by Paul O. Williams
From The Edge of the Woods, privately published by the author in Elsah, Illinois, in 1968. Also included here are ten poems selected from the book. See the postscript at the end for comments that place this book into historical context. For additional essays by Paul O. Williams, see Further Reading or look for his book The Nick of Time on the Press Here page.
Why haiku? What relevance has this traditional Japanese form for a modern American. The current interest in haiku by Americans must have an explanation. Perhaps it is that we have no other poetic form with which simply to express the burst of wonder emanating from a fine sensing, from an observation tending beyond itself. Our native poetic forms tend to be cogitative and exploratory. Even when lyric, they usually elaborate. Things which might have become haiku appear as images, but the shape of a perfect stone is usually unseen in the pebbled stream bed.
The experience of one who works with haiku is that this simple form is not strict or stultifying, probably because so much of the poem is implication. The size of the poem is much larger than its appearance, and the writer’s task is to voice that part of the possibilities of the poem which will strike fire and lead the mind on.
The true haiku has a shy aspect. Confident of their cultural depth, the Japanese nevertheless frequently assume a demureness through which wit, tenderness, and perception only gently show themselves. Haiku reflects this attitude. The small ritual of the poetic form is the “given,” a crystal jar, transparent but shaping, through which the light flows, splashing color on the wall.
There is some danger that among casual readers the haiku form may be demoted to a triviality, a type of verse suitable for small jottings or a simple game good chiefly for initiating children to poetic expression. But those who have enjoyed good haiku come so to regard it that they pursue the escaping puff of meaning, the burst of light, with the respect which offers the form the dignity requisite to feeling its pulse of wonder. It is the edge of the woods, straying into which reveals that one is partly a woods dweller who had forgotten or hadn’t noticed.
At best, haiku gains a dramatic tension, though frequently only by the hint of the presence of a human involved in the rhythmic interplay between his life and the experience of the natural world.
The above remarks are preconceptions and aims, not necessarily what one will find in this small book. They suggest what I have tried to put there. Haiku refuses to be a captive. One can’t say, “I have followed the rules and therefore have written haiku.” He can say, “This poem, I feel, has caught it,” or, “This is nice, but not haiku.” Others may agree or disagree, though those practiced in the form do draw close together in their standards. Calling the poems below “haiku,” as I boldly have, is more of a hope than a clear claim. They are all in haiku form, but this, of course, guarantees nothing.
Twenty-seven poems in this collection have been previously published in American Haiku, SCTH, The Human Voice Quarterly, Imprints Quarterly, Haiku West, and Haiku Highlights, and I here gratefully acknowledge permission to reprint them.
16 March, 1968