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Haiku: Highest Art
By Stan Grimes
October, 2007, 11:59

19th century Japan provided the poetry basis, Hokku, what is now known as Haiku.

"The Japanese haiku . . . teaches us much about the art and craft of poem-making. Haiku is understated and concise. It is lyrical and dramatic, poignant and precise, personal and universal."
from Haiku: Travelers Of Eternity, by Charles Ghigna

Haiku finds its genesis in late nineteenth century Japan. The haiku style is derived from hokku. Hokku translated means "starting verse." It would take me more than one short article to explain the various terms related to this style of poetry. Suffice it to say Haiku has a set pattern for sounds, which we have modernized by a set or pattern of 17 syllables. That pattern is generally 5-7-5. In other words, the first line contains five syllables, second line seven syllables, and third line five syllables again.

This lyric form usually reflects a poet's impression of something observed or experienced in nature, often under the influence of a specific season or month. Although an authentic English haiku is bound by this pattern of form, the Japanese version of haiku involves a similar pattern with a variance due to the different linguistic patterns inherent in the Japanese language.

An absolute must in haiku is the insertion within the three lines of a seasonal word referred to by the Japanese poets as "kigo." Traditionally, there is also a "caesura" or a break, often indicated by a punctuation mark, to contrast and compare two events, images, or situations implicitly.

The first soft snow!
Enough to bend the leaves
Of the jonquil low.

Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644 - 1694) wrote this particular piece. Notice the use of punctuation after the first line and the use of a seasonal word "snow." You may also notice that in translation this original piece does not have the modified English 5-7-5 pattern. Remember, however, it is a translation.

By comparison, here is an English language haiku from an unknown author:

Bursting in bright hues
Splashing colours all about
Autumn leaves must fall.

Note the 5-7-5 syllable pattern follows the modified English haiku style; however, it does not have the characteristic punctuation on line one or two. It does, however, have the seasonal "kigo."

I have read a number of modern Haiku poems, which stray far from the 5-7-5 rule. However, as in any writing, almost anything works if done tastefully. If you are interested in writing in this form, read loads of haiku poetry and develop your own style. Study the writings of Basho, Busson, and Issa to get you started.

5-7-5 may sound simple, but it's quite a challenge to capture the essential beauty of nature with words, especially in a confined form. Writing good haiku is an art in which seventeen syllables can be a masterpiece.

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Stan Grimes is a graduate from Indiana University and works in the real world as a social worker. He has written a number of articles for the American Chronicle and, has numerous poems and short stories published in various anthologies and on his website at AuthorsDen and has three science fiction/suspense thriller novels out. His latest, Deacon, can be found at Double Dragon Publishing Inc.

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