Take Your Pick
Jane Reichhold

[ With Narayanan Raghunathan's responses ]

Haiku, which seem so light, free and spontaneous, are built on discipline. If you've a desire to write haiku, you are manifesting a desire for a few more rules in your life. And rules aren't bad as long as they are your rules for your work.
You've heard Robert Frost's saying poetry without rules is like a tennis match without a net and it is true also for haiku. And Basho had his motto: "Learn the rules; and then forget them."
But first he said, "Learn the rules." If you are at that stage of the game (we are all, at all times, students), here are some old and new rules. You can't physically follow all of these, because they conflict, but among them I would hope you'd pick a set just for you. Then write down your thoughts, impressions, and feelings while following your own rules.
As soon as you get proficient (you will notice your haiku all sound alike) it's time to raise the tennis net by picking a new rule or so, either from this list or one you've made up from reading and admiring other haiku, or, and this is possible and not treason, from other poetry genre.

Here we go:

1. Seventeen syllables in one line.
# I have seen that very few people write a Haiku in one line. I don't write. I have written almost all of them in three lines. I have also written very few in two lines and a few even in four lines!


2. Seventeen syllables written in three lines.
# I have mostly written in three lines and some of them accidently naturally use seventeen syllables.


3. Seventeen syllables written in three lines divided into 5-7-5.
# Some Haiku I have written are seventeen syllables written in three lines divided into 5-7-5. But these are not intentionally so. I generally use much lesser number of syllables.


4. Seventeen syllables written in a vertical (flush left or centered) line.
# It looks somewhat fanciful in my opinion to write the syllables vertically unless it is for calligraphy in a Haiga! It is a strain to read English vertically.


5. Less than 17 syllables written in three lines as short-long-short.
# I think majority of Haiku I have written adhere to this rule as an aesthetic necessity. I have written in various syllable partitions. I have also written a few where the short-long-short rule is not adhered to.


6. Less than 17 syllables written in three vertical lines as short-long-short. (Ala Barry Semegran)
# Again, I think that vertical lines are used by very few Haijin(s) writing in English. It may be useful in haiga calligraphy out of necessity .


7. Write what can be said in one breath.
# This is a very essential rule and most of the Haiku I write, adhere to this rule intrinsically. Sometimes may be little more breath!


8. Use a season word (kigo) or seasonal reference.
# I have used kigo or seasonal reference in many Haiku but I don't think this is necessary or always practically feasible in English. Firstly, English language does not have the wonderful kigo collection available to Japanese Haijin .
For a sample


Many English Haiku writers live in different geographic regions and to come to a deep etymologically rich season reference or use of appropriate kigo is not easy. For instance, in Keralam India we have no real winter but have extended rainy season. Further even the possibility of Malyalam or Sanskrit kigo or season reference is denied when I write in English. The vast possibility compiling Saijiki for different regions of the world is being attempted in the following sites under the able guidance of Gabi san.




9. Use a caesura at the end of either the first or second line, but not at both.
# This is a rule I mostly follow. Few times I have used the caesura at the end of both the lines. I have also used caesura in the middle of the second line sometimes. I have also written Haiku which have no obvious caesura but the one or more caesuras intrinsically coexist.


10. Never have all three lines make a complete or run-on sentence.
# Normally I don't make all three lines a complete or run on sentence. But I have done it occasionally and I think it is challenging to show an intrinsic caesura in such a sentence that is revealed in the reading.


11. Have two images that are only comparative when illuminated by the third image. Example: spirit in retreat / cleaning first the black stove / and washing my hands.
# I have written some haiku where this happens.


12. Have two images that are only associative when illuminated by the third image. Example: fire-white halo / at the moment of eclipse / I notice your face
# I have written many haiku where this happens.


13. Have two images that are only in contrast when illuminated by the third image. Example: two things ready / but not touching the space between / fire
# I have written some haiku where this happens.


14. Always written in the present tense of here and now.
# Almost all my haiku are written in the present tense of here and now. I have used the some version of past tense just in one or two!


15. Limited use (or non-use) of personal pronouns.
# I don't adhere to this rule always. I use personal pronoun when needed. I don't think it is Un- Zen to say I.


16. Use of personal pronouns written in the lower case. Example: i am a ...
# I tend to do this too sometimes when I use "i".


17. Eliminating all the possible uses of gerunds (ing endings on wording).
# Although I adhere to this rule almost always, very rarely I have used the gerunds.


18. Study and check on articles. Do you use too many the's? too little? all the same in one poem or varied?
# This is a subtle point. I tend to strike a middle path here. But I feel that in English "the" is very often necessary for intrinsic resonance of language. I think strict minimalist attitude is not always fair to the resonance of language ! Technically I seem to be an indulgent essentialist


19. Use of common sentence syntax in both phrases.
# I do this sometimes but not necessarily.

pigeons at the bus-stop
discuss human nature ~
humans watch pigeons ~


20. Use of sentence fragments.
# I do this often !

meta-coloured sandscapes ~
an ant searches mountains
along luminous paths ~


21. Study the order in which the images are presented. First the wide-angle view, medium range and zoomed in close-up. (Thanks to George Price for this clarification!)
# Very useful idea. But the reverse order, zoomed in close up view to medium range to wide angle view can also be used. I have used both the orders in different situations in various Haiku. The following more sudden "close up wide angle close up", or "wide angle close up wide angle" is also possible and I have surely used them too. [the wide-angle view, medium range and zoomed in close-up is also mentioned in Willian J Higginson's book "The Haiku Hand Book." ]

There is another point that may be elucidated here. The "real abstract real" or "abstract real abstract" order may be merged[ fused ] with the orders mentioned above. [We are assuming that abstraction is not a technical error in Haiku!] This technically gives innumerable structural permutations and aesthetic possibilities.


22. Save the "punch line" for the end line.
# Most often the "punch line" is the end line in my Haiku. Often that makes the Haiku a discovery for oneself!


23. Work to find the most fascinating and eye-catching first lines.
# It is a good suggestion. I will keep it in mind although I have not consciously worked towards that.


24. Just write about ordinary things in an ordinary way using ordinary language.
# Many Haiku I have written try to do this I presume!

sakura path ~
cool morning walk on
a distant breeze ~


25. Study Zen and let your haiku express the wordless way of making images.
# Some of my Haiku are deeply influenced by Zen of course. I came to Haiku through Zen! I have No Choice here but to tread the Pathless Path of BodhiSattvas!


26. Study any religion or philosophy and let this echo in the background of your haiku.
# Various Religious traditions are intrinsic to my nature and I have studied them and have vastly experienced them too. They have all deeply influenced me and they echo in the background of my Haiku, sometimes even come to the foreground which may tend to make them odd Haiku perhaps or even a non-Haiku depending on how you define!


27. Use only concrete images.
# I generally use concrete images.


28. Invent lyrical expressions for the image.
# I do this too occasionally.


29. Attempt to have levels of meaning in the haiku. On the surface it is a set of simple images; underneath a philosophy or lesson of life.
# I think that many of my Haiku attempt to do this.


30. Use images that evoke simple rustic seclusion or accepted poverty. (sabi)
# There are some Haiku I have written which evoke sabi indirectly . But simple rustic seclusion and accepted poverty are not my true experience. I am very secluded and my path is rustic but I have not consciously accepted poverty. To Basho and Issa and others sabi was intrinsic part of their life I presume. I intend to settle in Rudra Prayaag, Himalayas when I may evoke more sabi in my Haiku naturally.


31. Use images that evoke classical elegant separateness. (shubumi)
# There are some Haiku I have written which evoke shubumi perhaps. But shubumi is truly classical not easily emulated . I must investigate the subtleties of shubumi! I must read more haiku with shubumi.


32. Use images that evoke nostalgic romantic images. Austere beauty. (wabi)
# I have written some Haiku where perhaps wabi is evoked!


33. Use images that evoke a mysterious aloneness. (Yugen)
# I think many of my Haiku tend to evoke Yugen because I am mysteriously alone perhaps! I really cannot affirm! It is for the reader to see and affirm.


34. Use of paradox.
# I have used paradox intrinsically here and there though not as a rule.

the painter inside
the landscape paints
the landscape ~

the ocean cradles
the endless memories
of unborn voyages ~


35. Use of puns and word plays.
# If I am intrinsically compelled I have rarely indulged in puns and wordplays too!


36. Write of the impossible in an ordinary way.
# Some of my Haiku clearly attempt to do this.


37. Use of lofty or uplifting images. (No war, blatant sex, or crime)
# Some of my haiku attempt to use lofty images Apocalypse, Maitreya's innumerable
Silences, Armageddon, Pre-primal, fragrant mantrams, infinite vast residual cosmoses etc . [ I have never written about war or blatant sex or crime ]


38. Telling it as it is in the real world around us.
# Of course, some Haiku I have written just attempt to do that!


39. Use only images from nature. (No mention of humanity.)
# I generally use images from nature and rarely bring humanity as a part of nature.


40. Mixing humans and nature in a haiku by relating a human feeling to an aspect of nature.
# I have written a few Haiku that attempt to do this!


41. Designation of humans a non-nature and giving all these non-nature haiku another name.
# I have already done this by writing senryu as a separate genre. But I don't designate humans as non-nature. I think it is difficult to classify as Senryu or Pure Haiku in some cases!


42. Avoid all reference to yourself in the haiku.
# This is a rule I follow from experience and tradition of Haiku. But I have also rarely used self-reference!


43. Refer to yourself obliquely as the poet, this old man, or with a personal pronoun.
# I have never done this although I have read traditional Japanese poets do it! But I see the useful possibility.


44. Use no punctuation for ambiguity.
# I tend to use the punctuation "~ " ! I do this because I use  to create compound words sometimes in my Haiku. So I needed ~ to show the kireji! But most magazines publishing Haiku will delete it or return the Haiku itself since ~ is not a legitimate scholar's punctuation ! So in my personal collections I will retain this punctuation ~ If I send it to a Haiku I publisher I will give the editor the freedom to delete it ~


45. Use all normal sentence punctuation
: = a full stop
; = a half stop or pause
... = something left unsaid
, = a slight pause
-- = saying the same thing in other words
. = full stop
# I personally feel here individuals should be free although I have rarely seen a [.] full stop used in Haiku.
1] I use to create compound words sometimes

11} I use ~ for a pause that continues ie. instead of
: = a full stop
; = a half stop or pause
... = something left unsaid
111] I also rarely use
, = a slight pause


46. Capitalize the first word of every line.
# I don't do this. Very few Haijin I have read, do this.


47. Capitalize the first word only.
# I don't do this either. Some Haijin do this though not many.


48. Capitalize proper names according to English rules.
# I generally tend to do this and I think it is necessary to avoid confusion.


49. All words in lower case.
# All words except proper nouns I write in lower case.


50. All words in upper case.
# I have seen some books and Haijin using upper case.


51. Avoid rhymes.
#I would say, I don't create artifice of rhymes as routine but dont consciously avoid rhymes too .


52. Rhyme last words in the first and third lines.
#Some of my haiku rhyme in the first and third lines accidently yet essentially semantically too.


53. Use rhymes in other places within the haiku.
#I have also used rhymes in other places within the Haiku intrinsically.


54. Use alliteration. Example by Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes: twitching tufted tail / a toasty, tawny tummy: / a tired tiger
# Rarely alliteration has come in my haiku, that too rather unconsciously or more instinctively.


55. Use of words' sounds to echo feeling.
# This is a very important idea. I think some deep investigation is possible here. This must have occurred accidentally in my Haiku too. I must investigate!


56. Always end the haiku with a noun. .
# This is a very useful Law! I end most of my Haiku with a noun which essentially completes and reveals the Haiku!


57. Write haiku only from an "ah-ha" moment. 
# It is not clear to me what an "ah-ha" moment is. So I am not sure how many of my Haiku, if any, are inspired by an "ah-ha" moment. Further many Haijin like Issa, Shiki etc. wrote very prolifically and I don't think they verified whether it was real "ah-ha" moment that inspired their Haiku. Perhaps there are innumerable levels of "ah-ha-ness" ! "Let us ask the Maitreya Buddha" as the traditional Zen affirmation goes!


58. Use any inspiration as starting point to develop and write haiku. (These are known as desk haiku.)
# I think that most people do this and we can see that all Haiku are desk haiku in the absolute truthfull sense because there is a time lag between the moment of Haiku perception and the actual writing of the Haiku and even rewriting is involved sometimes.


59. Avoid too many (or all) verbs.
# Again, this is a very useful instruction ! I tend to follow this. But I have written few haiku with three verbs too!


60. Cut out prepositions (in - on - at - among - between) whenever possible; especially in the short 1/3 phrase.
# Again a very useful instruction. But essential propositions must be used!


61. Eliminate adverbs.
# This is also a very useful instruction. I have very rarely used an adverb out of some intrinsic necessity.


62. Don't use more than one modifier per noun. This use should be limited to the absolute sense of the haiku.
# I have mostly followed this rule also intuitively. But rarely two modifiers may occur for some noun.


63. Share your haiku by adding one at the close of your letters.
# Good idea! I will start doing it too!


64. Treat your haiku like poetry; it's not a greeting card verse.
# Of course Haiku is subtle Poetry!


65. Write down every haiku that comes to you. Even the bad ones. It may inspire the next one which will surely be better.
# Surely words of wisdom !


*** This article was recently published in Romanian in the periodical for The Constanta Haiku Society -- Albatross.


Please login to post comment.