The “Ordinary” Haiku Poet

First published in Woodnotes #25, Summer 1995, pages 4–5. See also Taking the Ordinary Seriously and “Ordinary Lives.

 

Earle Joshua Stone, of Palm Desert, California, died on November 5, 1994. I do not know Earle and have never met him. I know him only by the consistency of his poetry, and through his haiku book Song of the Toad. In addition to being a poet and writer, he was a bonsai enthusiast and stone carver, and enjoyed sumi-e brush painting and collecting Asian art. While he is surely missed by family and friends, his passing is no more remarkable than the deaths of many other poets over the years who have enjoyed haiku. Because of this unsung nature, Earle Joshua Stone is a fitting example of an “ordinary” haiku poet. Such poets, though perhaps not widely known, make an important contribution to haiku that is worth remembering.

        I myself do not write 5-7-5 haiku, nor would I deliberately choose to. Earle Stone did. But that is not important. What is important in the life of Earle Stone, an arbitrary symbol for many who have written haiku, is that he did write haiku. Long after such things as season-word and definition debates have faded into silence, there is much to be said for the simple choice or innate calling to follow the haiku path. To see things—to really observe with a haiku eye—is a lifestyle choice, perhaps even a character trait, that unites all haiku poets. When a “major” haiku poet dies, as with Nick Virgilio or John Wills, we remember their lives, their poetry, their great contributions to our literature. But when an “ordinary” haiku poet dies, something equally valuable also dies, something that is too frequently forgotten.

        What is the value of the ordinary? In haiku, our images are ordinary, our moments are commonplace. We make them extraordinary through keen perception and careful implication. Our haiku are moments of heightened awareness. Yet still they celebrate the ordinary. But another kind of ordinary infuses the haiku poet’s life. It is the day-to-day mode of deep awareness, not just the catching of a phrase that becomes a haiku, but an interconnectedness with nature, with ourselves, and with others that has little to do with poetry. Deep awareness of life is far more important than poetry. We often express this awareness through haiku (or perhaps painting or photography), but keen observation and empathy for existence is an end unto itself. It is, I think, where all the best haiku originate. That is the value of the ordinary, to know and appreciate now.

        I do not know to what extent Earle Stone wrote haiku. Did he carry a notebook with him? How often did he record his emotions and ideas through the images of haiku? All I know is that he contributed his poems to a few haiku journals and made his own haiku book unique by individually illustrating all 550 of the verses included. But I imagine that haiku for him, as it is with so many, was a daily commune with nature and the nature of the self, a recurring meditation, a daily reconnection with life. This is ordinary, yet deeply valuable. Every once in a while maybe haiku poets need a reminder of this value, and perhaps the simple passing of one of the many poets among us serves as this reminder. Life, like haiku, is fleeting.

        I do not write these words for the purpose of now singing praises for Earle Joshua Stone. Rather, I would like to emphasize the valuable ordinariness of many unsung haiku lives. In the great fabric of poetry, the haiku strands are many-coloured. Each one adds to the warmth and beauty of this garment we choose to wear. Lives such as Earle Stone’s strengthen this fabric, and I am grateful for it, for his assertive colours, and for the bold and quiet strands added by so many others.

        As each of us writes haiku and continues to notice nature and our individual human nature, we write our own threads into poetry’s fabric. And no matter how we may or may not be “rewarded” by contest results or the publication of our poems, it is always the ordinariness of our attraction to haiku, keen observation, and an enthusiasm for everyday life that buoys us all up, individually and collectively. Most of these strands are hidden, and not motivated by ego, yet they may reward the self, and perhaps a few others unselfishly. These are the strong-horse strands in our poetic fabric, the foundation upon which haiku stands. Thus the ordinary and even unsung haiku poet enjoys much deeper—if more private—rewards. But those rewards lie at the root of what makes haiku valuable. Everything else is just gravy.

 

                Tomorrow I leave

                Beautiful plum tree in snow

                will you follow me?

 

                                —Earle Joshua Stone