Haiku

      by Ron Padgett

First: five syllables
Second: seven syllables
Third: five syllables


First published in 1995, and meant to be ironic, a spoof. At first sight, this poem is an instruction rather than a poem, and it’s a misinformed instruction at that, not to mention being a trivialization of the genre that has been done by many grade-schoolers who can’t see beyond syllable-counting or making puns on the word “haiku.” It’s tiresome rather than clever. Moreover, a “poem” like this merely perpetuates a common misunderstanding and bastardization of the haiku genre in English. The notion of “syllables” has been added to haiku in English; it was never part of its definition in Japanese. Indeed, in English, 5-7-5 syllables is a violation of the Japanese form, not a preservation of it. Japanese haiku do not count syllables, but something else. As an example, the word “haiku” itself is two syllables in English, but counts as three sounds in Japanese. See “Why ‘No 5-7-5’” and Further Reading. However, and this is a big however, the author of this poem knows better, and his whole point is to spoof these very misunderstandings of haiku. In an interview with The Other Room, conducted in November 2009 by James Davies and Tom Jenks, Ron Padgett wrote, “I once said jokingly that in writing ‘Haiku’ I had hoped [to] kill the haiku form. Mainly, though, I guess I wanted to make fun of the syllable counting that some people insisted on even though, I'm told, our concept of the syllable is different from that of the Japanese. The whole question is minute, one that would interest only literary specialists. Meanwhile the haiku tradition has continued to move along undisturbed by hairsplitting. The best haiku really are marvelous.” See also “How to Be Perfect.”       +       +       +       +