Saturday, May 13, 2006


I don't read, write, or speak Japanese. I think the idea of Haiku in English is quite silly; do Japanese people write poems imitating Shakespeare's sonnets? We have plenty of good poetic forms and guidelines native to the English language without trying to imitate the poetic modes of a people quite alien to ourselves. Could the same be said for my Petrarchan sonnets? Perhaps, but English borrows heavily from Romance languages through the Roman and Norman connections. A Japanese Daimyo never conquered England in 1066 or built a wall to separate the civilized world and the barbarians in England.

So why do English poets write Haiku? I partially blame Ezra Pound. However, I think the blame is best distributed on Free Verse poets who like to pretend they're writing in forms. Seventeen syllables in three lines has no prescribed rhythmn, no rhyme, and no shape aside from extreme brevity. I'd rather see a quatrain in Iambic Tetrameter than a so-called "Haiku" in English.

Once upon a time, I was required to write five Haiku for a creative writing class in college. The results follow:


wasted thought, life, breath
with the amber eye open
but the good eye closed

the phantom fumbling
through the silken silence
night falls on madness

twisting the sharp knife
against tablature of ribs
played like a guitar

horsemen fall westward
like lightning through a thick cloud
a tempest in their hooves

thoughts without logic
twisting with the lover’s wind
nothing but questions

I wrote them half as a joke. Unfortunately, no one saw the humor. There are two ways to look at Haiku in English:

1) This guy has the right idea, but is a bit dismissive

2) For the more serious writer, this explication should serve as a warning to all people crossing vast cultural lines in a very culture-specific field like good poetry.

Write a sonnet, or a quatrain, or even a limerick. We borrow a lot in the English language, but I think Haiku are best left to the Japanese.

No comments: