Friday, December 30, 2011

What is Haiku?

My favorite haiku.
In short, haiku is a form of poetry that started in Japan many centuries ago and has spread across the globe. In English, a haiku is generally written in 3 lines with the first and last lines comprised of 5 syllables and the middle line of 7 syllables. (This is not quite so in Japanese because our languages just work differently.)

Traditionally, haiku reflect the season in which they are written and include certain seasonal key words. Many modern haiku writers rebel against this “requirement,” and write haiku about anything and everything. I find the seasonal key words to be quite fun and inspirational! Since seasons vary around the world, the traditional Japanese lists of seasonal key words are not always valid, and it is especially enjoyable to read haiku from around the world that use their own local seasonally specific topics.

Another “requirement” often quoted about haiku is that you are not supposed to use pronouns (I, you, etc) and must render the haiku impersonal. I think this also arises from a language misunderstanding as Japanese does not require a pronoun to be understood, instead relying on verb form in most cases. Since we can't easily do this in English, I see no reason to exclude words like me, my, and our. Indeed, many Japanese haiku are translated into English using these words!

Basically, the point of a haiku is to capture a moment. The “rigid” format helps the poet express himself or herself simply and quickly without vomiting flowery poetry gook all over the place. It also is meant to help the poet woo his or her sweetheart with clever words and beautiful imagery. As they say, to each his own! It really is not a difficult style to work with, and at the very least is an excellent exercise for aspiring poets to manipulate language and flex their mental muscles.

You needn't be brilliant to write a haiku, so have fun with it! After all, there is a category for funny haiku (or haikai, the older word for this poetry style) called senryuu. There is also a miscellaneous category called zappai. Remember rules are not written in stone, and even if they were, stone erodes. Think of the above as guidelines to help you express yourself. Now go forth and create.

For a more in-depth explanation of haiku, click here.

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