Haiku tip # 1

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In my studying Haiku I have come across a few interesting tidbits and decided to post them here. I will post one every week. I hope you glean something from these tips.

1. The plural of Haiku is Haiku NOT Haikus.

Why? Well, many Japanese words have no plural (like the english words sheep or deer) so there is no (s) added. It is therefore grammatically incorrect to do so.

Sources:
Blyth, R.H: History of Haiku 1964
Gurga, Lee: Haiku: A Poets Guide Modern Haiku Press, 2003
Higginson, William: The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku McGraw-Hill, 1985

6 responses »

  1. An enjoyable Haiku will make me feel as though I have read a 12 verse, beautifully flowing poem. The 12 verse poem whisks you away on a journey. The Haiku does the same in a few short words. Nice!

  2. Japanese has about 50 “letters” or “syllables”. This is very limiting, in the sense that many words are homonyms: same sound, different meanings. I believe haiku makes use of this.

    • In all this is an astute observation but not quite wholly accurate. Lee Gurga in his book “Haiku: A poet’s guide” explains it thusly.

      “‘Japanese Syllables’ are not syllables at all in our sense of the word. Japanese syllables are uniformly short, differing considerably in length from syllables in English, so it might be better to think of them as ‘sounds’ rather than syllables… These Japanese sounds consist of a either s single vowel sound, a combination of a consonant followed by a vowel, or a single consonant.
      These syllables are ALL (emphasis mine) about the same length as the syllable ‘be’ in English.”

      As we know in English there are short words with one syllable such as “be” but then there are longer words too.

      Gurga goes on to say “the average Japanese haiku contains only 5-6 words, while the average 17 syllable haiku in English has 12 or more.”

      Gurga and other haiku editors suggest that if you want to count syllables then you must do it as the Japanese do. For example the word haiku is counted as ha-i-ku or 3 syllables not hai-ku as it is counted in English. A 17 syllable haiku in English usually comes across as wordy.

      That said I like the “one breath” rule. Take a breath, say your haiku, if you can say it slowly in one breath then you have properly used brevity.

      I apologize for the long winded response I hope this has helped. I know in writing this I have furthered my understanding.

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