Friday, November 28, 2008

IV: 049

wintry mix
big wet ones
at the bedroom window


At December 09, 2008 4:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A haiku is 5 syllables, then 7, then 5 again. :\

At December 09, 2008 5:05 PM, Blogger david giacalone said...

Hello, Anonymous. If you're interested in learning more about the haiku genre, you might start with my brief essay it or ain't it haiku?, which has links to many other essays by some of the leading English-language haiku poets.

Haiku came to us from Japan, but many of the first Westerners who translated Japanese haiku did not have a sophisticated understanding of the language or the haiku tradition in Japan. For quite a while, therefore, serious haiku poets, along with the Haiku Society of America, have believed that the 5-7-5-syllable rule represented a misinterpretation the form and structure of Japanese haiku and language.

For example, the Japanese language does not have syllables. Traditional Japanese haiku count "onji," which are "sound symbols," and 17 of them usually amount to far fewer words than result from 17 English syllables. (Also, traditional Japanese haiku is usually written in one vertical line, not three lines.) With the 5-7-5 "rule," then, the result was a focus on syllable-counting that has made most haiku in English, whether translations or originals, "awkwardly padded with unnecessary words" and ineffective compared to their Japanese counterparts.

We therefore believe that haiku should have no more than 17 syllables, and that the best English haiku often have between 10 and 14 syllables, with no requirement that they be spaced in any particular pattern on the lines of the poem.

David G. Lanoue, who is an English Lit professor, as well as an author, poet and translator of Japanese haiku, has asked: Why is haiku taught in elementary school as a 17-syllable poem? And says, the reason is simple: In many school curricula haiku is used to give students practice in recognizing syllables and manipulating language. Sadly, teachers often ignore the most important formal requirement of haiku: two images separated by a pause. They treat haiku as if it were merely a closed poetic form: any combination of words in a 5-7-5 combination.

We believe that English-language haiku needed to be freed from the misguided and artificial counting of syllables in order to be truer to the essence of the haiku genre and allow more focus on the content of the poems.


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