It is difficult to write hokku while living in a big city. The reason is that to build a city, natural life is removed — trees and grasses, bushes and weeds, soil and streams and all the creatures that live in them. Cities tend to be the Dead World — the world of asphalt and concrete and plastic and metal and glass.
Hokku, however, are about the Living World — forests and pools, meadows and hillsides, leaves and flowers.
One of the most significant differences between hokku and modern haiku is that modern haiku (speaking in general terms, for it has many divisions) allows one to write verses about such things as toasters and TV sets, sports stadiums and skyscrapers. These are parts of the Dead World. Hokku does not do that, because hokku reminds us that we are not apart from Nature, though cities may give us the unhealthy illusion that we are.
I recently saw a program in which American school children were asked to identify some of the most common vegetables — things like tomatoes and potatoes and broccoli. They could not do so. I was shocked that people were being brought up so removed from reality. I remember the son of a friend who could not tell if a potato grew on a tree or a bush or in the ground. People are growing up today knowing only that vegetables — if they even see them whole at all — come from shelves in a supermarket.
I frequently mention the movie The Emerald Forest, which aptly speaks of the people of modern civilization as the Termite People, because they eat away the forest and the living things, gradually turning them into the Dead World. We see that has already happened and is still happening to forests all over the world. People are the cause of the present extinction of many forms of natural life.
That is why hokku never abandons its focus on Nature and humans within and as a part of Nature. Hokku is a voice of reason and sense in a world that thinks it is all right to drill ocean wells and chance polluting the seas and coastlines, because it is important to the endless consumption of goods that is daily urged on modern humans, or to create nuclear waste toxic for millennia to generate electricity for all the wasted energy used by cities.
One of the most unpleasant aspects of living in a big city is the glare of artificial light all night long, glare that covers the land seen from space and blots out the stars in the night sky.
Focusing on the Dead World, writing verses about the Dead World, is like that — it covers over and makes people forget the Living World out of which humans grew, and which they are still in the process of destroying. There is a point at which what used to be called progress simply becomes wanton destruction. There is abundant evidence that point has been reached. And one of the worst signs of the times is the number of people who are willing to despoil the natural world for a luxurious lifestyle, not thinking what will become of things in a generation, or two, or eight — the world that will be left to generations unborn.
Hokku is a small thing, and certainly will not save the world. But it does turn our thoughts and our concerns in the right direction.