Roswila's Dream & Poetry Realm

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

A DREAMKU PRIMER (Part 2 of 3): Writing Haiku-Like Poems About Your Night Dreams

[Image: dreamku notebook cover collage by Roswila]

A DREAMKU PRIMER (Part 2 of 3):
Writing Haiku-Like Poems About Your Night Dreams

PART TWO

Elements of the Haiku Form Used in Dreamku
(See previous post for the Introduction & Part One: Writing Dreamku as Dream Work)


A friend once said that she was quite puzzled by most of my dreamku, since they are so different from regular haiku. I understand her puzzlement, in that they are not fully haiku. However, what any of my dreamku asks is for the reader to take on the dream moment as if it were her own. To see what it feels like, or what thoughts it generates. That is, a dreamku offers a moment to try on, to get inside of. And that, to my mind, is no different ultimately from what a regular haiku invites us to do.

What I say below about the Japanese haiku form is most of what I have learned over the years. I hasten to add that I am always learning about the subtleties of haiku and that I am only addressing here the haiku elements I try to honor in dreamku (i.e., those that seem to work with night dreams). These aspects of haiku are listed in approximate descending order of importance.

(1) TO BE OR NOT TO BE 3 LINES OF 5/7/5 SYLLABLES: I infrequently write dreamku in the commonly known three lines of 5/7/5 syllables. Japanese is polysyllabic, therefore, there are fewer words in a Japanese haiku of 17 syllables, than in a 17 syllable English haiku. To approximate the "feel" of a classic Japanese haiku in English, then, fewer syllables are required. However, if you have not written haiku or dreamku before, writing for a while in 3 lines of 5/7/5 syllables can be an excellent exercise to absorb the shape and feel of the form. One friend writes wonderful dreamku exclusively in this style. It is ultimately a matter of personal preference whether one sticks to the 5/7/5 convention or modifies it. But please, no matter how many lines or syllables you use, remember that words like "the" and "a" are needed in haiku or dreamku. I.e., don’t drop them out for the sake of saving a syllable. A sample dreamku of mine in 12 syllables:

crowded subway
fear makes the tiger
aggressive

Some modern haiku are one line of nine or so syllables. I am quite drawn to one line haiku or dreamku. They echo haiku written in Japanese ideograms, only those are in single vertical lines. Here’s a one line dreamku:

exposed....her green-skinned wicked witch

However, when writing dreamku, I always feel guided by three lines of 5/7/5, rarely exceeding that syllable count (per line, and total) and almost always writing in three lines. I believe this is because it gives me a mental net in which to initially catch the often illusive or intractable dream moment. But maybe it’s just a simple matter of long habit from the very early years when I was first trying to write haiku. :-)

(2) COMPARE AND/OR CONTRAST: There is a comparison or contrast between two things in a haiku or dreakmu, or one thing comes out of or results from the other. One of my dreamku that illustrates contrast:

a terrace of
dried grape vines
your bright smile

This one shows one element resulting from the other:

baby owls
hatch behind the couch
what to feed them

When I first wrote haiku about dreams, I tried contrasting or comparing the dream to my waking from it. This proved to be mostly very limiting and quite awkward, but it does work occasionally, as in this dreamku:

white flowered
dream tree
waking to spring rain

(3) NOT A COMPLETE SENTENCE: A haiku or dreamku is not one complete sentence broken into three lines. It’s usually (though not always) one two line sentence, preceded or capped by a sentence fragment. Sometimes it’s three sentences or fragments, or two fragments and one sentence or, as mentioned above, only one line. In the case of one line haiku or dreamku, they still do not consist of one complete sentence. One line haiku or dreamku have two sections which can run together or be separated by blank spaces, dashes, or ellipses – e.g. the above one line dreamku under (1) . But neither haiku nor dreamku are ever one complete sentence. (Though the translations of some haiku into English do read that way.)

(4) SEASON WORD: or "kigo" – the word indicating the season in which a haiku is set. I do not always use a season word in regular haiku, and extremely rarely in dreamku. It can be rather awkward and artificial, I find, to include a kigo in a dreamku. To my understanding, what a kigo brings to a haiku is a broader context or connectedness. In the case of a dreamku, the word "dream," or the awareness that the poem is about a dream since it’s a dreamku, accomplishes that same purpose. I think I even read somewhere that the word "dream" could be considered a kigo. The dreamku above under aspect (2) is one of the few I’ve written that references a season (technically, "spring" is a "ki" – season name – but it serves the same purpose as a kigo). But maybe you’ll be more successful in using kigo in dreamku than I have been. :-)

(5) "BE HERE NOW": Write in the present tense. Being in the present moment is traditional in haiku and is often good in any sort of poetry, but especially with dreamku. We tend to be suggestible creatures (even those of us who like to think we aren’t :-D), so when we write or read something in the present tense we begin to experience it, to bring more of ourselves to it, which can only add to the effectiveness of our writing and to our enjoyment of the poem.

(6) "I" AND "ME" ARE WELCOME: in haiku or dreamku. There’s a belief by some that self is not appropriately expressed in haiku. That the "I" or "me" should not be apparent in the poem. This "zen" approach does contribute to a great deal of wonderful haiku. However, it’s not the only way haiku is written, and it is definitely not the only way I work with dreamku. Here’s a recent dreamku of mine in which I use "I":

I sing shyly
it might as well be spring
attentive heart

In our discussion of this issue of "I/Me" in haiku, a friend revised this to read:

shy singing
it might as well be spring
attentive heart

His version illustrates how not using "I/Me" effects a haiku or dreamku. It "universalizes" the poem, leaving more room for the reader to relate to it. It also allows the reader to focus on what is happening and not on who is doing it. (I really like his version, by the way. As I said to him, I wish I could claim it as my own and as a haiku.) I agree with the point he then made that dreamku need to use "I/Me" more frequently than haiku, as who is the doer often needs to be clearer. This is quite true in my experience since dreamku tend to be surreal or have unusual or impossible juxtapositions. Therefore, there’s a smaller common base between writer and reader than in haiku, so that less can be inferred or assumed by a reader. Though the source dream for my above dreamku was only minimally surreal, it was not clear whose or even what heart was attentive, simply that there was heart attention. Therefore, using "I" creates a clearer separation between the specific singer and the unknown heart. In short, "I/Me" can often be more necessary in dreamku than in haiku, as dreamku tend to require more specificity in order to carry the dream moment.

(7) SHOW, DON’T TELL: Leave things unsaid in both haiku and dreamku, i.e., evoke or suggest. Set the scene and let the reader experience it for herself and come to her own conclusions. Though I generally try not to, I do write dreamku that have teaching orientations or points that may be rather apparent. (Some dream moments are so clearly "teachers.") But in my more "pointed" dreamku I still do my best to leave wiggle room for the reader. Put another way, dreamku are best when they don’t nail a scene down with meaning, but open it up to exploration. One easy trap – that I fall into, again and again – is to write one line that explains or makes the point of the rest of the haiku or dreamku. Trust your reader. You (and I) don’t have to lay it out for them completely. And they may even go fascinating places with it you (and I) did not expect. A dreamku of mine that suggests:

dream shard
children dig
for what’s been buried

It’s this "show, don’t tell" aspect of both haiku and dreamku that makes expression (as opposed to evocation or suggestion) of emotion a challenge. Emotions are responses to a situation and especially when overtly described are a "telling." But emotions are also often the heart of a dream moment. Therefore, I find that in writing dreamku I’m consistently taking on that challenge of emotional expressiveness.

(8) "IT ONLY TAKES A MOMENT": per haiku or dreamku. Haiku and dreamku rarely tell entire stories, though sometimes one can be deduced from the "showing, not telling." Haiku and dreamku are almost always about where we stand on the shifting sands between the past and future: the present moment. In dreamku, that means it’s about one moment within a full dream. It is hard for me to describe how I determine what one moment is in a dream. One guideline is "less is more." Another, if you find you have too many words to fit the form and can’t reasonably whittle them down, you may be trying to write about too big a piece of the dream. On the other hand, less in dreamku can be inferred or assumed by a reader since dreams are often surreal or have unusual or impossible juxtapositions. Therefore, the dreamku may need to include more from the dream than you might initially intend in order to evoke that dream moment for a reader. I suggest you just start writing dreamku and you will develop a sense of what one moment consists of within any particular dream. The folk I know who are currently writing dreamku have been able to do this, apparently rather readily. (Please note that I say here and elsewhere "evoke" the moment for a reader, not "make it clear." Dreamku are not so much open to being clearly understood, as to being experienced and associated to, much like their source dreams and haiku.)

(9) NOT ONLY NATURE, NOR SO SERIOUS: Neither haiku nor dreamku are written exclusively about nature, especially dreamku. Nor is either form humorless or inhospitable to whimsy. Here’s a silly dreamku of mine. I laughed even in the dream, for all the pricking of the thorns:

I finally fly
but get caught up in thorn trees
ouch! ouch-ouch!

(10) NO SIMILES: in haiku or dreamku, though metaphors can and do occur in haiku and dreamku. However, I don’t write a metaphor in a haiku or dreamku willfully as I do in a regular poem, as it will tend to sink that little paper boat like a stone. Yet when they occur naturally for me (i.e. without malice of forethought :-D), they can be effective (and affective). A sample dreamku of mine:

a dark shadow
invades the soldier’s skull
the war at home

(11) PLAY WITH WORDS: There’s a strong tradition of word play in Japanese haiku, and it is very welcome in dreamku (e.g. puns). Here’s one of mine in which I play with "infest" and "investment." The neologism just floated into my mind and, as it did, gave me an insight into the dream.

rust colored bugs crawl
from the phone recharger base
reinfestment

(12) CAPITALIZATION; PUNCTUATION; GERUNDS; ALLITERATION, ETC.: Usually there’s no capitalization in haiku or dreamku and as little punctuation as possible (i.e., only what is necessary to the comprehension or rhythm of the dreamku). I do occasionally use a question mark or exclamation point, for instance, if without it the emphasis needed just does not come across. As to gerunds (verbs that end in "ing" and operate as nouns): they are fine to use if they are needed for the sense or flow of the dreamku and don’t crowd it. Alliteration can overwhelm or stall the flow of haiku or dreamku, so be watchful for it and how it effects a dreamku; the same for assonance and rhymes. Also be aware of the rhythm of the lines; that it supports the dreamku, rather than undermining or overshadowing it. Generally speaking, the usual poetic writing devices tend not to work in haiku or dreamku.

(13) NO TITLES: except when two or more haiku or dreamku are meant to be read together.

For PART THREE: HOW TO WRITE DREAMKU, click here. (See also "Resources" below for relevant links, as well as the sidebar.)

Click here for an important update to this three part primer.

* * * *

Resources: DREAMS: The International Association for the Study of Dreams. HAIKU: The Isn'ts of Haiku. DREAMKU: See DAILY DREAMKU at top of blog homepage, and search this blog for "dreamku" (there is a post every month of the entire month's daily dreamku).

‘til next time, keep dreaming,

Roswila

[aka: Patricia Kelly]

****If you wish to copy or use any of my writing or poems, please email me for permission (under “View my complete profile”)****My other blogs ROSWILA’S TAROT GALLERY & JOURNAL and ROSWILA’S TAIGA TAROT.

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7 Comments:

At 12:32 AM , Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

This is a really useful post, anyone wanting to start writing haiku could benefit from reading it, not just people wanting to write dreamku. I keep meaning to try a dreamku actually!

 
At 10:25 AM , Blogger Roswila said...

Thanks, crafty green poet! The way to my heart? Tell me something I've done is useful.:-)

Please do try a dreamku or two ... and share with me. I love to see how others work in this form.

 
At 1:06 PM , Anonymous Joneve McCormick said...

I've really enjoyed this section and am eagerly on to the next. Lots of insights here. One of particular interest to me: "One easy trap – that I fall into, again and again – is to write one line that explains or makes the point of the rest of the haiku or dreamku." Me too. I avoid the experience!

I've read that the difference between art, which has a long lifespan, and an illustration, with a short lifespan, is that the illustration lays everything out for the viewer - doesn't let him participate and co-create... This helped too to help me cure the habit.

Thanks very much for this WONDER-FULL series Patricia.

Best always,
Joneve

 
At 2:00 PM , Blogger Roswila said...

Hi Joneve,

You can't know how delighted I am you enjoyed this second part of the Dreamku Primer. It was the hardest to write I'm not a haiku expert by any means, though I did have a friend who's much more knowledgeable than I am about haiku review an early draft.

Actually the entire article was very hard to write. I hadn't realized how little I knew yet about the dreamku form itself! In writing this artcile, I discovered more of what it's about. Well, I knew a lot about dreamku, but only at an intuitional/gut response level, I had to struggle to get it all into sensible words! (Not to mention I have a hard time with any writing, non-fiction being the very hardest.)

Your comment about art vs. illustration is well-taken. Though I think some illustrations lean much more toward art than others. :-)

As to explaining a haiku/dreamku/poem within the poem, it may be just as much that we feel anxious leaving something open-ended equating it with unfinished, as avoiding the experience. Or explaining might be an attempt to control the reader's experience/response. Then again, maybe these are the same thing as avoiding the experience ... as leaving it open ended means the experience goes on and who knows where ... thanks for giving me that to ponder. :-)

 
At 12:51 PM , Anonymous Katie said...

A dreamku: such an interesting concept. I also appreaciate your insights on what makes a haiku a haiku. Looking forward to checking back in!

 
At 12:52 PM , Anonymous Katie said...

A dreamku: such an interesting concept. I also appreciate your insights on what makes a haiku a haiku. Looking forward to checking back in!

 
At 8:57 PM , Blogger Roswila said...

I'm delighted you found something of value in your visit, Katie. I do hope you'll come back and say some more about your own takes on dreamku and haiku.

 

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