Also living in New York state, but tending to write haiku about more cheerful, domestic scenes, is Tom Clausen. Though he treats the ups and downs of marriage and being a parent, his experience seems to have been that the ups seem to make up for the downs. He first learned of haiku in the early 1980s when a friend gave him the “Autumn” book of R.H. Blyth’s four-volume Haiku. Though he was interested, he did not seriously take up the genre until 1988, after he read an article about Ruth Yarrow, who was then living in Ithaca, N.Y.
Clausen has lived almost all his life in Ithaca. He was born there on August 1, 1951, and lives there now, in his childhood home with his wife and two children (and two cats). He writes that his parents encouraged him to keep a journal at a very young age. By the time he went to college he was “well into the habit of writing to record experiences and to find expression for thoughts and feelings in solitude.” After college (Cornell University, 1973) he took a series of bicycle trips in North and Central America and helped develop his literary skills by writing letters about his experiences on the road. By 1980 he had begun to write what he “hoped were poems.”
Many of Clausen’s haiku are about his family and his relationships with his children and his wife. This emphasis may show Yarrow’s influence on his work. Here is a senryu about his daughter and another about his wife and cat, which presumably refers to something the poet has said (or it could be understood as a small child mimicking an adult):
after speaking importantly
she quickly resumes
sucking her thumb
to the cat
“that’s complete and
Haiku has consistently appealed to me as a means of centering, focusing, sharing, and responding to a life and world bent on excess. As the layers of my own life have accumulated, I’ve often felt overwhelmed by both personal changes and the mass of news, information, and survival requirements that come with being human these days. Haiku are for me a means of honoring and celebrating simple yet profound relationships that awaken in us, with a gentle and silent inner touch, a spiritual relevance that adds meaning to our lives.
He, too, has practiced Zen meditation and looks on haiku as a tool for “spiritual tuning and guidance, shining light on the way we go.”
Clausen joined the Haiku Society of America and Haiku Canada in 1988. He sometimes attends HSA meetings in New York City where he has had contact with such poets as Stevenson, Dee Evetts, and L.A. Davidson. He has self-published three small chapbooks of his haiku, in 1994, 1995, and 1998. A collection of his tanka, A Work of Love, was published in 1997 by Tiny Poems Press. In 2000 Snapshot Press in England published Homework, a book of his haiku. It was a small collection about, once again, family life. Clausen also writes haiku with a more traditional focus on nature. Here are two: the first one has a very strong sense of sabi and the second shows a bonding with the world of wild nature—and more sabi.
the only car ahead
snow flurrying . . .
the deer, one by one, look back
before they vanish
excerpt from an essay in Modern Haiku- “American Haiku’s Future” by Cor van den Heuvel
Modern Haiku v. 34: no.3 2003 Autumn