Haiku! …Gesundheit?

I’m a very forgetful person; as of last night, it was the twenty-sixth day of February and I had just realized that National Haiku Writing Month was almost over! I always try to do something for NaHaiWriMo; usually I write a haiku a day throughout the month. Since I forgot this year, here’s all you need to know about haiku condensed in a blog post.

NaHaiWriMo, unaffiliated with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), is an independent movement that focuses on writing a haiku a day for the month of February.

A haiku is more than just a poem of three lines – it’s an anecdote with implied context of the natural condition. A haiku usually connects nature to existence, and contains a kigo (season word) that implies what time of the year the poem takes place. A haiku is a moment. It is a frog jumping into a pond or a butterfly landing on a petal.

You’ve been lied to! A haiku doesn’t ACTUALLY have to fit the 5-7-5 structure. Japanese syllables are counted differently than American syllables, so the American 5-7-5 count would not fit the original haiku model! In this way, a haiku can be three lines of any reasonably concise syllable count with a two-part structure, kigo, and sensory imagery.

Beat poet Jack Kerouac “Americanized” the haiku, turning the form into snapshots of the average society. Using stream of consciousness in three lines, Kerouac was a large part of haiku spreading in North America. There are now so many organizations dedicated to haiku: Haiku Society of America, The Haiku Foundation, and Haiku Canada, among others.

Within the past ten to fifteen years, the haiku has, like so many writing formats before it, evolved into a subgenre. Beginning in Japan, cell phone novels are becoming a new movement with the addition of technology to contemporary society.  Recently unfolding in North America, the cell phone novel is a novel in which its chapters are about 100 words or less, with each chapter being able to be read on the screen of a cell phone. Takatsu is one such cell phone novelist, his popular cell phone novel Secondhand Memories was just released in traditional book and eBook formats in the middle of this month. This evolution is fitting because the cell phone movement draws from the haiku traditions of simplicity and conciseness to tell a story.

Haiku were once shared among scholars and peers to refine the craft. Here are my five recommendations for further reading on haiku.

My Five Favorite Books on Haiku

  1. Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death – Yoel Hoffmann
  2. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa – Robert Hass
  3. Book of Haikus – Jack Kerouac
  4. The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology – Faubion Bowers
  5. Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart – Patricia Donegan

Did you write a haiku today? Share it in the comments!

Wildflowers shiver
by the statue of the monk –
the sun is shy.


2 thoughts on “Haiku! …Gesundheit?

  1. There’s a person on a music reviewing website (RateYourMusic) that writes all his reviews as haikus.

    Haikus first seemed very simple to me, but like any other minimalist artform it’s tricky to get it right. Less room means you have to make sure every little piece fits.

    The cellphone novel sounds like a great idea. I remember some people viewing it as a new low literature, but it’s just the progression of the minimalism movement Hemingway helped kickstart.

    Thanks for the list. I tell myself to get into poetry someday, so I’d probably use it.


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