Writing Meaningful Verses

This morning, housebound and wandering round the web again, I came upon this post over at Penumbra Haiku. Interesting reading the various definitions and quotes from famous poets! A Poet Is

A Few More Thoughts On Writing Haiku

As you will know by now, I enjoy reading and writing haiku. There are a number of online sites dedicated to this art form — Cattails, Frogpond Journal, The Heron’s Nest, to name a few — plus there are bloggers who post their verses like I do on Tree Top Haiku and like the above blogger does.

Haiku, if done well, can really speak to you, catching a brief but touching scene, or revealing an interesting quirk of human nature. I follow The Haiku Foundation’s blog and have read some deep verses, both in their Troutswirl e-zine and in their featured books.

For some time now I’ve been thinking of publishing an e-book of haiku myself and last night I started this project, choosing the most-liked verses from both blogs. Mind you, I did it to gain practice in formatting an e-book as well as to publish my verses. I’ve been working on an allegory, editing and then setting it up as a print book to be published shortly, and the author wants me to publish as an e-book as well. I have the means to do e-publishing with my current WordPerfect version but hadn’t tried it out yet.

Wondering what the competition is like, I hopped over to Amazon to check out the poetry books listed there. First point noted is that haiku is “free verse” — in the literal sense as well as the figurative. Most of the haiku books listed on Amazon are “Read for Free on Kindle Unlimited.”

In the other corner, one brave poet listed his e-book of haiku for $24. Good luck with that.

Second point noted: one poet has seemingly flooded the haiku-book market. I saw at least two dozen of her books listed, but then I saw that one of her books had only nine verses, some others had only four. Book descriptions read like:
Given title. It is an e-book. 5-7-5 Haiku Quality

Hmm…

I checked out a couple, since they’re free for KD subscribers. Hmm…

My thoughts went back to an incident thirty-some years ago, when I was making a serious effort to learn French. Since I’d never lived in a French area, I had only an occasional opportunity to practice with the few local francophones in our community, but I did what I could when I could.

One day I was trying to converse with a young man from a francophone family in Dorval, Quebec, who’d travelled extensively in North America before settling in our area. His English was impeccable, but his tact wasn’t the best. After one quick practice session he told me — in an intriguing blend of kindness and honesty, “After you’ve learned French well, you’ll know how poorly you speak it now.”

Whimper.

But it was the truth. Once we lived in Quebec four years and I learned to speak it better — though never fluently— I knew what he meant. That’s what life and learning are all about.

When it comes to haiku, I have much to learn myself. However, poems like these (my examples) can’t really be classed as haiku:

yet I’ve
always
thought it so

today
I learned
I was wrong

One day a few weeks back I had to laugh when I saw a verse in an online book; it read (something like):

melon
inscrutably
meloning

This led me to write my own verse:

coconut
inexplicably
a nut

And then:

sunrise
promises
sunset

From what I have gleaned about haiku so far — as well as other modern short poems — writers should tell you what they see, but not what they think or conclude. These examples tell you plainly what I’ve seen AND what I want you to see or conclude:

her new outfit
too tight — nothing left
to the imagination

goose hunter
displays three dead birds
proud as a peacock

Verses aren’t to be disjointed to the point of confusion:

oil derricks pumping
countries in consuming competition
with world politics

The verse should not be just a sentence divided in three, nor use a telegraph style:

wind in wheat field
swirls heavy heads
of golden harvest

But rather leave you with a scene, imagining what happened or drawing your own conclusion. I’d love to quote a dozen better poets here, but their works are copyright, so here are my own adaptations again:

walking at dusk
the winnow of the nighthawk
lifts my thoughts

partway down the street
your shape disappears
in the fog

While I’m dealing specifically with haiku in this post, the same is true of all poetry — and writing as a whole. We should make it as concise as possible, thought-inspiring, but still accessible. Paint the scene, but not explain it.

7 thoughts on “Writing Meaningful Verses

  1. The problem I have with haiku is the separation between the 5-7-5 crowd and the “contemporary English” haiku of “one to four lines, no strict syllable count but brief, and often with a long/short or short/long asymmetry” or “4-4-6” or “2-3-2” depending on who you ask.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. I know where you’re coming from. Some folks are determined to stick to the rule in spite of the major language difference between Japanese and English, while others opt for “meaningful.” My thinking is: it’s your call what you want to write — and it’s my call what I want to write. I say, pick one system and be true to it.

      English has that vowel slide that other languages don’t. You learn that when you study French. Words like OIL, for example — oy-ul or oy-il — one syllable or two?

      I don’t count “slides” but do try to keep my syllable count under 17. It’s great discipline and calls for steady use of a thesaurus. But I won’t fault anyone who goes over or under, as long as the verse is meaningful. A writer may conscientiously write the perfect haiku syllable-wise — that doesn’t work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well that Dorval guy was NOT very nice! You can practice your French with me 😉

    So interesting the poetry world. I keep making little attempts but frankly, feel way outta my league!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was an interesting case, a loner, mental health issues. But it’s true of all of us. When a ten-year-old remembers how sloppy they ate when they were two… 🙂

      Keep trying and keep reading verses by good poets. Just like learning a language; you want to find a teacher with correct pronunciation, not the teens speaking joual on the street corner, but you’ve got to start speaking or you’ll never get it.

      I’ve probably told you this before, but one day in Acton-Vale I went to see a woman advertising quilting frames for sale. I said, “C’est vous qui vendez les metiers pour les courte-pointes?” And she said, “H’I’m sorry. H’I don’ speak Hinglish.” So I knew my accent needed more work. 🙂

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  3. Haiku is a perfect example of why I don’t write much poetry! I’ve tried, but I find the rules prevent me from expressing my thoughts, not just with Haiku but other forms too. That’s probably due to my limited skill because I often read poems and think to myself – if only I could do that! Btw, I lived in France for several years and never got the hang of the language! My little daughter became my translator!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Keith. I’m the same way: I read other people’s excellent, poignant haiku and think,”If only I could do that!”
      Still, if people looked at a painting by, say Monet, and thought, “I could never do that!” no new artists would ever come forth. 😉
      Five years in Quebec didn’t make me all that proficient in French, either. So much more to learn! I think you need to be quite young. Good thing you had a “built-in” translator.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I equally love writing haiku in a 5-7-5 English/syllable pattern as well as minimalist haiku and won awards and appeared in important anthologies with both. In fact Scott Mason wasn’t even aware that my haiku was 5-7-5 when he choose it for his Wonder Code book, and he did have a few 575ers in there. 🙂

    Richard Gilbert choose a haiku that he might not have noticed was a 575er, but choose it on its own merits, for his anthology, as did both Modern Haiku (US journal) and Modern Haiku Press (US publisher):

    night of small colour

    a part of the underworld

    becomes one heron

    Alan Summers
    Publication Credit: Modern Haiku Vol. 45.2 Summer 2014 ed. Paul Miller
    Feature: Brass Bell Showcase: Alan Summers (July 2015) ed. Zee Zahava

    Anthology credits:
    1. Haiku 2015 (Modern Haiku Press, ed. Lee Gurga & Scott Metz, 2015)
    2. Yanty’s Butterfly Haiku Nook: An Anthology (2016) ed Jacob Salzer and Haiku Nook group
    3. Poetry as Consciousness – Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom
    Author: Richard Gilbert Illustrator: Sabine Miller.
    ISBN978-4-86330-189-4 Pub. Keibunsha (2018, Japan)
    https://www.amazon.co.jp/Poetry-Consciousness-Haiku-Forests-Ethics-Freedom/dp/4863301898

    I don’t understand anyone creating different camps, and for there to be any tension. I’ve been a consultant to someone who wanted to create a special book of 575 haiku with a Christian theme, and loved working on that, and equally loved working on other haiku collections that are non-religious/spiritual.

    Poetry boils down to being written as well as can possibly be, and I’ve seen Japanese haiku that are loved in Japan…

    e.g.

    せきをしてもひとり
    尾崎放哉

    Coughing, even:
    alone   

    Hosai Ozaki (1885-1926)
    trans. Ban’ya Natsuishi

    And even shorter!

    陽へ病む

    Ōhashi Raboku

    That haiku is just 4 Japanese characters (on) rather than 17 characters!

    Enjoy the breadth and depth of haiku! 🙂

    warm regards,
    Alan

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