23 may. 2006

Pedantic fact of the day

It is not true that the Japanese haiku has a pattern of 5-7-5 SYLLABLES. It is a language timed not by syllables but by "mora."
For example, the word "hon," or book has one syllable but two moras. The "n" sound at the end counts as a mora. The same goes for what we might consider a "long vowel." It is counted as two moras, not one syllable. "Basho" has three moras.

Furthermore, the haiku is not written out in "lines" of verse. It's usually just written from top to bottom in one continuous column.

The introduction to Kerouac's haiku asks us to care about what contemporary haiku poets in English think about his efforts in this genre. But is anything duller than writing haiku in English and calling yourself a haiku poet? The only thing worse is telling school children to write haiku with an irrelevant syllable count. Irrelevant to Japanese, because Japanese doesn't count "syllables." Irrelevant to English because syllabic verse is usually very lame.

I do think that if a writer like Kerouac or Richard Wright practices the genre with some assiduity, there is a point in looking at their works seriously.

1 comentario:

James dijo...

I think a lot depends on what you demand of the form. Kerouac dropped the 5-7-5 restriction for much the same reasons you mention here. Many of the short verses in the posthumous _Book of Haiku_ work for me; many do not. Almost the same percentage as is true of any writer's work.

My definition may be too precious for you, but I've come to think of haiku as a sort of emotional photograph.