November 22nd 2015 | favorite rake

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my
····favorite rake—lost somewhere under
············leaves

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16: November 22nd 2015

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  • Every fall it occurs to me I ought to probably bring in my tools from the weather; every year I’m having to replace the handle; and every year I swear, by God, I’ll change my ways.

6 responses

  1. Recently, I’ve been writing a haiku here and there. I’ve stuck to what I’ve been told is the traditional form: five syllables/seven syllables/five syllables. Obviously, there’s room for variation. But are these variations, yours included, considered haikus? AWG

    • There are a couple ways to answer that question but first I’d recommend you read this:

      About Haiku

      I wrote the post but draw from other writers on the subject. Take a look. As I remark in the post, I consider Lee Gurga’s book Haiku: A Poet’s Guide to be the finest book on writing Haiku currently available.

      The first answer is that you’re right: The traditional form is 5/7/5. The second answer is that this is true IF you’re writing in Japanese. Syllables in Japanese aren’t the same as syllables in English; so that writing 5/7/5 in English actually fails to accurately reproduce the brevity of Japanese haiku. A more accurate parallel would be 2/3/2 in terms of stresses (in English).

      Could my poems be considered haiku?

      The short answer is no. They’re not written in Japanese. Nothing that’s not written in Japanese has any claim to being called a haiku.

      The long answer is yes. Yes, if what makes a haiku is not primarily its form but its content. The Japanese themselves have shown themselves willing to alter the traditional form and still call their poems haiku (though this isn’t entirely without controversy). The Japanese have also been increasingly open to foreign language “haiku” and have even begun translating foreign language haiku into Japanese.

      To me, content and brevity are key to haiku. I personally think that the 5/7/5 pattern (in English) is too long. I’ve more or less settled on my own style. I like to think it would translate well into Japanese, but until a Japanese reader or poet confirms that I can’t really say whether they would be considered haiku (by Japanese standards). Alternately, just because one writes 5/7/5 in English doesn’t necessarily mean that a Japanese reader would consider such a poem a haiku, that’s why I think content is more important than form.

      But do you like the haiku as I’ve written them?

  2. Sentence, that’s what comes to mind when I read these ‘haiku.’ Sentence expressing offhand observations of what you see and sense in your Vermont surroundings.

    • Well, if they were just sentences they’d be much easier to write. As it is, writing them makes me observe the day in a way I normally wouldn’t — I’m more ‘mindful’ — looking for that observation, that little realization. On the one hand, you may be expecting too much from the haiku, or the wrong thing, or too little. They’re like origami. They may look simple, but what you don’t see is all the folds that went into it. A sentence may not carry more than its own weight. A good haiku, in my judgement, carries much more than its own weight. The problem, for the western reader, when reading Japanese haiku is that this weight commonly resides in allusions that would only be familiar to the Japanese. We need annotations.

      In my last haiku, about the rake, I could have written.

      — I’ve lost my rake.

      That doesn’t carry any more than its own weight, but add the observation that it’s buried under leaves and there’s a little joke there — the irony of the rake buried under leaves; the implication that, at some point, I took the rake out, got lazy or distracted, then lost it under the leaf fall. It’s not profound or particularly deep. It’s a little microcosm of human foible. It’s meant to greet the reader with a smile and humor. This is what you’ve got to learn to look for in good haiku, Tim — it’s that little something that turns the haiku into a doorway to a world larger than itself. There are good haiku and bad haiku. The bad haiku, indeed, are nothing more than sentences. Writing good haiku is deceptively difficult.

  3. Yes, I like the way you write haiku; they’re clean, like little white lights. I also agree that annotations are needed if only to provide context. I’m reminded of Natasha Trethewey’s comments on the short poems (not her’s) she selects for the New York Times Magazine each week. You may have seen Jeffrey Harrison’s “Afterwards” in the October 18 magazine section, which almost seems like a haiku, and her remarks. Thanks for your post–I have some research to do.
    AWG

    • Thank you! :-) It wouldn’t have occurred to me to describe them that way but now that you have, I couldn’t think of a compliment I’d rather strive for. Clean and like little white lights — that’s how I’d like them all to be.

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