Haiku – Nature’s Poetic Voice

Haiku – Nature’s Poetic Voice

by Susan Hendricks, June 15, 2018

Haiku is simple enough for young children but complicated and intuitive enough to engage people of all ages and across cultures.

Haiku’s very short form consisting of only three lines may appear trite or non-sensical.  But if that were so, it would not have endured for centuries and continue to be written in many languages and read throughout the world today.

Traditional Haiku contains 17 syllables arranged in three lines of five, seven and five syllables each.  Haiku feels dream-like with most using sensory and nature-related imagery.

17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho is considered the first Haiku Master. During the 20th century, poets who brought Haiku to America – Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, Amy Lowell, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Jack Kerouac and others – helped spread the form throughout the Western world.

One of my early encounters with Haiku was during a workshop led by David Rosen, psychiatrist, Jungian Analyst, professor and poet. He recommended keeping the spirit of Haiku by writing three short, simple lines, focusing on detail and staying with one or two natural images.

Rosen and his friend and fellow poet Joel Weishaus shared a long-distance correspondence over two years writing a weekly paragraph describing a personal issue or specific event followed by their Haiku summary.   Their book, The Healing Spirit of Haiku, is drawn from their collaboration.

Rosen said, “Haiku embodies aloneness, universality, humor, simplicity, courage, freedom and love. There are no explanations, no causes, no expanded stories…forever a mystery in exactly the same way our dream images remain mysteries.”

Like Haiku, our dreams are often brief, mysterious experiences that may benefit from the practice of writing Haiku.  One very simple dream I recorded in my dream journal is an example.  After mulling over my dream’s images, emotions and narrative, I composed a Haiku from my associations.  I share this Haiku as an example of the form.

Ice glistens and cracks
As winter melts into spring
The closed door opens

Writing Haiku has the potential to bring about a sense of awe and gratitude. That is one reason I love to include Haiku for participants in my writing groups as a way to pinpoint essential qualities from their writing.

Group members typically spend 20 to 30 minutes or more writing personal thoughts as they respond to prompts.  At the end of their stream-of-consciousness writing, they read and reflect on their own words.  This pause allows them an opportunity to notice and reflect on what they have just discovered, sometimes for the first time.  The final step is to create a haiku to crystalize new ways of thinking.

Columbia native David Rembert, Jr., Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at USC, recently published his book of personal poetry, titled “Haiku/Senryu: A Biologist View.” Rembert’s granddaughter Margaret Rainey Green created the beautiful illustrations and his daughter Augusta helped organize his work.

Rembert told me, “I have always loved poetry, but Haiku is relatively new to me.  I try to spend a little time each day reading poetry and writing Haiku.

“The real value of the form of Haiku is that it enables the poet to create a mood, vision, feeling, or experience that requires work on the reader’s part, like a frame for a picture the poet creates.”

Haiku is the perfect form for a biologist-poet such as Rembert.  British scholar R.H. Blyth speculated that the rhythm of the Haiku is a reflection on the rotation of nature’s seasons and patterns.  Blyth wrote: “Haiku is poetry bared to its essentials with Nature at its heart.”

“Haiku/Senryu: A Biologist View,” David Rembert’s collection of 424 original Haiku poems is now available for purchase on Amazon.com where you can search for David Rembert. A link is available at www.susanhendricks.com/resources.

One reader commented on-line, “David Rembert uses words as he would a flashlight in a garden at night.  He matter-of-factly offers up for us a succession of revelations.”

Take some time for yourself to pause and dig into a few verses of Haiku, slowly reading and writing several versions.  It may open your eyes to new growth all around.

Susan Hendricks leads small groups and workshops for personal and therapeutic writing and is an online instructor for The Writing Institute of The Center for Journal Therapy. To read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper and locate links to books mentioned, visit www.susanhendricks.com.



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Dreams are often poetry – Poetry is often dreamlike

Dreams are often poetry – Poetry is often dreamlike

by Susan Hendricks, February 11, 2018

Dreams and poetry have a lot in common – a belief I have held for over 20 years.  In 1995, during a retreat I attended in Mexico, a noted American poet was also there and graciously shared from his life’s work. He read and recited his poems and led an afternoon workshop each day for a small group who chose poetry over all the other options.

During the day, my own poems seemed to be written effortlessly. Throughout the week, powerful and amazing dreams flowed nightly and continued long after I returned home.  Fascination with both poetry and dreams still engages and intrigues me all of these years later.

I’ve discovered a range of ideas that link dreams and poetry in a variety of ways.  The list below is representative of these connections, arranged in no specific order of importance:

·      Both dreams and poetry use a language of image, metaphor, emotion and symbol.

·      To benefit from either dreams or poetry, you have to be fully present.

·      When you engage with your dreams and also when writing and thoughtfully reading poetry, you will be fully in the moment.

·      It’s important to quickly write your dream or versions of a poem before the words are lost.

·      They both enhance creativity and expansion of human awareness.

·      Their deepest meaning is carried in the unconscious mind.

·      It’s necessary to pay as much attention to what is not said as to what is said.

·      As dreams and poetry both go deeply into the unconscious to allow insight to surface, they can assist in healing past trauma as well as disease.

·      Experiencing the language and imagery in poetry and dreams may be less threatening than directly hearing something difficult to admit to one’s self.

·      Both are companions in dark times and can help uncover meaning.

Poet David Whyte’s explanation of poetry could just as well describe dreams.

“The discipline … is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat…all are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable, but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time.”

When you wake from an especially powerful dream, writing a poem with some of the dream’s emotion, language and imagery may offer you a different way to understand and appreciate the dream’s significance.

A Little Nightmusic: The Narrative Metaphor is a writing exercise to create a poem from one of your dreams or from a strange waking event.  Poet and teacher, T. Alan Broughton shared this exercise in The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, edited by Robin Behn & Chase Twichell.


  1. Recall a dream or some strange event in your life.
  2. Write down the facts of the remembered dream or event just as you recall it.


  1. Reread what you have written.
  2. Notice the details – only details – and jot them down randomly.
  3. Do not generalize or make associations to meaning, but stick to the details.
  4. Choose details that describe the tone or the emotional core of the incident or dream.


  1. Imagine and invent a scene that is not your exact memory but is set in the same location as the scene.
  2. Make the tone of this new incident contain a significant contrast to the previous dream or event.
  3. Do not generalize, but note a grab bag of facts concerning the action, plot, basic narrative of the event or dream.

THEN, using as many of the words and images from those you have accumulated –

  1. Write a short narrative poem that
  2. combines or superimposes these two incidents.
  3. Do not try to be logical or coherent as you put the pieces together.

Your final piece may be as different from the first two versions as you like.

When you work with this exercise, allow enough time.  Over the years, your poem may continue to provide further insight.  Poems I wrote long ago based on this exercise still have resonance and meaning that I find helpful today.


Read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper at www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.  As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, Susan leads writing groups and is an approved provider of CEU’s for mental health counselors by the SC Board of Social Work Examiners.


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Dream Work Express – Online Class

Dream Work Express – Online Class

by Susan Hendricks, December 3, 2017

Dream Work Express – Offered through the Therapeutic Writing Institute, January 18 through March 14, 2018

Online Class – Work at your own pace.

In this class, we will use the spontaneity and variety of expressive arts techniques created especially for dream work. Don’t interpret or judge your dreams, but accommodate and cherish the contradictory messages you receive while asleep.  Journaling and sharing your dreams and insights can deepen your understanding of your past, present and future.  This practice may also ignite your intuition and enliven your search for a more authentic life.  CEUs Available.

REQUIRED TEXT: The Art of Dreaming: Tools for Creative Dream Work, by Jill Mellick.



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Dream Work – Eternally Useful

Dream Work – Eternally Useful

by Susan Hendricks, October 21, 2016

McGritte –

In my experience, when we give our dreams enough attention, they highlight our questions, emotions, memories and wishes and point to new ways of thinking and acting.

While this sounds simple enough, it’s not easy to see ourselves through the blind spots we have created to protect our self-concept.  Sharing with trusted and caring people is one way.  But if other people are not available, writing about dreams may provide enough distance between ourselves and the words on the page to offer insight leading to a more informed and authentic life.

If your dreams wake you up with a feeling of urgency but you don’t know what to do with them, grab your pen and paper and begin to write.

Write your dreams down immediately after you wake.  Remembering your dreams is the first and foremost place to begin.

Write the dream exactly as recalled, without elaborating, in first person “I,” and in present tense as if it is happening right now. Even the smallest dream fragment can be helpful.

Keep your recorded dreams in chronological order in your journal or binder. Over time, you’ll spot themes and notice reoccurring imagery. Every dream you recall and honor provides another layer.

Create your own Dream Dictionary. Name images and include associations as well as synchronicities between your dream and outer life – things you see or hear and give meaning to such as billboards, words spoken, music, etc. Even years later you can find new meaning through these chance encounters.

Regardless of the technique you use, don’t forget to reread and write a reflection on what you learned. When you discover a core message, write it as a positive affirmation for further contemplation.

In addition to many poetry schemas, here are three suggestions.

1)    Rewrite your dream from a different perspective changing all references to yourself in the dream to the pronoun you or your.  For example, “You run ….”  using 2nd person instead of the 1st person “I ran…”.   In 31 Letters and 13 Dreams, poet Richard Hugo interrupts his letters to specific people by inserting his dreams as if written by a different author.  The dreams turn up unexpectedly, just as dreams do. Are we overhearing them? Who is this you that dreams?

2)    Rewrite your dream as a fairy tale.  Make it magical and full of mystery.  In The Art of Dreaming: Tools for Creative Dream Work, Jill Mellick describes the steps:

·      Begin with “Once upon a time…”

·      Put your dream story in the past tense


·      Embellish or invent settings

·      Make up what all characters look like and write their fanciful names in CAPITALS

·      Add the words ALWAYS and NEVER wherever you can

·      Make up dialogue

·      Add at least one adjective for every noun and one adverb for every verb

·      Give your fairy tale a title that any 6-year-old would love

3)    Ask yourself questions. Or even better, have others ask you specific open-ended questions related to your dream narrative. This productive technique is also the simplest. Don’t allow others to “interpret” for you and don’t answer questions right away. If one question feels particularly interesting, use it as a prompt to begin to free write for 5 to 10 minutes or more.

Gaining total understanding from your dreams will never be complete, but appreciation and new ways to think will surely emerge if you give your dreams enough time and attention.

Susan Hendricks leads guided journal writing groups in Columbia as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Certified Journal Therapist and a Certified Dream Group Leader.  Research by Dana DeHart, PhD of Susan’s weekly therapeutic dream groups for incarcerated women at the maximum security prison in Columbia, SC was published in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, Vol. 49, Issue 1, 2010. For more: www.susanhendricks.com or www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com


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Weaving Poetry and Dreams

Weaving Poetry and Dreams

by Susan Hendricks, May 25, 2014

Dream Ex. 1Poetry and Dreams have a lot in common. Their preferred language is metaphor. Whether short or long, they hide as much as they reveal, surprising you just when you think you know the answers.

Use one of your own dreams that you would like to explore and try out the following exercises. Don’t try to “figure out your dream.” But don’t be surprised if you do have some new ideas and information to add to your Self-Inventory!

Exercise One can be found in The Natural Artistry of Dreams (1996) by Jill Mellick but is not included in her updated version The Art of Dreaming (1996-2001).

Patterns of language can reflect patterns of energy within the psyche itself: action (verbs); the qualities of action (adverbs): states of being (intransitive verbs such as to be, to die, to sleep); people, places, things, and concepts (nouns – subjects and objects); and qualities (adjectives). (Mellick, 1996, p.108)

Draw a chart with three columns. Head each column: Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives and Nouns. The illustration here may be helpful.

With one dream in mind, place words from your dream into appropriate columns. Without hurrying, perhaps using your journal to assist you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • With which types of words do I connect most strongly?
  • What do I remember most in my stories-dreams?
  • How might this reflect my experience of inner culture? (p. 110-111)

Exercise Two comes from The Art of Poetry Writing: A Guide for Poets, Students, and Readers by William Packard (1992). It is an interesting extension to the dream exercise above. Try it out and have fun expanding your dream and poetry vocabulary.

On a blank sheet of paper, make lists of different parts of speech, the first examples that come to mind. Begin by noting categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections.

Try to put 50 words in each category – or as many as you can think of within, say, a ten-minute interval for each list. Don’t ask why you’re making these lists, just get the various words down on the paper.

When you finish with all these lists, you’ll probably surprise yourself with how certain word clusters suggest a poem. Begin playing and shaping them together in whatever way you like. But first you have to get these lists down on the page. (p.146)





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Flying High

Flying High

by Susan Hendricks, April 28, 2014

Jean Rowe-me

Jean Rowe makes presentations on the benefits of journal writing for young women with breast cancer, with Susan, meeting again thanks to the Columbia Star Newspaper article.

I’m flying high – figuratively and literally – 30,000 feet up somewhere between Phoenix and Charlotte, after completing a week in workshop mode.  This has to have been the very best professional meeting I’ve ever attended.

You might wonder what could make this one so good.  Was it the speakers – breakout sessions –  location –  all far beyond my expectations?

It was the individuals I met, the new friends I made.  In addition to a stellar program, I loved meeting the other people all sharing a passion, inspiring each other to stretch and grow as a result of our paths crossing.

Some of us had met online.   Words on a computer screen next to a very small picture are poor substitutes for being face-to-face.  It’s easy to assume a lot.  When a student asked who she was, the leader Kay laughed saying, “Nobody’s professional headshot looks like the real you!”

I had shared courses and conversations online with Betsy, Carolyn and others – each a true artist in the fullest sense.  Betsy’s work journal was filled with illustrations as fine as a Sufi master and intricate collages of her notes and illustrations.  Carolyn’s poetic workbook used with her therapy clients as well as workshop participants was just one of her published books.  To illustrate her points she sang her own verses to familiar tunes.

Jean, a vivacious Atlanta social worker and teacher starting her own business based on her creative work with young women with cancer, found me in the crowded room.  Although I had seen her name and read her helpful comments on-line, I never connected her to my own neighborhood at home.   She leaned over my shoulder with a copy of an article about my work in The Columbia Star Newspaper in her hand and said, “I think your husband helped me get the greatest job while I was in college many years ago.”

My own early morning dream groups allowed me to contribute to the conference.  Several new friends got up with the sun to share their dreams and honor each others process to catch a glimpse into the depths of their psyche and soul.

I’m already looking forward to next year, April 2015 in Asheville, North Carolina!

The first half of the week was produced by the Therapeutic Writing Institute and sponsored by the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy. The last half of the week was the 34th annual conference of the National Association for Poetry Therapy. 

Confronting Your Clutter and other books by Carolyn Koehnline, MA, LMHC

Jean Rowe, LCSW,  CJT, President of FS Consulting LLC. Contact her at [email protected]


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Linda Pastan – A Dreamy Poem

Linda Pastan – A Dreamy Poem

by Susan Hendricks, November 24, 2013



“Personal Values” by Rene McGritte (1951-52)

I love Linda Pastan, Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991-1995. Many of her poems swim in dreams.  Here visual art inspires her poetry and reverie.

I hope you will add your favorite poems, especially those that are dream-inspired.

Le Sens de la Nuit
Magritte, oil of canvas, 1927

Here are some clues
to The Meaning of Night:
pieces of bright foam estranged
from the sea; a woman wrapped
in a cage of winglike shapes;
the formal back of one man twinned
to the front of another –
or are they really the same man,
and could he be the undertaker of the day?

If there is a meaning to night
is it contained here, or must we search
through the dreams that lap
behind our closed lids as we sleep
like the small waves in the painting
which, when the day is over
and the museum shuts down,
go back to the dark sea
they came from?

Linda Pastan (1998). Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Copyrighted material used for educational purposes.

You can find this poem on the Web at: http://www.poetryfoundation.or…..!/40733297


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by Susan Hendricks, November 17, 2013


Johann Heinrich Fussili’s painting “Dream of Belinda”

Three nightmare types are biologically and psychologically very different!

True Nightmares – Sometimes called “dream anxiety attacks,” are long, vivid, frightening dreams that awaken the sleeper and often can be clearly recalled.  They usually occur late during sleep, between 3:00 am and 7:00 am and at the end of a long REM-period. (REM refers to Rapid Eye Movement)

Night Terrors – Sometimes called an “incubus attack” or “terror attack” the most common vocalization is simply a scream.  The sleeper does not remember a dream but sometimes remembers feeling crushed or suffocated.  She or he either remembers nothing at all or simply recalls waking in fright.  Night terrors occur early in sleep during the first Non-REM deep sleep period.  Most common in children ages 3 to 6.  Although many people “grow out of it,” some people continue having night terrors for years, even throughout their life. (For more information: www.nightterrors.org)

PTSD Nightmares or Post-traumatic nightmares include content involving a trauma such as familiar scenes or action.  Free association is seldom free.  The dreamer is led straight back to the trauma or to fears of a very primitive kind. (For more information: www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/nightmares.asp)

Some factors that seem to contribute to nightmare frequency: illness (especially fever), stress, troubled relationships and traumatic events.

Drugs and medications can cause an increase in nightmares. Drugs that suppress REM sleep produce a later effect of REM-rebound.  To make up for the lost REM time, dreams are more intense than usual for the last few hours of sleep time.  Other drugs increase the activity of some part of the REM system.  Among these are l-DOPA used in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, and beta-blockers used to treat heart conditions.

Journal to Transform your True Nightmare.

Rewrite your nightmare in the 3rd person: instead of saying, “I dreamed…..” replace that with “she/he dreamed….”

Rewrite your nightmare as a Fairy Tale starting with something like “Long ago in a far off country, a princess lived …..” and use dramatic over-the-top exaggerations of events and descriptions in the dream

Change the ending of your nightmare to one that feels less threatening or feels good

You may see results right away.  But if not, continue to use these journaling techniques and talk about your nightmare with a trusted person in a safe setting. I have seen instances in which people completely stop having the nightmare, even those that had been reoccurring over years.

For Night Terrors and PTSD Nightmares check out the links above and seek appropriate help.



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Uncovering "Life Themes"

Uncovering "Life Themes"

by Susan Hendricks, November 10, 2013

Why? PhotoAsk the “WHY?” question to discover your Life Themes from your dreams

If you have been recording your dreams for a while, you may have discovered similarities in setting, characters’ actions, situations and/or emotional reactions.  Don’t let this valuable information slip past without slowing down enough to pay attention and pick up a hint or two.

Some say that we only have four or five different dreams throughout our lives.  At first glance, each dream appears to be new and different.   On closer examination, there may be a core value, an unanswered question or a recurring emotional reaction contained in the swirling, weaving imagery or affect of the dream.

When you wake from a dream and after you have written about it in your journal, read your notes through slowly at least twice. Then choose one line that stands out from all the rest of the dream.

On a separate page, write that one sentence at the top of the page and pause momentarily to reflect on that sentence and acknowledge any physical sensations you notice that may have been aroused by the dream.

Just below the line you wrote from your dream, ask yourself this question and write it -“WHY?”

When an answer pops into your mind, no matter how silly or scary it may be, write it down on the next line.

Follow this line of questioning.  Continue to write your intuited answers after each WHY question, followed again by asking another WHY? until you sense a strong recognition or familiarity with the last thought you recorded.

Be sure to ask WHY? at least 4 or 5 times. Don’t stop at your first answer but continue to inquire into each of your responses.

When you feel that you have identified a current life theme, begin a new sheet of paper and write a reflection on what you have discovered in this process.

You may be surprised to find themes embedded in your dreams. Working over time with this process you can explore more specific areas within your themes. New themes can emerge as you benefit from this work.

Once you recognize a life theme, you have the choice of working with it or ignoring it, allowing it to work for or against you at it’s own pace.


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