Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday 13 April 2009

Why I hate haiku


Japanese poetry Learn the rules; and then forget them. - Basho


Allen Ginsberg didn't write haiku. Like many he recognised that the seventeen characters of this Japanese form do not automatically correspond to seventeen syllables of English or for that matter any other language. Besides that, divvying them up into 5-7-5 syllable lines turns the whole thing into an exercise in counting, not feeling, which is too arbitrary to be poetry. Ginsberg’s solutions, which first appear in his book Cosmopolitan Greetings, are his American Sentences: one sentence, seventeen syllables, end of story. I'll be honest I wish I'd come across these before I read Howl when I was nineteen and I might have had a bit more time for him. Here are a couple of examples:


Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella.


Rainy night on Union square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till I'm dead.


Wait a sec, wasn't that last one three sentences? I think Ginsberg's 'solution' is a fairly arbitrary one. Why choose seventeen syllables? It's an odd number – literally. I can see where he's coming from though. In the west we've become so used to a haiku being presented over three lines that we assume that's it, no rhythm to cope with, no rhyme – what could be easier? And for many that's it, that's a haiku. They're everywhere. Every time I log into Zoetrope there will always be one or two lying around waiting for me to pass judgment on them and occasionally I do.

Okay, so what is a haiku really? Let's start out with a definition:

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 morae (or on), in three metrical phrases of 5, 7 and 5 morae respectively. Haiku typically contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji or verbal caesura. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku. – Wikipedia

It's obviously not as straightforward a definition as we might have hoped for. On (or onji) are the phonetic units that are counted in Japanese haiku. In linguistics these are called morae. Morae is plural; the singular is mora and a syllable can contain more than one mora. There are three kinds of syllables, light, heavy and superheavy. Most linguists believe that no language uses syllables containing four or more morae.

All new to you? Well, it's pretty new to me so don't start asking me a lot of awkward questions. The simple fact is that I've always felt breaking up words into syllables was a bit on the sloppy side.

So, the point I'm getting at here is that the 5-7-5 syllabic structure that we're all familiar with is really a bastardisation of what goes on in Japanese – syllables we get, morae we don't.

Now we move onto content. What is a haiku supposed to be about? A lot of people scribble down cryptic statements that resemble Zen kōans but is that sufficient? The Wikipedia entry mentions a kigo, or seasonal reference. That really restricts the topics you can pick from doesn't it? Japanese haiku poets often use a book called a saijiki, which is like a dictionary or almanac for kigo. You can get the idea what this might be like if you have a look at The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words. The author has this to say about it:

Each of the more important seasonal themes--such as those listed here--has a long history of not just physical associations, but emotional tone as well. The more skilled the haiku poet, the more the poem works with or plays against these associations. A good haikai saijiki (almanac of seasonal topics and season words used in haiku and linked-poetry composition) explains these traditional associations, but that is beyond the scope of this list. For the haiku poet, this list simply represents those few seasonal topics that have deeply engaged Japanese poets for centuries, and, in some cases, for a millennium or more. Such a list can also help poets to know what to look for when they want to write a seasonal poem. In a saijiki, the systematic seasonal ordering of topics serves mainly to collect related phenomena together, and to arrange finished poems in a rational and aesthetically pleasing order. The part of the season in itself is not particularly crucial for the haiku poet, and many saijiki and kiyose (simple season word lists or guides, such as this one) omit this information.

You get the idea. There is clearly a great deal of precision needed to get a haiku right, if you're going to do it right. And this is just one aspect of haiku writing.

Let's have a look at a traditional Japanese haiku by Masaoka Shiki:

Ka-ki ku-e-ba / ka-ne ga na-ru-nari / ho-u-ry-u-ji

The slashes are there simply to identify the three groups for our benefit. Remember in Japanese this would be written in a single line:


If you go to this site you'll find an entire article devoted to this single haiku. There are a number of translations but here are three to give you some idea:


whenever I bite a persimmon a bell tolls Hōryū-ji Temple

(version by Debra Woolard Bender)

the temple bell rings
as I eat a persimmon--

(version by Paul Conneally)

taste of persimmon
as sharp as the bells

(version by Laurene Post)


The article explains exactly when Masaoka Shiki wrote the haiku (25-26/10/1895) and under what circumstances and a number of translators have a crack at not simply transliterating the poem but interpreting it while they translate it. I love how the article ends:

In order to understand Shiki's "persimmon/Horyuji" haiku really well, one must visit Hōryū-ji around 25 October, take a rest at the tea house, eat persimmons and wait for the "tsuri-gane" bell to toll. Short of that, one should at least eat persimmons.


I would imagine it would help if you were 28 and terminally ill. And Japanese. I wonder too if he'd read John Donne although I suspect the sound of a tolling bell could mean much the same in all cultures.

I hate this haiku for a different reason from which I hate English haiku. I hate it because I can't read Japanese and I don't have a Japanese head. Okay, I could get a dictionary and give it a go myself. Here's what Google Translate came up with:

If the bell rings to Horyu or persimmon

I then tried each individual word and found it interesting that 鳴 was translated as 'crying' as opposed to ringing or tolling. The bottom line is that much can be lost in translation. And I hate that. Google lost the 'ji' too which is another one of the characters.

But if I can return to English 'haiku' and accept that it will have its own standards, can I let it go and accept that it's its own thing?

Yes and no.

I do accept that there are people out there who subscribe to the spirit of the Japanese form. Take this example by Jack Kerouac:

Snow in my shoe
Sparrow's nest

The whole 5-7-5 thing has gone out of the window and yet I think most people reading this would go, "Aha! That's a haiku," and then they'd count all the syllables and go, "Er, wait a sec, it's not really a haiku, is it?" Here's what Jack had to say:

The American Haiku is not exactly the Japanese Haiku.  The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don't think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again...bursting to pop.

Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella [a chamber concerto]. - American Haiku

You can read a load of his haiku here.

It's as good a statement of intent as anything else. Later Kerouac expanded on this opening concept. He developed a new definition for American haiku in his journal Some of the Dharma which he termed 'American haiku pop', a three-line poem of Buddhist connotation, like a small meditation that may or may not rhyme, leading to enlightenment. Pop is onomatopoeic – a quick, abrupt noise that snaps you to attention. I suppose it corresponds to what many call the 'Aha! Moment'.

There are modern poets who say unless your poem has this 'Aha! Moment' you're not writing haiku. Others emphasise the experience. And, of course, there will be those who say that as long as your poem has three lines containing 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively then it's a haiku.

This is why I hate haiku. It has moved so far away from its roots that a good haiku is more a matter or fluke than anything else and how is a wee Scottish laddie like me going to recognise it? This is not to suggest that short poems cannot be excellent but they're just not haiku. Actually, in his article, Poems, Stories, Plays in the Scots Language, David Purves suggests that Scots is the prefect vehicle for haiku:

Unfortunately, contemporary English may not now be a satisfactory register for haiku, since English has become detached from its social roots in any particular community, as a result of globalisation. It has been argued by some poets that English has now become spiritually exhausted as a poetic language, as a result of its adaptation for utilitarian purposes. Comparisons between renderings in Scots and English of haiku by Japanese masters suggest that versions in literary Scots have an energy and frisson that harmonise well with the true spirit of haiku.

It's an opinion. I'm not sure I agree with him but here are a few of his examples:


The laiverok lilts
aw day an the day
is no lang aneuch.

Back at the lair
Ah bend ma sabbin
til the Back End wund!

The auld pypar’s puil
a mukkil puddok.


The lark sings on
all day, and all day
is not long enough

At the gravestone,
bend my grief
to the Autumn wind.

By the old pool,
leap, splash, leap
a great frog.


Keep the last one in mind. I'll come back to it.

I've only ever written one haiku and there are those who would argue it's not a proper haiku. Even I would argue it's not a proper haiku so I'm not going to include it. Instead I want to talk about two other poems.

When I wrote my poem 'Reflections' I was looking to create the kind of image that I'd come across in haiku. If you count the syllables you'll find there are eighteen and I did consider dropping the 'No' in the first line and calling it a haiku but the simple fact is that seventeen syllables does not a haiku make. Here's the poem:


we are not ready

go skinny dipping

one another's souls.

29 August 1989

Of course, as with all my poems, it is about people. The nature setting – I mean, what does your mind conjure up when you think about skinny dipping? – is just a metaphor and that's it. Would

We are not ready
to go skinny dipping in
one another's souls.

work? I seriously thought about it but that initial 'No' is the plop that starts the whole poem off. Notice how the lines get longer – okay, not much longer – but I was aiming to suggest the rippling effect that that initial 'No' would cause in the hearer's life. No is a response. We are not privy to what went on before this but whatever it was it has led up to a request whether stated outright or implied that the couple strip off more than their clothes. Seeing someone naked is one thing, seeing them naked on the inside is another thing completely.

Traditional haiku don't have titles and yet I felt this poem needed one and one with several layers of meaning. Before the plop that starts off the rippling effect the couple would be able to see themselves reflected in the 'water' – make of that what you will – but afterwards all each of them is left with is an internal reflection of the moment.

In traditional haiku there are examples of slightly breaking the rules (hacho). These are called jiamari (excessive syllables) and jitarazu (insufficient syllables) and have been seen since before Basho's time. I could have argued with myself and tried to justify calling the poem a haiku but it's not and I'm not sure what was going though my head thinking it would be a better poem if it was a haiku. It has form – I'm not against form – but it has the form that naturally came to it. Some time later I wrote a sequel to this poem:


Being with you
is like

swimming in the sun
on a

warm Summer's day.

(for Jeanette)

June 23, 1996

Okay, it's a sappy poem for a girl but try and put that aside for the moment. Now, this poem does have 17 syllables (4-2, 5-2, 4) but I would still argue that it is not a haiku. The palindromic structure is deliberate by the way.

Being with you is
like swimming in the sun on
a warm Summer's day.

just doesn't work. Again, the title is an integral part of the poem and certainly an awareness of the first poem would give it significantly more meaning. On its own it's not very exciting and having to explain it to Jeanette really didn't help but it did get me Brownie points. One can never have too many Brownie points with a lady.

The biggest problem with both 'skinny-dipping' poems is that they rely heavily on metaphor and one of the fundamental 'rules' of haiku is: No metaphor. But for every rule there is an exception. Let's take Basho's famous 'frog' haiku:

old pond / a frog jumps in / the sound of water

In her essay Metaphor in Basho's Haiku Jane Reichhold has this to say:

5ripple_big To begin, let us take the Japanese literally in the last line so it reads "water of sound." Let that roll around a few minutes in your imagination. The water of sound. Sound as water. Sound moving as water does. Sound rippling outward as water does when disturbed.

Heretofore, all poetical Japanese frogs made sounds -- croaking, songs, calls. What if water was used as a metaphor for the invisible sound? Instead of making a sound with its voice, what if the frog leaps into the water of sound?

We can never know if Basho was having thoughts like these before he wrote (or spoke) the lines "a frog jumps in / the water of sound" but we do know he was aware enough of the gift of his inspiration that he didn't allow Kikaku to tack on a beginning phrase of yellow roses but stayed with his metaphor of water as sound / sound as water to say "old pond" to emphasize that sound is the oldest pond.

It could be, as it has been reported, that Basho simply heard a frog plunging into water (a rather probable occurrence as he lived in a marsh where two rivers joined) just at the moment a Zen master asked him a question on his progress in his meditations. Yet he didn't begin his poem with his reality of "in the marsh" or "by the river" but used "old pond" because in a quiet pond a disturbance most closely resembles the way sound moves and is most accurate. Again the third image is the tie for his metaphor of water for sound. Bodies (get that one?) of water have sometimes stood as metaphors for ears because of the way water reflects and distorts sound.

In another essay she goes on to list sixty-five 'rules' that have been applied to haiku at one time or another. It's laughable when you think how short the form is.

In all honesty I can't say, "I hate haiku," because Haiku's response would be, "But, you don't know me," and that's why I hate it, it won't stay still long enough to be known. Maybe once back in the day the Japanese might have come up with a short list but somehow I think the argument about what a haiku can or cannot be has raged since Masaoka Shiki coined the expression at the end of the 19th century.

There are loads of sites out there that have something to say about what haiku is or ought to be. There are links to some in the article but a nice clean and not too wordy site can be found here.

I think there's a lot newbie poets can learn from working with a short form like the haiku. Whether what they produce is haiku is neither here nor there. I've never deliberately avoided writing them perhaps because I've always written in a condensed way. I think the problem is that they're just a tad too short for the thoughts I want to express and that's all.


Sandra said...

I enjoyed this post very much, especially the examples of your own work. I've just written two posts about haiku myself recently. You might find them interesting. :)

Ken Armstrong said...

I think a lot of people approach Haiku as if it is a crossword puzzle clue to be filled in - my feelings, five syllables, then seven, the five, hmmmm...

Like any poem. It's all about content for me - does it move me?

Your poem about stone men melting in the rain moved me. (I'm deliberately not going looking for the exact words but rather recounting my impression/memory of the piece as an honest experiment about the way I remember it, 'hope that's okay).

Perhaps we should invent a new poetic form - 14 syllables, then 12, then 10, then eight - 'call it a Murdoch and charge people to use it... I'm looking toward my pension here. :)

Dick said...

Where the hell do you find the time to write these mini-theses, Jim? Here's another totally engaging investigation, this one posing a number of challenging questions concerning the applicability of the haiku form to Western linguistic form. I like the persimmon references, and particularly interesting are the examples of Scottish renditions of Japanese haiku.

Unknown said...

The Life of Basho on a High-Bamboo Diet

The toilet
Basho sits down

Note: Rules thrown out, variation on Pop! Langston Hughes wrote something more than 1,000 'haiku'. I have trouble reading more than a few of them at a time.

Michael Dylan Welch said...

For someone who "hates" haiku, you demonstrate a lot of devotion to it -- as well as informed understanding. That puts you light years ahead of most people who think, incorrectly, that it's simply a 5-7-5-syllable poem. It's worth reading Cor van den Heuvel's The Haiku Anthology (Norton, 1999, third edition) for excellent examples of the genre in English. For these poets, haiku has not moved around so much at all, and isn't elusive for them. Perhaps that's why they (I) don't hate it. It's widely mistaught in schools, in ways you point out, but if you stick with the essentials (many of which are covered in my essay, "Becoming a Haiku Poet," at or in greater detail at William J. Higginson's indispensable The Haiku Handbook (Kodansha, 1989), I believe you'll find that haiku isn't as muddy as you might have found so far. I don't mean to say it's easy, but if you can sort out the misinformation from the literary reality, that will help. Of course, aside from this, one can write other poetry inspired by haiku, or being "haiku-like," and that's fine too. Ginsberg's American sentences are not haiku, and that's fine.

Michael Dylan Welch

P.S. I also recommend reading Keiko Imaoka's "Forms in English Haiku," available at

Marion McCready said...

I don't have a problem with syllable counting (after all iambic pentameter was the basis of english poetry for centries) but the bottom line is that a poem has to justify the form not the form justify the poem. I'm not particularly fond of haiku either for much the same reasons as yourself, the rules change according the the haiku club. I prefer Tanka poems, I find the form much more compatible with english and with much more interesting results.

Jim Murdoch said...

Exactly, Sorlil, and if tanka had been abused as much as haiku I’d have written a post about it too because we have the same problem, how to translate a Japanese form to fit western sensibilities. Simply writing poems in 31 syllables of 5-7-5-7-7 lines isn’t enough. There are rules that go with that. I have no problems with short poetry but the older I get the more I’ve come to realise that if a poem is well written the form will be contained within it and all the poet has to do is look for it. I still believe that content is more important than form and I have written many ‘free form’ poems for want of a better expression.

My approach to writing a poem is always the same, get the words down on the paper or screen and then look to see if there is a shape. Lately it’s jumped out at me and I’ve found little need to make any adjustments but I would never butcher a poem to fit a certain shape.

Dave King said...

Superb post, Jim. You covered all the points I would have wanted made, including freedom from poetic trickery, for instance. That doesn't always get a look in. I do think, though, that the form is "translatable" as long as you translate the word translate. You can take the Haiku form and find an English equivalent for the effect that it has (probably) - as you showed well enough in your "mini thesis"! Most of all, I think I enjoyed the water of sound metaphor. Superb.

Art Durkee said...

Keiko Imaoka's "Forms in English Haiku" is one of the better articles I've read that shows how it's possible for haiku to work in English, to make the transition, which is cultural as well as linguistic.

For me, adhering to the details of the haiku technical form is far less compelling than adhering to the spirit of the form, or genre. I have no problem with other syllable counts. I've read articles on haiku that make a convincing argument that, because English is an iambic language (differing from Japanese which is largely unstressed), it makes sense to use 4-6-4 for many English-language haiku. I think that's a good argument, but I don't think it's more than a guideline.

I don't think any rule-set in haiku writing is anything more than a guideline. I would encourage anyone who is baffled by the contradictory advice to keep what appeals to them and discard the rest.

I don't think there's any reason to be confused; I think a lot of confusion is founded in Western analytical quests for precision and Unified Theories, which are usually illusory and incomplete. Both Xeno and Godel were write: infinite regression, and incompleteness, dominate all attempts to rationalize rule-sets into ultimate guidelines. Frankly, lots of disagreement among English-language writers of haiku is mind-drama, and little more.

I always return to re-reading Basho, the master, for guidance, for example, and for advice. One of the things Basho said to his students, which I find to be far more useful as poet than any books on form, was: "Don't imitate the masters. Seek what they sought."

For me, I value the haiku aesthetic, what Basho and others called "the mind of poetry," far more than I do ANY technical rule in any form of poetry, from any language. I find the mind of poetry in many places, including among English haiku writers. One of Basho's key teachings, which many moderns seem to overlook most of the time: Poetry is a Way, a spiritual practice, even more than a literary one. That's an unpopular view in many poetic circles, of course, but it's an authentic one, and authentically connected to the history of haiku poetry and its related forms such as haibun.

So if you find the same sort of haiku-spirit in spontaneous short-form poems that don't adhere to the technical guidelines of haiku, I think that's all well and good. Some I would label haiku, others I would not. The truth is, there are far more English-language poems that follow the superficial aspects of haiku, like the 5-7-5 syllable count, and completely miss the deeper spirit of the form.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks, Dave, I think the one thing that comes across here is that haiku is an approach to poetry as opposed to a poetic form. And I can see, as expected, you agree, Art. And this is why it’s an expression of the poetic spirit that I doubt I’ll ever be able to get in touch with. Going through the motions is one thing but being that person is something else. That is why it’s good that there are people like you, Art, who approach poetry from a completely different angle to me … and yet it’s all still poetry.

What I’ve been pleased to see with this article are experienced haiku poets contributing links that point those who do have an interest in this for to sites that cut through all the crap and get at the essence of what haiku is all about. I’m a great believer that if you’re going to do something then do your damndest to do it right.

Art Durkee said...

Some time ago, I compiled a list of links, books, and other resources on all things haiku related. Would that be of interest or of use to you?

susan sonnen said...

I tried haiku-ing almost daily a few years ago, but ended up just sick and tired of it. The reason? It's hard.

This was a fantastic and informative post, Jim. And I really like the poem written for Jeanette. :)


Jim Murdoch said...

Art, I've dropped you an e-mail about those links.

And, Susan, that really was the point I'm making here, that there is an assumption because haiku is short that short = easy and I don't think if you're going to do it right it is. Glad you liked the poem for Jeanette. It really doesn't work without the other one though to put it in perspective.

Conda Douglas said...

Interesting post, Jim, for me, especially the discussion of translation from different cultures. Having lived in Asia, my take is that like so many human things, translations are weak at best. Haiku will never be as it is in Japan. Another example is manga--unless you immerse yourself in the culture as my niece did, and even then, she doesn't understand it all--the intricacies of this ancient art form are lost. It becomes "comic books" in our culture.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve just finished re-reading The Master of Go, Conda, and the one thing that struck me this time being older (and not so desperate to finish the thing and get onto the next book) was the difference between the old Master and his young challenger. I had expected the Master to be the one hemmed in by rules but it was really the other way round, showing a subtle change in the way the game was being interpreted.

And I think that’s a part of the problem of how westerners view much of Japanese culture as one obsessed with rules. Yes, there are ways that things should be done - etiquette is important - but there was also a degree of flexibility; rules are invariably rigid and intolerant.

There is clearly a real difference between the art and the science of haiku. To use your example, in the same way as manga are not just comics, haiku are not simply poems.

Jena Isle said...

Hello Jim,

You write very thoroughly. I'm amazed at the amount of information I have learned from your post.

I like Haikus. They reduce verbosity and they challenge you to express your poem in a 5-7-5 verse. lol. Suits me fine.

You write them brilliantly! You should write more.

Jena Isle said...

Btw, Jim,

Is the term "haikus" the plural form of haiku? or is haiku both the singular and plural form? Just wondering, thanks for any reply.

Ellie said...

Is it wrong to find humour in your last line given the length of your post? :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Okay, Jena, what article have you been reading? I have only written one haiku in my life and I didn’t even include it in the post. Neither of the two poems I included was a haiku in fact they were included to demonstrate one of the reasons why I don’t write haiku. Secondly, one of the main thrusts of the post was to get people away from the idea that a haiku has to be in 5-7-5 format. It’s artificial. I far prefer to see haiku like those written by Kerouac that reflect the sprit of haiku. And lastly although some people do use haikus as a plural it is generally accepted that ‘haiku’ is both singular and plural.

And, Elle, are you calling me long-winded? Yes, I suppose I am. And I’ve found since I’ve cut back to one post a week that I’m just writing longer posts too. The problem is I pick such interesting topics and there is simply so much material available. It’s hard to know what to include. Even a post like this one I still feel is only an overview of the subject.

jena isle said...

Lol, Jim, I have to agree, that's why you are good at what you're doing because you do it thoroughly. Thanks for the post and the comment. All the best.

McGuire said...

Interesting. I've never read much haiku before. I've skimmed a few dozens here and there but not with much tugging at the boat of my thought.

I thought you would love it for its succint, minimalist quality, but as you say, it's just too small and short even for your thoughts. It really is hit or miss with haiku. Often profoundly banal or just cheap juxtapositions. Sometimes you come across something that strikes a match in your mind but.

I don't hate it quite as much as you, and Ginbergs re-valuation, makes sense. All in all, an excellent essay and analysis of the haiku.

The stone man melting, was excellent, very delicate, very subtle, but quite clear.

Ellie said...

No, not long winded!
Thorough! Against the Haiku ...
Your post is a tome.

Did you like that? Did you see what I did there?

Anonymous said...

it will change how you think about haiku

Jim Murdoch said...

Actually I don’t hate haiku per se, McGuire, what I hate is the fact that there are so many arbitrary rules attached to it. It also seems to require a certain mindset both to write and to get. All my poetry is pretty short but there’s short and then there’s short.

Yes, Elle, I saw what you did. Very clever.

And, Anonymous, thanks for the link. It looks interesting.

Unknown said...

Hi Jim. Fascinating post. I've linked to it in my post of last Friday where you can see a bit of what I think about haiku.

Anonymous said...

"Besides that, divvying them up into 5-7-5 syllable lines turns the whole thing into an exercise in counting, not feeling, which is too arbitrary to be poetry."

I hate haiku too, but this is preposterous. So long to the entire tradition of English (and Western) poetry up till the free versers threw it all away. You libriste lot should really love haiku, anyway. Pretty sad when you've gotten to the point of even ovethrowing the idiocy that is Imagism.

Gwil W said...

leftover sardine
in a corner of the tin
a drop of blood

normally I don't bother with word count but this time I made an exception just to show that the whole counting business is not totally beyond the pale - my favourite poems in the haiku form are where the middle line doubles in a kind of wordplay (as above) and where there is also some kind of message - in the above haiku we are left with questions and points to ponder and lessons to learn

I apprecaite that much of what passes for haiku poetry is quite boring, in fact boring in the extreme, and hellishly uninteresting hence I'm not surprised that so many people don't like it

I've a link to ZENSPEUG a haiku site in Scottish - I love the burr and brogue of blogger John McDonald. Now John used to be a stonemason so he's probably used to thinking about every word as he slowly chips and chisels them into being.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, Gwilym, and you're quite right, there's a lot of poetry out there that drags down the good stuff. I know John's site though and quite refreshing it is too.

Anonymous said...

Like haiku, this essay is rich in content, to be so short. One quality of haiku not mentioned here, and one that especially appeals to me, is that it is (to quantify the unquantifiable) "the length of a single human breath." (I am quoting someone here, though I've forgotten who.)

I'm glad to see you so eloquently clear up a lot of the misconceptions about the form. Yet, I'm sure they will continue to be (mis)applied.

Still, I think you've nailed it: haiku are poems; and, as you so concisely point out, in the end, a good poem, haiku or not, will be seen to have had "the form that naturally came to it."

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, looknfeel. It's a while since I wrote this. Now I think about it I don't encounter haiku (good or bad) as much online as I used to. Maybe people are losing interest. I think if I was more of a nature poet I might be drawn to the form more (both to write and to read) but I prefer my poems more urban.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU. Finally someone else understands why "haiku"/"senryū" written in English is 99% absolute shit. Having said that, of the first time ever I posted two senryū on my blog as a statement of being annoyed at an ex-friend's behaviour... the reason being that she writes them all the friggin' time. The Twitterverse is rife with substandard "haiku" and it makes me want to chuck. Personally I think it is possible to write them in English well, but one or two elements must be there (the sparsity of imagery with little or no western poetic device and that 'aha' split by the cut are key ingredients I think). Thank you, again

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m glad you appreciated this wee post, Luke. I have written over 1000 poems over the last forty years and only one of them was a haiku, a reasonable one I think which is why it made the cut, but it is not a form I’m drawn to especially. My friend, Art Durkee, writes them spontaneously all the time but he definitely has the right mindset for them. Because of this he’s the only person so far that I’ve asked to do a guest blog on my site and you might find his post of some interest: Haiku and its related forms: an introductory essay. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Yeah cheers... and thanks for your 'shit poem'... great repost to mine which I never thought I'd even blog but I guess I turned it into some kind of statement. We all need a good shit every once in a while... Your attitude towards poetry and generally what you write/how you write it really appeals and I'm in agreement with a lot of it. Keep on keepin' on, I''l be back round sometime

Derek Parker said...

this is a faintly mad mini-essay - it seems cast by an observer disdaining to participate but feeling they are superior for it. The properly important features of haiku are missed, and the surface treated with scorn.

The key to the haiku is the cut, the kiru moment that forces reconsideration. Haiku is an exercise in comparison and reflection. The Kiru is the heart of the haiku, and most crap haikus come out of an absence of that.

The haiku is part of a traditional verse exercise where restraint was a component of the creation. The closest might be the sonnet or the works by ouplipo.

the verse form is a kata, a traditional reusable for to invite comparison

quote from Keister - The specific details learned in artistic training consist of patterns of performance behavior commonly referred to as kata (form, pattern, or shape): discrete, detailed units of predetermined patterns of action which are pieced together to constitute entire songs, dances, tea ceremonies or karate routines.

the syllable is in fact the on, which means that some syllables count as two or three through velarisation

modern post-meiji haikus have dispensed with both the kigo and the on-structure = read poems by Ippekuro or more recently Furuta.

I wonder if you'll print this?

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for your comments, Derek. As you can see I’ve published it. Not sure why you thought I might not. Let me also assure you there’s nothing superior about me although I grant you I can come across that way, intimidating even, but I’m a son of cotton mill foreman, went to an ordinary secondary school in Scotland and worked in an office rather than going to university. As far as literature goes I am entirely self-taught and nowhere near as well-read as I’d like to be. I write these wee essays to flaunt my ignorance and not to pretend to be something I’m not. I take a subject like flarf or visual poetry, do some research and write it up. There isn’t a single post on this site I consider rises above note-taking although s few could be worked up into half-decent essays if I had the time and the inclination. 95% of everything I’ve written about I’ve now forgotten. I don’t even remember writing this post but I do remember that the only guest post on my site was written by my friend Art Durkee: Haiku and its related forms: an introductory essay some seven months after my own post. In my introductory paragraph I open with, “I've written a couple of posts about short forms of Japanese poetry (most recently ‘Why I hate haiku’) but I've always been acutely aware that I've been out of my depth…”

You comment is interesting—thank you for it—but my head’s in the wrong place to do anything with the information right now. As for just how mad I am, well…

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