Haiku: The Next Big Little Thing in Poetry
Over the past year, millions of people turned to poetry to make sense of the world. Poetry can be found in nearly every social platform. Haiku itself has a tremendous following on Instagram with hundreds of haiku posts a day.
As the world of technology evolves, we tend to desire content that is fast paced and easy to take in. I think this will one day be the case for poetry. There will always be room for the long epic poem, but people will be more attracted to a short poem like haiku. It is something someone can scroll to or see in a story and then move on to the next story. Modern society is moving away from content that takes a long time to read (she says while typing a semi-long essay).
The concept that it is a short poem is not the only appeal of the haiku, it is the ability to convey a tremendous amount of emotion in very few lines that makes the haiku appealing. About five years ago, my mother-in-law died. Everyone kept asking me to write a poem for the event. I felt that I couldn’t sit down and write a poem because of the amount of pain we were all in, and everything happening around me, which included taking my daughter to the dentist with a toothache. Then oddly it came to me while I was driving my daughter Aja to the dentist. I told her the haiku and asked her to write it down because there was nowhere for me to pull over the car. The haiku went like this:
With little water
orchids grow, bloom, and perish
A lot could be said in a haiku poem — in that one expression of nature. I wrote this poem using the 5-7-5 syllable format; however modern haiku does not have to follow these constrictions. As long as your poem is short and reasonably close to the haiku structure, and you have a focus on nature, you are in the right place. A good example is “Haiku Ambulance” by Richard Brautigan:
A piece of green pepper fell
off the wooden salad bowl:
so what? Poets.org
The above poem has 16 syllables, which are divided into 7-7-2. This shows that you don’t have to strictly stick to structure to write a haiku, as long as the essence of haiku is still in place. Sticking to 5-7-5 structure does not really give you the true structure of Japanese haiku, as Japanese haiku poets count sounds, not syllables, so there is pretty much no way to match that in American language. This is why we should endeavor as best we can to respect the theme without focusing too much on structure.
However, when it comes to poetry, many rules are meant to be broken. I have seen many haiku poems on TikTok that wander away from the nature theme and focus more on human emotions. There are some that are just plain silly.
I think haiku lends itself to a little silliness, as there are also many American haiku books that like to poke fun at professions and foibles of human nature. There’s even a lawyer haiku book with haiku about being a #lawyer.
I once read an essay where Audre Lorde said that poetry was more accessible to everyday people than prose. She said that most people do not have time to write a book, whereas many poets can squeeze in time to write a poem on a break at work or on the subway to and from work. I think this idea relates mores to haiku poetry. A poet can often pull together three lines before or after work or during lunch. This is not belittle the craft of haiku. There have many times, I have struggled for weeks to come up with one line let alone three. I am just saying the shorter form makes poetry more accessible. I once wrote six haiku poems on a road trip with my husband. I think I only considered one of them good enough to share. Here it is:
Trudging through snow
the strongest deer.
Haiku poems are also easier to share. I could turn this haiku into a graphic and easily post it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok or whatever else the kids are using these days. My favorite free graphics tool to use is Quotescover.
If you are interested in learning more about haiku poetry, I recommend The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson and Penny Harter. It tells you pretty much everything you need to know about haiku.