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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Healing Spirit of Haiku

When I began to read the review copy of The Healing Spirit of Haiku I received from Wipf and Stock Publishers, I noticed the poet-authors, David Rosen and Joel Weishaus, provide clear entry into their topic in the Preface, establishing that they “both write haiku and know about the interconnections of haiku with Zen Buddhism, Shintoism, and Taoism.” In addition, they “have both lived and traveled in Japan, absorbing the healing spirit of haiku” at its very roots.

As you might have suspected by now, my roots entwine a variety of verse forms with Bible verses and Christian poetics, even though most of those poems do not mention Christ or Christianity. In other words, my beliefs color how I see the world – as do yours. So, for me, this might mean rose-colored drinking glasses in my kitchen cabinet or rose petals in a bouquet of ragweed.

At any rate, haiku is typically thought of as the poetry of Eastern religions, but it can be adapted – and has been – to Western thinking and religions, which made this book’s dual subjects of haiku and healing especially interesting to me.

As David Rosen explains in the Preface, “Haiku fits well with Carl Jung’s psychotherapeutic technique of active imagination in which meditation leads to setting ego aside so the unconscious can emerge and be integrated with the conscious in a transcendent function resulting in an artistic product.”

Again, the idea of meditation brings Eastern faiths to mind, whereas my mind wants to “Consider the lily,” as Jesus suggested. So whether we’re talking meditation or the healing power of poetry in general or the healing beauty of haiku in particular, we bring ourselves and our unique views to what we read and write.

In the Preface, Joel Weishaus explains, “When we speak of healing, we are not concerned with overcoming illness but of becoming whole. ‘Heal’ and ‘whole' share the same etymological roots,” which brought to my mind how the Greek word salvos refers to both salve and salvation and how being whole relates to wholeness and holiness, but, I digress.

Another interesting aspect of this book is its consistent format using haibun, which combines prose with haiku and, in essence, narrates the setting from which the haiku evolved. For instance, in “Being Alone,” David writes of “trudging through a harsh early mid-life crisis and a winter of much darkness and despair in the Spring of 1978” when he wrote his first haiku as an adult:

Dawn on a spring sea –
Then a glittering
From a thousand jumping fish

To this, Joel responds by relating his experience of being alone when a relationship ended, leaving him with these words:

In the dark bedroom,
I close my eyes
And wonder why

Alternating between brief prose narratives and their ensuing poems, the poet-authors touch on universal themes of life, death, loss, passion, and creativity. Considering the topic of “Leaving,” for example, Joel says, “David and I once discussed how leaving the home of one’s childhood and adolescence in order to make a new home, one with adult responsibilities, is the first step in the journey toward Maturity. You must leave in order to arrive, give up in order to receive. Although this process is more psychological than somatic, it often means moving physically too” as his poem goes on to illustrate:

Leaf glides down
Through morning fog –
A train’s distant whistle

The travels of both poets echo through these poetic pages of calls and responses, perching, for example, on St. Francis of Assisi and coaxing David to say, “I love Assisi! How appropriate to be in this sacred place as the United States prepared for war with Iraq.” With the “sound of birds and the Spirit of St. Francis… everywhere,” he wrote this haiku of the ultimate healing:

At Assisi
Silent olive branches –
Pray for peace

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poetry book reviewer and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press, and a book of Bible-based poems Outside Eden published by Kelsay Books

The Healing Spirit of Haiku, paperback


  1. Synchronicity and I am moved to say thank you Mary Harwell Sayler. You clearly understood our book. David H.Rosen

    1. Praise the Lord! Thanks for writing it, David, and thanks for your encouraging word here. God bless.