In the early 80s, I experienced a somewhat predictable, spiritually deracinated-Westerner, child-of-the- 60s fascination with Zen Buddhism. I even flirted with the idea of becoming a monk. After many years of concentrated indecision and extended residencies in zendos around the country, I learned two things:
One of the things I came to love about entering the austere and beautiful world that embraces both Zen monks and their militaristic Samurai counterparts is that, yes, you’re supposed to be able to slice your opponent into 53 thin pieces with grace and a minimum of blood. But you should also be able to arrange flowers and write poetry. In the Yin and Yang of life, everybody is both an artist and a warrior. It’s up to you to create a coherent whole of your many dimensions.
I now mediate infrequently and in a chair. My robes hang in the closet. But for the past 30 years, I have maintained a daily habit of writing a haiku based on the content of both a sentence and the article in which it appears in the New York Times. — only I now give the classic syllabic pattern of 5 / 7 / 5 a slant tailored to my secular careers as a journalist, corporate communications dude, and poet.
Until March of this year, I wrote my haiku in the margins of the newspaper and then threw it out when I had finished (practicing non-attachment but not sustainability). Then, I finally gave into the technological / ecological pressures of the digital world, and opted for an online subscription. Now, I not only preserve my idiosyncratic haiku but also, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks, can connect them to their original articles and writers.
The classic haiku contains a duality of message (such as joy in the moment coupled with sadness at its transient nature). The poem attempts to answer three questions:
However, my idiosyncratic versions consider the medieval format as an anticipation of the tweet, and looks for a distillation of message into its most basic syllabic pattern. My intention is to replace the traditional duality of emotion with a (hopefully) ironic twist conveyed by the narrator, challenging the innate seriousness of the Times’ commentary. In so doing, perhaps the poet becomes a warrior, the poem a weapon. Or the poem remains simply a flower in the poet’s ikebana construction, knowing no intention but its own.