The season words of haiku are more than just the names of things. Each is a complete universe of meaning wrapped in a syllable or two. In writing a haiku, the poet enters that “small cosmos” and learns to speak its truth. What is the meaning of a falling leaf? What does a soap bubble have to say? These are the kinds of questions we ask whenever we write a haiku.
The winning and honorable mention haiku for last month’s challenge addressed the most notable feature of a soap bubble—the fleeting, unstable beauty of its “little world.”
- Marcia Burton captures the melancholy wonder of soap bubbles popping on a spring evening—each with its own sun.
- Nancy Winkler sees worlds being created and destroyed by the Hindu god Shiva in the image of a dancing, bubble-blowing child.
- Kelly Shaw pushes ecological satire to the limit with his vision of bubbles as “planets” with longer and shorter lives.
Congratulations to all! To read additional poems of merit from recent months, visit our Tricycle Haiku Challenge group on Facebook.
You can submit a haiku for the June challenge here.
Spring Season Word: Soap Bubble
evening in the park
children blowing soap bubbles
tiny suns go pop
— Marcia Burton
Matsuo Basho once told a disciple: “The mind that goes off and returns is what makes a haiku.” The modern critic Kenkichi Yamamoto (1907-1988) developed an entire literary theory based on this cryptic statement. According to Yamamoto, the function of a haiku is to offer a kind of “greeting,” whereas its purpose is to convey “humor.”
In his book One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku in English, scholar and translator Hiroaki Sato observes that Yamamoto did not use either word in its typical sense. A haiku doesn’t have to be a Hallmark card, and its humor isn’t always funny. It can be quirky, surprising, sad, uncanny, or even dark. A haiku generates humor to invite a smile from the reader. But what kind of humor? What kind of smile?
These first two lines of last month’s winning haiku demonstrate “the mind that goes off”:
evening in the park
children blowing soap bubbles
As the spring day reaches its close, a group of young children is blowing bubbles in a public park. The mood is tranquil as the parents talk amongst themselves, viewing the children from a slight distance. The poet hasn’t told us how to feel about the scene. She has only sent the mind out to greet it.
Then, with the last line, it comes back.
tiny suns go pop
There is always that little gasp of wonder when a haiku lands just right. Each bubble gets a setting sun as it leaves the wand. But the illusion doesn’t last. One by one, those reflected “suns” are extinguished.
The simplicity of the last line belies the depth of feeling it generates as the mind of the reader settles into itself and begins to explore the poem.
What kind of humor? Bittersweet.
What kind of smile? The kind that makes your lip quiver with an excess of emotion.
Is the poet saying that each life is a bubble that can only pop in the end? Is everything a bubble?
The poet hasn’t asked these questions outright. She has only crafted a poem for the mind that is willing to venture out into the world . . . and then return for a period of poetic reflection.
The result of that reflection, according to Yamamoto, is a “rather refined smile” that acknowledges the deeper, more emotionally complex dimensions of this life we are living. That smile, he insists, is the very essence of haiku.
Little Lord Shiva
creating and destroying
his soap bubble worlds
— Nancy Winkler
some of the planets
last longer than the others,
blowing soap bubbles
— Kelly Shaw
You can find more on May’s season word, as well as relevant haiku tips, in last month’s challenge below:
Spring season word: “soap bubble”
That little wobble
in the soap bubble before
it becomes a world
Blowing soap bubbles with a child, I noticed something: the larger the bubble, the more it wobbled coming off the wand. The wobble didn’t last for long. Soon the bubble became perfectly spherical—like its own transparent world.
Submit as many haiku as you wish that include the season word “soap bubble.” Your poems must be written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively, and should focus on a single moment of time happening now.
Be straightforward in your description and try to limit your subject matter. Haiku are nearly always better when they don’t have too many ideas or images. So make your focus the season word and try to stay close to that.
REMEMBER: To qualify for the challenge, your haiku must be written in 5-7-5 syllables and include the words “soap bubble.”
HAIKU TIP: WRITE LIKE A CHILD!
Most people who write haiku in English (or enjoy reading them) first learned about the form in grade school. Why was haiku taught to millions of elementary school children from the 1960s onward—not only in America but throughout the English-speaking world? Was it because haiku are so accessible and easy to understand that even a child can write them? Or was it the focus on nature and the seasons that made haiku a natural fit for elementary school curriculums?
The answer to both questions is yes. A good haiku evokes an innocent sense of wonder at the beauty of the changing seasons. And writing haiku favors a childlike sense of play. Even accomplished masters of the form will tell you that their biggest challenge is remembering to be direct and simple in what they write.
In teaching haiku to grade school children over the years, I discovered that nearly all were able to grasp instantly what a haiku was. I would start by reading a few examples—invariably about insects, flowers, or birds. I would then ask them to name their favorite things from nature. I would take one or two of these as my subject and compose a haiku for them on the spot to show how easy it was, counting off the syllables on my fingers as they watched. After that, we would write a few haiku together. Then we would go outside.
I’d ask the children to find the subjects for haiku in the schoolyard or playground around them and then try to describe it in 5-7-5 syllables. If they couldn’t write yet, I would have them recite the haiku aloud to me, counting off the sounds on their fingers, and I would write it down for them. Finally, we would return to the classroom and read the haiku aloud, giving each child the chance to say what they liked about their classmates’ poems. I still remember the look on their faces when they realized they had written their first poem.
Although a lot is involved in mastering the art of haiku, the most important thing is to retain the curious, openhearted mind of a child. Even the most subtle feelings or complex thoughts of adult life can be stated in 17 syllables, provided we are able to remain simple in our souls.
What does it mean to have a simple soul? In haiku, it means coming to each poem in the faith that there is a straightforward way of getting at its essence. That there is an innocent way of saying even difficult things.
Adults are often surprised at the wisdom of children—wisdom they seem to come out with spontaneously in certain moments, unaware that they have said something profound. A good haiku is exactly like that.
Naturally, this is difficult for adults. We live so far from the world of childhood that, even if we have children or grandchildren of our own, it is hard to access that simpler, more wonderous way of looking at the world.
That is why we have haiku.
A note on soap bubbles: In Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac, William J. Higginson writes, “Blowing soap bubbles is one of the first activities of young children unfettered by snowsuits.” We could blow soap bubbles at any time of year, but there is something about releasing them onto a gentle breeze that makes most people associate them with the joy of being outdoors as the weather turns warm again. In Japanese haiku, soap bubbles belong under the category “humanity” for springtime, and to the subcategory “children’s toys.” In crafting your haiku for this month’s challenge, remember that you are writing specifically about soap bubbles—rather than, for instance, bubbles on a stream.
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