Celebrating East African Writing!

On Haiku, by Robert Spiess – Poetry-on-the-Blog

“What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.”
― Kobayashi Issa

Robert Spiess published his first haiku in 1949, his first of 10 books in 1966. He was the editor of “Modern Haiku” from 1978 until his death. “Spiess [held] to a steady level of excellence.” (“A Haiku Path,” published by The Haiku Society of America, 1994) In 1988, he was awarded HSA’s Special Recognition Award “for a profound, insightful book about haiku” for his “New and Selected Speculations on Haiku,” (Modern Haiku Press, 1988). In 2000, he received the prestigious Shiki Masaoka International Haiku Prize (“His achievement in disseminating and deepening the understanding of haiku in English-speaking countries is without parallel.”) His love for haiku was obvious in all that he wrote about it.

“In haiku the juxtaposition or “confrontation” of entities produces a tension charged with energy that generates an insight, intuition or felt-depth of an aspect of reality; it is a movement, a birth, that leads to a new level of awareness [Prompted in part by a passage of C.G. Jung’s].

A haiku is a profound testimony that a most humble object of nature when put into the simplest of aesthetic forms can become a revelation.

If a haiku is to have life it must have rhythm or flow— for whatever life is, there is rhythm. Needless to say, this rhythm will seldom be a regular meter, but will be a rhythm or flow that is natural to the entities of the haiku and their particular relation. When the rhythm is proper to the haiku it simply will be felt in an aesthetic mode of “rightness.”

Juxtaposition of entities in haiku cannot be simply the throwing together of just anything; the poet must have the intuition that certain things, albeit of “opposite” characteristics, nonetheless have a resonance with each other that will evoke a revelation when they are juxtaposed in accordance with the time-tested canons and aesthetics of haiku.

It is [the] subjective aspect that accounts for very much of the difference between a haiku that is merely descriptive per se and one that engenders intuitional feeling—and this is the deciding factor between a haiku in which the poet simply records stimuli and one in which the poet is in accord with the haiku moment.

True haiku poets do not write to demonstrate how different their haiku are from those of other haiku poets. Goethe wrote, “I have reaped the harvest that others have sown. My work is that of a collective being and it bears Goethe’s name.”

Most haiku of excellence are serenely vibrant. Although they seldom are concerned with grand or marvelous events, or employ highly charged language, or possess startling qualities, they nonetheless are intensely alive in their quiet and deep evocation of aspects of life and the world, aspects that can easily be overlooked. In and through these haiku we are able to live more fully and with a non-exclusiveness that lets us participate in and appreciate multitudinous event-experiences.”

–From Robert Spiess, A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, Modern Haiku Press, 1995

For your notebook:

1. Haiku is a poetic form and a type of poetry from the Japanese culture. Haiku combines form, content, and language in a meaningful, yet compact form.

2. The essence of haiku is “cutting” (kiru),often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (“cutting word”).

3. Haiku features a verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.

4. Traditional haiku consist of 17 morae, in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 on respectively.  Although haiku are often stated to have 17 syllables, this is incorrect as syllables and morae are not the same.Mora (plural moras or morae) is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing.

5. Any one of the 3 phrases may end with the kireji.

6. Haiku features a kigo (seasonal reference), usually drawn from a saijiki, an extensive but defined list of such words. Haiku uses words called kigo from traditional Japanese. The majority of kigo, but not all, are drawn from the natural world. The use of kigo (nature words) has led to the inaccurate impression that haiku are necessarily nature poems.

7. Kigo are often in the form of metonyms and hence can be difficult for those who lack Japanese cultural references to spot. Among traditionalist Japanese haiku writers, kigo are considered requirements of the form. Kigo are not always included in non-Japanese haiku or by modern writers of Japanese “free-form” haiku.

Now you know. If there is anything you still do not understand from the above, please go online and do some research. You are writers after all, right?

Have a wonderful week!


One comment on “On Haiku, by Robert Spiess – Poetry-on-the-Blog

  1. Ghafla!Guy
    November 17, 2011

    An eye opener. Great post. 😉


Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on November 14, 2011 by in Writer's Blog.
%d bloggers like this: