by Dr M C Gupta
Basic information about haiku.
A friend recently wrote: “I was told by someone that there are practically no rules to haiku now but haven't seen information to back that up. If you find anything, please let me know”.
That set me thinking. I have already some haikus in my port, a few of them rewarded. I promised to him that I would write a brief review about haiku. This article is the result of that promise. I believe in making short, separate, concise statements rather than an essay. I find that such approach conveys the concept more forcefully. I will follow that approach here.
1. HAIKU IS A POEM—Don’t forget that a haiku is a poem. The moment it is defined as a poem, it has got a right to possess the general characteristics expected of a poem, such as the following:
* Should have rhythm
* Should touch the heart
* Should say much in few words
* Should include sensory images (the reader may be “able to” see, hear, feel, taste, or smell)
* Should make use of things that go with poetic language (simile, metaphor, personification etc.)
* Should use poetic devices such as meter, repetition, alliteration etc.
* Should use literary devices such as snap shots (things for the reader to visualize) and thought shots (characters’ thoughts)
* Should use strong verbs and precise nouns
* Should use line breaks and punctuation effectively
*Should not sacrifice meaning for rhyme [Not applicable in case of haiku].
2. HAIKU, A JAPANESE FORM, HAS SOME ESSENTIAL FEATURES--
Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry having the following characteristics:
A. It is written in three lines, with 5 syllables in first and third line and 7 in the second line.
B. It has Kireji, which, in Japanese, means a pause. It is denoted by a : and refers to the splitting of the haiku into two parts. The first is the setting and the second is the action.
C. It says a LOT in very few words.
D. It is usually written in the present tense.
The following comes from the Haiku Society of America. The definition that the Haiku Society of America gives for a haiku is the following:
A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.
The majority of Haiku poetry consists of three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables, with the middle line being the longest.
3. HAIKU HAS A HISTORY-- Over one thousand years ago in Japan, Tanka poetry was common in the royal courts as a literary game. As a part of this game, one person created a 5-7-5 section while another finished it off with a 7-7 ending. This 5-7-5-7-7 form is the basic unit of a rengay. Later, the first part of this unit acquired a name, haiku. Now-a-days, a haiku means a 5-7-5 poem.
4. PEOPLE HAVE TRIED VARIANTS— As is true of any form or formula, people come out with variants. Some poets have written haikus without the theme of nature. Some have not stuck to the exact 5-7-5 count and used 4-6-4 or 3-5-3. Yet, it appears that in most cases, the minimum essential features would be a 17 or less syllable poem with the middle line being the longest.
Personally, I prefer sticking to original rules.
The haikus written by me, all in the classical 5-7-5 format, can be viewed at:
LINKS TO MY HAIKUS—"LINKS TO MY HAIKU ARTICLE AND POEMS"
• Featured in the Poetry Newsletter, 23 October 2008
M C Gupta
10 April 2008