Sunday, April 28, 2019

Everything you know about haiku is wrong.

I know, I know -- the title is clickbait. I'll get to that in a minute. But first, some news:

  • Rivers Run got a lovely review this week at Big Al's Books and Pals. My favorite part is the reviewer's last line: "However, then she lays down a sentence like this, 'Her mournful rasp sounded like the barest trickle of moisture in a desert creek bed.' And minor imperfections are quite forgiven." Did I really write that? Huh. I guess I'm not half-bad, after all...
  • The first draft of Treacherous Ground, the next book in the Elemental Keys series, is very nearly in the can. I have fewer than 1,400 words to write in order to win Camp NaNoWriMo, and I'm pretty sure I'll wrap up the story line at that point, too. Hoping to do that tonight before I go to bed. We'll see how it goes.
And now, about that haiku thing.

Every year, the Golden Triangle Association in DC runs a haiku contest. The Golden Triangle is the designation for the part of downtown DC that the office for my day job happens to be in, and so every spring I see some of the winning entries posted around town. This year, I posted a photo of one of them on my Facebook timeline -- and several people complained that the poem wasn't really a haiku, because it didn't have the 5-7-5 syllable scheme we were all taught in school: five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third.

Turns out we were taught wrong. That format is not what makes a haiku a haiku at all.

Just as fiction writers have National Novel Writing Month, haiku enthusiasts have National Haiku Writing Month, or NaHaiWriMo. And they have covered this very topic on their blog, because it comes up every year. It stems from a misunderstanding about the Japanese language -- which counts sounds, not syllables, when crafting a haiku. For example, as I learned at the link above, English speakers consider the word haiku as having two syllables. For a Japanese speaker, though, the word has three sounds -- ha-i-ku. In fact, most Japanese words have more sounds than we would count syllables. So a five-syllable line in English would have far more words than would a five-sound line in Japanese. 

Moreover, haiku's emphasizes the content of the poem, not simply its form. A proper haiku, or so the article says, includes a kigo -- a word indicating the season in which the poem occurs -- and a kiregi, or cutting word, that divides the poem into two parts. Ideally, one part of the poem will be a juxtaposition of the other, and both parts will focus on concrete images that allow the reader to feel what the poet felt when viewing the event.

Here's the photo I posted on Facebook earlier this week. It doesn't look like a haiku under the rules we were all taught, but with our new understanding of the process, I think it qualifies. And I think blackbird is the kigo and turn is the kiregi. What do you think?

One more bit of housekeeping: I'll be on vacation for the next couple of Sundays. Alert hearth/myth readers know two weeks is an unusually long hiatus for me. I'll try to put up a post on one or another of those days, but I can't promise, as wi-fi access is liable to be spotty.

And now I'm off to put a lid on Treacherous Ground. Wish me luck!

These moments of multisyllabic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.


Tomislav Maretić said...

The blackbird as a bird is not kigo by itself, but the blackbird (European blackbird - Turdus merula) sings only in Spring. So, a "singing blackbird" is a clear Spring kigo.

Editor said...

Given that the Japanese and English languages are extremely different, I think that we as English-speaking people need to come up with our own form for the haiku, and 5-7-5 syllables seems as good as any.

(My name is coming up as "Editor" because I have two Blogspot blogs, and that's the name I use on those blogs. I am not the editor of this site.)