Ok lissen up, you lousy bass turds; I’m going to be dropping some heavy fecal matter on you here. Impotent stuff, so pay attention dammit.
I’m not talking about the truth behind Donald Trump’s hair, although if I did tell you that you’d not sleep for a week.
I’m not giving you the secret to Acadia’s chili because it’ll curse your line down seven generations and leave you with a raging case of acne on your butt cheeks.
I’m definitely not telling you what Cider does for fun when she’s not here. Not only does the Church not approve, there’s a group of monks under a vow of silence who would shout at me if I told you. So there’s that.
No, I’m drooping truth bombs on you about….. haiku.
What is a Flipping Haiku?
Do you even know what a haiku is, foo? I bet you think you learned in primary school, didn’t you? Some lame-ass teacher told you it’s a non-rhyming, 17-syllable poem with 5 syllables one line one, 7 on line two, and 5 on line 3. Oh, and the last line should make no sense compared to the first two. Sound about right?
Repeat after me, cretin; THAT IS A HORRIBLE LIE AND I SHOULD DIE FOR REPEATING IT.
You must feel as awkward as a white boy singing karaoke to a rap song when the n-word appears and not noticing until after you say it.
5-7-5 is the result of some long-dead ignoramous who didn’t understand what a haiku really is. And you believed this dead dude. And your teacher. I weep for the future.
Since this is obviously a remedial class, I’ll start at the beginning. Pull up a chair and lissen to your Unca Sparks.
The Humble Origins of Haiku
Your stoopid teacher got one thing right; haiku originated in Japan. The genesis of haiku was a poetic style called waka. Waka is literally “poem in Japanese” a self-describing patriotic form of poetry encouraged in Japan when those Chinese jerk-offs during the T’ang Dynasty were pushing their culture around the world.
Waka gave birth to a form called tanka and like a goddam hydra, that biotch sprouted heads. If you’re capable of following my metaphor, you know the hydra heads are other forms of poetry. If not, I just spelled it out for you.
It created linked verses called renga. Some of these were like dirty limericks chained together. Yeh – I knew you’d like that, you perv. It also created mundane style about everyday crap, like having to water your plants or go to work. They called this haikai.
Now here’s where it gets cool. Those poems I mentioned above – waka, tanka, renga, and haikai – all contributed to the birth of haiku. Like a giant poem orgy. Each of these poems had a hokku. No, that’s not the loogi you hawked up like a momma bird feeding her baby after a night of cheap whiskey and smokes. A hokku is the “first verse” of these poems.
Now poets, you might think they’re sissies like you, but they ain’t. The hokku was so important to the poem that early poets would fight and argue over how they should be constructed. I know you like Def Lepard – imagine how crappy Love Bites would be without the first verse.
Eventually, after much sake and a few black eyes, the form of haiku was born from when they realized that the first verse was so awesome it could stand on its own.
Note from your Unca Sparks here – I’ve take a little liberty with the story above, so shaddup and enjoy it. Don’t be a douchepickle and correct me on every little element.
Enough History. What is a haiku?
Aight, jerkwads. I’m going to give you Unca Sparks’ plain English vision of haiku before I get to the technical aspects of it. Here goes:
A haiku describes a single, natural, moment in time, without any emotive words, with such perfect clarity that you, as the reader, can feel the emotion the author felt when he/she experienced that moment.
Memorize that crap; it’s gold. A good haiku doesn’t use such pansy-ass words like “joy,” “love,” “happy,” or “hate.” It makes you FEEL those emotions without every saying them. Lemme show you:
nothing moves except
Read it again. Look at it. Savor it. (not like that, you degenerate!) Notice it has no touchy-feely words. No opinion. Just a moment in time described to you.
If you’re not dead inside (you probably are, child of Satan) you might feel the same vaugue unease, sense of awe, and lonliness I felt when I stood alone on a warm summer night, in dead and muggy air, and saw nothing move in the sky, except one lone satellite.
So what are the rules?
Forget that 5-7-5 syllable nonsense. Right freaking now. Remember that awkward karaoke moment? Ain’t nobody want that – so forget 5-7-5.
5-5-7 is a translation error. Haiku in Japanese are always precisely 17-on long. The Japanese have an grammatical concept called an on. An on is a distinct phonetic sound that is often confused as being the equivalent of a syllable – from which the confusion about 5-7-5 in English stems. But an on is not a syllable. An on is spoken much more quickly than a syllable, and actually references word parts differently than syllables do.
And that’s the key, doofus. Haiku are spoken poems. The spoken length of a haiku is important! 17-on in Japanese are much faster than 17 syllables in English.
It is for this reason that English haiku experts consider the ideal length of an English language haiku to be betwen 12-14 syllables. But here’s a secret for an English language haiku: the syllable count is less important than the stresses per line.
A good haiku in English should have about 2-3-2 stresses per line. In order to achieve this, a haiku usually floats around 10-12 syllables and, as such, closely matches the spoken length of a Japanese haiku.
Let me explain.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up:
In a nutshell, an English haiku is a short, 3-line, non-rhyming, poem of about 12 syllables that centers around natural images that is meant to be spoken aloud. A haiku usually implies or mentions a specific season and often has a “cutting” or transition word within it.
Haiku are Nature Poems
Yeah, get off your damned smartphone and look up. Haiku are about things IRL. Traditionally, they have a kigo – or season word. That does not mean you should have the words “spring”, “summer”, “fall”, or “winter” in your poem, although many great haiku do just that. It means your reader should get a sense of the season by the word choices in the poem itself. Here, let me pontificate to you once more with another of my haiku:
full flower moon
in its halo –
the space station
You don’t know this, because you’re not as cool as me, but by choosing the “full flower” moon, I am referring to the month of May. It’s not a well-known image, but many Native American tribes know the full moon in the month of May as the “full flower moon.”
Boom. Season word.
Haiku Make You Bleed
Perhaps the most difficult to describe to you simpletons, the most difficult to understand, and use is the kireji, or cutting word, in a haiku. The cutting word is used to transition between two thoughts, pull two concepts together, or to have an “aha!” moment (usually at the end) of the haiku. A kireji has no exact English equivalent and is often left out of English haiku. It’s not wrong to leave it out in English haiku, but when you have one, it makes the poem oh-so-much better. Not better like a fart with a surprise ending, but REALLY better.
Here is one of my haiku with a cutting word in it:
An icy blast
assaults rows of crosses
I wrote this in the dead of winter at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The word “crosses” serves as a bridge between two thoughts – the icy wind and the lonely hero, and gives the poem a little punch it wouldn’t have otherwise had.
How Can I Start Writing Haiku?
OMG, do I have to tell you everything?!
A haiku is about observation. Haiku don’t write themselves in a dark room in front of a keyboard, silly. They come from experience outside of the room and away from the computer. If you have a great memory, remember your experiences and take them back to the computer later. Many haiku poets keep a notebook where they jot draft versions of a haiku they later go back and perfect.
Get out of the house and let the distractions of life go – look around and see the world around you – and haiku will start imprinting themselves on you naturally. Every moment you experience is a potential haiku. Start thinking like that and you’ll not only start seeing the haiku in everything, you’ll start appreciating those little moments more and more.
Ok, yungins, Unca Sparks is tired of you now. Have fun, don’t do drugs, make good choices, and write some haiku.
So, concerning the concept of ‘on’ and trying to translate it to English. Is there any sense of meter for the stresses? Does it matter where they sit within each line? Does each line have to contain at least one?
I don’t speak fluent Japanese so I can’t comment on HOW to translate a haiku to English. I can comment on how to construct an English language haiku, though.
On the topic of stresses, there are two main rules that apply:
1. A word can have only a single stress, even if it’s a compound word.
2. Stress only vowels, never consonants.
So, the word “present” can be stressed either on the first or second “e.” and Depending on how you stress it, it has a different meaning:
PRESent = a gift
preSENT = the current time period
Now the 2/3/2 rule of stressing in English haiku is less a rule than a suggestion. Everything about haiku in English are less strict than in Japanese, because of the fluidity of our language compared to Japanese.
It doesn’t matter if you stress 2 syllables early in the first line and let the rest of the line kinda fade away. In fact you might be going for that effect – because how and when we stress impacts the flow of the poem. As an artist, that’s up to you.
It comes down to how you want the poem to flow. Like music, your arrangements make all the difference and sure, you can do the standard 3-chord rock and do just fine – but don’t be afraid to experiment.
Forgot to add on, even the “3 lines” is not set in stone. Many, many poets have eschewed the 3 lines for a single line – especially when posting to social media or, more importantly, when they don’t want the inherent “pause” that occurs when you have aline break.
In general, I recommend starting with the 3 line format. Master that (if anyone can ever be said to have mastered it) and then move into experimentation.
I never knew any of this and now I feel like a super genius. Well, I did know what ‘on’ is sort of, because I took 3 years of Japanese. Of which I remember about 1%, so I fail at life.