Happily bogged down with haiku
Try telling people at a cocktail party that you write haiku. You might as well announce that you engage in some arcane or bizarre hobby, such as bog snorkeling. "Is it possible to write haiku in English?" is the first question. The short answer is "Yes." The long answer is maddeningly complex.
Poets and editors argue -- sometimes vehemently -- over how to approximate in English the constraints that Japanese haiku poets follow. For Japanese, these "rules" generally include an arrangement of 5-7-5 on, or phonetic units; a kigo, or seasonal word; and a kireji, or cutting word.
Most who write haiku in English agree to employ 17 syllables or less. Some poets stick to the 5-7-5 arrangement, while others divvy out their syllables differently or drastically reduce them. A few view the syllabic rules like a penny-farthing: historically charming but of no modern use. Then, there's the hotly debated argument about whether to use a kigo or not, and further divisions exist on whether the kigo must be a traditional Japanese seasonal word, or can include foreign seasonal words as well, such as Halloween. My friend Gabi Greve maintains a World Kigo Database (http://worldkigodatabase. blogspot.com/) of traditional and international kigo, which offers a great overview of the issues.
urthermore, English-language haiku poets quibble over how to render the kireji, which some indicate with ellipses, dashes or punctuation. Others deplore any punctuation in haiku, and some feel the entire poem should appear in lowercase letters. Then, there is a hive of controversy over whether intellect, wit, religious values, or swift sketches from life should provide the poem's core content.
I avoid talking about the directions I follow, largely because after three years of writing daily haiku, I am still finding my way. For me, the path of haiku is at times dotted with deer prints, patterned by straw sandals, torn up by hiking boots, or just plain boggy. Along the way, I find shadows, rusting cans, berries, and the treachery of recent rain. Still, I fear that setting down rules would be like laying a sidewalk of cement over that path, and in my life there is too much paved road already. A poet friend of mine, Hideo Suzuki, suggests that including seasonal kigo in his haiku is a way of enjoying and re-attuning himself to nature, of finding an antidote to our concrete-heavy urban lifestyle. I lean toward this idea, and like it.
When people ask, "Why do you write haiku?" I answer, "Because I am breathing." Simply put, haiku requires that I walk outside and pay attention to everything around me, seasonal and otherwise, and breathe it in. When I get home at night, I ask myself, What did you experience today? The breath out, the haiku poem, feels somewhere between prayer and play, between mono no aware and awe. Some days, of course, the result is no more elegant than swimming through a bog with a snorkel.
Shukan ST: MARCH 23, 2012
(C) All rights reserved