February is National Haiku Writing Month, a juxtaposition of the shortest month of the year and the shortest form of poetry. The hashtag is #NaHaiWriMo, to make the whole thing even shorter. The idea is to write and post a haiku every day in February.
Haiku is a favorite pastime of mine (see the archives) and I applaud the effort to get more folks to create and appreciate it. I’m going to join the one-haiku-per-day movement for the rest of February, relying in part on a cache of unpublished little unrhymed verses I’ve written and saved, all in the 5-7-5 syllabic structure.
But according to the NaHaiWriMo site, 5-7-5 (syllables, that is) is an urban myth, a somewhat contemptible English interpretation of the traditional Japanese structure for haiku. The late Japanese-American poet Keiko Imaoka explains in the essay, Forms in English, that the more appropriate number of syllables in English (if one was counting, which one should not), would actually be about 11. About. To drive this point home, the NaHaiWriMo site has adopted the “anything but 5-7-5” image shown on the left. It’s a mantra to remind us haiku writers, in their words:
not to get a case of mumpsimus, or being stuck in your ways despite evidence to the contrary. With English-language haiku, you have no need to persist in any adherence to the incorrect idea or belief in 5-7-5 syllables.”
In addition to being edifying and enlightening, I find this all rather stuffy and amusing. Why should it bother anyone if I choose a 5-7-5 structure for my little “Texas gal with the bigger-than-she-expected life” haiku pieces? Like a woman who wears an inappropriate dress to a party but feels like a million bucks in it, I think I’ll just write haiku my way, even if it means I have a case of “mumpsimus”. It may be a stretch, but I think it is possible that an English-language haiku could be a decent poem, even if it adheres to that back-water 5-7-5 syllabic form Americans adopted in the 50s when haiku became popular.
Or maybe I’ll just throw caution to the wind and mix up my syllabic count. A haiku a day for the rest of the month – anything could happen!
the rule-makers rant:
“5-7-5 – it just can’t
be a true haiku”
And yes, I know, the piece above does not fit the thematic form of any kind of haiku. So be it!
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