Godawful Early Haiku, Part Deux

(and some that aren’t so bad)

The following are all my early haiku dating from a notebook started in 1985, extending to 1993, and seemingly written in the car, since nearly all poems are associated with road trips. The second poem hints at an openness to a form other than 5-7-5, but I think the joke was that it was “half” a haiku, and normally haiku should be longer. So that’s why that poem is not 5-7-5, but essentially all the others are, until a specific date. Some poems start each line with a capital and end with a period, but later poems switch to all lowercase and begin to lose some punctuation, and in 1986 they start losing their titles. “I Alone See My Light” may look like it’s a sequence, perhaps my first (with inconsistent capitalization and punctuation), but the title clearly doesn’t apply to the entire set of poems all written the same day. The set of poems dated 30 November 1988 show what looks like my first departure from counting 5-7-5 syllables for haiku (and consciously losing titles), but it actually isnt. I know these were not my first non-5-7-5 haiku, because I published my first non-5-7-5 haiku before this (yet seem to have no original written record of it):

my window opens

one hundred frogs

sing to the moon

I would have written this poem sometime between December 1987 and March 1988, in Riverside, California. My submission records indicate that I had sent it to Robert Spiess for Modern Haiku (along with other haiku) on 31 March 1988, that it was accepted on 18 April 1988, and that Modern Haiku published it in 19:3, Autumn 1988, page 13. Consequently, I have other haiku not recorded in my 1985+ notebook that I had written when shifting from counting syllables to a deeper understanding of haiku where I also tried to incorporate objectivity, a two-part structure, and sometimes a season word. In December of 1987, too (see “My Haiku Notebooks”), I penned a set of free-form haiku about a trip to Yosemite National Park, and I know I wrote free-form haiku at least a little before this, too—but not before 15 November 1987, the date I purchased Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (second edition) in a mall book store in Corte Madera, California (I never dreamed that twenty of my haiku would appear in the third edition in 1999). Cor’s book was my first and prime motivation to no longer believe that counting 5-7-5 syllables was correct for haiku in English. Consequently, many of the later haiku included here (a few that were later published) demonstrate my transition away from syllable counting. I like to think the change in quality was remarkable, certainly an improvement as I shifted my focus from form to content, but in some of these non-5-7-5 poems I also still see mere records of images or impressions and playing with just two lines (thus unfinished haiku?). But they demonstrate a fresh willingness to try new approaches to haiku, moving beyond syllable-counting. A few of these poems are revisions of earlier poems and several poems were later published, showing signs of growth over the earliest poems from this notebook. See also “Godawful Early Haiku,” featuring poems written by 1984, thus immediately preceding the poems presented here—poems that I’d say are, ahem, even worse.

In late 1988 I moved from Southern California to Foster City, California in the Bay Area, and the locations for poems at this time and later mostly reflect travel around my new Northern California home, including a few trips to ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada. The notebook I quote the following poems from covers dates from 12 June 1985 to 1 July 1992 (with one additional poem dated 11 March 1993), with many of the poems seeming to be written on car trips, indicated by the locations that were almost always not where I was living. Consequently, I believe I used this notebook mostly while driving, meaning that other poems from this period (especially 1989 or later) are not recorded in this notebook because I wrote them down elsewhere when I wasn’t driving. I must have had this notebook in my glove compartment! At the very least, I hope these poems, godawful or not, show my change of understanding of the haiku art.

—12 September 2022

Prairie Bird

Grass waves no hollow

Goodbye; knowing God, I, now

Growing slowly, fly.

20 June 1985 (no location recorded where not indicated)


half a

lotus is worth less

than none

20 June 1985

Multnomah Falls

A veil of vapour

concealing tears, ever fall-

ing, once I loved her.

27 June 1985 (presumably at Multnomah Falls, Oregon)

Freeway Flying

Butterflying love

Breezes, flowers, golden light—

Here comes the windshield.

27 June 1985

Even Whispered

Open dreams, spoken

like words in a taxicab,

die no silent death.

28 July 1986, Winnipeg, Manitoba

revised 31 May 1987, Riverside, California

I Alone See My Light

lamplight illumines

my vision in a dark room.

beyond light, stale air.

gargantuan sun

burning down on bone dry grass

sets lone eyes aflame.

i imagine blue

skies beyond the clouds of you


the september rains

freeze in december snow storms,

melt in april light

skeleton birches

innocent as the morning

naked as the fall

the presidentress


plays russian roulette.

her blue scarf lingers

in my memory, stolen

from the neck it wraps.

I wouldn’t want to

stand in an orchard if i

were an apple tree.

if i were an ap-

ple tree, i wouldn’t want to

stand in an orchard.

if the trees turned blue

and water and sky turned green

i would still love you.

there is a long road

rough and graveled, sometimes smooth

from my heart to yours.

the orange orchards

and apple groves of my heart

remind me of you.

even when i’m gone

will you believe in me, or

will i die to you?

even when gone, will

you believe in me, or will

i die to you, too?

coral corral corollaries

hello hollow hallowedness

19 December 1986, on I-5 in Southern California

(in my notebook I circled the first letter starting each line of the “skeleton birches” verse, noting what I think was an intentional acrostic, spelling out “sin”)

pale green silhouettes

—jagged blade across the sky—

pines cut the sunset.

9 April 1987, Riverside, California

The preceding poem may be my very last poem, at least from the journal I’m quoting here, written with the belief that all a poem has to do to be haiku is count 5-7-5 syllables—so this poem very well marks a turning point in my haiku. I purchased my first book of haiku translations in the summer of 1987, and started buying books of haiku in English in the fall of 1987, which immediately started to transform my understanding of haiku, as shown in the poems that follow—although I still had much to learn.

slowly hiking

through joshua trees—

suddenly the rain

seeing the oily spot


feeling the dip in the road

greens are greener

in the high desert

dreaming of oregon

night sky—

a firefly’s

shooting-star dreams

motel sign blinks on and off

I flick on my turn signal

30 November 1988, on the road between Buttonwillow and Kettleman City, California (on I-5)

(my lowercasing of words such as “joshua” and “oregon,” and other proper nouns elsewhere, such as “i,” indicate my belief that one did this in haiku, seemingly influenced by some of the poets I had recently read in Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, but I later abandoned this practice because to me such affectations look like typos)

frosty morning

on sierra foothills—

even the cows look frozen.

15 January 1989, Railroad Flat, California

through blurred trees

by the freeway—

a red barn.

26 March 1989, Castro Valley, California

earth spring:

trees in the valley folds

of a grass blanket

Half Moon Bay:

a seagull paddling

by a floating plank.

field of spring mustard

yelling yellow

long country drive

suddenly a yawn.

26 March 1989, Livermore, California

single tree

in the mustard field—

weeping willow

27 March 1989, Tracy, California

Windmills over Altamont


a dead man

27 March 1989, Altamont Pass, California

baby-seat in back—

alphabet taped to headrest

my exit ahead

27 March 1989, Hayward, California

(with last line added 10 September 1989, Foster City, California)

on the overpass

at sunrise

bigrig’s silhouette

7 April 1989, Sacramento, California


single vapour trail

pointing to the sunrise

7 April 1989, Sacramento, California

(first line changed from “flaming” to “waking,” 10 September 1989, Foster City, California)

driving east at sunrise

a limo with its blinker on

after the kiss,

noticing her cavities

writing while she drives?

—no, a cigarette

7 April 1989, Sacramento, California

wind ripples

in dry grass

dark clouds overhead

21 April 1989, near Firebaugh, California (?)

empty field—

a hay rack

collecting tumbleweeds

21 April 1989, near Firebaugh, California (?)

(this poem was my first to win recognition in a haiku contest—an honourable mention in a contest sponsored by Haiku Quarterly, edited by Linda Valentine, in 1989; later in 1989 the poem also appeared in my self-published haiku collection, Egret)

a teen walking to his

summer job—

carrying the burden of youth

19 May 1989, Gilroy, California

afternoon rain


on the pond

driving off the overpass—


in the mirror

19 May 1989, Lebec, California

I imagine these flame-blackened hills

covered with snow

11 June 1989, Gorman, California

the stem of some unknown flower—

its petals

blown away

11 June 1989, Pasadena, California

in the waves of hills—

whitecaps of century plant

11 June 1989, Verduga Hills, California

Hiway Haiku

(I believe these poems have this title because I wrote them all on the same date while driving, plus one revision)

raining in the park—

taking a walk anyway

11 June 1989, Gilroy, California

raining in the park . . .

walking anyway

17 June 1989, San Carlos, California (a later revision of the preceding poem)

Sunday afternoon—

wet leaves

on the sidewalk

setting the phone off the hook

a knock comes at the door

11 June 1989, near Gilroy, California

roses on my windowsill


torn by the rain

reaching for her flute


from the window

catching the falling leaf

muddy water

in a wheelbarrow








her his


a w


k in





after the last kiss

mingling tears


to slow rain

11 June 1989, San Jose, California

(see also my Haiku collection, self published in 1986, which consists primarily of 5-7-5 haiku lineated vertically like the preceding “I won” poem, and also explore my “Stick Poems,” many written around 1986 and 1987, which are similarly vertical, also inspired by E. E. Cummings; Japanese haiku are of course presented vertically as well)

~ ~ ~

my window opens

the welcome sound

of drizzle

12 June 1989, San Mateo, California

suddenly realizing

he universe

larger than the head of a pin

4 August 1989, San Juan Batista, California

high-brow flea market

—not a single flea

6 August 1989, near Gilroy, California

sierra thaw

the sound of dripping

or pine needles

3 December 1989, Norden, California (near Sugarbowl)

indian summer


the smell of rain

5 December 1989, Foster City, California

(this poem was later made into the following haiga by Gary LeBel)

The poems on this page all come from the notebook shown here, covering 1985 to 1993, nearly all written on road trips, since this was my glove-compartment poetry notebook. See also “Godawful Early Haiku,” the hapless predecessor to this page, and see “My Haiku Notebooks.” The first 21 poems here I’d call godawful, followed by 87 that mostly are significantly better, showing a turning point in my understanding of haiku.




8 April 1990, Jackson, California

the last spring puddle . . .


in the middle

the sound of one hand clapping . . .

a thalidomide child

does jumping jacks

spring twilight . . .

between darkening trees

a patch of snow

8 April 1990, Kirkwood, California

the mare’s foal

nudging the old stable door . . .

saddle-shaped roof

weathered barn

the owl’s old nest

in the rafters

8 April 1990, Jackson, California

gently rolling hills

a cud-chewing bull

under each tree

freshly ploughed furrows . . .

rain begins to fall

on his corrugated roof

summer sun

on fisherman’s wharf . . .

a gull on every post

8 April 1990, between Jackson and Lockeford, California

Wisconsin sunshine

cattle on a thousand hills

—no bull

8 April 1990, Lockeford, California

mercedez benz

by the red brick schoolhouse

—now a yuppie condo

8 April 1990, near Lockeford, California

munching grass

the long-horn steer

eyes the frog

the lazy turn

of the waterwheel

. . . sunset

8 April 1990, Stockton, California

at the deli

the bald man finds a hair

in his soup

9 April 1990, Foster City, California

(I later revised this to say “at his favourite deli” and this became one of my earliest and favourite published senryu)

in front of the church

the pastor’s parking meter


14 April 1990, Stockton, California

downtown rain

the jazzman

plays his sax

(this poem was published in Frogpond 14:2, Summer 1991, page 13; a few other poems shared here were also eventually published, even if that’s not indicated)

summer heat

through windless leaves

mower sound

across the blacktop

heat ripples


heat haze

the smell of

fresh-cut grass

15 April 1990, Stockton, California

poetry reading

a bubble rises

in the poet’s glass

13 May 1990, Carmel, California

horsetail waves

a bed of kelp rising


13 May 1990, Castroville, California

red daihatsu—

of course she drives

a japanese car

(for Lequita Vance)

13 May 1990, near San Juan Batista, California (click to see a photo of me from this road trip)

moving day—

already missing

the neighbour’s roses

14 May 1990, Foster City, California

a box from granny’s attic—

“string too short

to be saved”

15 May 1990, Foster City, California

first confessional

his parking meter


10 June 1990, Foster City, California

(this poem is a revision of an earlier poem, dated 14 April 1990)

emerging from ground fog

the silver orb

of the watertower

10 March 1991, Lathrop, California (near Stockton)

slowing down

to take a sharp corner—

morning birdsong

10 March 1991, Lockeford, California

logger road—

the sun slants

through wood dust

10 March 1991, Pine Grove, California

winter snowstorm

filling the holes

in a chain link fence

March storm—

an extra layer of wood

at the lumber yard

10 March 1991, Pioneer, California

all at once

three lines of snow

fall across the road

from the telephone wires

just dropped its snow—

a pine bough



whitening the bones

of trees

fresh snow—

not minding the slow driver

in front

winter storm watch

with traffic barely moving—

the sound of wet snow

11 March 1991, between Pioneer and Pine Grove, California

a break in traffic—

a bicycle passes


9 December 1991, Foster City, California

after the movie,

the dry patches

in the parking lot

17 December 1991, Riverside, California

billboard lady

in a bikini—

three-car pileup

23 February 1992, Foster City, California

two cigarettes

left at a café table,

still smoking

14 April 1992, San Francisco, California

there and back

on the drive to Tahoe

pine needle in the wiper

27 April 1992, Stockton, California (after driving to Tahoe and back)

country road—

a line of cars

behind the harvester

28 April 1992, Tracy, California

breath of wind—

a blind man’s hand

touches the chime

2 May 1992, Menlo Park, California

after pulling dandelions,

my neighbour pounds an election sign

into his lawn

2 May 1992, Foster City, California

my neighbour pulls dandelions,

then pounds an election sign

into his lawn

1 July 1992, Foster City, California

son’s suicide—

the basketball net’s shadow

on the garage door

11 March 1993, Foster City, California