I can’t believe it’s not a haiku…

HaikuI’ve addressed this issue before, but quite a long time ago now, and I figured that considering it’s National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo, and as I found myself just recently explaining this to both friends and some of my students, that it would be a good time to mention this again.

You see, a lot of people write what they think is a haiku, except what they are writing is not in fact a haiku. This in itself is a bit of a contentious issue – some believe that they it is not a true haiku unless in Japanese, as that language has features that help the haiku to be appreciated on a greater level than in English. Others also argue about how many syllables are supposed to be in each line, while others again argue that none of this is that important.

But there is one aspect that, to me at least, is quite important – the content. Many people write in the haiku form about people or feelings, and automatically this makes whatever they are writing not a haiku but a senryu – kind of like a sister form, one could say. A haiku needs to reference the season somehow, or at the very least the weather, the atmosphere, and nature – this reference word is called a kigo word. The haiku should contain little to no verbs at all, focusing instead on engaging the senses with a quick snapshot of nature. The senryu instead focuses on human nature, rather than geographical nature, with a lack of kigo word.

Aside from this, the generally accepted rules are much the same – 3 lines, the first line with 5 syllables, the second with 7, and the last with 5 again. Both forms are quite fun, and while the haiku is more popular, a lot of beat poets (such as Ginsberg and Corso) enjoyed the senryu, and more importantly what most people think is a haiku is quite often a senryu.

I’m sure some people will think I have too much time on my hands to worry about such silly, tiny details with these forms, but I can’t help but think that if you’re going to write specific poetic forms, you should take the time to learn about them and write them properly. They are much more enjoyable that way, and you’ll grow more as a poet by making yourself stick to the at times rigid rules that come with some types of poetry. And besides, we only keep these forms alive by practising them, and doing so in the correct manner.

What are your thoughts on these rules of writing a haiku – do you think they are necessary? Were you aware of them previously?

11 thoughts on “I can’t believe it’s not a haiku…

  1. Brilliant – I never understood it before – thank you. I am going to keep that and at long last I can have a go at one – I like them, they have magic in them but I never felt confident that I understood enough before – cheers – tee hee something new every day!!!

    • Awesome – I’m glad my post has cleared it up for you! I was worried about the coherency of my writing as it is quite late at night here, hahaha.
      I just figure out of all the forms the haiku is one of the most popular, so it warranted getting its own post even if I did write about it around a year ago.
      Good luck at writing your own, I’d love to see what you come up with! 🙂

    • Hahaha, you’ll be one of the few who has followed me for long enough to remember that old post! I was wondering if anybody would. Funnily enough my girlfriend who has followed me since the beginning had forgotten it, which is what prompted me to write about it again! 😛

  2. Ah! I’d decided to write 30 Haiku for NaPoWriMo and have just realised that they are in fact Senryu! Well, I don’t really mind though – what I find most challenging is the syllable format and minimal verbs! Thanks for informative post!

    • Oh no! It is a common mistake though, and one which I know I made a lot up until a couple of years ago (even when writing haiku incorrectly in my Master’s degree, nobody picked it up, which really goes to show how little this form is understood). But yeah, it doesn’t really matter too much either, as long as you’re having fun with them. I enjoy the syllable challenge, because it slows you down and forces you to really consider what you’re going to say. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Inspired to write a haiku | My thought exactly...!

    • Awesome, I am glad to hear it, and glad to be of assistance! I essentially explained the difference to some of my students in much the same way, and they understood it quite well. For exercises for them to practise, I asked them to write a haiku for each of the seasons, and then a senryu for different human emotions and moods – it helped drill in the differences too.

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