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January 13, 2012

Yet Another Haiku Miss

I have a Google Alert set up for the term "haiku," and as a result I get many interesting or odd links in my inbox. Some have to do with the Maui town of Haiku in Hawaii--everything from obituaries to announcements of Unified Field Theory seminars. Others have to do with the Haiku operating system for computers. Some lucky days I get links for haiku poetry!

Over the past two weeks I found several mentions of a new book by Emily Dickinson aficionado and poet, Everett Decker, called haiku Emily! An article about Decker's book mentions that it is an introduction to 125 of Dickinson's poems accompanied by "haiku-style interpretations of the poems based on his own interest in haiku and Japanese philosophy and the similarities he sees between haiku and what he calls the 'hymnal lyric style' of Dickinson's work."

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I have not seen the book, so, I shouldn't really be making a judgment on it on the basis of one or two articles, but, I do have some strong opinions about the way haiku is being promoted to the general public as a way to make cute and clever commentary* without regard for its long and revered history as a poetic form in Japan and elsewhere in the world--it's just not right!

The writer of the haiku Emily! article tells us that Decker, in the preface to his book, says, "I may have had to make her less reverent to make her more relevant..." The article's only sample of a Decker interpretive "haiku" is the following, written about the poem known as "267 Did we disobey Him?":
there was the whole Eden thing -
get over it

Emily probably wouldn't have minded the irreverence, and I don't mind it either, but PLEASE, don't call the vehicle for it haiku! Rant officially over!

haiku Emily! did get me thinking about using Dickinson as a starting point for writing haiku. Her poetry is saturated with images of nature--both natural and human. So, here are a few Dickinson-inspired haiku, and the stanzas from which they came:

A Drop fell on the Apple Tree--
Another--on the roof--
A Half a Dozen kissed the Eaves--
And made the Gables laugh--


a drop of rain--
an eruption of giggles
under the eaves


I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air--
Between the Heaves of Storm--


summer wake
the buzzing of a fly
between sobs


The Brain--is wider than the Sky--
For--put them side by side--
The one the other will contain
With ease--and You--beside--


cloudless sky
the blue goes on forever--
my thoughts of you

Haiku © Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.
The Poetry Friday Round-Up this week is being held at A Teaching Life.

*Examples of what I'm talking about when I say "cute and clever commentary" are the haiku computer error messages that circulate periodically via email, SPAM-ku, or any of the various haiku contests held online--click here, here, or here for examples.


  1. I love me some Random Noodling. It's always an education.

  2. Target also did some haiku in their advertising; did you see them? Thanks for explaining your thinking. I like the idea of showing students that different poets approach nature in a variety of ways, too, like yours after Dickinson. I love that first one, 'an eruption of giggles'.

  3. Brilliant, Diane! Truly brilliant . . .

  4. Enjoyed your Dickinson inspired haiku, Diane. Interesting commentary about Decker's approach.

  5. heresy to suggest emily could be improved upon but i have to confess: i like your version better.


  6. I really like the idea of interpreting poems by writing poems -- I loved your Emily Dickinson inspired haiku.

  7. Great post, Diane - thanks for sharing!

  8. yes I am glad you are so forthright in your high opinion of what haiku really is and should be. I think it's inspiring to use Emily's poetry as a jumping off point... I am going to try it this week too!

  9. Great post, Diane!

    I feel the same way and often cringe when I see things being passed off as haiku. At least in this case they do say "haiku-inspired" and "haiku style." That's fine for those that know the difference, but the problem is that there are just too many people out there that believe that writing a poem in three lines and 17 syllables automatically makes it a haiku. Sigh.

    I also loved your Dickinson-inspired haiku—what a great idea for an exercise! And I love the idea of using Google Alerts with the word "haiku". I think I'm going to do that, too. Thanks for sharing this!

    Gisele :)

  10. Thanks, everyone for weighing in on the haiku issue. And thanks for the "huzzah," David! Huzzah is a word I don't think I have ever used!

  11. I love your Emily Dickinson haikus. I would love to have a haiku conversation with you in person. You probably wouldn't like my text message haikus, but I excuse them because they attempt to capture moments, which is one of the things I tell my students about haiku.

  12. Could you tell how you REALLY feel about fake haiku?!?! :-)

  13. Haiku is, as I force myself to say every once in a while, whatever the haiku writer says it is. It is difficult, and counterproductive, to produce too narrow a definition. That being said, so much is lost by not searching out the more "refined" (how's that for a weeny word?) haiku.

  14. Yeah, I agree. I think the focus should be more on what a haiku can be, how one can make them more memorable, over what one "categorizes" as haiku.

    Gisele :)

  15. wow! i've read Emily's work; she is one of my favourite old dead lady poets

    much love...