He—or she—provided the inspiration I needed for a haiku workshop I attended on Saturday—and all I had to do was look up.
I had registered for the Japan Society’s program a few weeks ago in an attempt to shake my life up a little bit.
I’ve been spending too much time in front of the TV and not doing any of the funky things that are happening in New York every day of the week.
When I lived in small towns, I complained that there was nothing to do, yet now that I’m back in New York it seems that I spend more time with my DVR than I do with human beings.
I thought a class in Japanese poetry might be a good way to break out of my rut. It meant getting up early on my day off and clanging over to Manhattan on the subway to toil away at an art form that I knew virtually nothing about, but I'm glad I did.
I haven’t tried to write poetry since high school, largely because the stuff I wrote was hideous. Haiku had even less appeal to me since the work is so incredibly brief--it's just a flash of words--and you’re required to say your piece in 17 syllables.
How can I possibly communicate anything under such tight constraints? I barely use my Twitter account because of the 140-character rule. I'm like a pelican; I need a long runway before I take off
But I wanted to do something different and I thought the class would make me a better writer.
However, I didn’t give much thought to what I would write about until early last week when I went to my doctor’s office for a checkup.
As I waited for him to finish with another patient, I happened to lean back on the examination table and look up through the skylight.
And just at that moment, this alley cat came strutting across the roof and right over the glass. For a brief moment he seemed to be floating over my head—and then he was gone.
I started playing with that image for the next few days and I had it in my mind when I walked into the class.
Our instructors were Japanese haiku poet Sho Otaka and American haiku poet John Stevenson. Another gentleman acted as Ms. Otaka’s translator.
Cherry blossoms are an important part of haiku as they symbolize the fleeting nature of life. At first I wasn’t sure if I could work that image into my cat theme and I went through several variations before I was satisfied.
It’s amazing how much work goes into a few lines to make it sound just right. This is how it came out:
A cat walks through the clouds
Blossoms fall beneath him.
I also wrote a haiku inspired by the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
I was trying to contrast the noise and the bustle of New York with the natural experience of the falling cherry blossoms. So this is what I came up with:
Cherry blossoms fall to earth
The city starts to breath.
Now came the hard part. Each of us had to walk up to the front of the class, write our work on a large board, and then read it aloud.
I was having a Catholic school flashback, but thank God the instructor was a lovely young Japanese woman in a kimono and not a monstrous old nun in a habit.
My classmates produced some very nice work, which prompted some intense conversation, but I was worried that people might not get the flying feline image without hearing the backstory.
As I walked up to the board, I thought I would use the cherry blossom festival haiku because it seemed a little easier to understand.
But then I figured this was no time to play it safe. I wanted to hear what people thought of my work, so I decided to let the cat out of the bag.
I think the instructor got a kick out of my verse. She spoke about it at length in Japanese and the translator told me that she thought it had a fantasy quality to it.
Then she wrote up my haiku in Japanese characters and gave it to me. It was strange seeing my words converted into symbols.
So it turned out to be a good day. I met some great people, got a new appreciation for an important art form, and broke up the routine a little bit.
I said my goodbyes and left to go visit with my aunt, who lives nearby. The weather was terrible, all rainy and damp, but it didn’t me at all. I was higher than a cat.