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.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Toward Definitions: 9th Approximation

In the 8th approximation, I looked at the "phrase-and-fragment" structure that is the norm in haiku past and present. We have to note, though, that there are deviations, for which there is ample precedent in the work of the Japanese masters and in the practice of contemporary haiku poets. On the latter point, consult respected anthologies like Cor van den Heuvel's The Haiku Anthology and Bruce Ross's Haiku Moment, both highly recommended.
There is, for instance, haiku consisting of one complete sentence. Some purists reject this option outright, which, of course, they have a right to do in their own writing. But readers who consult the anthologies I've just mentioned will find single-sentence haiku by Nick Avis, Chuck Brickley, Jack Cain, L. A. Davidson, David Elliott, J. W. Hackett, Penny Harter, Doris Heitmeyer, Anna Holley, Adele Kenny, and Elsie Kolashinski, among others; proceeding alphabetically, I've stopped at the letter K, and, at that, I haven't included everyone.
Examples that follow are derived from David Cobb's handsome anthology, Haiku: The Poetry of Nature. I'll arrange the examples in the familiar 3-line form, although that is not how haiku appears in Japanese, a point I touched on in an earlier approximation.
Basho is generally regarded as the first great master of haiku. Here's one of his:
kagero no
waga kata ni tatsu
kamiko kana
In translation:
heat waves
shimmer on the shoulder
of my paper robe
Since we're working with translation, this is a bit tricky, but Basho's haiku seems a clear ancestor of today's single-sentence haiku. Does this mean that any old sentence will do, as long as its divided into three lines/segments of 17 syllables or less?
Well, no. Look at the last word in the original Japanese. "Kana" is a cutting word: one of those words with no definite meaning that function rather like punctuation in English. The nearest equivalent to kana—a very rough one indeed—would be an exclamation point; very rough, because kana is much softer, less emphatic, than an exclamation point. With no specific denotation, it signals the poet's wonder and surprise at what he has just observed.
Here's one criterion for the single-sentence haiku, and, in writing haiku, it's the test I apply to the single-sentence deviation: Is it worth a kana? That is, does it move convincingly to a feeling, however subtle, of wonder and surprise? Actually, I prefer Glenn Gould's wonderful phrase "wonder and serenity."
In the application of this criterion, whether to my own work or that of others, I do not claim infallibility.
Single-sentence haiku (I think of them as kana haiku.) that appear on this blog, in reverse order:
March 31, "spring visitor"
March 23, "dandelion" (an interrogative sentence)
March 16, "pointing to spring"
March 7. "Third Approximation," "the carriage horse," illustrating accentual haiku
Most of my haiku are in the phrase-and-fragment form, since, as I said at the beginning of this long post, that is the norm.