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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Old Pond a Frog Leaps In

Ladies and gentlemen, we all knew this day was coming. Gird your loins! Return with your shields, or on them! ...Wait. Wrong empire. Let me start again.

Greetings! Grace here, this week to pull you by the sleeve and chatter excitedly about haiku like a mad old woman on public transit.

The teikei, or fixed-form, haiku is one of my most beloved formats. It is FULL OF RULES and completely hedged about by REGULATIONS...but, when you sneak in among its iron jaws and wicker joints, it can be thrilling, beautiful, and completely unforgettable.

These tiny jewels began their career as the introduction to collaborative poems called renga (you might want to remember that name). In this incarnation, they were known as hokku, and by the 17th century, they had become verses in their own right, renamed haiku by Masaoka Shiki, a man now regarded as one of the four great masters of the format. One of the others, of whom I am certain you have heard, is the great Bashō.

There are many excellent articles on the famous writers of my beloved format, so I'll let you poke around on your own. I don't want to wear you out before we even get to the rules!

The title of today's article is also the first part of a haiku by Bashō:
"古池や蛙飛込む水の音"
(ふるいけやかわずとびこむみずのおと)
The translation, by William J. Higginson, has been placed into three lines:
"old pond. . .
a frog leaps in
water's sound"
I stuck this example in to illustrate the different ways of presenting your haiku. In Japanese, they are presented in a single line, but in translation, they are generally in the more familiar three-line group. Please feel free to use either method!

Here we come to the meat of our challenge. In Japanese, the fixed-form haiku has precisely 17 on, or sound units. These are similar but not exactly like our syllables, and the source of our 5-7-5 rule. This is because each kana character (the simpler characters in parentheses above) corresponds to a single on.

You went back and counted, didn't you? I did!

So we have 17 syllables in three lines, in general, to work with, which should be simple. Yet then we move into the rules concerning the content of the verse! Each verse should contain a seasonal word and a cutting word, and attempt the juxtaposition of two images in a harmonious fashion (remember to breathe).

There are many lists of seasonally appropriate words/phrases, or kigo, including a supremely helpful one on Wikipedia. The main thing to remember here is that seasons are just as easily implied as stated flat out. For example, although I love to write about autumn, it gets boring to say, "The autumn wind," or, "The fall leaves." Besides, those are precious syllables I'm wasting! What about, "candy corn," "dying year," or even "red maples"?

Then we add in our cutting word, or kireji. Again, there is a list available from Wikipedia with examples from the Japanese here. There are multitudes of ways to attack the cutting word. It can be a word, a long pause, or a bit of punctuation that really calls out, "Here! This is the turning point in my verse!" Think of it like a volta, if you were writing a sonnet. The cutting word is the moment the trap snaps shut, the mood changes, or the shocking relationship of your two unrelated images is revealed!

Are you still with me? Phew.

The last person I spoke in-depth with about these tiny delights was the wonderful Shawnacy, and I gave her this example of punctuation as kireji:
A pumpkin alight,
then spotted with mildew black--
so, too, my feelings.
And the incredible Marian of runaway sentence. tells me she's been meddling with a group of mad haiku-writers in her spare time! These ladies may have a head start on you, but I know you will all rise to the occasion. You always do.

Honestly, this can be as difficult or as easy as your brain will allow it to be. Love the fixed-form haiku. Do not fear it. Look, you can even write about naps or snacks, if you like! Present it in a single line, or in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each...or:

Translators of Japanese poetry have noted that approximately 12 syllables in English are the same length as the traditional 17 on. So if you like, you can definitely play around (in a limited manner) with the format of even the teikei fixed-form haiku.

This month's challenge is extremely specific, and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to share your entries! So, finally, here is your mission: write a set of haiku. They don't have to be related to each other, but they don't have to be unrelated either, if you'd like to have some underlying thread. Be sure that you adhere to the rules of the fixed-form haiku, and please adjust your sets to be either 3 or 5 verses. Fours, in Japanese tradition, are extremely unlucky!

Please, please email me if you have any questions at all about this format. I could quite seriously talk about haiku for weeks on end, but I promise to contain myself. As always, link up at the bottom, and leave a comment when you're ready. I can't wait to see what you do this month!


24 comments:

Lolamouse said...

This sounds great! FB, you gonna play?!!

Heaven said...

Thanks for the additional information ~

Some of us have been writing haiku as there is an on-going challenge in another site. But it is always good to read again the original way of writing this ~

Teresa said...

I love the traditional haiku, so this is a fun challenge for me today. Thanks.

Kerry O'Connor said...

This supplies much needed information (I feel) about how we should all be writing haiku. I find it coming increasingly under Western influence and losing the Oriental articulation and basic intention. Thank you, Grace.

Fireblossom.... is that you I see beating a hasty retreat?

hedgewitch said...

Thanks for one of the clearer and more attractive explanations of the haiku ruleset I have read, Grace. I love the discipline of writing in shorter forms--(I so miss your mini-challenges, Kerry)and I will try to tackle this as time permits.

And yes, I think that's Shay disappearing behind a swirl of falling leaves in a silent forest broken only by the sound of one hand slapping...something...;-)

Kerry O'Connor said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the mini-challenges, Joy. I have always intended to bring them back after a break, being of the opinion that too much of a good thing, eventually turns sour.. It's why I like the 4 week turn around, so people don't begin to think: Not aNOther Kerry challenge! Now you have made me think that perhaps I should be alternating photo challenges with mini-challenges...

Thanks for your input, it is always well-received..

... and after that short interruption, back to haiku!!

Mama Zen said...

I feel like the teacher in Ferris Buehler's Day Off:

"Fireblossom? Fireblossom? Fireblossom?"

Grace O'Malley said...

There are several forms of haiku (don't say I didn't warn you about my obsession) that we could deal with over the next couple of months, but my preference is always the teikei format. There are looser formats, and ones more suited to writing in English or other languages, but I find the fixed-form haiku to be the most rewarding. Of course, others differ! So many people I've talked to lately have said things like, "No one writes haiku in that way any more." My immediate answer, of course, is, "I do."

I'm not necessarily a traditionalist in many ways, but the teikei haiku is so rigid and spare that it can become pure magic. With effort, of course. But magic, nonetheless.

Other Mary said...

This was the best explanation of haiku, beyond syllable counts, I have read. Thank you Grace!

Marian said...

yes, i love this very helpful description, too, Grace. and i've never written anything like this, just so you know! *gulp*

Kay L. Davies said...

I haven't achieved perfect understanding yet, Grace, but I did my best with different numbers of syllables.
Shay—if you're out there, girl, please come home to the garden.
K

Mary said...

I wrote a few for each season. Thanks for the prompt, Grace.

Ruth said...

Hi, sorry I've not been around much, but here I am now with my haiku post - be back soon to read yours... and yours :)

Marian said...

whew, challenging! but worthwhile. thank you, Grace.

Susie Clevenger said...

I love writing haiku...I find the strict syllable count challenges me to say something in such few words...

shawnacy said...

i'm on it. ... small things to come. :)

Fireblossom said...

SAVE FIREBLOSSOM!!!! :-P

Margaret said...

Ah, she commented, but I see no haiku from Fireblossom...And mine were certainly written with lots of sweat and frustration... I just find these very difficult and I'm afraid you will all read mine and shake your head... I would like to work on these a bit more, but with sick kids and a super busy weekend ahead of me, I'm turning in what I have...

Margaret said...

I'll be back later Friday evening to read everyone's haiku.

Raining Iguanas said...

Never been a great follower of rules or directions, but I did have fun. My own photos included at no extra charge. Thank you for the invitation.

Ella said...

Thank you Grace, I am behind, but want to give this ago. I look forward to reading everyone's wisdom

myheartslovesongs said...

wonderful post, Grace!


{{get back here, Fireblossom!}}

Grace O'Malley said...

I'm about to make my second commenting strafing run, I promise. Just as soon as I make the time to post my own entries! Great job, everyone.

Grace O'Malley said...

Well, I stalled as long as I could for Fireblossom...sadly, that was as long as I could stall. I'm late, but finally posted.