Haiku: The Instagram of the Poetry World?

Words by
Beck Leach
| June 24, 2014

“Haikus confuse me
Too often they make no sense
Hand me the pliers” Bumper sticker

Haiku, so short, so strict, so weird.

A haiku is a form of poetry originating in Japan.  There are set haiku rules that seem to clip the poems short and make them seem obscure and without context.  However, this is the point, haikus are designed to describe only fleeting moments depicting everyday life. They are instapoems. A one breath poem. Where are you? What are you doing?

The traditional rules are as follows:

  1. The poem must be 17 syllables in length (translation sometimes messes this up)
  2. The poem is split into three lines 5,7,5.   (modern Haiku poets aren’t as strict about the division of the syllables)
  3. The poem juxtaposes two images together with a  ‘cutting word’ (kireji) in between
  4. The poem should include a seasonal reference (Kigo). (But to insert a riddle into the enigma many of the traditional seasonal references are in code, taken from a special list (saijiki). For example a reference to a frog is a reference to spring time.)

Historically the haiku poets – the giants of which are Basho and Issa but of course there are many – describe a relationship with nature that is innate and seamless, stories of humans as part of nature.  It is described as a joyful exploration of the ordinary, recording standalone moments of Japanese life at that time.

Old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound
– Basho

 Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
 casually.
-Issa

In Modern haiku poetry, the seasonal reference rule is pretty relaxed, and the images can be more observational; a moment of humans in their environment but not necessarily of it.

Wisteria droops
Over the utility wires
Speed trap.
– Beverley A. Tift

As irrelevant and obscure as haiku may appear at first glance, once you know the rules, you can see that the form is not very different from our modern day attempts to connect with people quickly or record our existence for posterity.

The meal you ate, the sunset you saw from the train, your outfit folded on your bed before you put it on (I think this one is weird, but then I don’t really fold things nicely), your dog or cat doing something awesome (I know this one is weird but having posted so many, I just can’t cast the first stone), all of these everyday moments that we madly capture then filter then post, like we were the only people at Vivid.

A one breathe poem. Where are you? What are you doing?

The moments may be banal but they are fleeting and yours, and to see beauty in the banality doesn’t hurt anyone.


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