‘Haiku Attitude’

‘one way to think of a haiku is a kind of word picture dotted with images on its canvas.  Such thinking led to the inclusion of illustrations and calligraphy to accompany certain poems’

Yuzuru, M (1991) Classic Haiku-a master’s selection. Charles E.Tuttle Company Inc. Tokyo.

‘In everybody’s experience, there are days when one’s personal opacity (the coagulation of the self, the density of being) lights up. Like the sky after a storm.  One finds one’s self in an imense silence, in an extremely pleasant emptiness.  At moments such as these, says an old Japanese poet, ‘everything is haiku’.  You look at a pebble, the branch of a tree, a gesture in the street, and you have the impression that the entire world, the whole of life is being revealed to you.  The difficult thing is not to overdo it –  wax over-poetic, for example.  That moment, arisen from emptiness, must be allowed to return to emptiness, without too much interference on your part.

That is the haiku way.’ 

White, K in Finlay, A (2000) Atoms of Delight. Morning Star Publications, Edinburgh.

‘Thus Haiku has something in common with painting, in the representation of the object alone, without comment, never presented to be other than what is, but not represented completely as its.  For if the haiku poet moves us by presenting rather than describing objects, he does so by presenting the particulars in which the emotional powers of the things or scenes reside……..He does not give us meaning; he gives us the concrete objects which have meaning,because he has so experienced them.’

Yasuda, K (1957) the Japanese Haiku – Its essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Charles E. Tuttle Company Inc. Tokyo.


The three quotes above demonstrate something of the ‘haiku attitude’ that is needed to perfect this short form poetry.  All writers on haiku link it to the visual image.  Primarily in 3 line haiku poetry the word should summon the image, usably through the simplest, uncluttered descriptive means.  Haiku has often been illustrated in its original Japanese forms where ideas about how the lines are laid out sometimes have different design formats that could be used to emphasise meaning – almost like a concrete poetry.  Haiku was important to the Imagist Poets, notably Ezra Pound, Williams Carlos Williams and the later Black Mountain poets who shook off the stylistic elements from Victorian and Edwardian poetry to create a paired down early modernist descriptive poetry.

In continuing to use this form in conjunction with my own photography for the 36 views project there will be some contradictions.  Why use a poetry form that is designed to create  very particular images for a viewer in words, while simultaneously providing the image?

Being over poetic, portentous, wordy, excessively obscure – all risk losing the attention and interest of the viewer.

So far I have used metaphor and simile to provoke a particular set of reactions ‘because I have so experienced them’, this is perhaps beyond the haiku’s simplicity.

Additionally I have been using the standard Japanese- English 5 – 7 – 5 syllable structure.  Many critics point out that the English syllable is profoundly different to the Japanese in its role in the language and in the ability of the English Syllable to convey more information than the Japanese, meaning that a shorter English syllable structure is perhaps more equivalent and likely to encourage brevity and simplicity.  4-6-4 might be a better way of working, not least because of the twin syllable pairs which play a central part in English language poetry.

Further experiments of even shorter forms, two line, single line poetry, monostichs, epigrams, proverbs, single words (as included by Alec Finlay in Atoms of Delight his collection of Scottish short poems)…..and onwards into the new forms of short or micro-poetry on twitter or email …….a ‘haiku plus attitude’ would allow more freedom, this is needed for poetic form and image to work together, this might avoid a repetitive rigidity that would only emphaise the obsessive nature of working on one theme in such detail.

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