The Story of a Haiku

Simon Hanson from the Australian Haiku Society asked if I would like to write the back story to one of my haiku. I was happy to oblige and the AHS recently included the result in one of their postings. I have reproduced my haiku story here . . .

In late 2016 I visited the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), located in Hobart, Tasmania. MONA is an internationally acclaimed institution that attracts visitors from around the globe.

The exhibits at MONA are often confronting and always challenging as its modern art offerings constantly play games with perceptions and expectations.

Marcel Duchamp famously declared ‘It’s not what you see that is art, art is the gap’. That is to say, when an onlooker views a painting or other artwork, the brain is energised and makes a mental leap that completes the artistic process. In this regard, MONA stimulates the mind with a barrage of high-voltage art.

You might expect the ‘old’ art at MONA, including Egyptian and other antiquities, would be hidden away in a separate gallery. But no, the old art intermingles with the new in a way that gives each work a fresh and unexpected context.

Some exhibits, such as Snake by Australian artist, Sidney Nolan, utilise scale and repetition for their impact. Snake comprises over 1,600 separate images with gradual colour variations depicting a snake weaving 44 metres along a wall.

Gregory Piko, dwarfed by Sidney Nolan’s Snake

Other exhibits invite us to contemplate peaceful, minimalist offerings based on a dinner bowl, or a coat hanger. One very popular installation, bit.fall by German artist Julius Popp, displays a single word at a time. Formed in droplets that fall two storeys to the ground, each word is selected in real-time from those trending on the Internet. The fresh smell of water in the air, the sound of water hitting the ground and the anticipation as we await the next offering, combine to create a curiously hypnotic effect.

bit.fall by Julius Popp

Intrigued by the juxtaposition of old and new art, and inspired by the presentation of a single word as art, I began to develop a minimalist poem of my own. The result, first published in Modern Haiku (Vol. 48.3, 2017), was:


I was hoping this small poem would encourage readers familiar with haiku to contemplate the progress of the haiku genre stretching from the 17th century to the 20th century. For this poem alludes both to an old classic haiku and a new classic. The old classic, of course, being the following poem by Japanese haiku master, Matsuo Basho (this translation by Jane Reichhold):

an old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

While the new poem is the minimalist classic by American haiku poet, Cor van den Heuvel:


van den Heuvel’s poem was intended to be displayed on an otherwise empty page, where the onlooker could relate to the single word surrounded by an expanse of white.

When viewed on a printed page (or on a screen), my poem may be effective in alluding both to Basho and van den Heuvel, but I like to think the onlooker would have added layers for contemplation if coldpond were displayed as a vertical sheet of water droplets descending from Popp’s bit.fall.