Saturday, June 11, 2011

Haiku - who knew?

I got to attend the most enlightening workshop last Sunday, June 5, on a poetry form I've never considered as a "true" form (ever since being subjected to "learning" it in high school, meaning that I was taught several urban myths about it that were completely incorrect and misguiding). What poetry form could that be, you may ask? Haiku!

Yes! You read it right - haiku! The reason I never gave it notice before? When I was "taught" haiku in high school English class, we were told the form of specific syllables for each of the three lines had to be 5/7/5. Wrong! Complete myth based on a lack of understanding about Japanese language and how a form like this one translates into English. The stressing of the ever-and-all-importance of syllables caused me to feel like this form was just another stilted, rigid form. But here's the deal. In Japanese, syllables are inconsequential. It's the sounds within each word that matter. And the Japanese hear language sounds quite differently than we English-speaking folks do. So, when we write haiku in English, we must throw away that silly rule of 5/7/5 syllable count. It has absolutely nothing to do with haiku. It never did. What I learned in that workshop was that haiku is a tremendously huge poetry expression held inside a very, very small package. The spirit of the haiku is more important than the form.  Revelation! That's what poetry is all about, in any form, including free verse. Ah ha!

The workshop was led by Michael Dylan Welch, the vice-president of the Haiku Society of America and sponsored by a local chapter, hosted by haiku poet An'ya. Michael also touched very briefly on the related Japanese poetry forms of senryu, tanka, and renga (which are also very fascinating forms that I want to continue to study and learn more on).

Anyway, for those who have been misled by well-meaning but misguided high school teachers, please check out the Haiku Society of America website: and let your walls be shattered about haiku. The purpose of this very short form (at least as I understand it right now) is to zero in on the specific in order to reveal the universal. Well, that's poetry in any language or form! By abstaining from any author subjective opinion, remaining (as much as possible) objective, and only observing any given thing/event/person etc., the poem finds the universal.

There's so much to learn about haiku and its related forms! I understand that I know truly nothing right now but, nevertheless, I feel I've stepped onto a whole new path of expression that is both the exploring of new literary lands and, yet, immediately placing me into that new land, too. It's like you just start walking and you become aware of how you're already there because "there" and "here" are actually one and the same. You're just walking the path to get "here" a little more fully with each step. OK, this is really a ramble, now, and that's what I tend to do and that's why this form is so good for me to practice. Less talk. More just being present. Good focus.

Here's a haiku by Michael Dylan Welch:

the black elder
shakes its shadow loose...
early snowfall

Here's a few haiku I wrote during and after the workshop: 

lilac exhales sweetness 
into the park - 
finches chorus 

the robin's prize: 
seed, blossom, tight in her beak - 
clouds hold the sun 

yellow bush
petals blown, suspended
bees hum 

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