Sunday, 25 April 2010

Horrible haiku

Could haiku be a joke played on the rest of the world by the inscrutable Japanese? I've sometimes wondered. Today I am putting forward the view that haiku, in the West at any rate, are not poetry.

While researching this post (see, the trouble I go to) I came across a haiku I like. Here it is:

Just friends:
he watches my gauze dress
blowing on the line

Alexis Rotella 1984

This is an exception to the generality of haiku. Wikipedia informed me that in Japan there's a lot more to them than having 5/7/5 syllables, but somehow this has got lost in transit. Over here, it's just an easy way to let schoolchildren think they are writing poetry when they are not. (The other way is free verse, i.e. a short piece of prose about nothing very much chopped up into random lines on the page.)

Proper poetry rhymes and scans, and from this derives its power and memorability. The writers of pop and rock lyrics know this. Alas, many English teachers do not.

Do tell me whether you agree with me. If you like, you can tell me in haiku form, which shouldn't take you much more than a minute. Here is mine:

Horrible haiku
What is your fascination?


  1. i used to love Haiku study in school. I would write them and find out how something that looks so easy wasn't!!

  2. I blame you Lexi
    You have gotten me thinking
    How best to respond.

    Now my big head hurts
    Trying to be clever, not!
    Failing horribly.


    Take care

  3. bad verse...
    another name is

    Pinchot has left the building...

  4. In non-rhyming verse
    The purpose becomes whether
    Or not the point's made.

    In rhyming verse the
    Order of words is crafted
    To deliver rhyme.

    I don't know if I prefer the rhyme
    Or if my preference is for the sign,
    Or symbol to take upper hand, but what
    I do know is that writing poetry my talent is not.

    Sorry, Lexi. Be assured it didn't take me long at all to come up with any of that!


  5. I'm in two minds about this.

    Rhyming doggerel is worse than bad free verse, I think, but writing haiku is more tempting to non-poets than writing a sonnet!

    So there may be more bad non-rhyming poetry around, but the very worst poetry is rhyming. Possibly.

  6. Love it or hate it
    Something both have in common
    Haiku and Marmite

    Excellent challenge for a Sunday evening, Lexi :)

    Best wishes, Clair

  7. Hmm. No one's changed my mind yet. K gets extra Brownie points for attempting rhyming verse.

    Fairyhedgehog may be right about the worst verse rhyming - rap, for instance.

    Clair, I sometimes like Marmite; on hot buttered toast for tea at twilight after a winter walk, perhaps.

    Norm made me look up Pinchot, so I am now better informed. (Not sure when I'll use my new knowledge...)

    Kitty didn't mention cats or shoes - must try harder, Kitty.

    Karen - you loved studying haiku at school? I don't know what to say...

  8. I have to say I disagree with you entirely. Haiku--and it's father form, tanka--is a beautiful art form with centuries of history. When Japan broke from the Chinese influence during the Heian Period, Japan's structured form of poetry was in and of itself a form of rebellion.

    But the haiku is really not that different in concept from the sonnet. The idea is to compact something beautiful and unique into a tightly restricted space. Sure, it sometimes leads to dribble, especially from students. But do many students make beautiful poetry in any form?

    As for free verse--some of the most beautiful poetry is free verse! Consider Ted Kooser's poem, "Tattoo" (my favorite poem):


    What once was meant to be a statement—
    a dripping dagger held in the fist
    of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
    on a bony old shoulder, the spot
    where vanity once punched him hard
    and the ache lingered on. He looks like
    someone you had to reckon with,
    strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
    but on this chilly morning, as he walks
    between the tables at a yard sale
    with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
    rolled up to show us who he was,
    he is only another old man, picking up
    broken tools and putting them back,
    his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

    from Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

  9. You've put me in mind of the haiku competition Rachelle Gardner ran on her blog long ago. My humble contribution:

    In Tokyo I saw
    Nailed upon the Christian cross
    Santa crucified

    Which is true. I did indeed once see a crucified Santa in a department store in Tokyo at Christmas! I wish I'd had a camera.

  10. Beth, I'm not saying the haiku isn't a Good Thing in Japan - not speaking Japanese, I can't judge.

    And I wouldn't mind pupils writing haiku and free verse, as long as they also learn to write more demanding forms. Too little is expected of children in too many schools.

    I like Tattoo. I'll quote a poem in return:


    I am the Dark Cavalier; I am the Last Lover:
    My arms shall welcome you when other arms are tired;
    I stand to wait for you, patient in the darkness,
    Offering forgetfulness of all that you desired.

    I ask no merriment, no pretense of gladness,
    I can love heavy lids and lips without their rose;
    Though you are sorrowful you will not weary me;
    I will not go from you when all the tired world goes.

    I am the Dark Cavalier; I am the Last Lover;
    I promise faithfulness no other lips may keep;
    Safe in my bridal place, comforted by darkness,
    You shall lie happily, smiling in your sleep.

    Margaret Widdemer

  11. Gary, that's awful!

    How to explain to a child?

  12. Well you did call the post Horrible Haiku!

    I didn't have any kids with me. Luckily. It interests me a great deal how a foreign culture had totally confused Santa with Jesus.

  13. I liked it as a student because it had rules that were exact. Given a specific assignment I was able to comply. I also liked it because my haiku in third grade was picked for some school-wide award. They successfully convinced me that I could write poetry.

  14. Congrats on the winning haiku!

    But Jane, there are exact rules for writing a rhyming couplet, a limerick or a Shakespearian sonnet - and I'd say these are more fun, because more challenging.

  15. I did like the limerick, but I was too lazy as a student to do anything that seemed challenging. I could handle three lines.

  16. Apparently, a haiku can consist of only one word, ideal for the truly lazy student. The example given was:


    I'm a little underwhelmed.

  17. That was great! It is now my all time favorite poem.

  18. Well, at least it's easy to remember...

  19. Haiku, like bad cheese,
    Or a hiccup, or a sneeze,
    Lexi--does not please.

  20. Richard, I think you have just invented a new poetic form - the rhyming haiku!

    I must say, it's an improvement...

  21. In just a few words
    The universe unfolding
    Like butterfly wings

  22. Hmmm...Christine, I suspect that is rather a good effort.

    It deserves a better venue than my haiku-hostile blog.

  23. Man in toilet
    Has greater need of paper
    Than poet.

  24. Yay! A funny haiku!

    How delightfully inauthentic.

  25. Man stoops and curses
    Weeds to be pulled many weeds
    Knees object, weeds smile

    Well, that's what I've just been doing this morning.

  26. I like weeds. Even the persistent ones, like liverwort and a dear little trefoil weed with tiny bright yellow flowers that you have to pull up before its seed pods explode everywhere...

  27. The charm of weeds, or more precisely the charm of the act of weed extraction (we don't spray, we pull) depends very much on two things: the state of the weather and the state of the dirt. Cool weather and yielding earth makes for a nice time spent outside in company with suburban nature. Hot weather and hard, root greedy dirt equals misery.

    Yes I would write now
    For right now the pen it calls
    So does blasted job

  28. Well, Lexi, you asked my opinion, in haiku form. So I gave it.

    I happen to be quite fond of writing haiku. Not that I read volumes of it, but it seems like a natural way to write poetry for me. My son read a little story about the poet Boshu (I think that was his name) who was one of the famous poets of ancient Japan, and in the story he says that the idea of haiku is to capture a little moment in time. So, yes, it's a good exercise for schoolchildren because it allows them to focus on something specific and write about it.

    Courage, like spring grass
    Appears in startling green
    Where least expected

  29. The haiku is a tricky beast;
    I can’t say I’m a fan.
    I’d leave them to the Japanese,
    And stick with rhymes that scan.

    The haiku’s brief yet meaningful;
    Some like it, some do not.
    I must admit they leave me cold,
    But Christine says they’re hot.