Bindi Bur Blog

How to write haiku

After 20 years writing haiku and getting them published, I feel qualified to share my knowledge. Feel free to disagree or add anything else you feel I've forgotten in the comments.

  • Keep haiku concrete (present images, scents, sounds, etc), to let readers feel the feelings for themselves, rather than telling them how you feel.
  • At least at first, try to keep to three lines, short-long-short, with the syllable count up to 17 syllables but preferably shorter, (though some accomplished poets write one, two, or four line haiku.) It is said that 13 (3-5-3) English syllables approximates the 17 (5-7-5) sound units of traditional Japanese haiku.
  • Write haiku in two sections: one shorter on one line, and the other running over two lines. Either section can begin or end the haiku. If these two parts create juxtaposition, it will produce dynamism.
  • Keep it succinct. Only use words that are necessary, but don't make it sound like a telegram.
  • Use active verbs. 'The cat sniffs' will always be more dynamic than, 'the cat is sniffing'
  • Only use necessary descriptors. e.g. one doesn't usually need to know snow is white or cold, but one might need to know if it's slushy, or grey or pristine.
  • Write lots.
  • Read more, especially from edited journals. (links below) Some journals will have an editorial bias, but a more of what one reads from those sources is likely to be good than in personal blogs or other unedited places. Of course, there are many great poems on personal blogs and some consistently good poets who hardly ever submit to journals.
  • Educate yourself by reading the essays in journals. Learn from the best.
  • Keep your senses open. Keep notes to help you remember sense-based details.
  • Enjoy.

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interrupting
my haiku contemplation
the voice of a crow


More of my haiku on this blog.
More of my haiku on my older blog.

The British haiku society also has great info and good up-to-date links
Michael Dylan Welch has lots of essays and other interesting stuff on his site: Graceguts
A link to lots of haiku and related journals on Ray Rasmussen's site Ray's Web.
I learnt a huge amount from Aha Poetry. Very practical exercises and information.

I could go on, but I trust most of these links to give sound information and good poems. I would add that, if in doubt while browsing haiku sites, go to their 'What Haiku Is' or 'How to Write Haihu' instructions and, if the first instruction is to write in 5/7/5 syllables, it is very likely that their information is based on misinformation. If they add the magical words 'up to' (as in 'up to' 17 syllables) they are likely to be closer to the mark. The trouble with this paradigm isn't the misinformation about syllables (lots of good haiku have been written in 5/7/5 English syllables) but that they often miss the very things that make haiku deep, rich and engaging.

Good luck and may your path be paved with pine needles or autumn colour or blown petals or everyday gravel with poems in it.

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paintings and nature inspiration

A series of photos juxtaposing one of my abstract field painting, with shots of nature that inspired me. The photos are taken at Shell Hill near Walkers Flat, South Australia. We loved to camp there, but people used to dump rubbish and hoon around in their cross country vehicles and bikes, tearing up the fragile earth. So when the local conservation group put fences up preventing access, we lost our favourite camp site, but the earth gained a lot of peace. Looking forward to going back soon to check out the land's recovery.

The painting is from a series dealing with texture and mark.

Here are some photos of my studio around that time.

I don't even know where a lot of these paintings are. Probably covered with different paintings. I lost heart with the series. I can't believe how much time in my life I have wasted (still waste) doubting myself and my art. I only exhibited maybe five of this series. I still have the maroon one and a few others. But the others did make beautiful grounds for other work.

Impressive fish tank too.

More of my art here and here

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​the flight of the wild swan (poem and commentary)

the flight of the wild swan

between earth and air
between life and fire
between transcendence and the fragile body
between the wild swan and the burnt man
between divine ecstasy and nuclear fall out

the royal swan of the soul floats on the cosmic ocean
despite the cosmic ocean being filled with blood

Flight of the Gander, By Ervin Janek

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For Wednesday Sense Day, a little peak behind the scenes, a little more about this poem. Following is a journal entry written as I was leading up to the poem, with the intention of responding to the image above by Ervin Janek

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'There is a figure that Dirk made when he was in year twelve. It’s the bust of a person whose flesh is melting from a nuclear bomb. I’m thinking about that sculpture because Ervin used it in a photo that I’m wanting to write about. The photo is called Flight of The Gander, named after one of Joseph Campbell’s books, Flight of The Wild Gander. In the photo a monk sits in contemplation or meditation next to Dirk’s melting head, and a gander is flying overhead.

'The Wild Gander is a symbol of paramahansa, literally ‘supreme swan’, it symbolizes spiritual discrimination.The swan is equally at home on land and on water; similarly, the true sage is equally at home in the realms of matter and of spirit. To be in divine ecstasy and simultaneously to be actively wakeful is the paramahansa state; the 'royal swan' of the soul floats in the cosmic ocean.’[1]

'But how, when beside you is a face melted by the heat of a nuclear explosion? How could the monk not be torn? Granted, we learn to live with the atrocities we see on the media everyday. We have to. But how can one possibly be in divine ecstasy?

'Perhaps, however, there is such a thing as transcendence. It would certainly beat depression. And in the end, what is the difference between one form of suffering and another? And what is it, when we are suddenly lifted by a sunset or a small bird, a child or a magnificent tree. What happens to our awareness of suffering?'

somewhere
between earth and God --
the old man


You can see this image and others by Ervin Janek here.


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Where He Isn't

There’s a space
where he isn’t.
It’s enormous and keeps
following me around
now here, now here.

The space used to be
full of laughter
and fun, compassion
and encouragement.

With him I could
be my self.
When I lost him
I lost a true friend

Ervin Janek Mother and Son

The photo is by my husband Ervin Janek. It is called 'Mother and Son'. I find it very touching, especially in the context of this poem. It was done a long time before our son died, but it seems perfect.

The poem reminds me of some of the old Chinese poets, Li Po etc. What do you think?

If you want to see more of Ervin's images here is his shop and here is his amazing changing facebook collection.

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The Garden (Eden)

I have a thing about this genesis story. It pisses me off that women take the rap for all that original sin shit, and have to cover their hair and be treated like dirt. Anyway it is fertile ground for creative stuff, as are most myths. This painting is called, Togetherness, with the subtitle, Surely the Omnipotent One Saw It All. Well, actually I forget what it was called, but something like that. I painted it a while ago now. Those blue eyes are His. I don't know how I came up with the idea that the serpent and Eve and Adam are one being, but I quite like it. Take responsibility for the serpent in you, and stop blaming others. Keep out of it God.

Following is a poem about the same story. Also written quite a while ago. I think I've blogged it before, but it's a good read. It will be in the book I have coming out at the end of the year.

Fig Leaves

Adam’s belly was tight with seriousness and blind faith.
He knew nothing of sensual delights or even animal instinct.
He was on his rock waiting for God I think.
He was lean with fasting. Meanwhile I was retching
on my desire and curiosity, growing thin
on stars and water. I wanted words and ideas,
vivid opinions, something more interesting
than the garden. Then I met the serpent.
He understood my predicament and boredom.
He shared with me some secrets he’d learnt
when he was in God’s good books –
that there is so much more and we can know it.
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I’ve had enough of basking
on lawns all day. Give me some stimulation.’
So I enticed Adam down from his rock
and we shared a bit of knowledge.
I’d been so used to him hanging around on rocks
that I hadn’t even noticed his superb body.
The sex we had was so intense it was embarrassing,
hence the fig leaves, besides which later
we could strip them off each other.
God heard our moans. That’s what woke him up.
He didn’t have a lot to say because he was so jealous
but he cast us out of his paradise into the rest of his creation.
Out here there is this minor problem of death
but the sex is still good.



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