A blog devoted mainly to haiku and senryu and to thoughts about, and inspired by, haiku and senryu.

My Photo
Location: New York, New York

Haiku is to poetry as espresso is to coffee.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Toward Definitions: 6th Approximation

Back for now to matters of form. This post looks at a few "technical" matters.
capitalization: generally avoided in haiku. Absolutists don't even capitalize proper names, but most follow the practice, reflected here, of capitalizing proper nouns ("Central Park," below) and the pronoun "I;" the latter, of course, shouldn't show up in haiku, as distinguished from senryu, very often.
punctuation: complicated. You don't find punctuation in Japanese haiku, but you do find "cutting words (kireji)," words that have no real meaning in themselves but indicate a grammatical break: words, that is, that act rather like punctuation in English. Haiku poets don't necessarily follow standard rules of English punctuation, but beyond that generalizations become difficult. My practice, which I have not explained to myself before this, is to avoid punctuation except where to do so might create unwanted confusion. And when I find punctuation necessary, I generally resort to the all-purpose dash. Moreover, more often than not, I place the dash where a cutting word would be most likely to appear: at the end of the first or second line. That the absence of punctuation sometimes makes it possible to read a word or phrase in more than one way seems to me a plus: ambiguity, yes; confusion, no.
Here's a haiku in which I use the dash. I felt that, without it, "not moving" might seem to refer primarily to the trees, yielding the (apparently) ludicrously obvious observation that the trees aren't going anywhere. The dash, by separating the third line from the first two, is meant to suggest that it's the perceiver who is not moving: the image in my mind was of someone stuck in traffic driving north on Central Park West, but other readings--for instance, that the perceiver has simply paused while walking through the park--are entirely valid. By making this clearer, I hope to open up the interplay of "rising" and "not moving." For me, that tension is the heart of this haiku. Doesn't have to be that way for you.

in Central Park
trees rising from the snow--
not moving