Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Zazen Poetry & Zen Haiku

Two weeks ago in workshop we started reading The Poetry of Zen (edited by the excellent Sam Hamill).  In his intro he talks about the practice of zazen, and that got me thinking about poetry as being an act of meditation--both as we write, and as we read.

In class we talked about the three concepts of zazen:  body + mind + breath.  And suddenly it seemed so clear how that translates to poetry--those three concepts are so important in poetry too.  Body = image, mind = statement, and breath = rhythm.  It was really cool to make that discovery and then start explicating zen poems to see how the poems respond to those elements.  After our discussion, I asked my students to write zen poems for the following week, and they did an amazing job--some of them really blew us away.

This week we focused on haiku, and on the structural elements of haiku.  One that I really got excited about was using the structure of "comparison" where two images come together "to complete each other" (in the words of Jane Reinhold, Haiku-master and scholar).  I love the idea of neither image being complete, but in coming together, forming a whole.  We talked about "association" haiku too--that two seeminly different things come together because everything is part of the whole.  This seems like a very Zen concept too.  I talked my students through this structure (and 7 other ones) in class. To prepare, I tried to write in each structure.  Here is my haiku using "association":

Breastfeeding in Winter

snow rushing down
milk rising up

It's been really nice to return to haiku, and to think about poetry in this pure, simple form.  One poem we studied had only one multi-syllable word in it.  All had gorgeous rhythm, mostly iambic.  And most of them had no adjectives, no embellishment.  It was good for all of us, as we get into the final crazy weeks of the semester, to do a little zazen breathing, and meditate on these poems.