Haiku – Nature’s Poetic Voice
June 19, 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.
How to Jumpstart Your Personal Writing
April 19, 2018
Writing for one’s self can be awfully important, but sometimes it isn’t easy. As soon as you tell yourself you’re going to write, grab your pen and paper and prepare to write, all of those incredible thoughts you had vanish.
Even many well-known writers report suffering from writer’s block when faced with a blank page. They may be tired or unmotivated, doubting themselves, trying too hard to make something perfect or fearing failure.
Not only professional writers, but also the rest of us are often blocked even before we begin to write. However, you can create your own source of inspiration to jumpstart your writing. This renewed writing may have far reaching benefits too.
Poet William Stafford makes it appear that personal writing is not only easy but also urgently needed. Scattered thoughts that you have written in your journal over time may ultimately offer you new-found meaning. This excerpt from his poem Keeping A Journal explains.
At night it was easy for me….
to sit late recording what happened that day….
More important than what was recorded, these evenings
deepened my life ….
As time went on…. everything
recognized itself and passed into meaning.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Way, reminds us that we don’t need anyone’s approval or endorsement when we write for ourselves. “Put pen on paper and keep writing…Get out of the way. Let it work through you. Accumulate pages, not judgements.”
Walt Whitman is supposed to have kept a box of his written snippets on scraps of paper. When the box filled, he grabbed some of the scraps for inspiration. If nothing worked at that moment, he put them back in the box for another time.
South Carolina poet Susan Meyers described her Word Bank, a box or jar filled with words and phrases that caught her eye. She printed them on small pieces of paper or cut examples out of magazines, newspapers, junk mail or personal memos. When she needed inspiration, she would draw a few words and notice how they fell together creating new meaning.
Poet and publisher Diane Lockward described her Bits Journal in her blog as “a collection of random images, childhood memories, dreams, snatches of overheard conversations, quotes from books or lectures, bathroom graffiti, mistranslations, thoughts that come out of left field, notes to yourself, etc.”
Instead of a box, Lockward keeps her “bits” on a word document on her computer.
“The bits journal is easy to fill. If you add three or four bits a week, in a couple of months your journal will be five or six pages long.”
My own “Word Box/Bits Journal” is contained in several boxes and a couple of file folders. They include a wide assortment of clipped images on glossy colored paper, cartoons and lists of words I’ve had to look up as well as intriguing metaphors – words that create imagery in my mind.
If collecting your own prompts isn’t for you, you’ll find enough inspiration in a couple of books that will keep you writing for as long as you wish. Here are two of my current favorite books.
A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves, writing teacher, creativity workshop leader and cofounder of the non-profit literary arts organization, San Diego Writers Ink, has over 245 pages divided into 12 months of articles and daily prompts, cross-referenced throughout to help you explore the topics she covers.
A new book from the Network for Grateful Living named Everyday Gratitude: Inspiration for Living Life as a Gift just published this month, includes one colorful hand-drawn affirmation with its source along with a unique and thoughtful writing prompt on every page.
Both books can be accessed at www.susanhendricks.com/resources.
Your journal can be much more than simply a recording of your day. Each entry is a new opportunity to add depth to your life in ways you can hardly imagine at the time. Authentic inner conversations with yourself on paper can act as your North Star guiding you home to your True Self.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, Susan leads small groups and workshops for personal writing and is also an online instructor for The Writing Institute. Visit www.susanhendricks.com to read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper.
Dreams are often poetry – Poetry is often dreamlike
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.
- Recall a dream or some strange event in your life.
- Write down the facts of the remembered dream or event just as you recall it.
- Reread what you have written.
- Notice the details – only details – and jot them down randomly.
- Do not generalize or make associations to meaning, but stick to the details.
- Choose details that describe the tone or the emotional core of the incident or dream.
- Imagine and invent a scene that is not your exact memory but is set in the same location as the scene.
- Make the tone of this new incident contain a significant contrast to the previous dream or event.
- 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 –
- Write a short narrative poem that
- combines or superimposes these two incidents.
- 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.
Take time to catch your breath
January 11, 2018
One of my new year’s resolutions is to pay more attention to my breathing. I’ll have plenty of chances to do this, but it’s going to require determination too.
We take about 20,000 breaths daily and approximately 100 million breaths in a lifetime. Although we can go without food for several weeks and without liquid for several days, we can live only minutes without air and breath.
Whether or not we notice our breathing, it is constant – present in every moment of our lives from the newborn baby’s first cry to the last breath at the end of life.
The power of purposefully inhaling and exhaling has been known and used throughout history.
· Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician considered to have been the Father of Medicine, said: “Breathing is the basic rhythm of life.”
· Tibetan legend imagined, “Breath is the horse and mind is the rider.”
· In Kabbalistic teaching, “Breathing equals soul.”
· In Genesis 2:7, the Bible says that after forming man from dust, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
Although body-centered practices such as yoga, qigong and meditation have long emphasized attention to one’s breath, for skeptics of these ancient practices, learning to focus only on their breath makes more sense. A recent New York Times article reported that breath-work is becoming a discipline in its own right.
Your breathing reflects your state of mind and emotions. Focusing attention on your breath, typically felt either in the chest or abdomen, helps relieve psychological and physical pain. Learning to recognize and control one’s breathing is fundamental to the treatment of anxiety and panic attacks.
Chest breathing – especially when rapid shallow breathing is high in the chest – is common when you wear restrictive clothes, have poor posture or lead a sedentary or stressful life.
Abdominal breathing is usually even and non-constricting. The good news is that it is not possible to be anxious when you breathe abdominally.
Try this quick and proven method called Take Three Breaths. Athletes in the middle of competition testify to its winning results. It works anytime, anywhere when you remember to bring your attention to your internal sensations of breathing to the count of three breaths.
Three Consecutive Breaths
· Shift your focus away from the external and feel the physical sensations of breath expanding and contracting. You can feel this in your torso, your nose and even in the air moving around.
· Let your breathing continue naturally. Because your body is always breathing, simply observe and feel what is happening as you count three consecutive breaths.
· Keep as much of your attention on the feeling of breath as possible. You’ll have an opportunity for each successive breath to become increasingly more vivid.
· After the third breath, take note of whatever change has occurred. If you choose, continue your attention on three more breaths for further results.
Here is another way to breathe while slowing down to inititate healthy abdominal breathing.
· Breathing with intention while practicing progressive muscle relaxation can be done at your desk or in bed and just about any place when you feel the need to ground yourself and return to center.
· Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly and with attention and close your eyes as you take note of each muscle group for two to three seconds.
· Notice your breath as you gently tense and release one muscle group at a time starting with your feet and toes, moving your attention up to your knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes.
· You may want to repeat this exercise in reverse order – from head to toe while continuing to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
In my writing groups, we pause before each exercise to turn our attention inward and simply watch the breath without trying to control anything. This simple practice makes a difference in the content and quality of writing as well as in our body. Google breathing exercises and you’ll find many with different levels of difficulty.
New writing groups begin January 18th with more new groups in March. Contact Susan to be notified. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, Susan is approved to offer CEU’s to mental health counselors.
Dream Work Express – Online Class
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.
A Writer’s Legacy Lives On in Columbia, SC
October 20, 2017
An email from Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac noted that October 1st was the birthday of crime fiction superstar Elmore Leonard and spelled out his 10 Rules for Good Writing.
I’m curious when a list of writing tips catches my eye. What’s more, Leonard’s name was familiar, so I set out to learn more.
After a few mouse clicks, I discovered his famous 10 Rules for Good Writing right here in Columbia, SC, one document among many in the complete archive of his handwritten notebooks and manuscripts preserved on custom-made unlined yellow paper. What’s more, his typed manuscripts and screenplays are here along with the typewriter and the desk that he used.
In 2013, Leonard visited Columbia from his home near Detroit to accept the Thomas Cooper Medal for his lifetime achievement as a writer who, over 60 years, published more than 40 novels, most of them bestsellers. Adaptations of his books into dozens of movies and television shows include the 1995 film, Get Shorty and its 2005 sequel, the crime-comedy Be Cool, as well as Rum Punch, which became the film Jackie Brown.
The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in the Hollings Library at USC is the custodian for volumes of papers and artifacts from foremost writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Dickey and Pat Conroy among others.
During Elmore Leonard’s visit, he had the opportunity to hold in his hands and read works by two of his mentors, Hemingway and George V. Higgins. Early in his career, his reading of Higgins’ novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, influenced his decision to abandon writing Western short stories and concentrate on the crime novels that made him famous.
His son Peter Leonard said, “That got Dad’s attention. It really changed his outlook on writing. Hemingway and Higgins were the two influences in my father’s life.”
Leonard died August 20, 2013, only a few months after his decisive visit to Columbia when he chose USC as the permanent home for his archives.
Here are Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Good Writing written in his own no-frills style.
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said… he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke Loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t’ go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
He concluded, “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Many writers have created lists of their writing rules and had them published. Here is a small sample that I found by searching the Internet.
· “Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!” – Joyce Carol Oates
· “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London
· “Always carry a note-book. And I mean always.” – Will Self
· “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” – Ernest Hemingway
· “Don’t tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
Whether you are a writer, a would-be-writer or a seeker of writing wisdom, make a point to stop by the Thomas Cooper Library on the University of SC campus. Researchers from around the world have discovered this treasure and may be there working on the next iteration of writing rules.
Susan Hendricks leads guided journal writing groups in Columbia as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Journal Therapist and Certified Dream Group Leader. To contact Susan and learn more, go to www.susanhendricks.com or www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com
Calming Our Inner Storms
September 10, 2017
As I sit at my computer writing this article, Hurricane Irma is barreling our way. Fear and confusion keep interrupting my train of thought and need to concentrate.
Less than three weeks ago with the Solar Eclipse directly overhead, I felt entirely different. The spirit of that day was awe and amazement. I was totally at peace both inside and out.
All this week I’ve had trouble staying focused and clear-headed as if this huge outer storm is stirring up an inner whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. Is it simply not knowing what to expect, or could my confusion be mirroring the atmosphere all around us?
Early preparation was important before the eclipse – as it is right now for the approaching hurricane. Planning ahead is crucial – buying special glasses to protect your eyes or an extra supply of water or moving to another location.
Even minor events can blow up – far out of proportion. Have you planned for times of mental and emotional dislocation? Calming and centering yourself can be achieved through a variety of practices, from simply breathing deeply to meditation practices and prayer.
In my attempt to center and ground myself, I came up with an acronym that reminds me of an old song but with a different twist – “ABC – it’s easy as 1, 2, 3.”
I silently repeat, “A, B, C, D,” and with each letter, I feel into the meaning of each – Align, Breathe, Center, Down.
- Align my spine as I straighten out from my head down along my back, regardless of my position of sitting, standing or lying down.
- Breathe deeply concentrating on inhaling cool air into my nostrils and exhaling warmed breath as the body releases and relaxes.
- Center myself by bringing my attention to my ribcage and torso and noticing the movement as fully as possible.
- Down reminds me to feel my feet on the floor and notice where my body rests on any surface or where I feel the air circulating around me.
Howard Thurman, 20th century visionary, theologian and prolific author, has helped me learn to center down. Here are a few abbreviated lines found in the chapter, The Inward Sea in his book, Meditations of the Heart.
How good it is to center down!
To sit quietly and see one’s self pass by….
We look at ourselves in this waiting moment….
As we listen – floating up through all the jangling echoes
Of our turbulence
There is a sound of another kind –
A deeper note which only the stillness of the heart makes clear….
How good it is to center down!
In the middle of this poem-like meditation, Thurman inserts a list of questions that he says persist. Take some time to ponder each question? Or better yet, get your journal and write about the questions that intrigue you most.
- What are we doing with our lives?
- What are the motives that order our days?
- What is the end of our doings?
- Where are we trying to go?
- Where do we put the emphasis and where are our values focused?
- For what end do we make sacrifices?
- Where is my treasure and what do I love most in life?
- What do I hate most in life and to what am I true?
In his book, Thurman quotes from the diary of George Fox, 17th century philosopher and inspiration for the Quaker movement. “Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts…. whereby thou mayest receive the strength and power to allay all storms and tempest.”
Thurman adds, “This is an important result of the habitual use of quietism that a man can carry around inside of him… a central stillness of spirit that is so vital that it can tame the wildness out of almost any tempest, however raging it may be.” He adds, “Of course, the individual must desire this to happen.”
Susan Hendricks leads guided journal writing groups in Columbia, SC as a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Journal Therapist and Certified Dream Group Leader with over 20-years study and practice. For more, go to www.susanhendricks.com or www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com
The Kindred Spirit’s Mailbox-by-the-Sea
August 18, 2017
Coastal shorelines change and shift with the tides and storms, but some things manage to stay the same – with a little help from their friends.
A black mailbox staked in the dunes on the North Carolina side of Little River Inlet has withstood the assaults of Nature for over 38 years while it continued its unique mission. It has been on my wish-list to visit for a long time.
So a month ago, I hiked the long stretch of white sand beach beside Bird Island Reserve toward the inlet in search of this mysterious mailbox with its red flag always up. It sits among natural dunes separating the beach from the scrub oak-covered wetlands of the reserve. The only sounds were from wind and sea, wading birds and gulls.
The Kindred Spirit is more than a mailbox. It’s a wishing well, a treasure chest, and a psychotherapist, all in one. You can tell it anything and leave some of your heavy thoughts among the sand dunes as you walk away feeling better.
I brought paper and a pen to leave my message but didn’t need them after all. The mailbox is stuffed with composition books, with some pages still blank. Locals speculate that over 100,000 people have left messages here over the years.
I opened one notebook and read some of the entries written just before I arrived. A man assuring himself that life was still good since the recent death of his wife. A woman returning many times to ask for guidance. A child’s hand describing a great vacation. Everything from tears to cheers fill the pages and draw a vivid picture of our shared humanity.
I’ve written here before about the power of an Unsent Letter. Here you see a living example. The Kindred Spirit invites anonymous writing to relieve psychological pressure and untangle difficult decisions.
In a June 2015 article in North Carolina’s magazine, Our State, writer Katie Quine described, “Much of the mailbox’s magic is that those who write in its journals can remain as anonymous as they’d like to be… A blank page is an immeasurable gift in life, and the Kindred Spirit has journals filled with them. Redemption clings to the air like salt here, where friends of the Spirit trust it enough to confess wrongdoing, admit mistakes, and seek forgiveness.”
Some still think that the people responsible for this mailbox remain a mystery, but that’s no longer a secret. How else would we know about the special collection of journal pages conserved at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington library, its Facebook page, or published magazine and television news interviews?
It seems that 90-year-old, Frank Nesmith, was in on it from the beginning, although he gives credit to “Claudia,” a girlfriend from his youth with whom he kept in touch until her death in 2013. Her vision of a mailbox by the sea in the sand, inspired the two friends to plant their first mailbox at the north end of Sunset Beach. The shifting coastline forced them to move it to Bird island in 1983 where it has been ever since even though, at an earlier time, people had to swim across a tidal creek or wait for low tide to reach their destination.
It was also Claudia who named Kindred Spirit. In a letter to Frank, Claudia explained, “The Kindred Spirit is a way of being – not a person” and she signed it from “Your Friend, K.S.”
Do you want to know more? Go to Facebook’s page, “Kindred Spirit Mailbox,” and search Trip Advisor’s 100% ratings from visitors who have shared their thoughts with K.S.
And don’t miss this CBS News interview from June 23, 2014, with Frank Nesmith and his helper, Jacqueline DeGroot at http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/uncovering-the-mystery-of-the-kindred-spirit-mailbox/
It just might make your day!
Susan’s next journal writing groups begin September 7th. For information and to Register, click www.susanhendricks.com/events/new-fall-writing-groups-2017 Meetings are held in downtown Columbia, SC. Susan is a local Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist associated with www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com