Saturday, 8 October 2011

Haiku Headaches

headache -
dark clouds

The above is a literal haiku from observation (I have a headache, there are dark clouds outside). However, as a haiku it can be improved. For example, although most English language haiku writers who take the form seriously don't adhere to the 5-7-5 pattern of syllables (because English syllables are so different from Japanese syllables, the 5-7-5 is generally treated as an upper limit rather than strict rule) most do stick to short line / longer line / short line in 3 line haiku. So we can change it to:

headache -
thunder clouds

which also makes it more dramatic. And then to add further drama it can become:

migraine -
thunder clouds

Which got me wondering about how much haiku are based purely on observation and how much they're based on the writing process. Until recently, it seems to have been the received wisdom that haiku are based on simple observation and should be altered as little as possible from that observation, which should be allowed to speak for itself. However, I've seen more recent haiku which use surrealism (which I think is an intriguing element to find in haiku) or metaphor (which I don't see the point of in haiku as the juxtaposition of images is already a type of metaphor, so why add another?).

I love the simplicity of haiku and many of those I write are based purely on observation, though I alter some of them, and occasionally I write haiku out of my imagination (which I sometimes get the impression you're not supposed to admit to writing). If you read or write haiku, what do you think about all this?


Gordon Mason said...

Hi Juliet

I'm not a great writer of haiku but I love succint images.

I don't know if you know of a third Edinburgh person - John McDonald - who writes his haiku in Scots and English. The difference in the two versions can be distinctive and wonderful on the tongue. His blog is brilliantly entitled Zen Speug:



Anonymous said...

You have it right, Juliet. I have often thought that a migraine is like an electrical storm in the head!

Anonymous said...

Interesting what you wound up with, as I wrote a haiku about getting a migraine a while back (you can see it here if you're interested).

Most of my haiku are based on observation, and on nature, which is a major component of haiku in general, but sometimes I diverge and write what I suppose would be considered senryu, which deal more with ideas, feelings, what's in my head. I call them all haiku though, because it seems in English at least, with modern haiku, the "rules" aren't as strict, and there is some crossover between haiku and senryu. That said, most of my haiku are in the 5-7-5 format; I know that's not a hard and fast rule, but I like it because it gives me a framework. After writing haiku for several years, it seems I think in syllables!

Found your blog via Cathy Cullis. Off to read some more of it!

RG said...

I like them as observation because they are such a succinct and vivid way to portray it.

I am grateful I don't get migraines.

Daisy Hickman said...

I've tried my hand at haiku ... but am far from an expert at what is considered good or proper and so on. I'm simply fascinated with what can be conveyed so briefly ... yet with eloquence. Thanks for sharing this, Juliet ... very interesting! -- Best always, Daisy

Jinksy said...

I think, I think in syllables too,and there is a rhythm to the 5/7/5 which pleases me. Simple as that.

Draffin Bears said...

Hi Juliet,

Very interesting post and I like this, that it sums up perfectly, in so few words.

Happy weekend

bunnits said...

I like how so much imagery is contained in such a concise package.

Bill said...

Haiku is not about living in one's head, but it's a nice place to visit now and then.

Anonymous said...

Given that writing is communication, you have to write well and gracefully in order to communicate a "simple observation". Often when I read contemporary haiku I find that a forced austerity of language actually obscures the observation. It is right to be wary of over-artful language in haiku (and of course in poetry in general!) but I don't think we should be trying to avoid assonance, alliteration, symmetries, images, rhythms, &c -- these are not gratuitious techniques, but ways to make an observation clearer. No other poetry pretends that words are their denotations only, so why should haiku? How can we hope to accurately and precisely identify and describe an experienced juxtaposition (what I think of as "a haiku moment") without using the full range of techniques available to us?

Also, I may as well fess up to being a fan of the old 5/7/5, in the full knowledge that it's not formally accurate. The biggest disadvantage of it is that 5/7/5 English haiku include an overabundance of different ideas -- but I feel that the formal constraint of Japanese-language haiku is liberating and that we need some equivalent!

Crafty Green Poet said...

Gordon - Yes I read John's blog and enjoy his haiku.

Thanks Sandy, RabbitsGuy, DazyDay, Draffinbears, Bunnits.

Hi Amy, thanks for visiting!

Jinksy - thanks and I'll pick up on the 5-7-5 issue in another blog post soon.

Bill - and in the same blogpost as mentioned above, I'll say more about haiku from the imagination.

Harry - as above, I'm writing another blogpost that may address some of your points there

Sandy's witterings said...

There would appear to be a myriad of rules to haiku and sometimes they contradict each other. I chucked out the 5/7/5 long ago and if it sounds right to me, then it is. I like them to be literal and in the moment (or there abouts) and obvious metaphor is a bit of a no no, but an under lying metaphor, basically a deeper meaning, is good. Well it's an aim anyway.

Lori Lipsky said...

Succinct and packs a punch. So thankful I don't suffer with migraines.

Alison Brackenbury said...

Very much enjoyed this blog! I've never written haiku but love reading them. I'm often most moved by the fact they are so precisely (if delicately) seasonal. I once heard that there's a debate in Japan about whether the tradition of seasonality should be continued. As a humble outsider, I hope it will be, in some haiku at least.