Why Haiku? : Lorin Ford

photo: Lyn Reeves


Why not free verse, sonnets or ghazals? (I‘ve written some). Or bush ballads? (I love horses).

My involvement with haiku started with an unexpected discovery in 2004. Carla Sari read out a haiku by Dhugal Lindsay:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxpicking up a jellyfish . . .
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxmy lifeline
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxclear and deep

I was immediately transported to my early childhood on the beach at Seaford, holding a moon jellyfish from the shallows (they’re non-stingers) in the palm of my hand, where it became a shining lens. In this first ‘aha moment’ it seemed to me that a haiku could be a lens which, focusing on a detail or two, could evoke an entire scenario and mood, an experience of participation rather than a story told.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxdriftwood the tide pulls me in

So began my enjoyment of reading haiku and my attempts at writing some. I first submitted to Paper Wasp, The Mozzie and the 2004 Paper Wasp Jack Stamm Contest. My haiku homage to John Shaw Neilson’s ‘The Magpie in the Moonlight’ won a prize:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxclear water—
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa magpie’s song drops
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxinto the pond

I joined Mike Rehling’s ‘Haiku Hut Forums’ where, under the guidance of the late Laryalee Fraser, members posted our own haiku and commented on those of others. I participated in the Shiki Kukai. In 2006, I joined Jane Reichhold’s AHA Forums. In the shared information and the to and fro of opinions and views, I’ve sensed that haiku is one big communal poem stretched over time and, now, over many continents, too. There is no end to learning about its possibilities.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa dream time
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbefore theirs and mine—
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWollemi Pine

In 2007 I visited John Bird and the inspiring ‘Cloudcatchers’ group, joined John’s ‘Haiku Dreaming Australia’ project and, encouraged by John and Janice Bostok, put together my first book, a wattle seedpod. In 2009 I attended the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference in Terrigal and delighted in the presentation by Martin Lucas and Stuart Quine, ‘Haiku as Poetic Spell’. Yes! Haiku is poetry!

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxon a bare twig rain beads what light there is

Reading Bashō’s words, as recorded by his followers, we see that his concerns were those of a poet: aesthetic concerns continuously evolving. For instance, his later concept of ‘lightness’/ karumi is evoked by the image of “a shallow river flowing over sand”. Those of us familiar with Australian sand rivers know that beneath the swift, transparent surface and the apparent riverbed there lies a huge reservoir of water. The metaphor, I believe, applies to many haiku.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxtheir wings like cellophane remember cellophane

This year, cleaning up my records, I’ve found that over a thousand of my haiku have been published. At a stretch, perhaps ten of them might last longer than I do. Why do I write haiku? Why do I like to read haiku? It’s not a religion for me but it is a communion with the world and with like-minded others, past and present, from long-dead masters to beginners. I’ve learned to remain a beginner in exploring the potentials of this paradoxically small sort of poem.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwinter starlight
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe sound of the tuning fork
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxgoes on forever

Lorin Ford, Melbourne, 2017

picking up a jellyfish” – Dhugal Lindsay, The Mudskipper

driftwood” – Lorin Ford, Modern Haiku 44.1, Winter/Spring 2013

clear water “ – Lorin Ford, Paper Wasp Jack Stamm Contest, 2004

a dream time” – Lorin Ford, FreeXpreSsion XV issue 3, March 2008

on a bare twig” – Lorin Ford, Shamrock Haiku Journal #3, Sept. 2007

winter starlight “– Lorin Ford, Presence #45, 2012

“their wings” Lorin Ford, Roadrunner IX:2, 2009




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