Ever since I started writing haiku’s earlier this spring, I’ve been trying to learn more about the form, and collect resources. It didn’t take me long to find the Haiku Society of America, which has catalogued poetry collections, holds annual contests, and lists educational resources. The thing I find most fascinating, and challenging about haikus are how simple, but complex they can be to write. As you can see from the HSA’s definition below, there is much more to writing haikus then just counting out the syllables. The most illuminating thing for me was learning that Haikus are meant to deal with experiences of nature and seasons, and senryu, which are very similar in structure, deal with human nature. I’ll be sure to label my poems accordingly in the future!
Definition: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.
Notes: Most haiku in English consist of three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables, with the middle line longest, though today’s poets use a variety of line lengths and arrangements. In Japanese a typical haiku has seventeen “sounds” (on) arranged five, seven, and five. (Some translators of Japanese poetry have noted that about twelve syllables in English approximates the duration of seventeen Japanese on.)
Traditional Japanese haiku include a “season word” (kigo), a word or phrase that helps identify the season of the experience recorded in the poem, and a “cutting word” (kireji), a sort of spoken punctuation that marks a pause or gives emphasis to one part of the poem. In English, season words are sometimes omitted, but the original focus on experience captured in clear images continues.
The most common technique is juxtaposing two images or ideas (Japanese rensô). Punctuation, space, a line-break, or a grammatical break may substitute for a cutting word. Most haiku have no titles, and metaphors and similes are commonly avoided. (Haiku do sometimes have brief prefatory notes, usually specifying the setting or similar facts; metaphors and similes in the simple sense of these terms do sometimes occur, but not frequently.
A discussion of what might be called “deep metaphor” or symbolism in haiku is beyond the range of a definition. Various kinds of “pseudohaiku” have also arisen in recent years; see the Notes to “senryu”, below, for a brief discussion.)
Definition: A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.
Notes: A senryu may or may not contain a season word or a grammatical break. Some Japanese senryu seem more like aphorisms, and some modern senryu in both Japanese and English avoid humor, becoming more like serious short poems in haiku form. There are also “borderline haiku/senryu”, which may seem like one or the other, depending on how the reader interprets them.
Many so-called “haiku” in English are really senryu. Others, such as “Spam-ku” and “headline haiku”, seem like recent additions to an old Japanese category, zappai, miscellaneous amusements in doggerel verse (usually written in 5-7-5) with little or no literary value. Some call the products of these recent fads “pseudohaiku” to make clear that they are not haiku at all. See “haiku.”
Strange Happenings This Week:
Monday, August 13th is Left Hander’s Day, first celebrated in 1976 by Left Handers International.
The Haiku Society of America compiles an extensive collection of Haiku for those interested in examples of the modern form.
Sunday night (August 12) will be the best opportunity to observe the Perseids meteor shower, which occurs every year in late summer.
Elizabeth Harvest is in theaters Friday, August 10th. A modern, science fiction/horror take on the Bluebeard myth, most reviews seem to agree that revealing anything else would ruin the plot, but going in blind is worth it.
Similar to Project Gutenberg, Librivox is a non-profit that enlists volunteers to record audiobooks for works in the public domain.