100 Haiku Days: A Rather Odd-yssey

I have so far failed to blog about this on here, but for some time, I’ve been carrying out a haiku challenge that I made up (other people have done it too, of course, but I didn’t know who or what until I started hashtagging mine), based on how many of my friends are doing “100 Happy Days”. As you may have guessed, I imaginatively called it “100 Haiku Days”.

(Of course, I intend to have filled in my back catalogue, so by the time you actually read this, all of my haiku might be recorded in chronological order. Sorry for any temporal confusion.)

Why 100 Haiku, you ask?

Well, I love haiku. They’re lovely little snippets of poems, and if you’re doing them right, you have to really concentrate to make something of worth. Sure, you can just string seventeen syllables together in a five-seven-five pattern and you’ll technically have a haiku, but if you’re just writing “I am writing down / words until they make up the / syllables I need”, that’s not really a poem, is it? Even if it is, technically, a haiku. (Note: I’m speaking, of course, about the general conventions of the haiku in English. I know it has a distinct Japanese history, and also variations in English itself. But I wanted a structure, or it wouldn’t be a challenge, so I picked the generic haiku in English.)

One of the reasons the haiku’s focus on syllables is appealing to me is because so much poetry is written in a meter. Now, I love sonnets, and I love writing unmetered / unstructured poetry, too. But there’s something so appealing about the challenging of expressing something in such a terse way.

So a haiku is more than just syllables. In order to fly, a haiku has to be something (not even ‘about’ something, just be something) more than the sum of its parts. It’s a tiny moment of musing on something, and a good haiku will suggest a lot more than it says outright. This is one of the many reasons that I love haiku: they are poetic ambiguity in a very precise slice of form.

I used to assist on poetry-writing courses for gifted and talented youth (I run fiction-writing courses now, but not poetry), and Colin, the course director, always started with haiku. The focus on language, on producing a piece of poetry at such a small scale, was extremely challenging for many of our students. But invigorating, too.

I’ve always liked writing haiku because one of my main issues, as a writer and as a person, has always been that I have a huge storm of thoughts and feelings in my head, and I struggle to understand them, and I get overwhelmed. (In case you didn’t already know, I have an anxiety disorder, I have done for many, many years, but I was only given medication for it earlier this year.) So I have been drawn to haiku because, when you write them, you have to focus very hard on one thought at a time, and on the best way of expressing it so that it’s a tiny, seventeen-syllable story.

In fact, I really started writing haiku again when I started therapy for my anxiety disorder. The first session was that awful, peeling-away-the-skin session, which – even though my therapist is absolutely lovely – is still really, really hard to do. ‘Hello, I’m going to sit here and recite to you twenty years of reasons why I’m in your chair,’ nobody enjoys saying ever. I left that office feeling like I’d been scrubbed raw, naked and bleeding and so very, very vulnerable. Afterwards, I just sat, and shook, and eventually, without even really realising what I was doing, I picked up my pen and I wrote thirty or so fairly traumatised haiku. They weren’t very good poetically, but they didn’t need to be, because they were for me and I’m not showing them to anyone in a hurry.

I didn’t even realise what I was writing about until I’d written six or seven. And then a real issue started to resolve itself, something that I very rarely talk about, and I wrote about that instead – one haiku at a time, one thought at a time. And by the end, I’d worked my way through it. And I realised that writing about it made me feel a lot better.

So the next day, I decided that I was going to write one a day for a hundred days. It was quite a spur-of-the-moment decision, to be honest. I wrote a haiku, tagged it #100haikudays, and got on with my day. And the next day, I did another. And that’s what I’ve done, every day since. And I really, really enjoy it.

Haiku aren’t very demanding. Okay, you’ve got to say something and it’s got to be more than a brief description in tortured nouns of what you’re doing at the moment (which I see people do a lot, and it makes me wince). I’ve really grown to love my project, and I’m looking forward to the others that I’m going to write. Which is a delightful feeling. And perhaps they’ll touch on things that I feel or that I think, but generally they’re little musings of whatever’s flitting through my mind at the time. I don’t think I’m comfortable publishing deeply personal poetry yet. Maybe I never will be. Who knows? If I get there, I’ll blog about it.

I’ve presented all of my haiku without commentary, on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, so that I have a nice photographic record of what I’ve done. Some of them have stories or ideas behind them, and if they speak loudly enough, I might add some commentary here (when I have time). I’m stuck into the project now (I’m 26% of the way through, but I’m going to backdate this post to May 18th, when I started writing it), and I’ve only just managed to sit down and write this – which, of course, should have been on Day 1. But then I don’t think I was ready to write this on Day 1.

So I’m going to put up and backdate my current collection of haiku here. And then I’m going to write and publish my thoughts about being a quarter of the way through, maybe in a while. In this way, I’m sure I’ll catch up to myself. Which, in all honesty, is how I feel about my therapy, too.