Haiku! A friend asked for some basics–a question about how many syllables there really are in haiku. I’m afraid I got a bit carried away. But why not, I love the form. So just let this feel fresh. How can we get into haiku mind–and quickly?
In Japanese, traditional character set up
Line 1: 5
Line 2: 7
Line 3: 5
This gets translated as 5-7-5 syllables, but obviously a Japanese character & an English syllable are not identical.
So, American haiku has morphed, for some writers into
5 syllables or less
7 or less
5 or less
Or, one-line (monoku) of 17 syllables or less. Haiku poets don’t agree, and like to quibble. Approaches vary from super conventional to loose. I like it all.
However, my feeling is, there are numerous ways to enter the realm of haiku spirit that go beyond the syllable count. For intimate connection with haiku, try:
1. Season word, or knowing the season. Seasons are summer, fall, winter, spring, and oddly enough “no season.” Japanese aesthetic being what it is, that no season isn’t just a negative—-it tells us the haiku is seasonless. Go local. In New Mexico, roasting chile for fall. Chimayo pilgrims for spring. It’s a wonderful exploration.
2. Natural vs. human world. Each haiku is in ONE. The mountain is natural. Footprints of hiking boots—Human.
3. Poverty & loneliness are haiku aesthetic. I consider these, for myself, to be non-materialism and solitude.
From my friend Elizabeth Lamb:
the first fall of snow
even quieter, inside
the small adobe
Early winter or late autumn
human world (within nature)
solitude and “poverty”—the house is small…
From Buson in pre-industrial Japan (but it could be New Mexico!)
out in the winter wind
what do those people do for a living
poverty & solitude—and compassion
Santa Fe poet Basia Miller did a cool imitation, and notes what she was following:
The yellow chrysanthemums
Lose their colour
In the light of the hand-lantern.
Buson (p. 1088)
Surprising effect observed
Lose their voices
When the leaves tremble.
Both of these show how haiku can have a “turning word” or phrase—-more easily seen in Japanese. Let’s just say for now that the haiku divides in two—-in both above I see the split between lines 2 and 3, but haiku can also split between line 1 and 2.
Then, senryu has the same syllabic form, but is humorous. It is usually seasonless, human world, and the emotion is one that inspires a chuckle—-but it isn’t a joke, rather, an insight.
master Issa, translated by Dennis Maloney:
Where I’m from
Contemporary, from Ed Markowski:
i add a few casino chips
to the collection plate
All of the examples are drawn from the archive of Miriam’s Well. Don’t forget, this blog publishes haiku, tanka, haibun, etc. including previously published work.
What is your haiku for right now? (Looking for themes that aren’t overtly about pandemic). Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org