First published in Frogpond 32:2, Summer 2009, in a slightly shorter form. Reprinted in Where the Wind Turns: 2009 Red Moon Anthology (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2010). Please be sure to jump to each footnote as you read along. And if you really can’t cure your obsession, see “Ku-ku.”
May the Infinite Now grant me the serenity to accept the haiku
I cannot change, courage to change the haiku I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
In a recent double-blind clinical study published by the Psychoanalytic Poetry Journal, researchers found haiku poetry to be the most addictive of all English-language writing pursuits. Of the 328 subjects tested over the course of the twelve-month study, a full 87 percent exhibited addictive haiku-writing behavior, as quantified by the Carani-Lucchetta Addictive Writing Scale (CLAWS). This widespread haiku-writing addiction manifested itself in many forms. Anecdotal reports included the obsessive seeking of “haiku moments,” fixated discussions on obscure Oriental terminology such as “wabi,” “sabi,” “yugen,” and “karumi,” manic arguments as to the correct “form” for haiku poetry (whether traditional or free-form), the regressive counting of syllables, a puerile tendency toward circular debates regarding the virtue of “senryu” versus “haiku,” and the excessive use of a further range of subgroup rhetoric and marginalized code words such as “ginko,” “kigo,” “renku,” and “hototogisu.” In a similar study, many subjects also reported: a) being unable to part themselves from pocket-sized notebooks and pencils, b) the compulsive purchase of haiku chapbooks and quarterlies, c) prolonged spousal ignoral, d) abnormal amounts of personal correspondence, e) frequent and unexplained stamp-licking, and f) unrelenting attendance at numerous haiku meetings, retreats, conferences, and haiku writing seminars. These subjects also exhibited other persistent behavior bordering on the odd and psychotic. This cumulative behavior, when manifested in adequate quantities, has been identified as Basic Anal-retentive Senryu/Haiku Obsession, also known as BASHO Syndrome, and has been shown to be present in an alarming number of practicing haiku poets.
In many cases, haiku-writing addiction reaches the point of religious fervor. While the prevalence of BASHO Syndrome should come as no surprise to seasoned amateur and professional haiku poets in English-speaking countries, it does suggest a growing need for treatment methodologies when the addiction syndrome reaches an intolerance threshold. To meet this necessity, this paper proposes a twelve-step haiku recovery program, and also calls for the establishment of a much-needed haiku-obsession recovery and support group. This organization will be called Haikuholics Anonymous, also known as “HA.”
We may continue this discussion of haiku-writing obsession by presenting the aforementioned twelve steps of recovery for those persons exhibiting haikuholic tendencies:
The Twelve Steps of Haikuholics Anonymous
We have admitted we are powerless over haiku—that our writing has become unmanageable.
We have come to believe that a Power greater than haiku can restore us to good haiku-free writing.
We have made a decision to turn our will and our poetry over to the care of the Infinite Now as we understand It.
We have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our poetic ability.
We have admitted to the Infinite Now, to ourselves, and to another haiku poet the exact nature of our haiku-writing obsession.
We are entirely ready to have the Infinite Now remove all these defects of our writing.
We have humbly asked the Infinite Now to remove our haiku shortcomings.
We have made a list of all haiku poets we have harmed by excessively borrowing phrases or images, and have become willing to make amends to them all.
We have made direct amends to such haiku poets wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them, their haiku, or their publishing or contest-winning endeavors.
We have continued to take inventory of our poetic ability, and when we have written bad haiku promptly admitted it.
We have sought through nature walks and meditation to improve our conscious contact with the Infinite Now as we understand It, praying for poetic knowledge of Its will for our writing and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we have tried to carry this message to haikuholics, and to practice these principles in our writing.
Obsessive haiku writers reading these twelve steps should not despair at the extent of this list, nor be discouraged by the heavy demands it may suggest. Haikuholics should not attempt to become perfect poets, but rather, seek to make progress toward that perfection, which, of course, eschews all haiku.
With these steps in mind, and with a significant body of like-minded haiku-obsessors in central geographic regions, it is possible to develop the fellowship necessary to form haiku recovery and support groups. While compulsive haiku writing is not widespread in such places as North Dakota, Idaho, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, or the Yukon Territory, BASHO Syndrome and related haiku ailments have reached epidemic proportions in such population centers as Boston, New York, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Ottawa, and Toronto. These regions should immediately form a HA chapter to meet the present and anticipated needs of the obsessed haiku poets in their local areas, and should also provide long-distance telephone support for haikuholics in outlying areas through the 1-800-NO-HAIKU support system (formed in 1994 by refugees from the Universal Haiku Association based in Reykjavík, Iceland).
Once a local chapter of Haikuholics Anonymous is established, it is recommended that it adhere to the following twelve traditions:
The Twelve Traditions of Haikuholics Anonymous
Our common poetic welfare should come first; personal haiku-obsession recovery depends on HA unity.
For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority—the loving Infinite Now as It may express Itself in our group conscience. Our haiku leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
The only requirement for HA membership is a desire to stop writing haiku.
Each haiku-obsession recovery group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other haiku groups or HA as a whole.
Each haiku-obsession recovery group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the haikuholic who still suffers.
Each HA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the HA name to any haiku-related organization, publication, contest, or outside enterprise, lest problems of publication, book acquisition, and contest winnings divert us from our primary purpose.
Every HA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside poetry contributions.
Haikuholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our writing centers may employ special poets and judges.
HA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create contest committees and debate teams directly responsible to those who serve.
Haikuholics Anonymous has no opinion on poetic issues; hence the HA name ought never be drawn into literary controversy.
Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of the haiku press, radio, television, films, and the Internet.
Egoless anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before poetry or personalities.
Established Haikuholics Anonymous groups might also wish to adopt the following statement of aims and purposes, distilled from HA’s twelve traditions: