Honku Haiku

Road Rage Meets Zen in a Book of Poetry

'Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage'

hide captionHonku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage, Villard/Random House, 2003

Honku haiku posted on a tree in Brooklyn, N.Y.

hide captionHonku haiku posted on a tree in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Aaron Naparstek
Aaron Naparstek

hide captionAaron Naparstek

Charlie Gross

Aaron Naparstek, who once egged a sedan in a fit of anger, joins NPR's Lynn Neary on Talk of the Nation to discuss his tonic for the aggravated soul: writing Haiku. He's collected his poems in a new book, Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage.

Below is an excerpt:

The Story of Honku

I started writing Honku after a near-death egg-throwing experience around Christmas, 2001. At the time, I lived in a one bedroom apartment on a quintessential, historic Brooklyn street lined by trees and brownstones with big front stoops. Thanks to defects in traffic signal timing and the brains of New York City motorists, there had always been a lot of horn honking in front of my apartment. But this one day it got to be too much.

Some jerk in a crappy blue sedan had decided to let loose with a continuous, non-stop blast directly beneath my window. I'd never heard anything quite like it. As the honk persisted I felt my chest tighten and my reptilian fight-or-flight response kick in to action. I looked outside to see what the problem was. Not only was there no emergency - the traffic light in front of him was red!

I'd had enough. I thought to myself, if this guy is still on the horn in the amount of time it takes me to go the fridge, get a carton of eggs and open my window, he's getting it on the windshield. And I want him to know it was me.

My first egg hit his trunk and the second hit the top of his car with a satisfying thud that managed to break the sustained honk. But I had determined that egg-on-windshield was the just sentence. By the time the third yolk met glass, he was out of his car and he was going ballistic.

A Brooklynite of indeterminate ethnicity - stocky, balding, fortyish - he gestured towards my third floor window shouting, "I'm coming back, [expletive deleted]! I'm gonna kill you! I know where you live!" His sincerity was terrifying. The traffic in front of him finally began to move, but he didn't care. He just stood there screaming while the cars behind him went berserk and started blasting their horns at him.

He drove off and, thankfully, I never heard from him again. But the incident left me shaken. For the next couple of days I couldn't concentrate. I found myself milling about my apartment taking stock of household items that would make good weapons. This ball peen hammer? No, wait, the bread knife! I went to bed with a big, steel monkey wrench near my pillow.

I realized that I had snapped. I had crossed a line. I had soaked up so much honking and road rage that I had become the honking. I had become the rage. Though my righteous, egg-flinging fury felt sweet and just, my angry response escalated the cycle of frustration and honk-violence. It only made things worse. But I couldn't take it anymore. I had to do something. So, a few weeks later, after another particularly rotten day of horn blasting, I sat down and came up with my first batch of honku — haiku poems about honking.

Haiku, as it's usually written in America, consists of three lines written in a 5-7-5 format, totaling 17 syllables. Traditionally, a good haiku makes a simple and direct observation of something in nature that leads to a Zen "Aha!" moment and a larger observation about the world as a whole. This is the moment my first Honku captured:

You from New Jersey

honking in front of my house

in your SUV

I printed up copies and went out late one night taping them to lampposts up and down my street. Writing and posting my first honku felt great. Though I didn't think it would do much of anything to solve the problem, it gave me a strange sort of power over the honkers. Now, whenever I encountered an obnoxious driver, instead of muttering wrathfully to myself, I'd try to observe the scene dispassionately and construct a honku about it. It turned moments of annoyance into flashes of clarity, perspective and amusement. I'd seemingly invented a new form of automotive anger management.

Excerpted from Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage by Aaron Naparstek Copyright© 2003 by Aaron Naparstek. Excerpted by permission of Villard/Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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