Haiku

Posted on September 23, 2008

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One of my secret joys is the composition and reading of haiku poems. Haiku is misunderstood by most Westerners, and like many cultural imports, the Americans have managed to water down the original thing to something that is barely recognizable. Think German Pilsner to Coors Light, or Bratwurst to Hot Dogs.


In elementary school we learn of the traditional seventeen syllable structure of haiku, broken into three lines of five seven five. The historical basis for this convention is the Japanese sound syllables – “onji” – which are in fact not the same as syllables as we know them. A more accurate guideline based on historical writing is to limit haiku to twelve or less syllables, divided into up to three lines.

The central goal of a haiku is to give the reader a vivid sensation, a kind of vicarious experience. A haiku often will convey an emotion, sound, vision, and feeling. An indication of the season of the year is invariably present and frequently an element of surprise.

spring rain –
growing up together
the talking pines
– Issa

an empty bottle
his shack dark
his death alone
– Jim Applegate

winter hills –
what the truck’s insurance
doesn’t cover
– Paul M.

I wrote this haiku based on my experiences as an auditor in a community hospital:

listening to the symptoms
not quite sure what to say
the hospital accountant
– M. Kaizar

forgotten rake
against the house
gathering snow
– M. Kaizar

If you are interested in learning more I recommend the book “The Haiku Handbook” by William Higginson.

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