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Self Poetry

In 1906, one of Japan’s most celebrated writers, Natsume Soseki, published his first big hit, Kusa Makura (The Grass Pillow). Below is an excerpt in which the main character ruminates on the nature of emotion.

This quote shows how writing simple poetry assists self inquiry and emotional regulation. It takes place as the poet, unable to sleep, lies on his futon overcome with fear.

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How, I wondered, could you regain a poetical frame of mind at times like this?

I came to the conclusion that it could be done only if you could take your feelings and place them in front of you and then taking a pace back to give yourself the room to move that a bystander would have and examine them calmly and with complete honesty.

The poet has an obligation to conduct a post mortem on his own corpse and to make public his findings as to any disease he may encounter. There are many ways in which he may do this, but the best and certainly the most convenient, is to try and compress every single incident into the seventeen syllables of a Hokku (haiku). Since this is poetry in its handiest and most simple form, it may be readily composed while you are washing your face, or in the lavatory, or on a tram.

When I say it may be readily composed, I do not mean it in any derogatory sense. On the contrary, I think it a most praiseworthy quality, for it makes it easy for one to become a poet; and to become a poet is one way to achieve supreme enlightenment. No, the simpler it is the greater its virtue.

Let us assume that you are angry: you write about what it is that has made you lose your temper, and immediately it seems as if it is someone else’s anger that you are considering. Nobody can be angry and write a Hokku at the same time.

Likewise, if you are crying, express your tears in seventeen syllables and you will be happy. No sooner are your thoughts down on paper, than all connection between you and the pain which caused you to cry is severed, and your only feeling is one of happiness that you are a man capable of crying…

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Prose journaling is a good exercise for illuminating what’s in your conscious mind, but Self Poetry takes introspection two steps further. It not only helps balance the left and right hemispheres by accessing the left for a linear narrative and the right for emotional memories and creativity, but integrates and gives voice to unconscious material stored in other parts of the brain.

And as Jane Hirshfield notes, “Making a poem is neither a wholly conscious activity nor an act of unconscious transcription — it is a way for new thinking and feeling to come into existence, a way in which disparate modes of meaning and being may join. This is why the process of revising a poem is no arbitrary tinkering, but a continued honing of the self at the deepest level.”

I urge you to try to write your own haiku! Write three lines. The first of five syllables, the second of seven and the third again of five. Below are a some I wrote. Indeed, it is difficult to remain upset and write a haiku at the same time!—MR

Crumpled deer carcass
thrown to the side of the road
like an old brown coat.

Blanketing leaves, snow
bends the black bamboo outside
my dressing-room door.

Easter, Mountain Lake.
Harlequin ducks sink and rise,
ripening silence.

Moon of my longing
hanging over Crow Valley
waxing and waning.

September 27th, 2009 | Permalink

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