Hello. Toni (Kanzensakura) here. I am happy today to talk with you all about Japanese poetic forms. I originally was going to discuss four forms but have gone instead with just two. Perhaps at another time, i can complete the other two forms, tanka being one. Each form is at least one post on its own. I will be discussing haiku and senryu – unidentical twins. I went to school with two sets of twins; one set, their mothers got them mixed up. The other set – two brothers – one with ginger hair and brown eyes, plump, and full of mischief. The other twin had brown hair, brown eyes, thin, studious and musical.
So we have a set of unidentical twins here – same family, same DNA, some similar but unalike characteristics. I will begin with a quote attributed to Basho. Jane Reichold, renowned scholar of Japanese poetic form, particularly haiku quoted this and attributed to Basho. I cannot find the quote anywhere else, I am sorry. But it is an excellent quote and perfect for any form. “First you learn the rules and then forget them.” This does not mean ignore the rules, it means you practice the rules so well you follow withou thinking, but FIRST you learn the rules.
How to write haiku
1) Haiku are short poems with – 1) Three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count (2) a kigo – season season word in the poem denoting when when the poem occurs (3) a kireji& or cutting word. This occurs in the second line and draws the contrast between the first and third lines. The third line is an aha! or surprise ending (4) haiku are about nature/changing seasons (5) haiku poems do not focus or “say” what the person feels; rather it shows the details that made the person feel as they did. For example, falling leaves made the person think of loss. The poem does not say, today the falling leaves made me think of endings and loss. The haiku below I wrote during a long period of late winter, icy cold rain reflects how it made me feel.
Spits of icy rain
Bitter wind tossing tree tops –
Spring seems distant dream
Haiku are about nature. You do not have to be Japanese or write in Japanese to write proper haiku. You only need to be observant. Japanese aesthtics are in tune with this observation of sensitivity to nature and change. They have 50+ words for rain, specific words. One of my favorites is kisame – rain that drips from tree branches. Hisame – very cold winter rain; yuudachi – evening rain. These are simple examples. For autumn leaves – momiji – red maple leaves. Koyo – all red leaves. Komorebi – the quality of light through leaves.
Again, you do not have to be Japanese. There are things that translate to English and can be incorporated. These are a few simple concepts: mujo – change or impermanence. The Buddha said, All is transient, nothing is fixed. This is an important concept for their lives, art, poetry. Seasons change. Mono no aware – empathy toward things, awareness of impermanence, wistful or gentle sadness at their passing, gentles sadness that this is part of life. And again, observation of nature and change in the seasons.
Try this: look out your window or better, go outside. Look around you, look at the sky, notice the clouds, the smell of the air, the sounds of nature or, the silence. Now, out of the big picture, focus your poetry camera on a deeper detail: except for the sound of a distant crow, there is silence; only one tree has a few tattered leaves remaining, all other trees are bare; there is a smell of pine or spruce in the air. What did you feel with one or two of the enhanced observations? How cakigon you express that objectively? How can you convey that sadness, loneliness, joy, acceptance without being blunt? Haiku poems are not a bunch of outlaws riding into town and shooting up the place.
Kigo – Season word/phrase
These are words essential to haiku and should be in the haiku. I usually put mine in the frst line. There are saijiki, databases of kigo, usually Japanese. However, these can change and be relevant to your area of the world. Festivals: Diwali, Christmas, Hannuka, Momiji Gari, Hanami. Plants/flowers: cherry blossoms, rice, corn, pumpkins, golden rod, lotus. Celestial: Harvest moon, Hunters Moon, Milky Way. Activities: ice fishing, planting crops, harvesting crops, baseball, county fair. Nature: cicada, red maples, mosquitos, robins, hawk, honeysuckle,snow, whale watching. Humanity – sun bathing, shoveling snow, snowman, kites, kite flying, mowing the lawn. What plants, animals, insects, weather events, foods eaten, etc. Occur yearly in your area? Is there an ongoing event such as Lake Festival, Christmas play, etc? Are there seasonal foods – pumpkin pie, field peas, collards, new cheese, white fish/pike, oysters? Again, it is paying attention to your world and how these season changes affect you or the people around you?
Cutting Word or phrase – kireji
Old pond, Frog jumps in, Sound of splash
We go from image to sound in this. The second line acts as the kireji. In Japanese: furu-ike ya, kawazu tobikomu, mizo no oto. In the Japanese you have the 5-7-5, the season word is frog.
There is no sound equivalent in English. A short dash can act as that cutting sound or brief aspiration. No punctuation in English haiku except for long dash or ellipses. The kireji occurs after the 5th or 12th onji (syllable) to create a pause between two thoughts.
Again, this is a simple explanation. It gets more complicated. I have been writing haiku for over half of my life. I have studied and studied under teachers more experience than me. First, I learned the rules.
The boisterous twin of haiku: three lines, 5-7-5 syllable count. Senryu do not require the subject to be nature or change but can be used. Senryu are/can be personal and are often humorous and/or sarcastic. Personal pronouns can be used. NOTE: In any Japanese poetic forms, vulgar or swear words are NOT used. I think this rule can be used for any form. The Japanese feel the point can be gotten across without vulgarity. I totally agree.
For those who do not feel following rules is not a requirement, I can only say, next time you order a BLT and get instead, peanut butter, sauerkraut, and onions, do not complain. Or, if you are driving and exceed the spped limit, you may get a traffic. I end with a haiku about the sudden death of a friend this summer. I wrote of her time with us, the blessing of her friendship, and how her friends grieve and remember that blessing.
Summer night is long
Dew falls but fades at morning –
I hope you all will try your hand at writing haiku and the simpler, fun senryu. There is no Linky for this is a pubtalk but you are welcome to submit in the comment section.
About Toni – wrote my first haiku at the age of six. It is my favorite and most loved poetic form. I also enjoy writing haibun, tanka, and bussokusekika (tanka plus one additional seven syllable line). I have had a long and deep love of Japan and her culture and frequently travelled to Japan. Haiku are original and are copyrighted and cannot be used or copied without my permission.