Haiku are an ancient form of poetry that captures a distinct moment in time, and paints a visual image of it with but a few carefully selected words in a specific meter. If you’re a fan of long descriptive passages or rhyming stanzas, you won’t find them in haiku — they’re short and to the point. I’ve tried writing haiku and it requires great discipline, but enjoying them does not.
This form of poetry started about 900 years ago in Japan. Young poets gathered at parties to write a long collaborative poem called a renga. The most honored poet wrote the first short section, then each poet took a turn writing another short part. In the 1400s the short sections were freed from the long poem and developed into haiku.
Although haiku have been popular in Japan for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1940s that Americans began to write them.
Generally speaking a haiku has these qualities:
· It contains seventeen syllables in lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.
· It includes a word or two that alludes to the season.
· It’s written in the present tense about the present moment.
While these are the “rules” many haiku don’t follow them. It’s more important to fulfill the spirit of the haiku than to be a slave to syllable count and form. Haiku master Suzuki advises poets to “get inside an object, experience the object’s life, and feel its feelings.”
Writing haiku requires the art of brevity — selecting a few simple words to convey the special meaning of every day happenings. Imagine you’re writing about a cat, a car wash, a park, an icicle, or a dead sparrow. It’s not easy. Here’s how it’s done:
between lace curtains
the white cat’s eyes
follow a snowflake — Doris Heitmeyer
out of the car wash
across the hood — Alan Pizzarelli
in the empty park
a swing still swinging — Margaret Chula
gray with soot — Issa
a spring breeze rises
breast feathers ruffle
on the dead sparrow — Robert Spiess
Haiku don't have to be serious. When there’s a comic element, traditionalists call them senryū, also called human haiku because they’re about us rather than about nature. Senryū are often cynical but they also may provide a welcome smile. Try these:
awkwardly I dance
because I have two left feet
hard to find partner — Richard Lamoreux
wedding photos late
oh well, someday
my prints will come — Dionfr
nurse wakes me up
time for my sleeping pill — MJ
Haiku wake us up with a distilled moment of heightened awareness. By sharing an experience, they offer insight in real time.
I hope these touch you as deeply as they touch me.
Sources: Haiku Moment, Stone Bench in an Empty Park, Theatlantic.com