Still thinking about yesterday’s Terrible Poem Breakdown entry, which I compared to haiku, which led me to think about the role of haiku in America. Haiku in America is terrible and I think I know why.
I don’t mean there aren’t (a small number of) Americans who truly get haiku. There is some good haiku out there, to be sure. Robert Hass should probably be given a Japanese passport for his efforts.
What I mean is that every time I see some kind of contest in America for writing haiku I cringe. Because inevitably someone writes something like this in the comments:
Line two has eight syllables. Haiku form is 5-7-5.
Thank you, Captain Good-at-Counting! So glad you pointed that out! And completely understand why you had nothing at all to say about the poem itself. Eight syllables! Holy smokes. What a disaster.
Sometimes the commenters are falsely modest and apologetic – Sorry, I thought haiku was supposed to be 5-7-5, but the first line maybe has six? Maybe I’m wrong about that, who knows, I’m not an expert…
Even worse! You know what the number is, Suzie Number-Game – you’ve known it since third grade. And your idea of haiku hasn’t changed since then.
And this idea carries over into the poems themselves, which are so agonizingly about the number of syllables, and the words crammed into it, and the cleverness of the poet, and the self-congratulations of fitting the words into the poems, and (often) some little self-nod to the endeavor of getting the right number of syllables in the poem in the poem itself.
Ugh, ugh, ugh. Look, if you want to play a word game and count syllables, fine. If you view it as a kind of alternative to a Sudoko, great. I’m not such a killjoy that I want to deny anyone’s pleasure.
But… that wrings the life out of haiku.
Here’s what I want from a haiku: An image. An emotion. An idea. Something human – terrifying, beautiful, inspiring. A flash of recognition. A glimpse of truth. I don’t want puns. I don’t want cleverness. I don’t want to read a haiku that is about counting syllables!
When I finish a poem, whether it’s haiku or anything else, I want to FEEL something. I don’t want to hold up my fingers and COUNT.
For God’s sake, people. Let’s stop trying so hard! Let’s let go!