Haiku in the summertime

Sunlight becomes
momentary diamonds
on the water.

I love the challenge of haiku. Reading it and writing it. Haiku in English, that is. I’m as equipped to write authentic Japanese haiku as I am to write actuarial valuation reports. I don’t even know what I just said. Still, English haiku has its demands that make it a beautiful process and product.

SYLLABLES • That sensational syllabic structure that made haiku famous! Three lines of up to 17 syllables (typically 10 to 14). If this is the only demand you make on your haiku, you’re missing out.

SEASON • The kigo takes the poem to another level. A kigo is a season word. It’s meant to refer — subtly — to a season of the year. The majority of kigo are drawn from the natural world.

CUT • Ready for the next level of challenge and beauty and Japanese vocabulary? The third element of haiku is a cut (kire) — indicated by a real or a verbal punctuation mark — to compare two images or ideas implicitly. The essence of haiku is ‘cutting’ (kiru). Sometimes this is done by juxtaposing two images or ideas with a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them.

A handful of syllables. A subtle reference to season. A juxtaposition of images or ideas.

One of the many aspects of haiku that I love is that it’s simple. It doesn’t try to do and be everything. It typically captures a fleeting moment in time. Haiku shuns excess like a hermit shuns Walmart on Saturdays.

“The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.” (Matsuo Bashō)

I love haiku for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t tell; it shows. It doesn’t explain; it suggests. It doesn’t expose; it hints.

Almost endless blue
cut in two
by shifting white sails


I’d love to read your summertime haiku! Just add it to a comment below.

 

© Elizabeth Whitworth

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