Haiku in a Nutshell

I wrote the following text in March of 2014 for the CBC radio show, “The Early Edition,” for a broadcast featuring Christopher Gaze and the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival on 20 March 2014. Although the following text wasn't used in the broadcast, you can listen to the broadcast. Part of this text also appeared in Constance Patrick’s haiku collection, Filling the Pondering Pool (Sedona, Arizona: Word Crafter Press, 2023, pages 6 and 7).

Roland Barthes once said that “Haiku has this rather fantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we can write such things easily.” A traditional haiku, whether in English or Japanese, has two juxtaposed parts (spread over three horizontal lines in English, but one vertical line in Japanese), a seasonal reference, and focuses on objective sensory imagery. These are the most important aspects of haiku, not merely counting syllables. If a haiku is 5-7-5 syllables in English, that usually violates the form rather than preserving it. In fact, 5-7-5 is an urban myth for haiku in English, despite how widely it is mistaught that way. This is because what they count in Japanese haiku is not strictly syllables. The word “haiku” itself, for example, is two syllables in English, but counts as three sounds in Japanese, and “Tokyo” is four sounds rather than two or three as we might count it. As further examples, the word “scarf” is counted as four sounds in Japanese, “sign” is counted as three, and “Christmas” as five. It’s more important to write in one short breath, and to avoid most judgment or analysis. Jack Kerouac said that “haiku should be as simple as porridge.” Or, as Bashō put it, “Prefer vegetable broth to duck soup.” Haiku are ordinary, everyday experiences that give you an emotion based on the presentation of things you can experience through your five senses. Rather than writing about emotions (or ideas), the best haiku are written about what caused those emotions.

                morning light

                through the cherry blossoms . . .

                I miss Early Edition