melting snow

for tea
time alone

This one is dedicated to my hiking buddy L., who does things like this. (One of my favorite possessions is a pocket-sized, hand-bound recipe booklet she made years ago called Tea in the Wild, all about which trees, shrubs and herbs can be made into tea.) The first two lines were sparked by a YouTube video she shared last night about the Nenet reindeer herders of Siberia.

There’s a pernicious belief approaching dogma that haiku must be based on direct, personal experience, as if there’s one, best way to have an ah ha! moment. This ignores the fact that many classic haiku/hokku were products of the imagination (including the most famous haiku of all, about a certain ponderous frog). But it was a popular idea long before Masaoka Shiki codified it at the end of the 19th century. I’d argue that it was a conceptual frame to give haiku a patina of profundity by association with the Zen conceit of satori. Readers of Japanese poetry practice a similar willing suspension of disbelief about death poems, most of which were of course prepared and memorized well before the poet reached the point of death. But if you read them thinking this could have been that poet’s final word, they become so much more powerful. So it is with haiku and the notion of their artless spontaneity.

Speaking of death, slowing down time is the main reason, I think, for drinking tea or coffee (or for smoking, when I used to smoke).


  1. Thanks Dave – I found this commentary really helpful. I’ve been wondering about the role of the imagination in haiku recently. Your post makes a powerful case for indirect experience being a source of inspiration.
    And speaking of death poems, here’s one from Yoel Hoffmann’s book, Japanese Death Poems, which fits with your beautiful snow bound images:

    Chilling cold:
    wind blows through
    bleak timber.


    Thanks again.
    Julie x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.