Sparks: Haiku Writing Exercise #1

First published in Pebbles 26:5, May 2014, page 13. Written in March 2014 at the request of Pebbles editor Donna Fuchsluger, who asked me to “reflect on haiku and free verse.” “Sparks” is the name of requested commentary appearing in Pebbles, a haiku journal published six times a year by the Haiku Special Interest Group of the American Mensa Society.

Haiku is widely misunderstood as being syllabic verse, but it’s vital to know that the Japanese don’t count syllables. They count sounds (the word “haiku” is two syllables in English but three sounds in Japanese), and their syllables differ from ours. So one might argue that one is writing “free-verse” haiku if one doesn’t write 5-7-5 in English. But that’s not necessarily the case. Instead, my approach to haiku is far more disciplined than merely counting syllables. Applying the kigo (season word) and kireji (cutting word) techniques, plus primarily objective sensory imagery, takes far more discipline. Consequently, good non-5-7-5 haiku is hardly “free verse.” I’d like to see Pebbles contributors pay significantly more attention to these more important targets.