Greetings, writers! Many thanks to Sherri for inviting me to bring some haiku to the proverbial coffee table this morning. There's much to learn about this deceptively simple genre. I am very much still a student.
Why haiku? First, its intrinsic value--I think reading and writing haiku make a person of any age more alive. Second, immersing yourself in these short form poems can sharpen your writing skills across other genres.
What about the 5-7 5 format? Let's get this question out of the way first. Strong haiku can be written in this format, but it's not an accurate reflection of Japanese haiku because Japanese words contain more syllable sounds than English words do. So, 17 syllables in English are usually too many for one haiku, and make a clunky, forced-sounded poem.
So, what does constitute haiku? It's more than words that are counted on your fingers and written in a three line format. There is just so much packed into those small poems.
Dr. David G. Lanoue, current Haiku Society of America president, and Issa scholar, has said a haiku is "a one-breath poem that discovers connection," Connection between juxtaposed images or ideas is often lacking in what passes for "haiku" in popular culture.
In a recent book, Lanoue describes a haiku as "an elliptical, succinct, imagistic poem that invites the reader to complete what is only suggested or hinted at on the page."
How would you describe a good haiku poem? A strong haiku is concise and offers two precise images, suggesting a connection between them. A successful haiku presents the reader or listener with a moment, an experience, but doesn't override the reader's response by naming the emotions involved. The unfolding of the second image seals the connection and opens the emotional potential of the poem.
Can you give us an example? Consider this poem by David G. Lanoue, which he kindly shared on my blog:
a "lost Dog" sign
into the oak.
Copyright David G. Lanoue. All rights reserved.
Frogpond, 27.2 (2004)
First, note the word choices. Are any of them sentimental or sappy? Nope. Too highfalutin to understand? No. Are precise image/sensory details presented? Yes. If you have a dog, or have ever lost one, this haiku likely strikes a chord. Each reader will bring his or her own experiences and sensibilities to the reading.
When I read this poem, that nail might as well be pounded into my heart, because that's where I would feel the loss of one of my beloved dogs. Also, notice how much stronger it is with the specific word "oak." It has a heavy, hearty sound, and when you say it, it slows you down. It's much better than the generic word "tree."
What if the poem were constructed like this:
a "Lost dog sign
to the sign post.
Hmm. Not much happening there.
Or, what if it said:
a "Lost Dog" sign
I sorely miss
my golden retriever.
Um, that one misses the haiku mark. As David has written it, though, I'm grabbed by the visual image of the "lost" sign--Oh, No! That's terrible!, I think to myself...and then pounded with the second image--a nail, or nails, driven with force into the hard oak tree. I hear a hammer, feel the rough bark, even sense the impact of that nail.
How about we want to write our own haiku? Great! First I'd suggest reading. A lot. When I first fell under the spell of haiku, I read hundreds and hundreds of poems to get a sense of what they are really about. Let them seep into your bones. The good news is there are many sources out there for you to dive into. You can start with the Haiku Society of America: http://www.hsa-haiku.org and their journal Frogpond. Another resource is The Haiku Foundation http://www.thehaikufoundation.org.
What haiku books are on your bookshelf:
And, finally, some hints for getting haiku subjects, please.
Next time you go for a walk, take a notebook. Or, sit on your front stoop or in your back yard with paper and pen handy. Gather your senses. What catches your eye? What are you feeling? What smells surround you? Note the time of day, the season.
For a traditional English-language haiku, you'll be gathering two parts--one will be two lines, and the other will be a single line. (It doesn't matter which comes first.) One of your two elements can be a seasonal reference--it might be as straightforward as "autumn afternoon" or more subtle, like "burning leaves."
What does that smell evoke for you? Loss? Change? The trick is to employ another image which suggests that emotion. Perhaps you notice geese overhead. Maybe they are changing flight positions and that reminds you of a shift in a family situation. You might end up with a haiku like this:
a V of geese
Do you have an assignment for us? Take a deep breath and a walk, and see if you are inspired to write a haiku or two! You can post them in the comments section.
Robyn Hood Black writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction under Spanish moss in the South Carolina Low country. She's active in SCWBI Southern Breeze and in the Southeast Region of the Haiku Society of America. Her haiku have appeared in many contemporary journals including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, The Heron's Nest, Acorn, Chrysanthemum and One Hundred Gourds.