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Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, PACE Summer 2003

Michelle Ground

Tom Clausen’s Haiku

I picked Tom Clausen as my essay subject. I really like Tom’s haiku, they are very real and easy to understand and see the message he is portraying. He writes about events or moments that probably happen to most of us, but we just don’t realize it. Most of us, including myself, are so busy rushing around; we don’t stop to ‘smell the roses’. Tom’s haiku let me do just that. Reading some of them I thought to myself, ‘oh yeah I never realized that’. It was great. Tom has a way of capturing all the little events in life.

Tom Clausen grew up in Ithaca, New York. He works at his alma mater (1969-1973), Cornell University in the library. Before settling down with a family, Tom traveled Central and North America for 10 years. He did this by bicycle, bus, canoe, trains, cars, and by foot. Tom had always loved to write, but after having two children, he didn’t have the time to write as much and that is when he turned to haiku. He has published three chapbooks “Autumn Wind In the Cracks” (1994), “Unraked Leaves” (1995), “A Work of Love” (1997), and “Standing Here” (1998).

I have chosen nine of my favorite, and discussed why I like them and what they mean to me.

park twilight—
a light comes on
by itself

I like this one because I can just feel myself there alone, deep in thought, not noticing anything around me, and suddenly the park light comes on and you realize you have been there for quite awhile. Maybe even what I was in such deep thought about, finally becomes clear and I have and answer or understanding to the problem at hand. The light could represent the light going off in your head and you are say, “oh-yeah”.

standing here
at this window, remembering mother
standing here

This one is quite sad because he is remembering his mother who probably stood at that window many, many times. Maybe it is the kitchen window in her house and now she has passed on. This could be right after the funeral and he goes back to the house and is remembering all the things mother did. I have done this before when my daughter is at her dad’s house for the weekend. I am missing her so I will go sit on her bed and replay some of things she does in her room and it makes me smile. Hopefully this guy was smiling from happy memories of his mother standing there.

on the trail again . . .
walking deeper
into myself

This one is probably my favorite. I love going hiking in the woods; the smells, the sounds, the peaceful serenity of it. Even when I am with someone I find myself going into deep thought, and the more I walk the deeper in thought I go. Walking in the woods is very meditating for me. I find myself thinking of all kinds of things. Relationships, or what I want to do with my life. It’s great. I can just feel the coolness of the shade and the sunlight peeking through the trees every now and then. I can feel the bumpiness of the trail and having to concentrate on where I am walking or I will probably trip on a tree root and fall on my face. I can hear the birds singing and talking to each other, and something crackling in the leaves on the ground. I get nervous because I don’t know what or who is out there, but then it stops and I go on my merry way again. I feel as if summer is almost over and fall will soon begin because I can see the leaves turning colors slightly. Tom puts me in such peaceful mood reading this one. Good job Tom!

one tree
on bird, one song
the dusk

This one gives me the feeling of spring. The days are getting later and the birds are coming out and it is getting warmer. I can just hear the one bird singing his favorite song to me as the sun is going down. Maybe the bird is looking for a mate? I can see this being a pretty bird like a yellow finch, or a bright red cardinal. His brilliant colors making him stick on in this tree. After thinking about this one, I realized you usually only hear one bird at a time. I have a tree right outside my bedroom window and one bird usually serenades me. Only the bird is loud and doesn’t have a very pretty song to sing me at 6:00 in the morning. Tom gives me a sense of peace with this haiku also. I like the way he stops to notice the little things and to let his readers go there with him.

reading her letter—
suddenly aware of the look
on my face

I really like this one also. It paints a very vivid picture in my mind of a man reading a “Dear John” letter and his mouth is wide open with shock and despair that she is leaving him. He probably is rereading that one line over again that put that look on his face and then he thinks about it and realizes that he mouth is wide open and he hasn’t blinked for a minute. He shakes off the initial shock and then starts rereading again. I have done this people watching before, where I find myself staring at someone and then realizing my mouth is wide open, so I look around to see if anyone saw me and then I shake it off and try not to stare again. I get the feeling this is not a good newsletter and I feel sorry for the man reading it. He probably has to sit down to stop his knees giving out on him. I get the feeling his life is going to change drastically and that although sometimes that is good, I am not getting that feeling here.

back at the office
after sick leave—
watering her plant

This one is my office. If I were gone for a while, I would be lucky if my co-workers even noticed I was gone let alone water my plant. I don’t have any plants at work, but if I did they would be dead by the time I got back. This haiku made me chuckle. I can just picture this poor women coming back and the last thing she wants to see is her poor plant dying even though there is a sea of people around, no one was thoughtful enough to take care of her plant. Just goes to show that people are inconsiderate. I hope I am not this person and would water someone’s plant if they were gone.

the only car ahead
turns off

I picture this one as someone driving a long time to go see a loved one maybe and it is getting dark and they are in the middle of nowhere on a highway. They have been following this car for quite a ways and then this person has finally reached their destination and gets off and the driver of this car now is all by themselves; wishing they were at their destination. It is a very lonely haiku and we probably all know how this driver feels to be the only person on the road, just you and your thoughts. I do like this haiku though. It reminds me of when I drive the 5 hours to go see my mom and dad. It is light when I leave here and dark when I get there. By the time it hits twilight, I am ready to be out of the car and with my family.

a child standing guard
over a last little bit
of snow

This haiku reminds me of me when I was a kid and it had snowed and spring was coming so you knew this could be the last snow of the season. The sun is out and the snow is melting and this could be the snowman that was made and now the last of him is about to melt away. It represents to me a changing of the seasons, a long cold winter is turning into spring. I like this haiku because it has such an innocence to it. Like the child looking at the snow doesn’t realize that the snow will once again come next year. The child is probably sad that the snow is leaving us for warmer weather.

waiting to see
the odometer’s big change . . .
missed it!

I really like this haiku, it cracks me up because it is so true. I have done this many times before and have missed the big change and then I have to wait for the next big change. I don’t even notice how many miles are on my car, and then one day I will notice that I am close to another 10,000 miles, but then will forget to look again and the next time I look it will be over. I like this haiku because it tells me that I am not the only one who notices these little things in life.

Tom’s haiku have such an insight into everyday life. Most of us just go through the day without stopping to smell the roses, but Tom points these little things out, and it makes me stop to think about these little things of life. That is what I like. I have noticed since taking this class that I try and take notice of the little things that happen during the day, just to see if I can make a haiku about my day. I think that is what Tom has done, and I want to thank him for reminding me that it is the little things in life that are important.

—Michelle Ground