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May 29, 2009

Poetry Friday--Separating the Haiku from the Haiku

As I grow older, I grow crankier. But, I've also learned to let things go. I'm no longer going to be bothered when anything and everything in 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables is labeled a haiku. I give up. It's not worth getting my underwear in a knot when all around me are:

  • numerous online "haiku" contests such as "Write a haiku--in 5-7-5 form-- about..." the "Twilight" series, techie subjects, Lord of the Rings Online, food and drink in Portland (OR), pets, or the British summer (this last contest has Yoko Ono as a judge, and the entries appear in London tube stations!)

  • books, wines, ballgames, and just about anything else, tersely reviewed/summarized in 5-7-5

  • lists of computer error message haiku, or cat haiku (they've shown up in my inbox at least once a year since 1998)

  • Although I'd like to call most the above-mentioned stuff, Fake-Ku, I wouldn't dare suggest that anyone is creating fake poetry, and, I wouldn't want you to think that it isn't enjoyable. It has provided me with quite a few laughs over the years, but I don't consider these poems haiku. Therefore, I'd like to propose that English language haiku in which the 5-7-5 form is not the defining feature of the poem, be called something else. We need to come up with something that separates the two types of work. What shall we call our poems? I don't speak Japanese and so have no suggestions for another Japanese term. If we're talking about English language haiku then shouldn't the word be English?

    Using "essence of a moment keenly perceived," as a guide, and after consulting my handy-dandy thesaurus, I'd like to suggest quiddity. It's slightly exotic, relatively unknown, and it means, "the essential nature of a thing." A great name for a haiku!

    Perhaps we should come up with something completely different like Andrew Clements did in his book, Frindle. His character, Nick Allen, a fifth grader, decides to rename a pen. He comes up with frindle and begins using a frindle instead of a pen. (If you don't know it, it's a fun story.) So let's see, what's a good made-up word...sketern? lilnym?

    What do you think? Please use the comments feature to contribute a term of your own. Let me know that I'm not alone in my obsessive pursuit of informing the public about contemporary English language haiku. (Or maybe I am?)

    According to the definition of insanity provided by Rita Mae Brown (but usually attributed to Ben Franklin or Albert Einstein), "doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results," you may think I'm insane, but, I promise, this will be my last rant about faux haiku...

    Here's a quiddity of my own to end this rant:

    complains loudly
    --May rain

    I'd also like to pass along this link to the Haiku Foundation's digital library, in case you're not familiar with contemporary English Language haiku.

    The Poetry Friday Round-Up for this week is being hosted by Irene Latham at Live. Love. Explore!


    1. Alan Ginsberg came up with something he called the American Sentence, which was 17 syllables written out in one line, a moment captured. Read more here: http://www.americansentences.com/

      As I understand it Japanese haiku is not always written in three lines 5/7/5 anyway, but often straight down the page in 17 characters.

      I've also seen it called "one breath poems" in English, which I kind of like. Or how about "Aha!" poems?

      I think it would be good to get a larger conversation going on this topic, like including many haiku poets, the haiku society of America, etc. People who write a lot of haiku and take it seriously and who would have ideas about how to distinguish the quality you are talking about. That's the way a new term would take hold and be most meaningful, IMO.

    2. Ginsberg? I'm not known for my spelling prowess.

    3. I seriously did not know anything but the 5-7-5 haiku until I started participating in Poetry Friday several months ago. That (the 5-7-5) is what I was taught in grade school, in fact that's how I myself write haiku.
      I do agree that it could have a different name to differentiate itself from the original, but maybe the original can be titled TRUE HAIKU. Either way, I do like the 5-7-5 haiku!

    4. The way I learned it, haiku is less about the syllable count and more about the TURN... two lines, then a surprise in the third. (it helps me to not get caught up in the syllable count)

    5. Did you and Greg (GottaBook) collaborate on your PF posts this week? He's all about making up words, too!

      How about Haiku for the real kind and Lowku for the fakes?

    6. Thoughts:
      My husband says of the proliferation of haiku:

      I can count to five
      I can count to seven, too.
      I can count to five.

      My kids and I love, love, love Frindle. But now you've got me wondering what you think of Clements' Dogku?

      I love "quiddity" and can offer nothing better. Maybe one more cup of coffee will inspire me ....

    7. Hi Karen! I don't care for Dogku. Once again, it's because it belittles the haiku as a form. Why was it necessary to tell the story in lines of 5-7-5 syllables? Why not simply tell the story? Where's the "haiku moment" in

      A dog needs a name.
      Rags? Mutt? Pooch? No, not Rover.
      Mooch. Yes, Mooch! Perfect.

      I don't get it. He could just as well told the story in 4 lines of 4-8-4-8, or any other combination.

      Haiku is not so much for telling a story as for showing a momentary experience.

      May 30, 2009 12:30 PM