Notes on form: Haiku

Lately, I’ve been perusing Jane Reichold‘s essays, insights, and wisdom about haiku. I’ve especially been inspired by “Some Thoughts for Rethinking Haiku,” which posits a series of questions about the form. Since haiku often result as part of my small stones practice, I decided it would be a fun exercise to respond to these questions on my blog. So without further ado…

Should there be a better term for poetry written in English that is the result of admiration and emulation of haiku?

Not one that I can think of.

Is the so-called “haiku moment” any different from the seconds of inspiration that occur with other works of art?

For me, it is. The haiku moment seizes me very suddenly when it happens. It’s a moment of clarity that forces me to stop and write. Even if what I put on paper isn’t a haiku in the proper form, it’s the impulse, the words themselves, that matter. With a standard poem, there is less of a triggering moment. Other poems come to me gradually, over time. They’re less sudden. (I would love to hear from other writers as to their answer to this question.)

It is traditional that a break occurs between the two phrases of a haiku; either after the first line or after the second. Do you miss this in haiku that read as a run-on sentence?

I do. I find myself very attached to line breaks, and less engaged when a haiku is written as a run-on sentence.

And haiku one-liners; how do you feel when you read them?

It’s harder for me to focus when the haiku is just one line. I like the tiny build of three lines. I like the way my brain responds to line breaks.

What about those where a break happens at the end of each line? Or the phrase breaks are mid-line?

This is the way I prefer to read haiku, probably because I have spent so many years reading poetry with line breaks, so my brain expects things to be a certain way.

Do you feel haiku need punctuation? If so, where and how much?

Sometimes a comma, semicolon, or em-dash might be necessary, but it depends on the poem. I definitely think haiku should have as little punctuation as possible for the poem to make sense.

While reading haiku can you see a link between the images in each one? Are there two “poles”, pulling your mind in opposite directions before the “snap” of the spark that joins dissimilar things?

In a well-written haiku, yes. This is something I actually try to achieve in all of my poems, not just haiku. (I often say that I’m primarily inspired by haiku even though I don’t write in the form all the time; I like the compression, and the way connections are expressed in such a small space.)

What makes a haiku different from other three-line short poems?

Honestly, I think the syllabic requirements, and not much else. I call many of my small stones haiku even though they don’t meet form requirements, though often change that designation when submitting work, because editors don’t always agree with me.

Do you miss a reference to nature or is that less important than the way the linkage works?

I think the linkage is most important. Nature is part of traditional haiku, and still has a place in contemporary haiku, but from my personal aesthetic, I find the linkage more compelling. The expanse of nature is not the only thing that can be expressed in a confined space.

Do days go by when you are too busy to write haiku until a pressing deadline forces you to look! and there they are haiku all around you?

At this point in my life, I’m glad to say that I’m never too busy for haiku (or small stone, depending on your definition). No matter how busy my day is, I am able to carve out a few minutes to reflect and write one of these brief poems. Haiku are all around me, no matter how busy I am, though they seem to be more easily observed before noon.

How often have you thought of a good haiku and neglected to write it down?

Probably fairly often in the past, but since I neglected the moment, I’ve forgotten about it entirely. These days, I don’t care what I’m doing. I whip out my notebook and jot it down. If for some reason I don’ t have paper and pen available, I type it into an Evernote document on my phone. I no longer make excuses for missing a moment.

Do you miss the time you are not open, searching for the crack in the reality of this world where you can slip in to find haiku?

I’ve become adept at taking time no matter what, though on busy days, when I can spare at most ten minutes, I feel frustrated that I don’t have longer.

What activities bring you into a state of awareness where haiku occur?

Seated meditation. Walking outside. Dancing, or watching people dance. Watching my dogs run around and play.

Would you like to spend more of your day in that consciousness?

Most definitely yes. The 40-hour workweek is not conducive to it, though.

What can be changed to accomplish this?

Setting up a meditation ritual, and sticking to it.

One thought on “Notes on form: Haiku

  1. There have been more words expended in discussing haiku then there have in actually writing it. Certainly that’s true if you consider the length of the discussions in proportion to the length of haiku.

    My current WordPress blog of short poetry is (also) as a result of my involvement initially with ‘small stones’; some of my stones have been haiku of a sort, some of them have been slightly longer poems than you would expect of a stone.

    Anyway, if you enjoy haiku, why not visit ‘the zen space’, a showcase for haiku and related writing,

    Interesting thoughts. Thank you.

    Marie Marshall


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