Up until 7th grade poetry was either boring or stupid and often both at the same time. I was never really moved by Carl Sandburgs’ “Fog comes down on little cat feet” Although I can still recite it by heart- and recite it with meaning. Rhyming couplets were especially hard to write because of the iambic pentameter thing. And the limerick, I thought those kinds of poem had potential. They were funny and sometimes dirty but they had to be five lines long, written in a particular sing-songy rhythm that had an AABBA rhyming scheme and that was even harder. Then there was poetry-poetry, which was just complicated and didn’t make any sense- ever. But the haiku was Japanese and had a lot going for it. It was short, only three lines, but the thing that gave haiku its haiku-ness was the number of syllables in each line, 5-7-5. I could do syllables and not everyone in my class could. Haikus didn’t have to rhyme and most of the ones in our English book were about everyday things like rain and flowers. And even the weirdest ones were easy to understand.
The first cold shower;
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw. Bashō:
This was poetry for the people!
I’ve always considered myself a writer; a playwright actually, penning such works as “The Christmas Ornament” which had a fireplace, a manager scene, 26 lines and a cast of 13. Playing all the parts I would sign the dialog to my Deaf mother as she typed it. I could often complete an entire work in just under an hour since she used a manual typewriter so there was no going back. But after mastering the one act play genre I longed for a different creative outlet.
My previous attempts at writing poetry in the 5th & 6th grades often fell flat. They were full of clichés and awkward rhyming. But haiku? Haiku I could do. Mrs Valenz, one of the pretty teachers who wore plaid miniskirts and go-go boots, judged my first endeavor into the art form a critical success.
We wait for robins
hopping on the new spring grass,
flying in blue skies.
This ode to spring was praised for interesting subject matter and correct syllabification. I was burbling with pride.
I did most of my haiku-ing with Carmel Vena, my best friend. She was skinny, buck toothed and by far the best poet I had ever met but she was never a bragger. But when her haiku was chosen to be hung on the bulletin board I got jealous and acted a little mean towards her just to get even. We wrote haikus about our classmates, the cats in the alley, the new purple vests we wanted and we wrote about our families.
I hate my parents.
They never hear what I say
Not because they are Deaf
I wrote because I liked it. I wrote because my Deaf parents didn’t understand the hearing me, but mostly I wrote because one afternoon Jeffery Hazlet leaned over to me and said, “Hey, Haiku Girl, can I borrow a piece of paper?” It was an extraordinary moment in an ordinary life, I was considered a poet, a Haiku Girl, by the cutest boy in the 7th grade. Haiku not only expressed my emotions but helped me figure out what I was feeling and why. By the time winter ended I was writing hardcore haikus about black sucking voids and Vietnam.
War; man against man.
Protesters against the man.
We fight at what cost?
I used haiku to tease out the mysteries of life and the most touching and most profound were centered, of course, around love.
Sonny how could you?
Is she prettier than me
or is she a whore?
I wrote because had something to say and no one to say it to. I wrote because I thought my voice was important to my generation and I wrote to become famous. Although I pooh-poohed getting my haikus published, it was considered “too establishment”, I did like the idea of reciting my poetry before an audience. Maybe I would travel around with a folk singing group who drove a VW bus from gig to gig performing for hippies, yippies and beatniks. (Although I wasn’t quite sure of what a beatnik was.) With haiku my future was pregnant with possibilities especially after I didn’t make the choir.
Everyday is new
I start all over again.
Will it be the same?
Then one day it was over. I just didn’t feel the need to document every emotion and observation that I had about myself and the world. 7th grade gave way to 8th and “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe and basketball games and holding hands with Thomas Costello. And just like that I stopped being Haiku Girl and I stopped being Paula Rutkowski’s friend and it was OK. They both were like a pair of dungarees that no longer fit. I still liked them but they had served their purpose and I was excited to get a new pair of Wranglers.
I miss Haiku Girl. She was full of alienation and hopefulness, confusion and hormones. I miss how easily the words came to her and her unshakeable belief that she was an artist. I miss how the inner censor who screamed so loudly in so many parts of her life was reverently, respectfully silent when she wrote haiku. There aren’t many of those haikus left. They’ve fallen victim to too many careless hands and too many careless moves. But on those occasions that I do think about Haiku Girl and my younger self, I see a smoky coffeehouse full of beatniks in black berets and a dim spotlight shining on a lone solitary figure sitting on a stool reciting her favorite haiku.
My dreams are like stars
Even on the darkest night
they shine on and on.