Thursday, June 18, 2009

The plural of haiku is haiku (Poetry Thursday returns)

Five, seven and five
Are a haiku’s syllables —
Simple, but complex

People have written a lot of awful haiku (including my introduction); because they are simple to write, but so hard to write well.

In the English-speaking world, haiku are generally identified with their syllable count, but they have other important characteristics.

A traditional Japanese haiku includes a kigo, a word that indicates the season.

Akikaze (autumn wind) or harusame (spring rain) are not just meteorological terms. A haiku captures a singular moment. (Consequently, my introduction is not a real haiku.) And a kigo provides the setting for that moment.

Kigo can be subtle. You don’t have to say “winter blizzard” or even “falling leaves.” For example, kita mado hiraku is a kigo that means “opening the northern windows,” which is usually done in spring when the temperature warms. There is no explicit mention of season, weather or even temperature, but the kigo provides the setting.

A Cleveland kigo could be “salt on my Honda” for winter or “construction again” for summer.

Plants, animals, events — any of these could be a kigo.

Haiku also include a kireji at the end of one of its lines. Kireji are “cutting words.” They function as spoken punctuation like “stop” in telegram.
Consequently, punctuation is substituted for a kireji in English haiku.

Two common kireji are kana and ya. Kana is used at the end of a haiku. It expresses wonderment and is similar to ending a statement with “wow.” Harold G. Henderson compared a kana to “a soft sigh.”

Example from Yosa Buson:
Ochikochi ni
taki no oto kiku
wakaba kana

This translates to:
From far and near,
hearing the sounds of waterfalls —
Young leaves

Contrarily, ya is used mid-verse. Ya splits a verse into two and indicates the two parts should compared. Here’s an example from, perhaps, the most famous haiku ever, written by Matsuo Basho.

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

This translate to:
Old pond —
A frog leaps in,
water’s sound.

I would challenge both of our readers to write some real haiku, not just syllable-counting nonsense that you get from random haiku generators. (In their defense, they call their “haiku” cyberpseudopoetic.)

Capture a moment.

-Jason Lea,



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