A surprising number of haiku present the experience of someone or something watching someone or something else that, in turn, is watching someone or something. Sound complicated? The following example poems, fortunately, are clearer than my description of this shared sort of experience. I’ve presented essays on “Watching Haiku: Cats” and “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures,” and now it’s time to focus on people. Each one of these haiku, created independently, offers its own celebration of a common experience, and it’s this very sort of commonality that makes haiku poetry rewarding to both write and to read. All poems are arranged by year.
watching my daughter
watching her daughter washing
her doll’s white socks
The preceding poem by Louise Beaven appeared in The Haiku Hundred (North Shields, United Kingdom: Iron Press 1992, page 15), a book edited by David Cobb, James Kirkup, and Peter Mortimer. A common variation of these “watching” haiku is one generation watching another watching something else, which we see here. And although the youngest daughter is “washing” rather than watching, we know that her doll is being watched too.
as you watch
Jocelyne Villeneuve’s poem, from Marigolds in Snow (Waterloo, Ontario: Penumbra Press, 1993, page 54) takes place indoors, where she’s watching a friend or loved one. We get the sense, too, that the poet might be feeling a little bored, or wishes she could interact with the other person because the television show isn’t nearly as interesting.
watching strangers across the way
watching televised war
Another television poem. This one from New Cicada 10:1, Summer 1993, page 5, is by Norma C. Plummer. Readers cannot quite know exactly what “across the way” means (a road, an alley, a gap between tenements?), but whatever the interpretation we do see the watching of those strangers watching war on television. Perhaps the author is weary of that war, and can watch its unfolding no longer, yet she cannot get away from seeing others who are still watching it.
I watch my mother
watch my husband’s
The preceding poem by Diane Tomczak appeared in Brussels Sprout XII:2, May 1995, page 16. There’s surely a wagging finger in that stare, isn’t there? And we can wonder what might happen next. Will the husband instinctively slow down, or will the mother speak up in concern? Or will the wife beat her to it?
First China trip
Watching people watching me
We often watch creatures in nature to see what they’re doing. Here the creature being watched is a tourist, who in turn watches those who are watching her. The poet is D. Ronnie Barrett, and the poem was published in A Solitary Leaf, the 1996 Haiku Society of America members’ anthology edited by Randy M. Brooks and Lee Gurga (page 8).
in the river reflection
he watches himself
watch the sunset
This poem appeared in 1997 in the Australian poetry journal Paper Wasp. Poet Alan J. Summers gives us someone watching himself. And yet that “himself” is not the poet, but someone the poet is seeing—and he is surely empathizing with that person’s introspection (self-reflection). The sunset must be reflecting in the water too. I’m not quite sure how the person watching a sunset (far away in the distance, with eyes looking up) could also watch himself in a river’s reflection (close by, with eyes cast down), so the logic is not quite solid with this poem, unless we take it to mean the person watches himself in the river’s reflection after he has just been watching the sunset—they cannot quite happen at the same time.
the sculptor and his head of clay
watching each other
Tomislav Mijović’s poem was published in Knots (Tolmin, Slovenia: Prijatelj Haiku Press, 1999, page 132), edited by Dimitar Anakiev and Jim Kacian. Here we have an inanimate but anthropomorphized object watching a human, a different take on this watching theme. One kind of watching is literal, the other figurative.
watching her watch
on the way to the pawn shop
Dwight L. Wilson’s poem appeared in “Family Sequence,” in A Half-Moon Shining: Haiku from an African-American/Quaker Perspective (Princeton, New Jersey: Leopard Press, 1999, page 51). In this case the “watch” is a timepiece (a noun rather than a verb) so not strictly connected to the commonality of someone watching something watch something else, but I include it here for being in the ballpark. It’s a sad poem where the watch is being watched . . . for the last time (pun intended).
watching my daughter
watch her daughter
miss the basket
This poem is by Nina Wicker, and it appeared in Frogpond 22:3, 1999, page 44, and also in Wild Again: Selected Haiku (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2005, page 24). Here we have a hint of empathy—more than a hint. The grandparent feels love, surely, for her daughter, who is so intent on paying attention to her own daughter, perhaps worrying how the youngest daughter feels after missing a shot in a game of basketball. Even if no words are exchanged, or no pat on the back offered, the youngest daughter no doubt feels the support of her mother and grandmother who are both present to watch the game—and watch over their youngest.
a neighbour I have never seen
watching the eclipse
Seán O’Connor’s poem appeared in Haiku Spirit #19 in March 2000. In this case the poet’s act of watching is not explicitly stated. However, it’s clearly implied that the poet is watching his neighbour watch the eclipse. A small tension arises in that the poet has never seen this person before, yet we also feel that they have at least a small bond in both appreciating the eclipse. Perhaps, too, this neighbor is not known to the poet because something else has been “eclipsing” the poet’s view of his neighbour, such as that neighbour being reclusive.
a short pause
watching tourists watch me
I have no publication credit for this poem (it came to me via Charles Trumbull’s haiku database—thanks, Charlie), but it would have been written before August of 2003, which was when Kylan Jones-Huffman, its author, had died—a casualty of the war in Iraq. Here the focus of attention is on rappelling, and in this case the poet is doing the activity rather than watching someone or something else do something. The poet becomes aware that others are watching him and for a moment he is watching them watching him. And thus the reason they are watching him, rappelling down a mountain face or climbing wall, is probably no longer happening at that moment. But after that pause he will begin rappelling again.
waiting for bats
you notice me
Malcolm Williams published this poem in Presence #26 in 2005. Here we have noticing instead of watching, but still we have one person seeing someone else watching him or her. This contrasts intriguingly with the context of bats, creatures that notice their prey by echolocation instead of by sight. The bats, however, are not being watched, but two people notice each other while waiting for the unseen bats. We can imagine that both of the people are hoping the bats will fly soon, presumably at dusk. Because the bats are not present in the poem, this is more of a people poem that a creature poem.
watching people watching
the blind man
This poem, by Helen Buckingham, was an award-winning haiku in the English section of the ninth Suruga-Baika Literary Prize in 2007. All the other example watching poems here are about the act of seeing, but this time the poem presents someone who cannot see. The viewer is apparently under the shade of a linden tree, most likely in a place of comfort and repose, where it is easy to watch other people who are watching a blind man—who is perhaps not at ease at all.
watch someone else
This two-liner by Philomene Kocher appeared in a renku (linked collaborate verse) titled “Crows Return.” It was published in Haiku Canada Review 4:1, February 2010, and was originally written at the Haiku Canada weekend in May of 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario. Though not intended as a standalone haiku, its juxtaposition with the preceding verse, by Christine Nelson, has an amusing haiku-like effect: “her bathing suit / rides up / and has sand in it.”
the window washer
watching us watching him
Ed Markowski’s poem tied for eighth place in the Shiki Internet Kukai (anonymous haiku contest) in November of 2008. The window washer is the source of attention, and we may immediately worry about being up at such heights. Such risks have become ordinary and accepted by the window washer, but perhaps the window washer watches the people below with a touch of envy, not necessarily to be on the ground but to be idle enough to not be working. Over and over, these “watching” poem imply empathy for a nearby person or animal.
I watch her on the balcony
This poem, by A. Thiagarajan, appeared in Modern Haiku 40:1, Winter–Spring 2009, page 88. It preserves that moment of appreciating someone else appreciating a natural phenomenon. It must be a beautiful sunrise, and the love or admiration that one person surely has for the other must be more beautiful yet. There’s an unspoken love here, in that one person might feel a deeper pang of love when seeing someone he or she loves appreciate something beautiful that he or she also appreciates.
watching his face
watching the moon
a passing cloud
Pat Benedict Campbell wrote this poem. It appeared on the DailyHaiku website on 4 May 2009, and later in her book The Alchemy of Tea (Carleton Place, Ontario: Catkin Press, 2019, page 39). Here we have a moon poem—the moon is so much more watchable than the sun. There’s an overtone of love in this haiku. As with the previous poem, the poet sees someone else watching the moon, and surely admiring it. And when a cloud passes over the moon, surely a “cloud” also passes over the face of the male being watched. The sense of love comes to mind because of an inherent empathy for that moment of loss because of the passing cloud. The unstated emotions of the observed person seem to extend to the concern of the observer as they both share this moment together, but in different ways.
watching my son
watching his son
Quendryth Young published this poem in the online German haiku journal Chrysanthemum, in issue #6, October 2009. Here we have intergenerational attention, and no doubt pride. So often in these poems the connection between human watchers is between generations.
I catch him
watch someone else
The word “catch” suggests an interpersonal relationship between the “me” and “him.” Did someone attractive catch the poet’s eye? The poem does not say “he catches me / watch someone else,” which would suggest guilt on the poet’s part for being caught. Instead, the poet catches someone else catching her watching someone else, which complicates the nature of the relationship. Is the “him” jealous, perhaps? We may also infer any number of possibilities for who the “someone” is—is it a child at a playground, a cute guy at a bar, a skater pirouetting in a competition? But quite aside from that, the poet has “caught” someone noticing her noticing something else, and the poem draws us into that moment. This poem by Philomene Kocher appeared in Hearing the Silence (Pointe Claire, Québec: King’s Road Press, 2011, page 14). Also note that this haiku echoes Philomene’s renku verse from 2008, quoted earlier.
Come in her nightgown
to watch the moon—
I watch her . . .
We turn from possible jealousy to love. David E. LeCount’s poem appeared in his book La Honda Journal (El Granada, California: Day’s Eye Press and Studios, 2011, page 13). When the poet and his lover (so it seems) both go out to look at the moon, he finds her the more attractive option. The word “nightgown” also gives the poem a potentially erotic overtone. No wonder he is watching her instead of the moon.
she watches his eyes
undressing someone else
This poem, by Cameron Mount, brings to mind an earlier one by Philomene Kocher, but more overtly suggests guilt and eroticism. Cameron’s poem appeared in Frogpond 35:2, Spring–Summer 2012, page 49. That approaching squall is not just a rainstorm but quite likely a storm of protest from the woman in this poem.
I catch her
watching me . . .
pitch on my fingers
Bill Pauly published this poem in Modern Haiku 44:2, Summer 2013, page 96. The poet is obviously busy at an important task, working with his hands, and the only clue as to what the task might be is the word “pitch.” Perhaps it’s also dangerous, which might be why the female is watching him carefully. Or perhaps she’s just admiring him for being industrious, doing whatever the work is, whether it’s dangerous or not. Either way, there’s a connection, with the “catching” having nothing to do with guilt, unlike Philomene Kocher’s earlier poem.
watching people watching me
This poem by Ben Moeller-Gaa appeared in the German online journal Chrysanthemum #14 in October of 2013. This is a common inner-city experience, but it could be anywhere—we’re always watching each other, or at least aware of each other because of our increasingly close proximity.
watching the machine
Jane Reichhold’s poem, from her book A Dictionary of Haiku (Gualala, California: AHA Books, second edition, 2013, page 252) lets us imagine what the machine might be in the intensive care unit. Perhaps it’s an ultrasound machine. Or perhaps it’s a machine providing medication, sustenance, or some other benefit, and thus “watching over” her. Or is it a closed-circuit video recorder, for security or safety purposes? Whatever it might be, the poet is watching back.
losing her mind—
watching a woman
as she watches herself
This poem, by Fran Witham, appeared in Bottle Rockets #31, 16:1, 2014, page 19. The poet is watching a woman who is somehow watching herself—we don’t know how. Nor do we know how the watched woman might be losing her mind, but that fact or presumption is offered as a given. Perhaps the act of watching herself incessantly is why the woman is losing her mind.
I watch someone
watch someone else
the promise of rain
Rainy and overcast days are conducive to watching—and introspection. This poem, by Nicholas Klacsanzky, is a small confession. We don’t know why he is watching someone else, or who that person is, but something that person is doing is enough to catch the observer’s attention. The unstated aspects of this poem empower readers to engage with the poem to finish its unfinishedness. All of this is presented in the context of a promise of rain, and we might easily assume that the rain, if it comes, will change the activities of the person being watched—and the watcher as well. This poem appeared in Zen and Son, by George Klacsanzky and Nicholas Klacsanzky (n.p., 2017, page 36).
not watching us
Now we have a turn—in this case the people being watched are not aware of being watched and are not watching back. By this fact we can easily gather that the gardeners don’t know they are being observed because they so engrossed in their work or pastime. We get a sense of the summer season from the mention of sun hats, but we don’t know who the people identified as “us” are. Somehow we feel that the watchers are self-conscious, not necessarily for watching others at work but for not also being similarly productive or engaged in a hobby. This poem, by David Jacobs, was published in his book Buzz (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2018, page 13).
This poem by Alan S. Bridges appeared in his ebook, In a Flash (Ormskirk, United Kingdom: Snapshot Press, 2019, page 25). It shares a moment of introspection, of seeing one’s reflection while looking out a train window. That reflection, of course, is both literal and figurative.
condolence card thinking of you thinking of him
Susan B. Auld’s poem, from Chrysanthemum Dusk (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2016, page 9) moves from sight to focus on an idea. This is a poem of empathy once again. The card is a sympathy card, but the poem is all empathy—the poet is motivated to send condolences because she wonders how her friend must be feeling when thinking of a lost loved one. While this poem is about more than the sense of sight, it extends a similar perception to other senses and feelings.
chasing a child
chasing a butterfly
This poem by Garry Wilson is from Paper Mountains, the 2020 Seabeck Haiku Getaway anthology (Bellevue, Washington: 2021, page 43). In this case watching is replaced by chasing, a different kind of attention. As with all the other poems, this one is about a relationship, not just between a father and child but between one person and another, which is central to the appeal of these poems, in both writing them and reading them.
The preceding haiku, by Lee Gurga, appeared in Hedgerow #134 in early 2021 (page 14). We’re in a hotel but we don’t know the rest of the story. Who (or what) is the “you,” and what are the people referred to as “us” doing? There’s a hint of lovemaking to this, but then who would the “you” be in such a situation? Perhaps the “you” is someone seen out the window through a mirror in the hotel room. Whatever the case, it’s another example of watching the watcher, and being watched, in this case with a touch of the ominous. On the other hand, and more likely, the “you” could be one of the people in the poem’s “us” just looking at themselves in the mirror, and in this case the feeling would not be ominous but just self-aware. (In this same issue of Hedgerow, another watching poem also appears, by Stephen Page: “falling snow— / a warbling vireo watching me / watching him,” which I quote in my “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures.” essay. The editor, Caroline Skanne, feels no hesitation in publishing both poems, each one with a sufficiently unique take on the idea of watching the watcher.)
cringing at myself
cringing at myself
A variation on this “watching” theme is the preceding poem by Aaron Barry, from his privately published book, Eggplants & Teardrops (n.p., 2022, page 45). In this case the poet is reading his own words about himself, cringing at his writing that cringed at his own behaviour. It’s a doubled sort of self-reflection. There is surely no end to the ways we can observe ourselves and others and be self-aware of those observations.
Allen Ginsberg purportedly said, “poets are people who notice what they notice.” While it’s one thing to be aware of watching someone or something that’s watching something else, or perhaps watching us in return, what haiku poets do with this awareness, in this case of noticing the noticing of a noticing, is to create haiku poems. The poems here celebrate these layers of taking notice.
Futhermore, haiku poems dwell in experience. Haiku poets write similar poems because they have similar experiences—and cannot help but have similar experiences, simply because they are human. In some cases the writing can be tired, saying what too many people have already said, being excessively similar or even plagiarizing another poem. But aside from such extremes, poems that have a common topic offer a cause for celebration. The similarity of such poems serves to validate our human existence, and how we share much more than we may realize. In the opening paragraph of The Haiku Handbook (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1989), William J. Higginson emphasizes that the purpose of haiku is to share them. We cannot celebrate this sharing if we do not hold much experience in common.
Note: Some poems do not appear with indented lines as originally published, due to a limitation in the WordPress blog software. A nod of thanks to Charles Trumbull for his help in discovering some of these poems through his invaluable haiku database. See also “Watching Haiku: Cats” and “Watching Haiku: Other Creatures.”