A Defense of (Japanese) Poetry

by Cooper Young

Topic #71: “Write a haiku about something that drives you nuts.”

Despite the standard
Well-belovéd structuring
This is no haiku

That. That drives me crazy: people thinking a haiku is simply any poem consisting of 5 syllables, then 7, then another 5. Is that a criterion? Yes, sort of, if one uses a syllable instead of a mora (a totally different linguistic unit which is present in most languages, including English where it is largely ignored, and is the basis for the Japanese alphabet, there called “on”). Is it the only one? No. Others include a kigo (usually), or seasonal reference, and a kireji (always), or “cutting word”, which has no real English equivalent but is used for emphasis, usually at the end of one of the phrases.  Furthermore, the whole purpose of a haiku is to capture a single instant; one moment, one sensation, one perception, one thought.  That’s it.  It is meant to exist as a moment of beautiful density.  A loose haiku has as little purpose as a loose piece of micro-fiction; if it isn’t wound tighter than a doorstop, it’s no good.

Some may argue for the “English haiku”; Wikipedia mentions it and describes the form I’ve just railed against.  That’s fine; it isn’t made intrinsically worthless by it’s differences; nothing is.  Let’s call it something different, though.  Call it the “English haiku”, the “American haiku”, the “Western Haiku”, or something- anything- else.  One thing cannot be two things; the word “haiku” should not have to mean both it’s original, traditional form and a similar (but totally separate) form.  I can name three types of sonnet off the top of my head, all with different names.  I should be able to name two different types of haiku.