The Boulder Haiku Group, By Christine Mahoney, October 9, 2003
Christine was inspired to write about our haiku group after learning about us through her friend Aaron Naparstek, author of "Honku - the Zen Antidote to Road Rage", who gve a talk at the Boulder Bookstore. A few of us were at Aaron's talk. I introduced myself as a like-minded haiku poet, and put him on the haikutimes mailing list. Aaron later told Christine about us, and she contacted me about doing an article about our group for the Boulder Magazine. Christine's article follows, intersperced with photos of members of our group on some of the many haiku walks we've been on.
Krista Morien at Anderson Farms, 10/10/04
Remember haiku? Those little Japanese poems you were assigned to write in fourth grade English class? Those verses of just 17 syllables, usually about nature, are "in vogue" - you might even say trendy - right now.
Jonathan Machen reading haiku, Anne U. White trail, 4/3/05
The Japanese poems that traditionally follow a writing pattern of five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third, are enjoying a popularity not felt since Jack Kerouac made them hip in the 1960's.
Susan Peterson, Krista Morien and Patrick Lynn, Eben G. Fine Park, 7/20/02
The haiku revival comes as no surprise to one Boulder-based group. They've been writing haiku together for five years. Okay, so five years is a mere blip in time, compared to how long haiku have existed - the writing pattern is said to have originated in 16th century Japan - but for this group, five years is long enough to have forged strong friendships, and watch writing styles evolve, and flourish.
Patrick Lynn, Sara Benson, Walden Ponds, 3/17/01
The group's basic routine is this: poets gather at a designated meeting place, then wander off, becoming inspired to write haiku. After about an hour, the group reunites to read the poems, anonymously copied onto note cards. Then, positive feedback is offered.
Deb Gimpleson, Sara Benson, Hal Gimpleson, Susan Peterson, Patrick Lynn, Robert Power and Krista Morien at Chautauqua, 1/27/02
Jonathan Machen, a local artist and facilities manager of the Solstice Institute, who also acts as the group's archivist, says, "We used to vote on what we liked best, but now, after five years of haiku walks, we don't pass such judgments; if a haiku inspires discussion, that will follow naturally."
Susan Peterson and Krista Morien, Flatirons Crossing, 8/17/02
Sanjay Rajan, one of the original members of the group, agrees. "Haiku is not about competing, but about participating by looking within."
Patrick Lynn, Sara Benson and Hal Gimpleson, Rabbit Mountain, 4/14/01
The formation of the haiku group was inspired by a weekend workshop, in the summer of 1998, at Boulder's Naropa University. The class was taught by Clark Strand, author of "Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey." (Hyperion, 1997)
Patrick Lynn, Sanjay Rajan, Jonathan Machen, Walker Ranch, 12/4/04
In the book, as in the Naropa class, Strand encouraged his students to get back to nature. He writes, "As haiku poets, we begin simply, by carrying a notebook and walking in nature every day. At the end of each notebook I fill with haiku, I am always struck by how much more of the world I have seen, and how much more in love with life I have become."
Sara Benson, Walker Ranch, 12/4/04
Ideally, the Boulder group meets outdoors, in scenic locales like Marshall Mesa, Chautauqua Park or Flagstaff Mountain. Occasionally, more populated spots like the Pearl Street Mall, the Farmer's Market or the annual Kinetics Race at the Boulder Reservoir will capture the group's fancy.
Sanjay Rajan, Robert Power, Krista Morien, Susan Peterson, Pearl St. Mall, 8/27/01
But, being as this is Colorado, where Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate with the "getting back to nature" part of haiku writing, they sometimes have to write their poetry indoors.
Jonathan Machen and Patrick Lynn, Flatirons Crossing,
The group has met at places like the Denver Art Museum, the National Western Stock Show and even Denver International Airport. Not the sort of places you'd expect would inspire meditation and quiet reflection.
Sanjay Rajan, Colorado Springs, 2/15/03
But they have. Patrick Lynn, a Boulder software engineer and one of the group's founders, says D.I.A. was an ideal place to people watch, and write haiku. "You could see everyone was in that travel mindset. They didn't notice us walking around with our little notebooks, but we noticed them." So much so, that these haiku were penned there, in the spring of 2000:
Krista Morien, Colorado Springs, 2/15/03
Standing in the flow
Of people rushing, I'm a
Rock in the river
Krista, Sanjay Rajan and Hal Gimpleson, Colorado Springs, 2/15/03
Empty with big, comfy chairs
No time for prayers
Patrick Lynn, Colorado Springs, 2/15/03
The very public setting of D.I.A. inspired haiku far different than Matsuo Basho would have written. Long considered the greatest contributor to the haiku movement, Basho's haiku focus on nature.
Patrick Lynn, Shanahan Ridge, 11/3/01
In contrast, the Boulder haiku group writes about what they see, wherever they may be. Lynn says, "It's more about having a 'haiku mind,' and being present in your surroundings and observing things."
Patrick Lynn and Sara Benson, Flatirons Crossing, 8/17/02
The group's safe structure makes it easy for the poets to open their minds, and share their souls. Krista Morien, a local clairvoyant reader and artist, who attended Strand's Naropa workshop, says, "When we all go off on our own to write our poems, we each go into a very deep space. To me, it's very sacred to come back together and share the poems we have written. How often do people share such personal things?"
Susan Peterson and Patrick Lynn, Great Western Stock Show, 1/12/03 - drawing by Jonathan
Another original group member, Susan Coppage Peterson, who runs a psychiatric treatment facility for women, appreciates the chance to really notice her surroundings. "The haiku, especially because they are shared anonymously, become uninhibited expressions. We often respond to their reading with 'ahhh's,' and 'oh, I saw that. It's probably more about learning to 'see than it is about writing."
Patrick Lynn, Rabbit Mountain, 4/14/01
In this group, what you see is what you write about. And, you can't always control what comes into your field of vision. During an interview for this story, an annoying fly that had been buzzing around Machen, Lynn and Power, suddenly met its end, swatted into oblivion.
Sara Benson and Patrick Lynn, Settlers' Park, 2/16/03
There was momentary silence, followed by a burst of creativity. What follows is what the group calls "collabora-ku" - a kind of collaborative haiku writing effort, with each line coming from a different group member.
Patrick Lynn, Sara Benson, Susan Peterson, Sanjay Rajan, Walden Ponds, 3/22/03
The swat of a fly
Interrupting our interview
Guts splattered on jeans
Sanjay Rajan and Jaz, Farmers' Market, Boulder, 5/19/01
Lovely autumn light
Illuminates the squashed fly
On Jonathan's leg
Sara Benson, Krista Morien and Patrick Lynn, before the Flagstaff Mountain Kukai, 11/23/02
You'll notice the first "collabora-ku" doesn't follow the five, seven, five-syllable pattern of traditional haiku. Robert Power, a Boulder healer and artisan, and member of the group, says, "It's not rigid and it's not about the product. It's about the creating, and the relating. There's a real sharing that takes place. And, to me, that's been a really vital part of the process." Machen adds, "Our group has its own rhythm, like nature. You don't really have to be strict about the form, to get to the heart of what it is you write about."
Sara Benson, Eben G. Fine Park, 7/20/02
That kind of flexibility is part of the appeal of haiku, for this group. Another attraction to modern haiku? They're short! And, let's face it; Americans love quick, easily digested "sound bites" of anything, especially art and entertainment. Aaron Naparstek, author of "Honku - the Zen Antidote to Road Rage" (Random House, 2003) calls haiku the "snack food of poetry." Naparstek started writing haiku from his Brooklyn apartment, when the noise of traffic and honking on the street outside threatened to "put him over the edge." Instead of resorting to road rage, he channeled all that negative energy into something positive: 17 syllables of "honku," which he posted on lampposts around his neighborhood.
Tom Hopson, Patrick Lynn and Susan Peterson, Gross Reservoir, 5/24/03
"This form of poetry has a real and tangible effect on the mind. When the honking started getting me crazy, I'd sit down and begin writing haiku' forcing myself to fit these huge, unwieldy, and in my case, angry observations into this very restrictive form of poetry. It had a real calming and focusing effect on my mind," says Naparstek.
Sara Benson, Krista Morien and Robert Power, Community Gardens, Boulder, 4/13/02
It must have had the same effect on others, too. Before long, neighbors were adding their own "honku" to the lampposts, and the collection wound up becoming a book. Naparstek also runs his own website, www.honku.org, where fellow "honku" enthusiasts can read more about the phenomenon, and link to other haiku sites.
Patrick Lynn, Betasso Preserve, 2/21/04
While traditional haiku die-hards may see poems about honking as an insult to the writing form, the Boulder group welcomes the bold creativity. Harold "Hal" Gimpelson, a retired dentist from Colorado Springs who joined the group after the Naropa workshop, says this free form of writing, relatively unencumbered by rules, is attractive. He discovered haiku in the 1970's, and still relishes the chance haiku gives him to live in the moment. Gimpelson says, "The charm of haiku is different, in that it attempts to capture the moment as it is. The reader gets to experience the writer's awareness."
Susan Peterson and Patrick's feet, Denver Botanical Gardens, 8/30/04
That's certainly true in reading these, and feeling like you're standing beside the author:
Sanjay Rajan and Jaz, Chautauqua, 4/24/05
Side by side, but making
Their own rings
(Walden Ponds, March, 2001)
Robert Power, Coot Lake, 2/1/04
Two coffee cups
Krista Morien, Anne U. White Trail, 4/3/05
Inhaling the day
Deep in the canyon, the wind
Is breathing back
Robert Power, Anderson Farms, 10/10/04
Just reading that last haiku, you can almost feel yourself sigh.
Jonathan Machen, Susan's Cabin, 9/20/03
And that's the point, for many group members. Writing haiku gives Sara Benson a chance to slow down. An elementary school teacher at the Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies, Benson wanted to teach her students to write haiku, so she joined the group. In doing so, she became captivated with the art. "Haiku pinpoints and values the little moments in life that most of us, in our busy minds, might miss, or dismiss as unimportant," she says. Benson makes a habit of posting a "haiku of the week" outside her classroom door.
Krista Morien, Susan's Cabin, 9/20/03
Machen and the other group members say the group haiku experience has enriched their lives. "It's like a reminder to people that we're here now. And it doesn't matter where we are - on the trail or at the airport - but it's the awareness that's so important."
Krista Morien and Robert Power
Even when you're tromping up the stairs at an art museum.
Sanjay Rajan and Jaz, NCAR, 10/27/02
On the gray cement steps
En route to the fifth floor
(Denver Art Museum, February 1999)
Hal Gimpleson, Walden Ponds, 3/7/04
Or, at a livestock show.
Patrick Lynn, Sawhill Ponds, 3/7/04
Stare at nothing
With watery eyes
(National Western Stock Show, January 2003)
Susan Peterson and Patrick Lynn, Neighborhood night-ku, 10/17/03
The haiku themselves may be almost "accidental by-products" of what Machen calls the "group mind" process, but they are beautiful to read. He has compiled volumes of the group's haiku on his website, www.haikutimes.com. There, you can also find links to other haiku-related websites, and perhaps become inspired to start your own haiku group.