Saturday, April 01, 2006

Haiku Practice

I have been playing with haiku on and off for a few months, but as I mentioned last night, I now want to make haiku a part of my practice. I did some reading today and found some interesting info on the web.

This site has a list of rules one can apply to the writing of haiku. There are 65 rules given, with the admonition to pick and choose since some of the rules contradict each other. Here are a few of the rules:

2. Seventeen syllables written in three lines.
3. Seventeen syllables written in three lines divided into 5-7-5.
4. Seventeen syllables written in a vertical (flush left or centered) line.
5. Less than 17 syllables written in three lines as short-long-short.
6. Less than 17 syllables written in three vertical lines as short-long-short. (Ala Barry Semegran)
7. Write what can be said in one breath.
8. Use a season word (kigo) or seasonal reference.
9. Use a caesura at the end of either the first or second line, but not at both.
10. Never have all three lines make a complete or run-on sentence.
I was hoping to find a few hard and fast guidelines to use but haven't had much luck. The 17 syllables rule is only a suggestion -- many very good haiku in Japanese and English have less than 17 syllables.

However, all good haiku share some basic characteristics:

1) They mention a season either directly or by inference.
2) They have two parts sometimes referred to as the fragment (the shorter, stand-alone line) and the phrase (the rest of the poem).
3) The two parts compare generally unrelated ideas in a way that forges new meaning.

The language is to be compacted as much as possible, which often means dropping articles, prepositions, and sometimes even verbs. Images are meant to carry the weight of the poem, and exposition is to be avoided. Classical haiku, with its foundations set in Zen, aims to produce an aha! moment in the reader.

Because haiku relies so heavily on images and the symbolic associations they evoke, Westerners have had a hard time getting the essence of haiku. This has resulted in a distinctly Western haiku form often bearing little resemblance to the Japanese traditions.

Japanese haiku is founded in nature imagery. This convention has not survived the conversion into English, though there are many who still attempt to honor this element of haiku.

As I learn more, I will post more information on the art of haiku.

Here are a few of my first attempts at the form. These are rough and feel very forced to me. I hope to get more relaxed with the form as I practice.

[image source]

windblown leaves
old river sleeps under snow--
moonlight warms skin

[image source]

quiet pond
moonlit lotus blossoms --
no self

[Sabino Creek]

last water scent
before the desert withers --
breathe in, breathe out

[image source]

ocotillo bloom
fierce hummingbird squabble --
afternoon breeze


Anonymous said...

My father is a haiku poet who, in his more dedicated (and less worked-filled days) used to publish quite a bit in domestic and foreign poetry journals. As a child, I remember him carrying around his little notebook, closely observing everything around him, and jotting down phrases he might work over for months. I mention this mostly to suggest you try something similiar: writing about that which you directly observe. It sharpens your vision and here-nowness (it used to astonish me the things my father could point out, to which I was oblivious) and I think the best poetry comes from direct observation too. I'm watching this development with interest. Good luck!

Kai in NYC

kathy said...

thank you for the link with the rules. beautiful haiku images.

william harryman said...

Thanks, Kathy.

And thanks for the suggestion, Kai, I'll do that. My hope is to make this a bit of a meditative practice as well as a writing practice.

If I can create some time, I also want to do more photography so that the images are all mine. Not sure I can make that happen.