Writing haikus: an exercise in simplicity and observation

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Melissani Cave, Kefalonia

A few weeks ago I referred to a recorded talk which I’d found very inspiring. It was by John Paul Lederach who has many years’ experience in the area of conflict resolution. It was an easy, although compelling, listen, full of examples and stories that resonated with me deeply. One of these was about the qualities of a good arachnologist.

Lederach described how people who study spiders need to enter a space so quietly and with such care, and then remain still for many hours, so as not to disturb a web or the weaving of it. He mentioned this to illustrate the central point of his talk, drawn from his vast experience in the field of peace-building: the importance of being alongside communities and listening to them over time, rather than imposing from the outset external and alien ways of doing things.

Lederach went on to discuss the significance of haiku writing. This turned out to be another wonderful metaphor for expressing the same point: the place of listening and watching, rather than talking and doing. What he said about writing haikus was not especially new to me; it just caught me in a different way. I related viscerally to what he conveyed about the simplicity of the writing framework, and about the act of observing.

At the moment I’m in Greece and recently spent two and a half weeks on the island of Kefalonia. While not actually being off-grid, I was more immersed in nature, and more continuously, than I have been for some time. The beauty of the land and seascape was so overwhelming, so nourishing and felt so essential, I couldn’t imagine how I could express it. Then I thought of Lederach and what he’d said about haikus.

The art of haiku – previously called hokku – is ancient. My practice of writing them is not. But I found it wondrous to stop, stay, look, listen and feel; and then use just a few words to relate my surroundings and the interconnectedness I experienced in Kefalonia. This is what I wrote.

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