With this series of posts, I shall be explaining some of my thought process behind the haikus I wrote in a recent article. If you’d like to check that out, you can find it here.
Let’s start with the basics: Haikus follow the format of 3 lines, 5 syllables on the first line, 7 syllables on the next, and 5 syllables again on the last line.
la la la la la. fa la la la la la la. la la la la la.
Let’s continue with the not-so basics: as part of the structure of a haiku, each poem contains a kireji, as well as a seasonal reference.
I’m definitely not an expert on the Japanese language, or kireji. With that in mind, what I’ve found on the internet indicates that a kireji is a character that can be used for emphasis—such as indicating a question, or indicating a sense of wonder. Or, when used in the middle of a phrase, they can act as sounded out punctuation, rather than written. Like a word that means “…” or “—” or “,”
There’s no real equivalent for kireji in English, so English haikus don’t have them. I guess you could get technical and say kireji are a lot like English punctuation; question marks and colons and ellipses and so on, so English haikus should have punctuation. What makes this even more difficult is that, from what I’ve found, the kireji was usually the central syllable in the middle line of the poem. Kind of impossible to do in English.
The third thing haikus have is a seasonal reference. Looking over my haikus again, I’m realizing I didn’t do so well on this. I included references to nature, such as the weather or plants, but not so much a seasonal reference, showing that the haiku occurs during summer, or autumn. These references are called kigo, a word like “pumpkin” or “drought” that indicates the season.
So, here is my haiku #1:
The dam of my mind has bottled up my tears. Hold for the implosion.
5, 7, 5 syllables? Check.
English punctuation? Check. Two periods count, right?
Seasonal reference? Uh, no.
Yet I do picture this haiku in a deep, red rock canyon, a profound silence as the concrete wall of a river dam slowly crumbles and water begins to erupt, spilling into the empty canyon.