Haiku has been taught only one way in America for so long that it has caused people to get up in arms when one deviates from the "norm." I wrote my 3rd chapbook of poetry, So Quiet This Wind: Haiku, to explore the true "rules" of Haiku outside the draconian 5-7-5 syllable restriction only found in the Japanese language and not in English. These were rules that were set by the masters of haiku and even before. This is why I had to include a preface in the book explaining that my throwing out of the syllable count was not an attempt at being an edgy trendsetter. Modern haiku publications eschew the 5-7-5. Look no further than Failed Haiku, a magazine where my haiku have been featured.
Despite this, I still receive less-than-positive responses to So Quiet This Wind, and I would like to address the most common criticisms to offer a respectful rebuttal.
Ignoring the 5-7-5 rule gives your haiku too much freedom. Thus, they cannot be called “haiku.”
I cannot disagree with that statement, but I must again remind audiences that I was not doing a haiku free-for-all. I was still following rigorous haiku conventions as detailed in the A Note on the Form chapter of the book. These conventions have been around since the times of Bashō, Issa, and other haiku pioneers. What I wanted to emphasize most is that a haiku is not just a poem in 5-7-5 syllables. If that were the case, having only that rule should be considered more of a free-for-all. The truth is that haiku is steeped in Japanese culture with the form’s use of natural images and wordplay, not arbitrary syllable use.
There are no visual components to your haikus, leaving much to be desired.
While it is true that many of the haiku masters were fantastic painters as they were poets, I made the deliberate decision to have my words front and center. Many haiku books today incorporate photographs or paintings, which, in my opinion, give an objective view of how a person should read a haiku. I made my haikus as subjective as possible for this reason, to give audiences an emotional experience rather than a cute observation. Furthermore, I wished to have the visuals conveyed through the haiku’s conventions: the observations, the juxtaposition, the cutting word, etc. Haikus were initially written with an ink brush in beautiful Japanese script, lending the words themselves to be an art. I wanted to do that, but without the brush.
Your haikus are too surface-level and straightforward.
While this is a matter of taste that I certainly respect, I must point out that the powerful nature behind haiku is through simplicity not in terms of the format but also the subject matters. The most famous haikus are the ones that cover a small scope rather than something abstract. This goes into another ancient haiku convention that we can also debate: haikus should not contain metaphors. One could undoubtedly impose their own metaphors into a haiku, but haikus themselves are deliberately written outside any kind of objectivity—observing things for what they are rather than how we want them to be. With such a small form comes small topics. One cannot successfully write a haiku about the complex pains of war with only three lines. They could, however, write one on the distinction between a veteran’s facial scars and his teary-eyed smile.
However, I want to make it clear that I have also received wonderful responses with my haikus on top of the above criticisms. And as long as I keep receiving both, I will keep writing them.
(NOTE: This article was initially published in the 2nd edition of So Quiet This Wind: Haiku. Reprinted here with permission.)