiritual element to it but I think everyone would agree that there is a sense of awe and wonder, and mystery to haiku when you immerse yourself in the natural world. Spirituality is awareness and so haiku makes us wake up and appreciate things.”
People are challenged today with exceptionally busy schedules and technology that permeates every aspect of our lives. The mindfulness nature of haiku invariably slows us down, leading us toward a stillness we crave whether we are aware of it or not.
In her book, Jeannie offers suggestions for beginning this practice and says it’s not unlike painting, in that it is a creative process that leads to making something beautiful. The best way to learn about haiku is to just experience it. Reading good haiku and writing it using all your senses, and then sharing it, is the best way to get started. Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart, a book by Patricia Donegan is a great place to start.
Jeannie’s haiku retreats and workshops include reflecting on haiku poems, mindfulness meditation experiences, writing and sharing haiku. She shares her poetry with participants and hands out field note books to encourage people to write. “When you start to become aware, you begin to see haiku moments everywhere.”
Clear Water is filled with haiku, suggestions in understanding it as a poetry form, mindfulness exercises, and resources. It is an invitation to experience our world with heightened awareness and to encapsulate that awareness in a few powerful words and as Jeannie says, “haiku is for everyone.”
Haiku by Jeannie Martin:
|one toe and then another
into the stream –
diving into blue
and deeper blue
around us –
the garden plants