Associated Content has been hosting Haiku poetry contests occasionally. Haiku poems are more than just 17 syllables in three lines of 5-7-5 syllabication. Many styles of Japanese poetry rely on syllable count to establish poem structure, similar to the Greek iambic or ‘feet’ poems.
Notable are the iambic pentameter poems, composed of five lines with ten syllables each. Haiku and senryu are structured on ‘mora’ or ‘on’ which are similar to syllables, but not an exact corellation. ‘On’ in Haiku and Senryu is simliar to iambic feet, which are patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. Thus haiku are cadence (rhythm) poems vs. rhyme poems, but the similarity of western poetry ends there.
Haiku are essentially nature poems and rather aesthetic. Haiku contain kireji (cutting word) and kigo (seasonal word). A true haiku contains a mood or tone shift and the kireji is the cut-off between moods. Kireji words shift the tone. As haiku is a Japanese form of poetry, the words don’t translate absolutely, nor even sometimes partially to other languages. In haiku written in English for example to cutting word will depend upon the original thought expressed in the poem. Kigo would be any word referring to season or nature, often a specific plant or animal.
In Miyoshi’s haiku
`In storm-tossed grassland,
one leaf, one praying mantis,
we see and feel the shift. Normally leaf is eaten by praying mantis. In a storm they are united against the wind, one clinging to the other for support, no longer predator and prey. Without a knowlege of Japanese, I can only guess at the kireji, but my guess is that it would be ‘together’. The kigo are the leaf, mantis and possibly even storm. The tone doesn’t come full circle and it may not be a diametric opposite, as with the praying mantis and leaf, but there is a shift in focus.
‘Red dragonfly on
my shoulder calls me his friend.
Autumn has arrived’
The shift here is from summer to fall. And haiku like so many aspects of Japanese life, focuses on the simple contemplation of one idea. Japanese art, floral arrangement, gardens, architecture and food reflect simplicity and purity. Haiku distill a multitude of words and thoughts into one essential verse.
When writing haiku, focus on nature and especially seasonal topics. Work that shift into the poem. To explore senryu, please see my article, Haiku vs. Senryu: Nature vs. Nurture. For more on poetry, visit my blog at www.the writersgarden.blogspot.com.