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

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Location: New York, New York

Haiku is to poetry as espresso is to coffee.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Toward Definitions: First Approximation

Now that we've started, this seems like a good time to begin addressing the question of what we mean by haiku and senryu. We're going to approach the question by offering a series of approximations that should gradually bring us closer to a usable definition. We'll start with matters of form, then move on to matters of content. An advantage of this sequence is that, in formal terms, haiku and senryu are pretty much identical.

So, first approximation: In English, haiku/senryu means a poem consisting of three lines. The first line contains five syllables, the second seven, and the third five, for a total of seventeen. Japanese haiku [The form is of Japanese origin.] are usually written in a single line, but a Japanese reader will readily discern three distinct elements in that one line. The Japanese sound unit that is the rough equivalent of the English syllable is the on [plural onji], but they differ in that onji are invariably of the same, short length, while English syllables can vary significantly in length: Think of "be" and "breathe." A 17-syllable poem is therefore significantly different from the 17-onji Japanese form, the 17-syllable poem being, in the utterance, obviously longer. This has led many English language haiku poets to explore other formal possibilities, which we'll consider in further approximations. This process has probably also been furthered by the fact that translations from the Japanese, if they are to be faithful to the spirit of the original, are often compelled to deviate from a 5-7-5 format.

So the familiar notion that haiku means a poem of 17 syllables, divided 5-7-5, is at most approximately true. It remains the case that many haiku in English do follow this form. One example from the haiku already available on this blog:

I never saw it
until winter stripped the trees
the curve of the hill
Was this form "intended?" Well, a first draft came close enough to make me work consciously in revision for the 5-7-5 form, since that seemed to be what the poem wanted me to do.


Blogger Indeterminacy said...

I like the American Haiku as written by Jack Kerouac.

4:15 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Me too. I'll have more to say on the subject of American haiku in later approximations.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Tikkis said...

Hello Bill, I think you get an email from this comment of mine?

I mentioned this page when I wrote a short text about: "Never Seeing Fuji" by Dustin Neal.

I did like Dustin's book. And I did like your senryu-text! Thanks, Bill!

One of my Email is: juhani.tikkanen@wippies.com

12:16 PM  
Blogger indonesianegriku said...

thank's for sharing info,..!
Kerja Keras Adalah Energi Kita

8:00 AM  

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