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.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Toward Definitions: Third Approximation

In addition to the classical, syllabic form and the free form haiku mentioned in earlier posts, a third possibility is accentual haiku, based on counting accents (beats, stresses) rather than syllables. William J. Higginson in his invaluable The Haiku Handbook (with Penny Harter, Kodansha International, 1985) suggests that the most pleasing form for haiku in English might take an overall form consisting of seven accented syllables, plus unaccented syllables up to a total of twelve. The accents would be distributed 2-3-2 over the three lines of the haiku. This, he says, while yielding a rhythmical structure native to English, would also approximate the duration of traditional Japanese haiku.

Basically, then, three options for the 3-line haiku, the most common form in English: syllabic (5-7-5), free (up to 17 syllables, the fewer the better), and accentual (2-3-2 beats, and up to 10 unaccented syllables, preferably fewer).

No one seems to call for metrical (e. g., iambic) haiku, and I think that's a good thing. It's also generally agreed that rhyme and haiku don't mix, although there are some respectable rhymed translations from the Japanese.

Here's an accentual haiku I wrote a while back. I composed it while waiting for a bus one winter night. It's an urban haiku, reflecting an effort to be mindful of haiku moments (more about that later) in the setting of the city. 14 syllables in all, by my count: in the first line, the second and fourth syllables are accented; in the second, the first, third, and fifth; in the third, the second and third.

the carriage horse
trots his steaming breath
up Sixth Avenue