Haiku (translation):
an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water
Matsuo Basho, 1686

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know I like to write ‘short’ and have sometimes written so-called ‘English haiku’ following the format: three lines of 5,7,5 syllables or, more correctly, sounds. In fact recently I collected together my scribblings in this format and put them under a menu heading of ‘Haiku’

However, recently I have come to the conclusion, after reading hundreds of them from other writers/bloggers, that although they are often beautiful, sometimes moving, short poems, haiku they are not – for me. The same applies to tanka, which add another two ‘lines’ of seven syllables to a haiku (or rather, the haiku resulted from removing the last two ‘lines’ of tanka).

I have to assume that Japanese haiku are just that but as I don’t read Japanese I cannot make any judgement. I read translations of them but I’m certain they lose something. I know Romanian poetry, which I can read in the original, certainly does. I sometimes wonder whether I, as a native English speaker who speaks Romanian pretty well, could do better.

Few of the English ones I’ve read come close to a true haiku, in my opinion, but I haven’t read even one that I now consider to be a haiku – there’s an indefinable ‘something’ missing: Japanese culture perhaps? I certainly haven’t written one.

I find my little 5,7,5 poems easy to write when the moment grabs me, the same with poems that rhyme – haiku do not of course (most people I know say that it’s the rhyming they find difficult). I think I’ve become better over time with my ‘haiku’ attempts but I’m still a long way from being satisfied.

Despite these doubts, I will not stop writing them as I enjoy the discipline of writing to the 5,7,5 format and trying to get closer to a haiku; I think I’ve said before I always enjoyed writing headlines as a journalist and there are similarities. Also, the tanka, and so haiku, goes back 11 centuries and there is something satisfying for me to try to create something with this long a history. In the past one of these short poetic forms was often sent to a friend or family member who added to it and sent it back. It might go back and forth like this for years.

Capturing the ‘decisive moment’

Silhouettes of couple kissing and figure of person with umbrella jumping, with Eiffel Tower in the backgrounc

‘A decisive moment’ captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson

An essential characteristic of a true haiku is that it captures a brief moment of time, and as a keen photographer I cannot help but compare that with the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Substitute ‘haiku’ for ‘photography’ and ‘words’ for ‘forms’ and you have, I believe, the essence of a haiku.

So, here’s a challenge: add two seven syllable lines to the following attempt at an ‘English haiku’ I’ve just written, to make a ‘tanka’, and put it in comments. I’ll attempt to respond to each one with another ‘haiku’.

bluetit … food in beak

pauses outside hole in wall

cat waits patiently

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