Haiku: A New Appreciation

leaves encased in ice

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form that many Americans admire. However, I have found very few adult Americans attempting to write it. Many of us learned about haiku in grade school English classes. We were taught the proper haiku form:

  • Three lines
  • Seventeen syllables
  • Broken into 5-7-5 syllable lines
  • Has to contain a ‘season’ element, indicating spring, summer, winter, or fall

Writers who do tackle haiku are challenged by the constraints of the form, like those who enjoy writing sonnets, or quatrains. Many other writers don’t like the constraints, and therefore, prefer to admire haiku from afar.

I recently read two books about writing haiku by experts in the field: The Heart of Haiku, by Jane Hirshfield, and Write Like Issa: A Haiku How-To, by David G. Lanoue. They have each translated thousands of haiku from Japanese to English.

I read Hirshfield’s book first. She focuses mainly on using the work of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), the poet who developed the haiku form in the late 1600s. He gave it the 5-7-5 form. Hirshfield says that Bashō elevated the form from simple playful verse into something more substantial. Hirshfield says that “he wanted to renovate human vision by putting what he saw into a bare handful of mostly ordinary words, and he wanted to renovate language by what he asked it to see.”

Interestingly, I noticed that very few haiku translations from Japanese to English seem to follow the 5-7-5 pattern. This Bashō haiku on aging is a great example:

growing old:

eating seaweed,

teeth hitting sand

 

The line pattern in this translation is 3-4-4. However, how could one change this without changing the conciseness of the piece? Without disrupting the elegance?

Later in the book, Hirshfield quotes Bashō as saying, “If you have three or four, or even five or seven extra syllables but the poem still sounds good, don’t worry about it. But if one syllable stops the tongue, look at it hard.”

Even the guy who created the form tells us not to stress over the precise form, but to go for the poetry of the language.

Lanoue’s book focuses on the work of Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), who built upon the artistic base that Bashō had started. Lanoue also includes many contemporary haiku written in the Issa style. Another important part of the haiku style is that “the most important part of the poem isn’t stated outright but gently implied,” as in this contemporary example by Greg Longenecker:

abandoned farm

the dandelions make

their own wishes

 

The elegance in this piece is in what is implied, not in what is directly stated. At the abandoned farm, there is nobody around to pick the dandelions and blow the seeds into the air and make wishes on them. The tone seems melancholy to me, and is implied rather than stated.

I realized that there is far more going on with haiku than I had ever been led to believe.

I discovered that Lanoue has a haiku website. At this website, I think Lanoue gives us the best definition of haiku for English speakers based upon what Bashō and Issa wrote in their haiku, and what they wrote about haiku. Lanoue defines haiku as “a one-breath poem that discovers connection.” When he discusses the 17 syllable, 5-7-5 form, he says,

“Japanese words for the most part are polysyllabic, consisting of multiple syllables. English, in contrast, has loads of one syllable words (“spring,” “rain” and “duck” for instance). For this reason, most haiku poets writing in English don’t follow the 5-7-5 syllable rule. Seventeen syllables of English could potentially add up to seventeen separate words, making the “haiku” too long, lessening its intensity.”

Lanoue also says that the reason haiku is taught in the 5-7-5 form so emphatically in our grade schools is because at that stage of learning, they are used in English-speaking schools to teach the concept of syllables to children. For some reason, I believe that our knowledge and appreciation of haiku never advances beyond that understanding, and so haiku is very misunderstood and underappreciated in America today.

I think I have a better understanding of the potential of haiku after reading these two books. Much thanks to Jane Hirshfield and David G. Lanoue for showing us the way.

And now that we have been shown the way, why don’t we all take a shot at using the loosened haiku guidelines suggested by Lanoue? Work on three concise lines. Remember the goal is “a one-breath poem that discovers connection.” Focus on that. If some of the lines have five, or seven, or five syllables, great…but don’t force it.

Feel free to post your haiku in the comments, or you can send them to me at writersforumeditor@gmail.com for compiling into another post in a month or so.

I’ll start. Here is a haiku I wrote one cold morning after seeing some dead oak leaves trapped in ice in a puddle.

fallen brown leaves
yesterday swimming
entombed this morning

 

Let’s see what you can do!

 

George T. Parker

Webmaster/Newsletter Editor


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Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction. 9.) Poetry.

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Member Poetry: A Christmas Mistake

Today’s contribution is a cheeky little holiday poem from WF member Dave Smith.

A Christmas Mistake

By: Dave Smith

Santa, Santa, where you be?

Ain’t no presents under my tree.

I was good, ‘cept once in September,

And maybe a few times I don’t remember.

Did you get stuck in some chim-in-ee

Droppin’ off gifts for kids like me?

Or did you plain forget?

You stupid fat old shit.

Another pudge with a stained white beard,

Wearing a red suit; now that’s just weird.

And flying deer? What a joke.

What you got in that pipe you smoke?

Bah Humbug I say to you

And tell you what I’m gonna do;

Gonna tell my friends you’re make believe,

A parent’s trick, to deceive

All good kids like me and Joe  

With all your silly Ho, Ho, Ho.

Just a sec – Mom is here – what’d you say?

Christmas is not today?

Oh.

Uhhh, Santa, Santa, please forgive me,

Tomorrow’s the day to check the tree.

Like I said before

I really do adore

Your fancy clothes and friendly deer

And hope you will soon be here

With your jolly self

And maybe an elf

Or two, or three

And lots of presents just for me.

Try to forget what I said about your weight

And stop tonight in the late late late

Of Christmas Eve

Because I really do believe.


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction. 9.) Poetry. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Member Poetry: Kindness, by Linda Boyden

author linda boyden

Kindness

By Linda Boyden©2020

Kindness sits

on one side

of the freeway

the shriek of traffic

numbs his ears

a harsh wind

lashes his hair

stings his eyes

paralyzes his judgment

so he stays huddled

curved inward

shoulders quaking

 

Patience spots him.

Though she fears

the screech of traffic

the cruelty of metal

she takes it one lane at a time

until she reaches Kindness

gathers him

in her warm arms

talks softly

asks him to trust her

asks him to try

tells him she won’t

let him go it alone.

 

Arm in arm

they take

the first step.

 

Linda Boyden, author, storyteller, illustrator & poet

The Blue Roses from Lee & Low Books 2002, winner New Voices Award, Paterson Prize and Wordcraft Circle’s Book of the Year, 2003

Powwow’s Coming , Linda’s first illustrated book, from the University of New Mexico Press, 2007. Powwow’s Coming is included on Reading Is Fundamental‘s 2011 Multicultural Book List!

Giveaways, An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas, written & illustrated by Linda Boyden (University of New Mexico Press), 2010 “Giveaways”, winner of three Finalist awards from the 2011 International Book Awards, two Finalist Awards from the 2011New Mexico Book


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

National Poetry Month

Here it is, almost the end of April, and I have nearly missed writing about National Poetry Month.

National Poetry Month was started by the American Academy of Poets in 1996 “to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters,” as we learn from the AAP website.

I know that Writers Forum has many poets in our membership. I also know that Writers Forum has many good writers who find themselves intimidated by poetry. I know, because until a short while ago, I was one of you.

Sure, I had dabbled in poetry in college. I tried my hand at free verse and sonnets. And once I didn’t have to write poetry for assignments anymore, I stopped writing it. Poetry was hard. I had a hard time reading it. I was much more comfortable writing in prose. I had been writing prose all of my life, and it worked just fine for me. Why change?

I’ll tell you why.

Writing poetry will make your prose stronger. I guarantee it.

Poetry took me by surprise. It ambushed me after a Writers Forum Read Around. I hadn’t even read any poetry. I had read a selection from my Backcountry Trails memoir. After the Read Around, a friend in Writers Forum approached me and asked me to join her poetry critique group. Just like that. I didn’t know what to say. She said that her poetry group had dwindled through attrition down to two people, and they really needed a third for it to remain a ‘group.’ I protested that I don’t even write poetry.

She said, “You are a writer. Writers write. Poetry is just another type of writing, and I am confident that your poetry is just fine.”

I thought about it for a minute. If for no other reason than to get to know these other writers better, I agreed to check out their group. I met them at a local restaurant the next week.

Did I mention that the other two people are language teachers and published authors? Do I need to tell you that I felt intimidated and way, way out of my league to be sharing poetry with them?

I also need to tell you that they did everything they could to make me feel at ease and to assure me that I am a writer, and poetry is one aspect of any writer’s craft. I had heard it said that writing poetry helps your word choice and concision in other writing.

It’s true.

After spending almost two years writing poetry, it turns out to be the single best thing I have done to improve my writing in a long time. Give it a shot!

Even after National Poetry Month ends, we will continue posting on this blog to help you build your poetry muscles. I will also be looking for poets interested in contributing articles about the craft of poetry.

Maybe we can make it a regular feature and call it Hitting the Poetry Gym. I am open to other suggestions.

If you are a poet and would like to contribute to the blog, or if you have other name suggestions for a ‘poetry workout’ feature, leave a comment, or email me at writersforumeditor@gmail.com .

Thanks for reading,

Geo.


If you would like to contribute an original piece to Writers Forum for posting on the blog, please submit to writersforumeditor@gmail.com .  Please note ‘Submission’ in the subject line. All submissions are considered, but shorter pieces of 500-1500 words are preferred. We will consider all original works–poetry, short fiction, essays, memoir. We would also love to run your short pieces on writing as well. Share your writing insights with us. Thanks!

April is National Poetry Month

April has been dedicated as National Poetry Month in the United States since 1996. The Academy of American Poets saw how successful Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March) had been at raising public awareness of those topics, and they felt the need to raise public awareness of poetry, especially in American public schools. According to the Academy of American Poets, the mission of National Poetry Month is to:

We at Writers Forum would like to give you some resources for helping poets in their craft.

First, we have The Complete Rhyming Dictionary.

20190331_122549

This great little book includes a one-hundred page Poet’s Craft Book. This teaches you rhythm, rhyme, stanza patterns, and various forms and techniques of poetry. The meat of the book, however, is a literal ‘rhyming dictionary’, helping you find rhymes to almost any word you would need in your poetry. Need a rhyme for ‘alabaster’, and you have already used ‘plaster’ and ‘master’, but you need more? Well, how about ‘blaster’, ‘disaster’, ‘faster’, ‘forecaster’, or ‘pastor’?

The photo is my beat up copy that I have been carrying around for twenty-five years or so. The Complete Rhyming Dictionary has been an important tool on my writing tool box.

Then we have Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook: a Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry.

20190331_122533

Mary Oliver goes into the nuts and bolts of writing poetry, and she does it in clear language that is easy for the non-poet to follow. She encourages practice, practice, practice in writing, and says, “One learns through thinking about writing, and by talking about writing–but primarily through writing.” Ms. Oliver gives us plenty of examples and suggestions for writing exercises.

Then we have Pulitzer Prize-winner and former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual.

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The Poetry Home Repair Manual is especially geared towards beginning poets, but poets at any level can use Ted’s sage advice. He leaves most of the actual ‘how to’s for other books. Ted seems most concerned with the poet’s attitude and expectations, which mean everything to the heart and soul of poetry. He encourages us to write the type of poetry that we would like to read, which means accessible to most people. He writes:

The Poetry Home Repair Manual advocates for poems that can be read and understood without professional interpretation. My teacher and mentor, Karl Shapiro, once pointed out that the poetry of the twentieth century was the first poetry that had to be taught. He might have said that had to be explained. I believe with all my heart that it’s a virtue to show our appreciation for readers by writing with kindness, generosity, and humility toward them. Everything you’ll read here holds to that.

Kooser’s book is a great one for jump stating your motivation to write poetry.

And since we are in the 21st century, there are all sorts of on-line helps for the poet, from Rhyme Zone and Rhymes, to Poem-a-Day delivered directly to your e-mail box, the access we have today to poetry and writing helps is phenomenal. Don’t forget to look for poetry apps for your smart phone. Go to wherever you purchase and download your apps, and search for key words like ‘rhyming dictionary’. You might be surprised at all of the useful tools available for that marvelous little tool in your hand!

What poetry writing tools and helps have you found? What are your favorites? Please share them with us on our Facebook page, or shoot us an e-mail at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . We would love to hear from you!

#NationalPoetryMonth