Tom Clausen Home
Haiku Circle (6-02-07)
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Haiku Circle- Northfield, Ma. 6-02-07 reading-presentation



Introduction for Haiku Circle - June 2, 2007


I’d like to begin with my gratitude to vincent and Raffael for organizing this special day and providing a chance for us all to commune with each other.. I’d also like to thank Nate and Rosalind (the Tuft’s) for sharing their lovely place... It is a great honor to be speaking here today and anything positive I have to offer is very much a reflection of the wonderful bounty of haiku and spiritual sharing I have received from the community of poets, including so many of you here... I hope in this reading to give a little something back, though I must admit I’m more comfortable being a listener!

one of my favorite of vincent’s haiku is:

to hear it

not to hear myself



this wonderfully expresses the credo of all of us in the hold of haiku... we are at best intense and involved listeners! Sometimes I feel we are like spies going about overhearing songs of birds and insects, the degrees of wind, the depths of silence, or like detectives we go about looking intently for clues, for the evidence of the very essence of natural changes and contrasts, we are also like reporters of natural nuances, tuning in to the most amazingly simple and subtle stories that poetically surround us .It is quite a calling to be a beat reporter on this path less traveled!

I feel we all need haiku more than ever today- we are perpetually bombarded with way more news and information than is happily bearable, our senses are too often in gridlock overload mode... haiku is a sane refocus and return to a more decent perspective.

One quality in haiku that seemed very important to me at the outset was the diminishment of the "self". It appeared to me that most haiku excused the self or provided a welcome refuge from it

(the self,) .... it also seemed that many of the best haiku actually served to instantly transcend any feeling of the self:


As we all know the self is hard to shake and there are many days that I wake up to a rather tired recognition that I’ve still got my self to negotiate, manage, and suppress from driving my every instinct and motivation... early in my haiku-senryu writing life I penned this three word truth:





This is my take on the "self" and the way in which it can take over our entire being for better or worse-

Thankfully haiku is a precious refuge from this self and is a happy medium of exchange with others who I assume, are each in their own way struggling through the near endless provinces of the self...I’ve often mused that I am not fully comfortable with being a human being... at times I wonder if in a previous life I was a slug or a sloth, or maybe a turtle or a toad! much of the human experience feels esoteric and perhaps it is the double edged sword of consciousness and thinking that causes me to seek experiences that reduce or eliminate too much thought and the center mainstreams of human activity. As much as I enjoy the range of human contacts, I have learned that unless I get a fair amount of time alone I tend toward being something less than at peace with myself. I love routines and am typically content with repetition that would seriously challenge most people. These qualities have sustained my delight with haiku and contributed to a sense that my whole life was lea! ding and preparing me to discover haiku!

My own haiku beginning was a life-time ago- my son Casey’s lifetime is my measure, since I began around the time he was born in 1988....when I read an article in a Ithaca free paper about Ruth Yarrow that contained several examples of her haiku I was enchanted... it was like an instant recognition, that haiku was exactly the antidote (I needed) for all that was unsettled, excessive and troubled in me and the world. I saw and continue to this day to feel haiku is the near perfect if not perfect voice of our being witness...

From the start I felt haiku had the potential to nourish spiritual and psychological well being. As a form of celebrating, honoring and tuning, as an antidote to our human tendency for excess, haiku was to me both the answer to a prayer and the prayer itself. From the article one haiku that has stuck with me as a top favorite:

after the garden party the garden - Ruth Yarrow

To me this haiku is a touchstone that can be read instructively to reveal all we might see in a garden once the gathering of people has dispersed. On a larger scale this six word poem evokes a telling sense of humanity in the throes of an extended party, using too much of the earth’s resources in ways that are detrimental to many other inhabitants of the earth- yet in an inevitable sense after this "party" is over the earth, no doubt, will remain and will heal itself. Time = Change & Change is our destiny ...


On the heels of reading that article about Ruth I went out and purchased Cor’s Haiku Anthology and went to library to check out what I could find HAIKU! To this day the collector in me has enjoyed collecting haiku books, periodicals and creating a haiku library of sorts. The eclectic examples in Cor’s anthology made an indelible impression on me and I was both fascinated and excited by the haiku and wonders about the lives of the poets who wrote those little masterpieces. It was an amazing pleasure to little by little meet in correspondence or in person many of the poets in that treasured anthology and in the various journals I subscribed to at that


At this time I remember my admiration and curiosity about the people involved in haiku made me feel there was some type of magic or chemistry in their lives that I especially hoped to discover...


It became obvious to me that to be part of the haiku community or tribe required a steady practice

of reading and trying to write haiku. The process of submitting haiku was invaluable in gaining feedback insight to what worked and what was meaningful to others...As a member of the Rt. 9 Haiku Group for the past four years it is necessary to present about 16 hopefully worthy haiku each month which is many months more than my output... but in the earliest years of my writing practice I totally enjoyed sending poems out and getting in the regular mail my SAE back with the results. There was suspense and excitement to see what others appreciated:


Canadian writer-novelist Ann Michaels in a preface to her book, Fugitive Pieces, wrote:


" I see that I must give what I most need" - Ann Michaels

this applies perfectly for the "why" haiku for me! In gratitude for all that has been given, here is a selection of some of my haiku:


our turn

to stand here-

falls overlook


spring sun-

high in his arms

the newborn is shown


early morning fog-

in the cereal bowl

the spoon clinks


taking me back...

water laps gently

at the shore


keeping quiet

the day’s last light

on new grass


old friend’s talk-

each holding

car keys


cold front-

the forgotten dulcimer





the spider centered

in its web


the day lilies-

some have crossed

the road


watering their plants

seeing their house

without them


class in the forest

they all look up

to the trees



the development

deer path



ants disappearing

into cracked earth


lunch alone

without a book

I read my mind

At work I have three desk calendar’s out for the public: a Little Zen, a Wisdom of the East and

a Farside... I love the levity, sage solace and insight they offer to start the day... here is a recent offering from Shri Parthasarathi:

"Nature is forever giving us chance after chance at what we call rebirth and death, and we, in our folly, in our fear of death, fail to understand that which represents a new journey, a new page on which to write, and thus to believe in a new beginning for ourselves"



a duck waddles away

from the pond


my arm snagged-

a good look at

the wild rose


sidewalk sale-

wind twists a lifetime

guarantee tag


late day sun-

deep on the forest floor

a seedling

sometimes being human feels like being a seedling under a huge canopy of forces we cannot control; as Mahatme Gandhi said: " everything we do is futile, but we must do it anyway"


all the voices

songs, waiting

in the broken radio


alone in the waiting room

checking the plant

for reality


walking the tracks

my thoughts

go nowhere


fall colors

in the lake-

one thought after another

I am bewildered at the flow of thoughts I have on any given day... they stream along unbidden from moment to moment, the marvel and malaise of human consciousness and the vast majority of thoughts I have amount to nothing more than some collective range of habits I’ve accumulated and attached to over many years... Thank goodness for haiku! the practice and discipline of haiku is very much about waking up to the world and seeing it fresh as if it was all new again...which it is! vincent in the front piece of his book; between God and the Pine points out

"they know most about beginning who help the rest of us begin"

left and right

he follows the way

of his kicked stone


breeding pairs

at the zoo-

with strollers


hunting four leaf clovers

students discuss

their childhoods


in the garden

right by St. Francis

the woodchuck hole


where I sit

on my usual bench

remains of a nut


potluck luncheon-

a yellow jacket cleans

its antennae


autumn moonlight

folded in

the clothes on the floor



from the bread truck’s roof

frost swirls


winter wind

the voice of one tree

after another


picture window

in all that white

a cardinal



in the hay wagon




in the cold rain

their snow fort

"Our poetry now is a realization that we possess nothing. Anything therefore is a delight, since we do not possess it and thus not fear its loss" - John Cage

perhaps my favorite haiku of all, which expresses this so beautifully, by Ryokan:


the thief left it behind

the moon

at the window


rarely do I act in concert with this spirit, but every now and then...


beach walking...

collecting pebbles

and letting them go


spring frost-

the park canon aimed

at the church



removing the neighbors

from view


spring wind-

the kid in the neighborhood

has a new whistle


going the same way-

exchanging looks with the driver

of the hearse


having brushed off

several small ants

an extra large one...



I give someone

easy directions


blue sky-

nothing constructive

to offer


where I sit

on my usual bench

remains of a nut


afternoon sun

a chef naps

at one of the tables


the way

the light bulb rests

in the rest of the trash



the mourning dove

lowers itself

to take off...


I hesitate slightly to read the next haiku, my wife said: N-O, absolutely not! She has been an invaluable critic over the years and often improved my little poems but it is a mixed blessing having your best critic living at home... to me this haiku touches on what can be seen when not caught up in the 10,000 things we get caught up in.



the delicate breeze

among the ferns



on the trail again

walking deeper

into myself


Sunday morning-

a brook sparkles

out of the hills


high clouds

one horse leans its head

against another


in a hollow

at the base of the trunk

a seedling



giving back

each breath


one tree

one bird, one song

the dusk


Each of these haiku is for me "a find"... a moment in which something that is given is received our world, our life, our path is abundant with things to find... Annie Dillard, the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek wrote:

"If you Cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted with pennies, you have with your poverty brought a lifetime of days. Its that simple. What you see is what you get."


When I got married in 1987 and then became a parent just a year later I considered it all as a dramatic new chapter in my life. I embraced the significant changes and even felt that this was the beginning of an adventure, albeit one very different from the adventures I had been accustomed to; bicycling trips, canoeing, freight hopping and living a life of rather endless self indulgence!. I honestly thought I was prepared for married life and parenthood- I guess most people feel or think this and like most people I’ve had my share or worries, wonders and downright despairing times, recoiling from the maddening relentlessness of family life- too often I’ve longed for a vacation from my family when the reality is I’m supposed to feel as if I want to be with them always! Family life requires degrees of selflessness, sacrifice and servitude that exceed my natural inclination to those callings... I’ve certainly struggled with parenting and married life but stuck with it for bet! ter and worse. To add some variety to my presentation I am going to share some of my family related writing, mostly senryu. Writing about the trials and tribulations of domestic life has been a very important management technique. The writing and sharing of these troubles or realities of home life have been entirely cathartic, therapeutic and simply honest. I hope these are not too jarring a contrast to the other poems I am presenting.

wanting my old life

when I wanted

my present life


Before getting married a favorite passage of mine from Rilke’s , On Love and Other Difficulties,

( I might have guessed that love was difficult!)is one in which he suggests that the greatest gift one person can give to another is to protect their solitude. I read this passage to my wife early on in our relationship, sort of testing how she felt about such an admirable sentiment. Her less than enthusiastic response should have alerted me that perhaps she had other ideas about what was

admirable and that protecting my solitude or desiring me to do the same for her was not high in her priorities. When our son was born I saw what little chance I had for solitude pretty much evaporate but thankfully this was when I discovered haiku, senryu and tanka, tools I would need to make it through this rough terrain!



the rubber duck alone

in the empty tub


this quiet morning

even the bar of soap

falls apart



morning zazen:

marriage counseling





the hypnotist

describes her technique

sound of the stream


playing a child’s game

I learn all

his rules



for my son:

lifting a stone

to see



my son asks

how far it goes

... space


the door open

to the meditation room

no one there



my cat comes up close

then shies away

alcohol on my breath




my child asks

what keeps the moon up?

you do, I reply


looking busy

as my wife

pulls in



in her sleep

she steals back

her hand




to a simple question

my life story


on the wall

Jesus on the cross

above her side of the bed



we go to one end

then the other


so much we have...

yet between us too

an emptiness




night train-

part of myself reflected

in thought



home from work...

the little one brings me

an empty wine bottle



long grocery line

the modest excitement

of my thoughts



another full moon

my checkbook

still unbalanced


to start the day

her slipper sounds

too fast


my mistakes-

no matter how many

coats of paint


after speaking importantly

she quickly resumes

sucking her thumb


all through

his temper tantrum

her calm




without consent

my old sneakers

in the trash



my wife asks

if she should feel sorry for me

"I’ve got it covered"




to the cat:

"that’s complete and

utter nonsense


we bicker

all through the house

... cleaning


my wife admits

she is not perfect

but is glad I am


now that I’m over

my bad mood

she’s in one


moments into

my music

the vacuum cleaner


she’s waited up...

to have some last words

with me




while brushing my teeth

she tells me again:

"lets move"


up in the dark

the toilet




the repairman tells me

any fool can do it


before sleep

laughing to myself

at myself



on hold...

branches in the window

wave wildly



she wanders away...

her snail disembarks

the matchbox truck




my daughter whispers

something she knows



our child

who will not go to sleep-

sheep on her pajamas



after the pleasant part

of our walk

we hurry


behind the wheel-

yet another of his



police car-

my thoughts of what I’ve done



dinner time-

each night

a fallen hero



lunar eclipse-

back inside something I did

or didn’t do


autumn nightfall

dropping my son off

for something else


before bed

my son’s music louder

than mine





my daughter asks where

we are going...



mid day

my son’s bear hug

still with me


snowy roads

the reason for going

quite slippery



reading into it

as much as I can

my life


after the party




on the bench

a young couple carries on

as if I’m not there



seeing more

of her


lingering in bed...

the ceiling has no



just in case

weighing myself

after the shower


I’m back home-

another reason for the cat

to yawn


in the empty room

two quiet types

father and son



in the dark

through the window light

my wife and child


from room to room

on the Clue board

a tiny spider


so many things

I need to do



evening star...

she sleeps with the lion’s tail

in her little hand


my son of age

he now calls me

a buffoon




after the artery scan

a Danish



dining room

next to my wife’s chair

her dog at attention



Discovery channel-

an older male vanquished

heads for the hills



my wife gives orders...

our daughter whispers to me

"bad mood"


when she’s not looking

I switch



April Fools Day-

another year

too true to myself


passed down

from my parents

dust pan and brush



outside the glass door

our old cat has forgotten

it wanted "in"





Ann Michaels wrote:

"It’s not a persons depth you must discover, but their ascent. Find their path from depth to ascent"


I would like to conclude my reading today with "being there", the chapbook collection that vincent and ed created which so beautifully presents a set of my haiku that allow me to hear and see that which is sustaining and beyond the merely personal, that which is universal. A little story about "being there": At Cornell, a professor in the Fine Arts Department made a sculpture of books authored by people at Cornell... it was first installed in NYC and then re-installed at Cornell. The sculpure was a large "C" with the top of the "C" having the highest stack of books and coming down the "C" there was a descending pile of less and less books until at the lowest far end of the "C" there was one little book, all alone: "being there" Thank you Ed and vincent for creating a book that perfectly fit on the Cornell "C"!



my eyes closed

to the day


long wait alone

in the parking lot...

a dog in the next car


morning fog...

a mash of wild apples

on the road


alongside the river

the freight train begins

to move


farm country back road:

just like them, I lift one finger

from the steering wheel


cross country runner

no one ahead

or behind


small town-

an old man and a young man

wave at the train


the farmer-

with a lot to say

his dog



summer stars-

the connection of my eye

to the brightest


turning off the music

a few miles before

getting there


under my breath

Oh boy! sitting down

under the old- growths


being there-

in the woods

a tree falls


the Zen books


on the shelf


cabin window-

the plant has gone

everywhere it can


log bridge-

going to the end

then returning


woodland brook...

the indistinguishable spring

of voices


summit view-


where she stood


letting her

walk all over me




I am, so

I am


on the way home

more geese

on the way home



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