Friday, June 27, 2014

to count or not to count

In my haiku study I'm learning that Japanese haiku is not structured with 3 lines of 17 syllables, 5-7-5, but instead counts "sound units," which are shorter and more regular than English syllables.

A recently published essay by Toshio Kimura called "A New Era for Haiku"  handily summarizes the essence of haiku, which lies in these characteristics: shortness, a fixed form of some kind, humor (which surprised me), "haikuness," and "kire" or cutting, which results in the juxtaposition of two or three images.  It also explores the deep cultural traditions of haiku in Japan and the changing ways of reading and writing it around the world.

It looks like most writers (in Japanese and English) continue to use a three-line form with lines of unmeasured length, but the overall shape tends to remain short-long-short.  Many writers also continue to include "kigo" or season words and nature themes, but not all.  Here is one from the essayist himself:

just bending the head
as a flower

And here's one of my attempts from this past week, watching Duncan and his friend in the ocean at Rehoboth.


busting waves
again and again deliciously
they break me

I think I'll need to go back this week and look at that one with my new reading in mind--does it have haikuness?  does it break my rules or follow them?  What are my haiku rules anyway?  And is it true that publishers for children are going to want only haiku that follow the 5-7-5 pattern?

In the meantime, please surf on over to Buffy's Blog for the Poetry Friday roundup, and I look forward to hosting you all next week for the Independence Day edition of Poetry Friday!


  1. Take a look at Jon Muth's Hi Koo. That's the first book for kids I've seen that doesn't stick with 5-7-5. Probably there are others?
    Love the repetition of your waves.

  2. Hi, Heidi - I miss you!
    If you can get your hands on an old book, WIND IN THE LONG GRASS (1991) by William J. Higginson, you'll find some solid haiku written for a young audience. There are lots of great articles & resources online at The Haiku Society of America (, The Haiku Foundation (, and Jane Reichhold's . Thanks for exploring haiku in your post today!

  3. Heidi, I'm so glad you've come 'round! My personal definition of haiku comes from the original Haiku Foundation's definition of "the essence of a moment keenly perceived." As for me, I like humor, but sometimes the moment does not have any in it. I think it used to be that haiku didn't reflect the pain and the gore of life, but that certainly doesn't mean that humor is a primary feature. You're also going to find a move toward the one-line (monostich). You can see some here.

  4. For such a short form, there sure is a lot to learn. Seems to me, you're well on your way! Thank you for sharing your explorations, Heidi.

  5. Love the vision of the bursting waves. :)

  6. Heidi, I enjoyed reading your blog post about Japanese haiku. Asa an avid beach goer, your haiku resonated with me. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to sending you a Poetry Friday piece for the Independence Day Round-Up.

  7. Long time, no see, Heidi! Happy summer.


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