How to Read Haiku: Part 3

With The Heron’s Nest Editor Fay Aoyagi and Haijin Chad Lee Robinson

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |

Part 3: Ray Rasmussen’s Comments

tornado siren
the wind lifts a sneaker print
from home plate

~ Chad Lee Robinson

Step 1: Read Silently and Then Aloud

Step 2: Sketch Your Associations: Here are some of mine.

tornado siren -> loud, penetrating, fear evoking, memories of natural disasters
home plate -> enjoying a ball game
home -> a place of comfort
sneaker print -> not cleats? Why? A child’s ball game, not a major league game.
print on home plate -> someone made it to home, the team scored a run, elation, then the siren, a sudden shift to fear, anxiety, concern for my child who’s in the game.
wind lifting a print -> wind blowing our tracks away as we walk, loss of our children as they become adults

Step 3: Reach for Memories and Associations

1. Soccer Game

I’m in the stands watching my 6-year-old daughter play soccer (my Canadian children didn’t play baseball). While the boys run after the ball in a tight little clump nearing one end of the field, and the coaches and other parents are screaming, “Get the ball! Kick it! Score!,” she’s sitting mid-field having stopped to pick a daisy. The shrill voices emphasizing “winning” rather than “having fun” shift my mood from enjoyment to anxiety and I begin to regret enrolling her in the soccer program. Just as the winds of time have swept his children’s sneaker prints from home plate (my interpretation), I realize that this precious moment of my daughter’s life will soon sweep past.

2. Air Raid Sirens

Where and when did I learn to fear sirens? Coming to mind is a scene from grade school. We were taught that when a siren sounded, we should get under our desks and stay away from windows. It was fun to scramble down and look around from that unusual vantage point. I never understood why, but now I know we were locked into a the cold war and the siren signaled an air raid. Someone called “The Russians” might drop a Eh-bomb on us. Beneath the desk, heads down, arms over our heads, we’d be safe from flying glass and the ceiling falling on us.

At home, I remember creating a space under my bed where I kept some of my favourite games and picture books. When I heard a police or ambulance siren, I’d happily climb under my little cave. Sometimes, my parents would find me there in the morning. Now I clearly see it in my mind’s eye, the flashlight my father gave me and that I kept for so many years.

Step 4: Modeling Robinson’s Haiku

I find it useful to use worthy haiku as a learning exercise. It results in a derivative poem and I’d not use it without acknowledging both Robinson’s and Aoyagi’s inspirations. And, to be clear, I can almost never tell whether one of my haiku is worthy of a reader’s attention. I certainly don’t claim this derivative haiku is.

siren pierces the night
the flashlight
my father gave me

I actively share writing with others and we provide each other with feedback. I was particularly pleased when, after she read this presentation, Fay Aoyagi offered this comment::

Ray, one minor reaction to your haiku. Personally, I avoid using two verbs in haiku. Your first line can be “night siren,” or “piercing siren,” or just simply “siren.” Just a thought,

night siren
the flashlight
my father gave me
~ Ray Rasmussen, a derivative poem based on Chad Robinson's original and Fay Aoyagi's suggestions.

Neither Aoyagi nor I have tried to interpret Robinson’s haiku. Instead, we allowed ourselves time to let our minds taste the phrases and make associations. In short, a haiku can be a starting point for associations.

Haiku Poetics

When reading haibun and ever very short haiku phrases, there is often a burst of beauty, an appreciation of the poets wordsmithing. I was taken with Robinson’s inventive phrase: “the wind lifts a sneaker print from home plate.”

Show vs Tell

Robinson’s “mostly show” haiku was sufficiently oblique, but not too obscure, to allow Aoyagi and me to make our own associations. I suspect that Robinson’s haiku was associated with a scene from his life, perhaps he was watching his son or daughter play baseball. But do we need to know to appreciate the haiku?

Whatever event Robinson observed and whatever his own associations that led to his haiku, I realize that my associations are connected to my present-day concerns. I worry about my (and the world’s) children and grandchildren as I observe the present news media’s harsh, siren-like warnings about our global-level of political and environmental chaos.

As for the haiku I’ve written, I concern myself about where a haiku will fall on the continuum between:

too obvious, telling <- . . . just right area . . . -> too obscure to make associations

My thought is that Robinson’s haiku falls in the “just right area,” inspiring and allowing Aoyagi and me to make our own associations.


Thank you Chad and Faye for permitting use of your work and thoughts and for helping me understand both how to read haiku and the importance of writing haiku in a way that allows the reader to roam in their own memories and associations.

4 thoughts on “How to Read Haiku: Part 3

  1. re: ‘Neither Aoyagi nor I have tried to interpret Robinson’s haiku. Instead, we allowed ourselves time to let our minds taste the phrases and make associations. In short, a haiku can be a starting point for associations. ‘

    It can also be a starting point of a more collaborative work, like RENKU, where poets play off each other’s words (with some rules, perhaps). I think Twitter might be a great medium for this type of collaboration.

    [Side note] I invented my own from of ‘haibun’ blending haiku/tanka with with blank verse, instead of prose. [blank renku was born here: This is now one of my favorite forms in which to write, juxtaposing not just nature/human nature, but linguistic cultures, as well.


  2. re: [from your Part 1] ‘Early on in my haiku and haibun journey, editors rejected my haibun and several advised me to read haiku, said that I’d not be able to write a good haibun until I had mastered the haiku part of haibun’s prose-haiku partnership.’

    – I do not feel I will be able to write a good blank renku until I have mastered the haiku part. So, thanks for these posts.


  3. I haven’t practiced renku but a few times. Yes, just some haiku are a linking of two distinct phrases of images, so renku, as I understand it, is a linking of haiku or haiku phrases by cooperating poets. .


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