Curtis Dunlap, a widely-published, award-winning poet and longtime haikuist, has just written an interesting, introductory piece to haiku and senryu (satirical haiku).
Curtis has generously allowed me to reprint the first six paragraphs below. After you read these paragraphs, I’m certain you’ll be interested in reading the rest of his piece. It has ample examples of poems, too.
You can check out his interesting blog, http://www.tobaccoroadpoet.blogspot.com
Curtis writes this weekly blog with interim updates. And, he also interviews haikuists about how and why they write.
An Introduction to Haiku & Senryu for New Haiku & Senryu Poets
This blog post comes with a warning: Once you open your “haiku eye”, it never closes. In fact, I dreamed in haiku once and I know of at least one other haiku poet who has dreamed in haiku. The dream was sort of like a musical but without music. Every word spoken, every poet in the dream communicated via haiku! It was a wonderfully pleasant dream. But I digress…
Okay, back to the “haiku eye”: You will start noticing small things that will stand-out in your mind, a blade of grass swaying in the wind, bird songs, raindrops striking a puddle… Not everything I witness or observe becomes a haiku. Occasionally, a free verse poem will take shape from a haiku “moment” (an added benefit of the “haiku eye” that I did not expect).
So, what are haiku? In a nutshell, haiku are one breath poems; they are picture poems. The haiku poet uses words to paint a picture without adding personal feelings to the poem. In haiku the poet must “show, don’t tell”.
The Japanese sound unit called an onji does not equal an English syllable. Japanese haiku sound units are written in a 5-7-5 format (again Japanese sound units, not English syllables). When English poets began writing haiku they would write in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. Now, since an onji does not equal an English syllable, an English haiku tends to be longer than a Japanese haiku. Experts on the subject have determined that a 17 onji haiku in Japanese should be about a 12 to 15 syllable poem in English.
Poet Jack Kerouac seldom wrote 5-7-5 haiku. Kerouac’s haiku are one breath poems. Personally, I have always thought that it was better to use the best word or words for the poem. Trying to fit a word into a haiku to meet a syllable quota is akin to putting a square peg in a round hole.
Does that mean you should not write haiku in 5-7-5? No, many people are content to write in that format; however, I personally find it less stressful to write in the freer “one breath” style. It does not cramp my creativity. I have a few poems written as 5-7-5, but it was never my intention to write 5-7-5 haiku. I just penned the poems, let the words flow and they unintentionally became 5-7-5 haiku.
Great words from Curtis! Now, follow up by reading the rest of his blog. In fact, I hope you’ll read Curtis’ blog each week. If you notify him that you’re interested, he’ll email his blog to you each week. After you’ve read all the poets that he’s featured, you’ll feel like you’ve studied haiku your entire life. Curtis is an exceptional contributor to the haiku