Most traditional Japanese haiku use 17 syllables (onji); some don’t. Most traditional western haiku have 3 lines; some don’t. Most traditional haiku also have seasonal (kigo) and cutting (kireji) words; some don’t. Some believe metaphors should be completely avoided; others feel they are inherent. Some believe that haiku should be present tense, should be from actual lived experience, should be concrete, should contain juxtaposition, shouldn’t rhyme,etc. None of these characteristics are necessary. Haiku— literally meaning “playful verse” and originating as the basis of a collectively-written linked poem (renga)—are meant to be played with. Basho himself (along with other haiku masters) led the way by both following and straying from these guidelines. A haiku is simply a very short evocative poem that captures a moment of awareness; it is a poetic snapshot. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Dan Brook: writer, poet, instructor, activist
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