Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Haiku Example - formal, traditional and modern

This haiku is composed of lines of 5 - 7- 5 syllables in the formal English-language form. It is divided into three phrases, indicated by the line breaks. It lacks a caesura so many editors would consider this not to be a haiku; however, some editors do permit the use of a single, grammatically correct sentence as a haiku. Read aloud it has no natural pauses.

the whirling snowfall
batters my weary heart with
insistent beauty

~M. Kei
Previously published in Haiku Harvest, Summer, 2006.

This poem could just as easily be written as a single line, and indeed, in Japanese, haiku are so written. It is a convention of Western languages to write them on three lines:

the whirling snowfall batters my weary heart with insistent beauty

Perhaps the reason Westerners prefer the three line form is because multi-line stanzas are so ingrained in Western traditions that it doesn't 'look like a poem' unless it is composed of multiple lines. Nothing in English tradition is as short as the Japanese haiku -- another reason why many Westerners have trouble regarding haiku as 'serious' literature. Anything so small much be easy to write, enit? Yet strict modernists would consider both versions of the poem to be excessively wordy. They would strip out all adjectives and adverbs as well as personal references, leaving:

batters the heart
with beauty
~M. Kei

While there is a certain severe beauty in micropoems, the limits of the form do not provide the flexibility I prefer. As a poet I prefer to utilize length and brevity, lyricism and objectivity, and all other approaches as I see fit. While I value the structural integrity that forms provide, forms should be guidelines, not dogma.

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