Tag Archives: gabriel rosenstock

A Haiku Workshop with Gabriel Rosenstock

Having read lots of Gabriel’s work, I knew I’d be in for a treat at the two-hour long Haiku workshop – but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would actually learn. And from talking to the other attendees, I wasn’t alone.

Not only did Gabriel open our eyes to the essence of haiku, he also showed us how to spot a non-haiku within the first half hour of the workshop. Starting with an introduction explaining the idea behind haiku, the history of haiku and the fact that is separate to poetry (and not a form of poetry) Gabriel explained that “it doesn’t matter what you like to encounter – it’s what you encounter.”

One of the difficulties that I (and seemingly many others) have with haiku is that it’s a difficult genre to understand. It seems at once beautiful, poetic and deep – but I now know that this is the opposite of what haiku is really about…as Gabriel pointed out “there is no such thing as good or bad haiku, just haiku and non-haiku.”

Haiku should happen when you open your senses to the world around you and should be expressed in simplistic, plain language, displaying a flash in time, a moment. There should be no poetry, no frills and, as Gabriel repeatedly drummed into us, no thinking. The haiku should be as pure as the moment experienced.

By the time it got to work-shopping our own haiku, we could identify what did and did not conform to the rules. Having spent time dabbling in this genre, I thought I had turned a corner, writing some decent haiku. However, it turns out that most of my haiku were actually Senryu (“haiku is too small to have you in it – you and your ego”) and some weren’t anything like haiku at all. For example, I’d mistakenly ended (what I thought was) a haiku with “summer skies”. But as Gabriel pointed out – how can one moment have several skies?

As we went through everyone’s work, it became apparent that we’d all misunderstood the idea behind haiku – we’d been trying to create beautiful and thought-provoking concepts instead of opening ourselves up to the world. But despite the gentle tearing apart of their work, every attendee was put at their ease and felt comfortable with their mistakes thanks to Gabriel’s patient and professional approach. And, importantly, every one of us left smiling, delighted with how much we had improved.

If you really want to understand haiku, Gabriel is the man to talk to. He exudes haiku, wears it like a piece of old clothing and I couldn’t possibly convey the meaning as effectively. And if you really want to get to grip with haiku, read the masters; e.g. Basho, J. W. Hackett, Isa and Santoka, Rosenstock.

But, if you’re interested, it doesn’t hurt to give you a bit of head start. Here are some of the basic rules to get you started…

Haiku should:

  • reflect nature and the seasons, giving a strong feel for time and place
  • be no more than 17 syllables and be written in lower case (except for proper names) without a title
  • encapsulate a moment, with no contradictions
  • be spontaneous, not “thought about” (although haiku can be revisited for improvements)
  • focus on one idea, using plain – not poetic – language


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A pre-festival note…

It’s only a few days to the festival and I’m getting myself both mentally and physically prepared – this might seem a bit dramatic but it’s been a busy start to 2011 and I want to be at my best for all of the fantastic readings, launches, films etc.

After spending so many hours of the day chained to my laptop, I’m looking forward to getting out there and listening to other writers, immersing myself in pure literary indulgence.

It’s an opportunity to widen my experience and indulge my senses by listening to a range of quality poets from all over the world – rediscovering old favourites and exploring new names and fresh talent – in one of Ireland’s finest cities.

I’m particularly excited about attending the Gabriel Rosenstock haiku workshop – I’m only halfway through the Book of Enlightenment, and I already have a multitude of questions. Of course, I’ll be sharing some of the answers with you afterwards. Though I must admit, I’m a bit nervous about revealing my own haiku, given Gabriel’s mastery of the form.

Another highlight will be catching up with Leanne O’Sullivan again. Last time I saw her, she was about to go to China for a writing residency – I can’t even begin to imagine how amazing that was (I’ll let you know when I find out).

Before I shut down to head to the city – I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the writers who have been extremely generous with their time and efforts, providing lots of posts for the blog. I can’t wait to meet everyone at the festival and say thank you to each and every one of them in person.

I’m also looking forward to seeing you all there – make sure you stop and say hi.

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Filed under Elizabeth Rose Murray