haikumages

Forms and Syllables

On this page, The Haikook addresses several thorny, artistic issues:

  • Haiku vs. Senyru – the differences?
  • 17 syllables (5-7-5) vs. 11 syllables (3-5-3) in English…
  • Classic form vs. Free-form ‘kus & ‘rus…

Rest assured, none of these issues will be resolved on this page, but the demented diatribe herein will be classic Haikumages: feeling/opinion-based, irreverent, and perhaps a little “rebel-without-a-pause-ish”…

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haiku-character_grey-blackAs defined on the About page, Haiku is an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively, including several required elements: 1) nature theme (most often, but not always), 2) seasonal reference (“kigo”), and 3) cutting word (“kiregi”).  Senryū is similar, but usually ironic/satirical, even humorous, with little or no natural or seasonal reference.  Both forms have a “cutting” (“kiru”) element as their essence and purpose.  Modern Haiku & Senryū writings in Japanese and English (and other) languages have experimented with and deviated from the ancient, traditional forms and elements, including the number of syllables…

Haiku and Senryū are most well-known in their 5-7-5 syllable, English-language structure, which matches the original Japanese syllable count and cadence. However, upon translation, it is revealed that Japanese words often tend to be longer (containing more syllables) than their English counterparts, so writing 5-7-5 haiku/senryū in English tends to give significantly more words and information than in Japanese.  Therefore, many poets feel that haiku/senryū written 5-7-5 in English dilutes the original, ideal, simple, essential, beautiful intent of these forms. Today, there is a movement gaining momentum, holding that English haiku/senryū should be written in 3-5-3 syllable structure, to return to the original, essence and purity.

The Haikook sees truth and beauty in all of these variations, and has chosen to write interpretively and personally, instead of being limited to one form…

Since the world / did not end this year / celebrate! HaikumagesIn 2012, Haikumages engaged in a special 366-day leap-year, post-per-day project. It went well, in spite of the pressure to write something good every day, but The Haikook introduced variations in the syllable-count after the project started… The year started (as with previous 2010 & 2011 posts) with the common, Americanized 5-7-5 syllable count, matching the original Japanese 17 syllable structure. Then, after reading several books and sites of haiku-purists, Haikumages switched to 3-5-3 syllables, to pare down to the bare essentials, supposedly as a purer form, more closely parallel to the original Japanese style.

Finally, a bit more research, and a realization – that both the 5-7-5 and 3-5-3 are artificial constructs, which are approximations only! There is no formula for precisely “mapping” the syllables of Japanese language to English!  So, in fact, 17 (Japanese syllables) does not equal 11 (English syllables)…at least not all the time.

The funny thing is the source of this grand haiku-realization: there was a small, well-written, paperback book from my father’s poetry collection, which opened my eyes and mind first.  But the real understanding came from my first, childhood book of haiku – directly translated to English from the old Japanese haiku-masters – in which they carefully translated for meaning, purity and essence, rather than “cadence” or a strict syllable-count.  As I read through it, enjoying them all…I realized that when translated in this way, which captured the essence of the Japanese haiku-masters’ meaning, the English syllable count per haiku wildly varied, from 9 to as much as 21 syllables!!!  And yet, these translations were brilliant, wonderful – by linguists (instead of syllable-counters) who appreciated the nuance and subtlety of both Japanese and English languages, the cultural differences, and the intent of the haiku-masters to honor tradition, and to craft great short poems that had beauty and depth, as the masters had intended, without syllabic artifice.

IMG_3288So, after this poetical journey, culminating in a marvelous epiphany, The Haikook has decided: 1) to write what feels write (I mean right), and 2) to perform last writes (I mean rites) on the old, apparently inaccurate syllabic count approach, and 3) to undertake a poetic right (I mean rite) of passage into a brave new world, in which the metronome is broken and syllable counts are fluid.  A world in which we rite (write) from the heart and soul…

I mean, write is rite, right?  As wordsmiths and word-wrights, let’s wield our mighty rightness, and say what needs to be said, using the wright (rite, right) number of syllables to say it the best way possible…however few or many that may be (OK, 8 is probably not enough, and 21 is a bit too much, don’t you think?).  In the end, perhaps I’ll stick to either 11 or 17 syllables in English, but I’ll violate the section syllable counts a little to keep things interesting…   🙂

Anyway, regardless of your syllable-count and other poetry preferences, thank you so much for stopping by Haikumages!

Enjoy & comment as you feel the urge…

 – The Haikook (Russ Murray)

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