Haiku is a Japanese art form which has become incredibly popular in English. English haiku are typically 17-syllable poems split across three lines in the pattern 5-7-5. I did a little research, however, and learned that traditional Japanese haiku are formed of 17 on, a Japanese linguistic unit which is not quite the same as the English syllable. Long vowels and end consonants count as 2 on, where in English they would form 1 syllable. Consider the word ‘haibun:’ in English this has 2 syllables ‘hai-bun,’ whereas in Japanese the word contains 4 on: ‘ha-i-bu-n.’ Depending on the words used, a closer approximation to 17 on would be 12 syllables.
In Japanese haiku, the 17 on are divided into 3 phrases with a kireji or cutting-word at the end of one phrase and a kigo or seasonal reference. The cutting-word functions something like the caesura in English, marking a point where the verse sets up an opposing idea or logical break. Unlike in English, haiku in Japanese are traditionally written in a single line.
The British poet Anthony Thwaite has translated several haiku from the Japanese. Note in the below examples how the pattern is not 5-7-5 as we find typically in English Haiku:
Girls planting paddy
Only their song
Free of the mud
(after the Japanese of Konishi Raizan; with Geoffrey Bownas, published in The Oxford Book of English Verse, ed. Christopher Ricks, 1999)
In the guttering
(after the Japanese of Tan Taigi; with Geoffrey Bownas, published in The Oxford Book of English Verse, ed. Christopher Ricks, 1999)
Here are some beautiful examples of haiku read in Japanese, with translation:
Modern Haiku in English
The earliest haiku in the English language not directly translated from the Japanese began to appear in the late 19th century. Typically they are unrhymed, contain 17 syllables split in a 5-7-5 pattern, with a focus on poetic brevity rather than metaphor, simile and metrical variance. They often contain references to nature and the seasons, and often contrast two opposing ideas, though there is much freedom of interpretation.
You will find many examples of haiku in poetry blogs online. Haiku are easy to write, but hard to write well. A blog I recommend is frankjtassone.com. Frank hosts Haibun Monday at dVerse poets pub: the only haiku I have ever written are for Haibun Monday. I find them hard to write as I like to play with rhyme and metre. But I think its a good thing to push outside of my poetic comfort zone every now and then!
The challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a haiku on any subject, as traditional or groundbreaking as you like. There are several ways to enter:
- Enter your haiku in the comments below.
- Make a blog post containing your haiku and link back to this post.
- Tweet your haiku tagging @Experimentsinfc.
- Post to Instagram tagging @experimentsinfiction
- The deadline for entries is midnight CET on Tuesday, 10 November.
This week’s challenge will be judged by last week’s winner, Jaya Avendel of Nin Chronicles. Her chilling Halloween haiku won the season special of the EIF Poetry Challenge. Jaya has a whole section of her blog devoted to haiku, which I also recommend as inspiration for this challenge!