Friday, September 23, 2011

Haiku from photographs IV

Like yesterday's haiku, this one is also inspired by a photo in Chase Jarvis's book The best camera is the one that's with you:

under the streetlamp
the bicycle balances
on its own shadow

It's a strange coincidence that both yesterday's and today's haiku happen to fit the 'traditional' 5-7-5 syllable pattern of haiku. I (and many other people who write haiku in English) usually don't stick to that rule. For one thing, the idea of 'syllables' in English does not match up exactly with that of onji in Japanese. Onji are shorter and slighter, so that 17 English syllables usually end up being much bulkier than 17 Japanese ones.

For that reason many haiku in English tend to be shorter than 17 syllables -- something like a 3-5-3 rhythm, or just short free verse. There's a feeling that haiku should strive for maximum simplicity, using only the words necessary to express what the author needs to say rather than satisfying formal requirements.

Of course there are also practitioners who feel that the formal requirements are, well, required if you want to call a poem a haiku. Clark Strand has a wonderful book called Seeds from a Birch Tree in which he makes the case that the formal discipline is an essential part of the haiku way.

As you can tell if you've read my haiku on this blog, I'm not that disciplined (to put it in a negative light); or rather I'm more interested in seeing what happens when you customize the formal elements in each new poem to fit the idea behind it (to give the positive spin). Every once in a while, though, if I'm writing the idea down and it's nearing that 5-7-5 form, I'll massage the words to make them fit.

That's what has happened with the past two entries. There are certainly syllables in each poem that I could cut away, but nothing feels forced or artificial in them and I enjoy their rhythms enough to think that they can carry the extra bulk.

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