Okay, if we’re going poetry this week, we’re going full-out. One of my favorite books is a little volume written in collaboration by six people – Tom Gilroy, Anna Grace, Jim McKay, Douglas A Martin, Grant Lee Philips, Rick Roth, and Michael Stipe. It’s called The Haiku Year, and it’s been the inspiration for my longest running writing experiment, a haiku journal.
When I lived in LA, I was beginning to get back into writing after a hiatus of several years, and it occurred to me that I should start keeping a journal again as good practice. I had kept one for about ten years as a teenager and into college, but I fell out of the habit when I graduated. Everything I had written in those journals felt sort of cheesy though, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to censor what I wrote there in case someone should ever read it.
I couldn’t bring myself to pick up that old habit again, so my roommate suggested I try writing a haiku every day for a year. He and a friend in New York had started their own haiku journals a couple of years before after reading The Haiku Year themselves. He lent me the book and I was hooked. I wrote my first haiku on Saturday, August 25, 2007, and I haven’t looked back.
I recently bought my own copy of the book and decided to reread it more carefully; the first time, I tore through it in my excitement to get started on my own project, and I didn’t really allow these tiny poems to sink in. This time around, I was able to better appreciate the tones of the six different authors.
The book is structured to cover a year, but the poems are not attributed to a particular writer, so the journey is (or has been for me) different on each reading. My mood, my age, my experiences as a writer – all of these things have affected how I read it. I’m not even going to include quotes from the text today because I don’t think the intricacy of the project can be conveyed well out of context. The beauty of this book is in how these writers managed to capture so many powerful and beautifully ordinary moments just by dedicating themselves to a short exercise – three lines, once a day.
One of the reasons I love this book so much is that it inspired me four and a half years ago, and 1,446 days later, I’m still excited to capture a moment in my day this way. I don’t think I’ve read many books that have had such a huge impact on my life or on the way I view the world. Maybe this isn’t the book to inspire you, or your children, or your students, or your friends to start something new, but I think the idea of doing one small thing every day for a year – whatever that thing may be – could be the beginning of potentially amazing creative endeavors. And really, what’s better than a book that encourages you to court your own greatness?
Tom Gilroy, Anna Grace, Jim McKay, Douglas A Martin, Grant Lee Philips, Rick Roth, and Michael Stipe can all be found on the internet (but I can’t find them for you today because my mother’s visiting, and family gets priority over web searches!)