Thursday, September 09, 2010

Seventeen Syllables...Give or Take

Do you haiku?
If you don't, you should.

I'm kind of hooked on haiku. Or at least I was. I haven't written many lately, save for the one on this blog a few days ago.

It doesn't take long...usually. They're only 17 syllables, after all...three little lines, of five syllables, seven syllables and five again. That's the traditional format, but many poets break that rule, and loosely define a haiku as a poem consisting of three short lines, often about nature, but sometimes...not. (strict, aren't they?)

Last winter, I participated in a haiku challenge, writing 100 haiku in 100 days. If you skipped the 23rd day, for example, you started over at No. 1 until you wrote for 100 consecutive days.

Sometimes they came easily, appearing in my head almost fully formed after a single glance out the window for inspiration. Other came down to the last minute of the day, and I hastily scribbled terms like "pleasant pachyderm" as my third line...only because it had five syllables, not because I have an affinity for elephants.

A couple of other poets and I completed the 100 days (I may have tripped up three weeks into it and had to start over at syllable one), and I plan to publish the 300 haiku in a compilation. Hopefully we'll attempt another 100 soon.

A couple of examples among my 100 haiku include:

feeling old these days
scrape across and shave away
salt and pepper scruff

— • — • —

one winter drawback
snow fluttering softly down
my car has dandruff

When Jessica was in Paris in spring, she bought a book for me from Shakespeare and Co., called Book of Haikus, by Jack Kerouac. He rarely followed the 5—7—5 format, but it's fascinating to read these brief glimpses into his thoughts:

Terraces of fern
in the dripping
Redwood shade

— • — • —

mayonnaise comes in cans
Down the river

— • — • —

Here comes the nightly
moth, to his nightly
Death, at my lamp

If you've never written a haiku before, I recommend you find your best (or any) 17 syllables, and leave them in the comments section. And if you have written a haiku before...might I suggest 100 in 100 days?

"Above all, a haiku must be very simple
and free of all poetic trickery and make
a little picture and yet be as airy and
graceful as a Vivaldi pastorella."
—Jack Kerouac

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