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Thread: Haiku forms

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  1. #4
    Revolutionize the World kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    You're quite right. Traditional Japanese haiku (or hokku) is 17 morae, and is often written in a single line rather than 5-7-5.

    A mora (or "on" in Japanese) is essentially a sound unit, and in Japanese it basically corresponds to a hiragana character, so if you write out Tokyo as とうきょう then it's straightforward to see the 4 morae (or onji). Conversely, Kyouto, or きょうと, is only 3 morae.

    Compounding the non-equivalence between a Japanese mora and what we consider a syllable in English, there is the fact that English is more information dense than Japanese, so each single syllable in English carries more semantic content than a single syllable in Japanese.

    As such, English haiku written to 5-7-5 syllables tend to be extremely wordy and long compared to Japanese haiku. If you have to breathe, it's too long.

    Personally, I don't stick to a particular "rule" besides short-long-short, and just reading and re-reading to feel how long each line takes to read, and seeing if it "feels" like a comparable length to Japanese haiku.

    Other aspects of haiku that are often ignored are kigo and kireji.

    Kigo ("nature word" or "season word") makes a haiku a haiku, and comes from its origin as the hokku of a renga. Kigo also distinguishes haiku from senryu. Much of what gets called haiku in English is actually senryu, due to lack of kigo.

    Kireji are "cutting words" which serve to break up the haiku and help establish a relationship between the phrases and images in the poem. Kireji have little semantic content and serve a more syntactic purpose. They help control the sound and rhythm of the haiku. If you're familiar with caesura, then kireji produce a similar effect. They have no direct equivalent in English, however, and punctuation is often used to achieve a similar effect. I often use em-dashes or ellipses as kireji in English, and count them as part of the length of the line.

    There are other important aspects to haiku that are often ignored such as ma and zoka, too, but kigo and kireji are probably the most important, apart of the issue of length.

    I love haiku, but the strict adherence to 5-7-5 syllables in English is why I don't participate in that thread, too.
    Last edited by kuwisdelu; 03-19-2017 at 01:53 AM.

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