The Haiku

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Haiku is a strange verse form. It's hard to write one in English that isn't at least partially successful. This may be why they are so often assigned to children who are learning to write creatively.

There are theorists who say that the form as we know it in English is too roomy. That is, the structre of japanese is such that the seventeend syllables we are familiar with constitute between four and seven words. The claim that a fairer test of being able to master the Japanese form as it was to the Japanese would be to make the poem something like 3-5-3 syllables. I've written haiku to these specifications--they are tougher and resemble more the Japanese form.

One of the challenges I try for myself is to see how "long" I can make a haiku. Can I compose one that contains seventeen words. What is the maximum length of a word of one syllable--of two? For this reason the words strength and strengthened are appealing.

But experiments with haiku seem to be one predominant strain of poetry in the past and up to the present day. What makes it work so well?

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Just for fun:

Too strong, they whisper,
Too old. But then the smoke clears--
Benedict, the Pope!

Dear Mr. McCullough,

That was more than fun, that was lovely.



Stephen, do you have an example of a 4-7 word Japanese haiku? That seems challenging. Thanks.

A few contributing reasons to why haiku words:

In the U.S., it's not taken seriously. Everyone read three haiku poems, then wrote one of their own, in fifth grade.

Green frog jumps.
Moon-lit ripples spread.

Also, they're really short.

So people will read them. And, to some extent, they appreciate the economy of language required to get the right number of syllables. Much poetry is more wordy than prose; haiku is less, and I think people appreciate effects based on "less" more than on "more."

More speculatively, the three lines are tension-tension-resolution, if you will. A haiku, then, is resolved yet "unbalanced"; there's more tension than resolution. The poet can use this for two quite different effects: satisfactory closure, as in Jim's example above (and mine, too); or an invitation to see whether, in fact, all the tension has been resolved, all the questions answered.

But I'm just making this up.

Dear Peg,

I was referring to the original Japanese--not English translations--although if you look at this site, the McCullough translation (available through the left-hand frame) shows both Japanese and English, and the Corman translation tends to the more literal/direct and thus shorter.

Here's an example of this more highly compressed form:


Eighteen inch
triangular fin
smooth surface
(summer light)

(The line in parens represents an alternative ending, not an additional line--I couldn't decide how I wanted it to end because it had barely begun.




I meant to thank you earlier for the intriguing post. There are some things to mull over in it before I can decide precisely how to steal them and make them mine. Thank you.



Elastic language
Allows expanded meaning
Tactical haiku

Dangerous poesy
Offering meta-haiku
Grounds for not writing

Daily I haiku
Reflecting natures mirror
Oceanic depth

Poetic muses
Participate in writing
Intelligent verse

Neoteric form
Grants literary freedom
Scented acrostic



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 30, 2005 5:03 PM.

Metahaiku--Theme and Variations with an Homage was the previous entry in this blog.

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