- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Hyperion; 1st. ed edition (July 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786862424
- ISBN-13: 978-0786862429
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #222,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Seeds From a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and The Spiritual Journey Hardcover – July 1, 1997
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Infused with hearty Zen wisdom and proceeding at a deliberately unhurried pace, Seeds from a Birch Tree attempts to make the poetry of nature into an easily accessible refuge from the fast pace of the technological world. Clark Strand, an English teacher who has lived as a Zen Buddhist monk, has written an engaging book that weaves personal memoir with poetry instruction. The book is well written if unusual, a happily meandering series of lessons that encourage the reader to appreciate how the writing and reading of haiku can become a very practical meditative process.
From Library Journal
The subtle simplicity of haiku depends on the complex balance of structure, object, image, and impression. The 17-syllable poem combines two phrases, arranged in three lines; balanced by a pause that presents the picture of a seasonal object as it exists for the poet, the poem demands freshness and a total lack of pretension. To achieve such a response is an ongoing process, suggests Strand, a Zen Buddhist monk, senior editor of Tricycle, and founder of New York Haikukai. Writing haiku is a meditation for this process, a spiritual journey toward an understanding of the world and the poet's place in it. Strand maintains that progressing toward spirituality and writing haiku are interdependent and mutually beneficial. Libraries that need a basic introduction to haiku should turn to The Essential Haiku (LJ 6/1/94). Strand's slim volume focuses more on the struggle to maintain spiritual discipline.?Denise S. Sticha, Seton Hill Coll. Lib., Greensburg, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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It should however be said that Strand's approach to haiku is heavily influenced by his experiences and schooling in the teachings of Zen. It should also be mentioned that Strand belongs to the Shiki school that believes haiku are "sketches of life". This is one viewpoint; there are many other valid ones. Shiki stated that most of the haiku written by the painter Buson were excellent while most of the haiku written by the philosopher Basho were mediocre, but it appears that Strand parts paths with Shiki on this point. He likes Basho's approach as well and quotes his own Zen master's haiku in the book, a type of haiku much closer to the Basho school than to the type of haiku Buson and Shiki and their successors wrote.
My favorite example from Strand's book of the "sketch approach" is the following haiku by Ken Stec:
Oars flash in the sun: at the center of the lake two men cease to row
My favorite example from the book using the "philosophical approach" is the following haiku by Strand's Zen Master, Soen Roshi:
hana no yo no hana no yoh naru hito bakari
in a universe flowering with sentient beings each being flowering
Strand has a very disciplined approach and thus strongly defends the 5-7-5 syllable pattern in writing haiku in English. He makes some good arguments, but makes the serious mistake of comparing English language syllables with Japanese jion (sound beats) which are shorter in length. It has been proven that 17 jion are the equivalent in sound length to about 11-14 syllables in English. He also fails to mention that the Japanese use three words for punctuation: ya, kana, and keri instead of using the dash, comma, colon, semi-colon, exclamation mark, and ellipsis used in English. Comparing these two systems with one another is like comparing pineapples with pine trees.
Strand also fails to mention urban haiku for city-dwellers (he only includes a couple of mild examples in his book) and important issues such as the degradation of the environment. Today we have acid rain, polluted skies and seas, contaminated rivers and frog ponds, golf balls on the moon, disappearing rain forests, extinct and endangered plant and animal species, thousands of skin cancer cases due to the depleted ozone layer, etc. all of which most of us on this planet are deeply affected by today and are therefore legitimate topics for inclusion in haiku. The pristine beauty of the natural environment in the days of Basho passed long ago.
But these criticisms should not be overweighed; the book is a very enjoyable reading experience for anyone who is interested in haiku and/or Zen and includes four helpful exercises that anyone can easily try out as an experiment. For me, the book reaches a peak in about the middle. My favorite chapters are Cockscombs, Daisies, and Sound. These three chapters alone are worth the price of the book; they are priceless! Sound is only about a page long, but contains the key to writing really good haiku. Want to know what it is? Buy the book and find out!
But different parts of the book, fifty short chapters in all, will appeal to a wide range of people for different reasons. Clark Strand is a good teacher. He has a gentle and intimate approach and like all really great teachers, teaches from his own experiences and practices what he preaches. It is a bit curious that Strand has not come out with a book of his own haiku yet nor an anthology of his follower's haiku. I certainly hope that all of us won't have to wait too much longer. However, Seeds From a Birch Tree, a book long overdue, was well worth the wait.
Rather than provide a dry analytical discussion, Strand explains the ground rules and encourages the reader to try his/her hand at writing haikus. He also discusses how to turn haiku writing into an everyday spiritual practice.
My only complaint is that Strand did not include a larger number of classic haiku. But then again Strand never promised an anthology.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, especially a non-poet or non-writer, looking for a creative outlet or considering haiku. A better introduction cannot be found anywhere else.
The problem? the subtitle promises more than it gives "writing haiku and the spiritual journey" for spiritual journey is limited to the author's own Zen journey, the description of which, gives the reader little confidence in the author's qualifications. From the poems of Sister Benedicta he includes, I'd rather read the same material as written by her. I say that in the context of being a Westerner and a Catholic who is also both a haiku poet and a Buddhist scholar.
From the other reviews of this book, I observe that several individuals highly recommend this book - if their reviews entice you to read this, don't let my lack of enthusiasm disuade you.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I expected a little more.