IAFOR Vladimir Devidé Haiku Award 2016 guest judge, Alan Summers of With Words, gives his explanation of haiku in the English language

A haiku in the English language is often written in three short lines and read out aloud in about six seconds.

Haiku are written in the present tense, in ordinary language, and work particularly well when two different images are used spark off each other.

It’s good to include one or more of the senses such as sound, smell, taste or touch, and not just what we can see.

Haiku don’t tell, or merely describe, they allow the reader to enter the poem in their own way.

Haiku are ideal for non-fiction observations as a kind of short-hand for remembering events or incidents.

They can be therapeutic and they exercise both the right and the left side of the brain.

Traditionally haiku are rooted in natural history and the seasons, and make us co-conspirators with wildlife, as nature half-writes the haiku before we’ve even put pen to paper.

Haiku have a seasonal clue called kigo in Japanese. Obvious season words are snow for winter and heatwave for summer, but less obvious kigo words like beer for summer and Orion or Orion’s Belt for winter can be used.

Where does haiku come from?

Haiku comes from a “first verse” called hokku; they often look incomplete as they originate from a linked verse poem where the first verse is finished by the second verse. They have a special place in the multi-poet, multi-linking verse poem known as renga, or renku, that enjoyed a renaissance in 17th-century Japan.

Japanese writers began to adapt foreign literary techniques in poetry as Japan was opened up to the West. Journalist, writer, and poet, Masaoka Shiki, took full advantage when he officially made hokku an independent poem in the 1890s called haiku (singular and plural spelling) and brought haiku into the 20th century.

Haiku is one of the world’s oldest regularly written forms of poetry, and Basho (1644-1694) is recognised as its foremost poet. In the early 1850s the West learnt of Japan’s incredible art, and Japanese artists were fascinated by the West’s own techniques.

In the 1900s haiku influenced James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Amy Lowell, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg and William Carlos Williams. R.H. Blyth’s four-volume Haiku became popular from the mid to late 1940s and attracted the attention of Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac.

Jack Kerouac published The Dharma Bums in 1958, and Trip Trap: Haiku along the Road from San Francisco to New York, with Albert Saijo and Lew Welch, on a car trip across the U.S. in 1959. Kerouac stated:

“A ‘Western Haiku’ need not concern itself with 17 syllables, since Western languages cannot adapt themselves to the fluid syllabic Japanese. I propose that the ‘Western Haiku’ simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western language.”

Ginsberg published haiku throughout his long career and in 2004, at the age of 74, Gary Snyder was awarded The Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Grand Prize for his contribution to the art of haiku internationally.

Richard Wright, novelist and poet, one of the early forceful and eloquent spokesmen for African Americans was lying sick and bedridden in Paris in 1959, when he read Blyth’s four-volume Haiku. The result was 4,000 haiku which he sifted down to 800 and called This Other World. Richard Wright’s daughter Julia believed said they were:

“self-developed antidotes against illness, and that breaking down words into syllables matched the shortness of his breath”

and he continued, she said,

“to spin these poems of light out of the gathering darkness.”

By the end of the 1960s, the interest in haiku could no longer be considered a fad.

In 1985 William Higginson brought out his influential The Haiku Handbook, published by Japan’s Kodansha International. In 1989, Japan’s three major haiku associations, the Modern Haiku Association, the Association of Haiku Poets and the Association of Japanese Classical Haiku, established the Haiku International Association to promote friendship and mutual understanding among poets, scholars and others who share a common interest in haiku from all over the world. Also in 1989 Kevin Bailey from England printed the poetry magazine Haiku Quarterly, now called HQ, which publishes haiku alongside other types of poems.

In 1990, the British Haiku Society was created, holding close links with many contemporary Japanese haiku poets and organisations globally.

Original post courtesy With Words

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