Watching Haiku: Cats

GoodFor years I’ve admired the following poem by Marco Fraticelli, which first appeared in Beyond Spring Rain: Haiku Canada 25th Anniversary Members’ Anthology, edited by LeRoy Gorman (Aylmer: Québec: Haiku Canada, 2002, page 13):

watching the cat
watching the bird
watching the butterfly

Later versions also appeared as follows:

watching the cat
watching  the  sparrow
watching   the   butterfly

I tend to prefer the more specific mention of a sparrow rather than a bird, but what’s your preference? Either way, the poem has made me more aware of other poems that capture a similar moment, of noticing someone or something that is noticing something else. It’s a sort of double or even triple awareness, sometimes circular, and the reader adds another level to it all by noticing the poem that notices the poet that notices something noticing something else. The following are additional examples of similar haiku, arranged by year, all celebrating the same shared insight in unique and independently created ways. In addition, each of these poems features cats. For other animals and people, also check out “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures” and “Watching Haiku: People.” The abundance of these poems demonstrates how common this experience is, making this commonality all the more celebratory.

Second coffee break:
I watch the cat watching
the twig-tapped window

This poem is part of a set of several haiku, “A Sequence of Hours,” published by Geraldine Clinton Little in Modern Haiku 4:2, 1973, page 14. The key detail of the poem is that this is a second coffee break, so the observer seemingly has more time to observe. Cats are inveterate watchers, too, especially when kept indoors, longing to go out.

a black cat’s eyes on us watching the silence in reeds and water

This poem, by Elizabeth Searle Lamb, appeared in Frogpond 4:2, 1981, page 4. The people indicated by “us” are watching the silence in the reeds and water, but surely the cat is too, even while it also has its eyes on its observers. We are caught in a moment of mutual observation, and we may contemplate what might happen next.

I watch the cat
watching
the empty corner

Debra Bryson’s poem, from Tidepool #1, 1984, page 42, mirrors other cat haiku collected here, in that the cat is paying attention to something it might eat or at least catch. In this case, the empty corner is where some creature used to be, perhaps a mouse or an insect, or where it might soon be again. As readers we are caught in that suspended moment, just as the cat is caught in its own suspense.

August morning—
watching me watch it,
the feral cat

Neca Stoller’s poem was published in Gerald England’s book, The Art of Haiku 2000 (Hyde, United Kingdom: New Hope International, 2000, page 7). Another cat being watched, with the cat watching the human, and both are probably wondering what the other is up to.

bay window
a persian cat watches me
watching her

We can easily imagine the watcher in this poem being outside, seeing that cat in a bay window, watching the person passing by. This poem, by Kirsty Karkow, appeared online in Haiku Harvest 2:1, January–April 2001.

spying in the bushes
watching a black cat
watching us

We may wonder what the cat in this haiku might be seeing. This poem, by Connor Brearley, was printed in Around Haiku: Celebrating Haiku: Words, Music, Visual Art (Leeds, United Kingdom: ArtForms / Education Leeds / British Haiku Society, 2006, page 7). In this case we have not just one observer but many, a plural “us” that makes this a shared experience beyond just the animal being observed.

robins watching me—
watching the cat watching me
watching the robins

It’s amazing how many of these watching/cat poems there are. This one, by J. D. Nelson, appeared on the Tinywords website on 4 May 2006. Here we can wonder if the robins are in danger from the cat, which may well be why the person is watching the robins—and the cat.

I watch my neighbor
Watch her cat that is watching
A fallen fledgling

This poem is by Lorraine Ward. It was the third-place winner in the 2008 Tokutomi Haiku Contest sponsored by the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, and first appeared Geppo XXXIII:4, July–August 2008, page 10. Tension again here, and danger to the fallen fledgling instead of to the observer. The poem offers a chain of attention, a chain that binds everyone and everything together, at least for a moment.

wire fence
cat watches the dog
watching her

G. R. LeBlanc’s poem appeared in Mainichi Daily News daily haiku selection online on 15 July 2010. This poem offers mutual uncertainty and surely apprehension, hence the close watching.

his last days at home
my son and I watch the cat
watching a bird

The anticipation in this poem and perhaps the danger awaiting the cat both echo with the idea of the son about to leave home. This poem by Deb Baker was published in Bottle Rockets #26, 2012, page 23.

watching the cat watch the rabbit
watching me

The writing team of Jan Conn, Mary di Michele, Susan Gillis, and Jane Munro, known as Yoko’s Dogs, produced this poem in their collaborative book Whisk (St. John’s, Newfoundland: Pedlar’s Press, 2013, page 65). The renku-like context called for a two-line poem, or they might have presented this verse in a more expected three lines. Yet something about the combination of “watching the cat” and “watch the rabbit” in the same line makes those elements more instantaneous. And then we have the turn to “watching me,” creating a full circle. This circle makes this poem differ from other examples, where only two things are watching each other, or a short litany of observers ends with something other than a return to the first observer. Again, a moment of tension—what will the cat do, and what will happen to the rabbit? But also, what about the person observing all of this? What will he or she do?

watching the cat’s eyes
watching me
watching the night

Here’s a poem by Jane Reichhold, from A Dictionary of Haiku (Gualala, California: AHA Books, second edition, 2013, page 212). The night may be foreboding to many people, but to a cat it’s an opportunity to explore, perhaps to hunt. But here the cat is no doubt confined to the house and cannot go out, yet it longs for the night, just as the person in the poem seems to long for something out in the darkness.

bird-watching
my neighbour’s cat
watches

The poet here, Ernest J. Berry, is engaged in bird-watching, and notices that the neighbor’s cat is watching him—perhaps not even aware of the birds that the poet sees. Or is the cat also watching the birds rather than the poet? The poem, which appeared in Berry’s book Getting On (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2016, page 43), engages us with that double possibility.

Watching the cat watch the pot smoke I just blew its way.

This poem, by Jonathan Hayes, appeared in the online haiku website called Haikuniverse (posted 30 December 2016). Cats seem to be disdainful about everything. Here, however, readers can’t help but imagine that the cat is particularly disdainful about the pot smoke. Whatever the case, the cat and the person in this poem are mutually observing each other, locked for a moment in the arms of attention.

lazy afternoon
watching a cat
watching the waves

Cats seem to appear in a great number of poems about watchers watching watchers—in contrast, I know of just one such poem about dogs (shared earlier). And here’s one more cat poem, by Bob Lucky, from Acorn #40, Spring 2018, page 52. We get a feeling for the day’s laziness if we have enough idleness to notice a cat that is staring, perhaps vacantly, at the waves. This might be by the ocean, or perhaps by a lake, but we easily get a sense of summer vacation from this poem, and may also wonder what the cat is thinking as it watches those waves—if it is thinking anything at all. In contrast to some of the other poems mentioned, this one does not present a tension or danger (I doubt the waves are any kind of threat). But still that watchfulness occurs, and the poet is watching too.

And so we take our turn saying what others have seen, and by doing so we join a dance of celebration. Watching cats watching something that catches their interest, just as the cat is catching our interest. We appreciate these poems because we’ve had similar experiences ourselves, or can empathize with them even if we haven’t. As writers, it is useful to be wary of keeping one’s poem from being too similar to what another person has already written, but if we remain true to our experience and let the poem speak of our own heart, our own voice and point of view, then we too can join the dance of every poetic subject imaginable. And thus we can easily agree with the poet Dobby Gibson, who wrote the following in his book Polar (Alice James Books, 2005):

It may be true that everything
has already been said,
but it’s just as true that not everyone
has had a chance to say it.

 

Note: Some poems do not appear with indented lines as originally published, due to a limitation in the WordPress blog software. See also “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures” and “Watching Haiku: People.”

 

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3 thoughts on “Watching Haiku: Cats

  1. Reblogged this on Frank J. Tassone and commented:
    #Haiku Happenings #1 (12/12/19): Michael Dylan Welch presents, and comments on, multiple haiku!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] my essay “Watching Haiku: Cats,” I offered sixteen poems about watching cats watch something else, sometimes with a circular sort of […]

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  3. […] are clearer than my description of this shared sort of experience. I’ve presented an essay on “Watching Haiku: Cats” and “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures,” and now it’s time to focus on people. Each one of […]

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