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Haiku and related forms:

This section contains haiku, senryu, a few tanka and poems that are somewhere in the border area between "short poem" and "haiku".

Here comes the inevitable long prosy discussion of what the hell is a haiku anyway, etc. If the subject interests you, dig in. I'll try to keep it short of a tome.

If not, here's the short version:

The index will lead you to haiku, haiku sequences, senryu and tanka. The haiku is a very short poem (usually, in Japanese, 17 syllables, often shorter in English) in which a few words generate the sense of a universe, a time, season, feeling, etc. The "self" or speaker is nearly an absence through which all this flows or a tinge of flavoring. It contains a very immediate pointing, tends to avoid the usual poetic devices (metaphor, simile, rhyme, meter, being poetic, puns, wit, etc.), but impinges mainly from what is perceived and how these perceptions relate to each other.

The haiku sequences are groups of several haiku that relate. Either they tell a continuing story from one to the next or they are linked to one another by some element in common. In the linked sequences, haiku one will have something in common with haiku two (a sensation, emotion, subject...), haiku two will have some OTHER element in common with haku three, etc. (In other words, the nature of the link shifts from poem to poem.)

Senryu are haiku-sized poems that deal more with human relations, manners, wit, philosophical observation satire, humor, etc. Haiku can be humorous, but it's a humor that arises in an immediate way from what is perceived, whereas in senryu, the humor is, to a greater extent, imposed on what is seen by the author. The distinction between haiku and senryu is not absolute. Many poems lie on the border. I haven't exerted myself to separate them. In my haiku sections, you'll find many poems that probably belong among the senryu. I've included some poems in both sections.

Tanka is usually 31 syllables, arranged as a haiku-length poem, followed by two 7-syllable lines. It's an older form than haiku, freer with explicit emotion (often used for courtship poems, for example, though none of mine are in that vein) and elegance.

There are about 1200 poems in these sections, with my commentary wherever I felt chatty.

Here's a slightly longer look at haiku:

Haiku are often mis-defined (in my opinion) as imagistic poems with three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables (17 total). The traditional Japanese haiku are often (but not always) 17 syllables long, but (as many haiku editors recognize), 17 Japanese syllables are not the equivalent of 17 English syllables. Japanese syllables are light and simple compared to English syllables. For example, we say "baseball" (two syllables). The Japanese say "basuboru" -- 4 syllables. English words with their clutches of consonants are the equivalent of several Japanese words. Most Japanese (unless able to speak near-accent-free English) would pronounce frog (1 syllable) as "firogu" (3 syllables). "Strength (1 syllable) would probably be sitirengathu (FIVE syllables) in Japanese. Also Japanese haiku use certain syllables to convey what in English is conveyed by punctuation. Thus an English exclamation point (no syllables) might use up one syllable in Japanese.

The result is that 17-syllable English haiku usually have a crammed, padded feeling when compared to translations of Japanese haiku. My early haiku are usually 17 syllables long, but I soon found that I could better capture the "feel" of haiku in 12 to 15 syllables.

Much has been written about haiku, perhaps too much. But here's a bit more:

Haiku are brief, but not crowded. The game of writing haiku is to say something clearly and with impingement in very few words, but without losing the sense that those few words come from a huge space. Haiku should feel roomy, not as if the poet has had to make an effort to fit everything in.

Haiku depend as much on what is not said as on what is said. Most of the famous devices of Western poetry (simile, metaphor, pun, rhyme, etc.) are too heavy for haiku and drown it out. Haiku are not to be overdressed. They are accustomed to going nude, and, like natives of Tierra del Fuego, may get weak and ill when forced into furs.

Haiku aim, not at being poetic, but at being prior to poetry, slightly outside of and behind poetry, instances of the vision that is capable of poetry. They simply point at one or two things and the juxtaposition between them, and from them let the reader generate the entire universe that includes the poet (pointing), the reader and the two things and everything else. None of this is "in" the haiku. It's just the pebble dropped in the pond. All else is ripples.

This is true, to some extent, of any good poetry, so that good haiku may be considered a minimalist form of poetry, one that discards most of the devices of poetry.

One big difference between haiku and Western poetry is that a sonnet, for example, is obviously a sonnet, and after one sees that it is a sonnet, one can discuss at great length whether or not it is a GOOD sonnet. Haiku is more like Perrier Water: One concerns oneself, not primarily with whether or not it is a good haiku, but with whether or not it is haiku at all. ("It's good, but it's NOT Perrier," as the commercial had it). Given 100 17-syllable 3-line poems dealing with nature, someone who has read and written enough haiku to know the difference will generally find only one or two that are haiku.

Most poems labeled "haiku" that I read are not haiku. They say too much, get too descriptive, too sentimental, too poetic, etc. Just my opinion, but I think if you read around in the haiku literature, you will find that this is the case: Far more time is spent determining that something is or isn't haiku than in worrying about the relative quality of two poems accepted as haiku.

After all, a person could walk past you and do millions of actions, only a few of which would amount to "hello" and only a few of those would constitute a "hello" that reaches you and is understood by you and conveys to you the good will (and not just routine politeness) and personality of the person passing you. And when a hello is a hello and does all those things, you are not likely to spend much time evaluating it in relation to other real hellos. You simply respond.

Besides haiku (categorized in various ways, mainly by topic), I have included many senryu. These are as brief as haiku, but whereas haiku generally deal with nature and one's relationship to it, and generally do not deal in wit, satire, manners, etc., senryu deal with relationships among people, social matters, wit and humor, etc.

The distinction is not absolute. Haiku may deal with such matters, but from a different distance, seeing them as part of a larger, non-human universe (something like that). Haiku may include humor (and often do), but of a less obvious sort. I'm sure that some readers will consider many of my haiku to be senryu and vice versa.

I've included (because I like them) some attempts at haiku that fail in some way, but seem to me to be pretty good poetry all the same. I've included among the senryu some short witticisms and sillinesses that I just happen to get a kick out of (so probably one or two of you will as well). In fact, I was tempted to shoehorn in a few thousand more of my short "wit" pieces, but decided to save them for their own section.

For a parody of haiku and some of the pretentions that have crept into that discipline, see chapter 5 of my book, "Please, Lord, Make Me a Famous Poet or at Least Less Fat." I've added that chapter to this section (see menu).

For an education in haiku, I recommend the four-volume study called "Haiku" by R. H. Blyth. Alternatively, get a life and write home along the way.


Haiku Sequences



Softe Coo Haiku (Chapter 5 from Please, Lord, Make Me a Famous Poet Or At Least Less Fat, a parodic view of the inscrutable Mr. Haiku.)