Dear Diane and friends of The Write Sisters,
I appreciate your care in reviewing my book, as well as your confidence to be "a dog with a bone" about your beliefs in haiku and children's books. I share your passion, while I suppose I have different bones. (It's true, as a dog person, I know about bones...and more haiku, in what you'll find as the same disappointing spirit, is forthcoming from Candlewick in 2011. Twenty-four breeds of dogs featured similarly in this form.)
As a poet who writes in a variety of forms for both adults and children, I use form, meter, rhyme, "sentence sounds" (the adhesive properties of repeating vowels and consonants within a given line that Frost utilized). Form, in particular provides the pressure. Provides the generative source of ideas and options, forces me to consider and reconsider each word and phrase.
Like many folks who practice haiku (indeed, practice is the right word), I opt for the 5/7/5 syllable convention. We all know the original Japanese form does not pertain to 17 syllables broken into three horizontal lines but rather, to 17 units of sound arranged in one vertical line. Furthermore, what sounds like two 'syllables' to an English speaker's ear, may not possess two units of sound. For instance, the Japanese word haibun is often used as an example. It possesses one elongated vowel, as well as an "n" at the end of syllable, which counts as another sound. It's pronounced ha-i-bu-n: four sound counts.
In other words, like any kind of translation, the job is to find an equivalency between languages, not making a precise match. And translation is a constantly renewable art because language dates, language exists in time and place.
In this book, I applied the idea of haiku to a range of commonly seen birds: THAT is hardly a traditional theme for haiku. Birds, yes, but not a suite of different species. So there began the adaptation. I did attempt to use a seasonal cue for each poem. I did use metaphors and similes, partly as a means of enlarging the scope of the observation, partly as a means of layering common phenomenon with nuance or novelty that would allow the reader to dwell on the page. Partly to appeal to younger readers as well.
The temptation, which we all have to resist, is to read quickly: I mean, you can zip through a hundred haiku in the time it might take to read a dozen pages of a novel. Haiku, as I appreciate it or use it, needs to possess a centripetal or centrifugal force rather than a forceful gust. It's a churning and a spinning into associations, and not a rolling out of a maxim or a homily.
Did I practice haiku in this book in a manner that's vetted by the HSA? Would the very nature of this book adhere to their guidelines? I wouldn't know; while I read volumes of haiku, I find them as varied as I find authors of picture books or composers of sonatas or choreographers of ballet. But, as most artists approach their canvas, camera, dancers, piano, I hoped to exploit the power of tradition and the potential of inspiration or innovation.
So, to me, the real questions are: is the book as a whole a success (the mix of field notes, paintings, and poems)? Are the poems enjoyable, insightful, evocative? I don't believe the reader—especially a kid—would ask are these really and truly haiku?
We are in complete agreement on your second point: the font that's used for the notes on the page is less than ideal. I tried...I tried...to have it changed.
Again, thank you for giving this book such serious attention, and for permitting me to raise my hackles as well. Wag, wag...
I want to thank Michael for taking the time to write such a considered response. Before I comment, I want to quote from Jane Reichhold's AHA Poetry site:
I am bothered by the several times it is asked, "Is this a haiku?" I think the better question is, "Do I want to accept this poem as an example of haiku for myself?" With this way of stating the question, perhaps one can avoid painful discourses. I am totally for discussion, but when anyone assumes the authority to say "what haiku is(or isn't)", I feel the discussion has ended and turned into something quite different.
So, to cut to the chase, I'm simply going to state that FOR ME, the poems in Michael's book are not haiku. FOR ME, what's important in haiku is the presentation of "the essence of a moment keenly perceived," not the form. (See NOTE below.)
Here's one of my favorite haiku from The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English edited by Cor van den Heuvel (W.W. Norton, 1999), if only because it is pure essence:
~ Raymond Roseliep
For those who are confused about haiku in English, I'd recommend spending some time with The Haiku Anthology. It doesn't provide instruction--it provides a wide range of examples. If you'd like instruction, check out Patricia Donegan's Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids (Tuttle, 2003), or Jane Reichhold's Writing and Enjoying Haiku (Kodansha, 2003).
I congratulate Michael on the success of The Cuckoo's Haiku and welcome all views on haiku! I'd love to have others weigh in on haiku, too, so please leave your comments and take part in a discussion.
This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is hosted by Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day.
NOTE: The Haiku Society of America's definition of haiku:"An unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which Nature is linked to human nature." The definition was updated in 2004 and now reads, "A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition." Unfortunately, I think the old definition is clearer than the new one, which sent me running to a dictionary of literary terms to understand what was meant by imagistic!