Sunday, 15 August 2010

Hey you! Yes YOU with the haiku!

I feel guilty.

I'm not a big fan of the haiku poetic form the haiku, so I left it out of my recent Teeny Weenie Poems post.

The haiku is a Japanese concept which classically has quite specific rules. Three lines, with 5,7 and 5 syllables respectively, they are supposed to capture a moment with resonances within the wider world or, indeed, life itself. There should be a seasonal reference. The syllable count matters, but it isn't an end in itself. 

What is my objection? Just because you write something 5/7/5 doesn't turn you into [insert name of famous Japanese poet here]. If it isn't evocative, illuminating or moving, then it isn't a poem and whatever you do with your syllables I'm still going to say 'sayanora.' Sushi's just cold rice and raw fish without the salt of the soy and the whaaa-hey! of the wasabi

Maybe it's just the poor haiku I deplore. For example, why The Guardian chose to applaud a CEO's resignation in a very ho-hum haiku earlier this year, I have no idea. If you choose to resign on Twitter, as Jonathan Schwartz did, you're not going to have space for a sonnet. I'd say to him: 'Don't give up the day job,' but it's a bit late for that.

Having said all that, there are some modern poets I admire who manage to step into the ornamental pond of haiku without getting their toes nibbled by the koi. They understand that you can mess (a bit) with the line length but you have to be saying something - you have to have heart.

I'm sure Manchester-based Tony Walsh - festival poet and slam champion - wouldn't mind me posting a three of his gems from Seventeen Haiku here... and if he does, all he has to do is say so.

In the 10 items or less queue
with twelve items, thinking
'punk's not dead'

She pulled petals from daisies
and thought that he loved her.
He loved her not.

Anyway, haiku are branching out. There's an entire magazine and website called Scifaiku (which I've been published in) devoted to Japanese short forms on science fiction themes. Not to mention the zombie haikus I may have alluded to earlier. Dammit! I wasn't going to mention them.

Oh, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the British Haiku Society seem keen in on the old 5/7/5 too. And I do like the haiku that won their international Haiku Award 2009:

in the silence
before the dreaming
the warmth of a paw on my hand

Claire Knight, UK

Apart from the sci-fi ones, over which I will pass a discreet veil, the only haiku I've ever had published was this one (which, yes, before you point it out, has no sense of place, seasonal reference etc etc etc):

Just before he died
he told me his palms had changed -
some lines were shorter

I have to finish with this one - which I believe to be a tribute to Spike Milligan by Bill Taylor, which is why it's called a Spaiku

Haiku's inventor
must have had seven fingers
on his middle hand

You can share your own or favourites, but only if they are profoundly moving or at least slightly funny. I'll get no comments now, but like I said - I'm not that keen on haiku.


  1. Grunting and shoving
    against the syllable count:
    the Sumo haiku.

  2. You are quite correct.
    I'm not going to comment.

  3. The haiku is hard.
    You try and keep to the rules.
    But run out of syl ...

  4. Fran!!!! You're back! Nice to see you!
    Thank you for all adhering to my provisos - 2 amusing ones so far, and a manful abstention!

  5. Being quite a fan of traditional verse forms I'm not impressed by some haiku-writers who say, 'oh, you don't need to worry about rules with haiku'. Lazy buggers, I think! 5/7/5 - NOT THAT HARD! (Yes I am a cranky old fogey at heart.)

    Anyway as you will have seen I've come up with one or two silly versions of the haiku myself.

    When I showed my 'pooku' to Maurice, who you may have met while over here -

    Bobbing in the wet
    Flush after flush after flush
    It won't go away!

    He told me to get rid of one of the flushes. Harrumph! I could see his point but sometimes I think repetition in a traditional format makes its own point.

  6. I don't remember a Maurice (was he wearing a hat? Actually that wouldn't help - there were a lot of hats in the room) but I must have seen many of your efforts. I think you were right to keep in the third flush.... repetition, repetition, repetition

    What is it with male poets and poo? Also snot seems to crop up a lot amongst the gentlemen poets I know?

  7. I have snot poems too! Some of my, er, best work...

  8. Maurice McNamara- he doesn't wear a hat, no! Often wears his glasses on stage though, understandably... has a tone of voice that I'd describe as rich but relaxed, and cultivated... possibly cultivated by intimate acquaintance with cigarettes. He's a most entertaining poet; his book (Half Hour Country) can probably be brought online. I believe he's on one or two YouTubes.

  9. working up a sweat
    for words with five syllables

  10. Tim - Maurice Who? Does he do poo?

    Hello Barefaced Poet - thanks for visiting... and the haiku!