Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Hate Haikus

On weekend NPR, locus classicus for all things laffytaffy, a couple of women were gushing about haikus, on much the tone they would use for gushing about arugula or [insert name of designer-bags here; these are not in my pared-down databank].  One of them alluded to sensei so-and-so -- you doubtless know his work -- then quoted  a single slim-syllabled example from his subtle oeuvre -- in English.

Now, haikus, like monostichs, are simply not the sort of thing you can introduce with a drum-roll;  you have to come across them accidentally, alone, as in a deserted rock-garden.   But there is a linguistic aspect that goes deeper than this.

Japanese, which is syllable-timed, lends itself gracefully to the haiku form.
English, by contrast, is stress-timed, the syllable-count being not even wholly determinate:  Is fire one syllable or two?  (I would vote one; but for Jim Morrison, it’s two).    The Germanic languages (including English), with their traditional forestress, and the alliterative possibilities afforded by their semantically-laden word-initial consonants and consonant-clusters, are best suited -- structurally -- to Stabreim and balladry, which tell a tale, and where the meter is nothing fancy.  (A sample here.) -- Arabic, by contrast, with its often merely inflectional or derivational initial consonants, but with (en revanche) a semantically and structurally and rhythmically rich system of root-and-pattern, is ideal for the dazzling palette of intricate meters  characteristic of its early poetry.  (An English imitation  here.)

As for the English haiku -- the world needs but one.   In a spirit of minimalist aesthetic economy, I here offer The Only English Haiku You’ll Ever Need;  all others should be discarded  promptly.

one two 3 four five
six sept eight nine ten Onze Douze
treize q’torze QUINZE seize bleize

Not beautiful, but it’ll do.

[Note:  bleize means ‘seventeen’ in one of the minor dialects of Basque.
All fans of Ezra Pound will love this poem for that reason alone.]

~     ~     ~

[Stunning update]  There has been an amazing breakthrough.  The super-secret Poetry Labs ®  of the World of Dr Justice ©, located in reinforced bunkers deep beneath an undisclosed location, have just invented a new, fully-Americanized, fully-weaponized Mach II Haiku ©®.   Breathless details here:

[Update April 2014]  So long as it doesn’t fetishize the syllable-count (very valid for Japanese, but not for English), a brief tripartite production -- call it a “meta-haiku”,
can be meritorious. 
Here, a found example (from ostensible prose):

the poppies so sweet and gold,
like a Buddhist monk’s robe, 
like little cups  you could drink from.

            -- Anne Lamott, Crooked Little Heart (1997)

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