Haiku tip #6

Haiku tip #6

Recently I was contacted and asked “How can I call what I write haiku as I do not use 5-7-5” I hope that this posting helps explain why 5-7-5 is not a requirement of haiku.

If one wonders why 5-7-5 does not a haiku make. I turn to Lee Gurga who 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.

Furthermore the majority of literary haiku published in English today are not 5-7-5 (even in Geppo). In the second edition of Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (Touchstone, 1986), 88.2 percent of the poems are not 5-7-5. And in Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment (Tuttle, 1993), an even greater 96.5 percent of the poems are not 5-7-5. A similar dominance of non-5-7-5 poems prevails in most of the leading English-language haiku journals.

Which is all to say that, among published literary haiku today (and in recent decades), 5-7-5 haiku are vastly in the minority. But if the counting of syllables is important to conscientious “traditional” haiku poets, those poets should have a clear understanding of basic phonetics, and know how to identify syllables and count them correctly and that my dear reader will have to wait for another day.

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
image from: https://www.facebook.com/pages/NaHaiWriMo/108107262587697

About fiercebuddhist

Welcome. I am happy that our paths have crossed. Here you will find various poems, articles and photography. I hope that you enjoy them and visit often. I am currently working on writing “A Haiku A Day” so that I can, perhaps, have enough good ones for publication. If you are wondering what a “Fierce Buddhist” the following declaration should clarify. The “Fierce” in FierceBuddhist I define as “an obligation to do what I can to benefit all sentient beings, not just those close to me or those I agree with. If I see something or someone that is hurting others I must step forward and do what I can to assist them.” In the Army and in the dojo I learned how to defend myself, family and country but that does not mean I endorse the use of force. Two nonviolent examples of Fierce Buddhists that come to mind are Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. While I do not claim be even close to them I can strive and so can you. Furthermore, my Buddhist name, given to me by Sensei Kubose, is Seiyo. His interpretation of my communication and interaction with him led him to this name. He told me Seiyo means “Fierce Sun.” The sun shines on everyone without prejudices without giving preferential treatment to anyone. This is tough to live up to, as you can imagine, but it sure sets the tone for my life. In Buddhism this is called a Fierce Bodhisattva. I am only on the path to Enlightenment and can only say to be a Fierce Buddhist.

8 responses »

  1. Thank you for this. Very good. 5-7-5 is fine but it is sometimes the only criteria that some people use. If people are going to criticize a non 5-7-5 Haiku, they need to be reminded about how much cannot be translated.

    • What cannot be translated is a matter of language differences, and nothing to do with 5-7-5. An excellent haiku in English cannot be translated in Japanese adequately either. It works both ways. You are right, though, that a significant problem is that most people use 5-7-5 as the ONLY target they aim at, thus missing the more important targets of kigo (season word), kireji (cutting word, or have a two-part juxtapositional structure), and using primarily objective sensory images. These targets are much harder to hit than merely counting syllables, and that’s all aside from the problem that 5-7-5 produces too long a poem compared with Japanese, since we have so many one-syllable words and Japanese does not.

      • I think my point (eight years ago) was merely that I agreed with the statement that 5-7-5 was not a requirement of haiku and that, as both you, in your own way, and the author said, “5-7-5 does not a haiku make.” Let’s not make too much of a random blog comment I made in 2012. Thanks.

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