Five Types of Haiku
One of the views I have about Haiku in English, a view I have touched on repeatedly at this blog, is that English Language Haiku (ELH) has split into a number of different poetic forms. Further, I believe that these forms are now so different from each other that they have little in common; that they are as different from each other as, say, the Sonnet is from the Villanelle.
This is a fringe view among ELH haijin. And I can understand why that is the case. For a long time these different approaches to ELH have lived in the same journals, met at the same conferences, and intimately interacted with each other and so it makes sense that participants in ELH would view the different approaches as in some obscure way the same form.
Yet, I do see signs of a growing understanding of just how different these forms have become. I first noticed this at the Haiku Foundation. The Foundation held a Haiku contest and they divided the contest into three separate categories of Haiku; a free verse, 3 line approach with a minimalist esthetic; a 5-7-5 approach, and a more consciously avant-garde approach. This seemed to me a tacit admission that the different approaches to Haiku have become distinct enough that they need to be evaluated on their own terms as opposed to one approach as the standard by which all ELH is judged.
A new website further supports the view that these forms have matured and become distinct forms. The new website is called “Under the Basho” and it can be found here:
I believe it was started by Don Baird who is a longterm ELH Haijin and has familiarity with many individuals in the ELH community. When you go to the home page, notice that at the top there is a tab called “Haiku Styles”. Click on that tab. What you will find is a list of five styles of modern ELH Haiku: Traditional, Stand-Alone Hokku, Modern Haiku, One-Line Haiku, Concrete Haiku. The first category, ‘Traditional Haiku’, is what I mean when I say ‘Syllabic Haiku’; that is to say a three-line poem of 5-7-5. The site also contains descriptions of each form, so that the reader can discern both what the various approaches have in common, and also what distinguishes each type from the others. I think it is very well done.
At the site the author of the page (Baird?) writes:
“Into the 21st century the descendants of Basho's hokku multiply daily into various styles of poetic expression but all bearing still a scent of the Basho hokku dna. While the family resemblances may sometimes seem tenuous, those examples of high seriousness and individual accomplishments of poetic expression deserve to be appreciated.”
I like the way this is put forward. I often think of the various approaches to ELH as the children, or descendants, of Japanese Haiku; I think of them as siblings and view many of the arguments between them as kind of like sibling rivalries. Each descendant wants to claim the inheritance of the Japanese original, but the truth is they all have the requisite ‘hokku dna’ to make such a claim.
One of the consequences of viewing the various approaches as distinct forms is that it allows one to appreciate the forms on their own terms instead of evaluating the other approaches based on one’s own specific approach to Haiku. For example, recently I wrote a very enthusiastic review for Amazon of a Haiku collection that was all done in what I think of as ‘free verse Haiku’; what “Under the Basho” refers to as ‘Modern Haiku’. I did this even though I, myself, take a syllabic approach to Haiku. I had no problem doing this because I see free verse Haiku as a distinct form; that is to say it has its own standards, techniques, and esthetic ideals. Just as I would not evaluate a Villanelle based on the formal requirements of a Sonnet, so too I do not evaluate free verse Haiku based on the standards of a syllabic approach. Comprehending the different approaches to Haiku as distinct forms has the effect of opening one’s self to these other approaches and allowing for the appreciation of each of them. That is why I find “Under the Basho” such a worthy project; it is allowing space for these different approaches to breathe without imposing the standards of one approach on the others.
So take a look at the website and, if you are so inclined, you might want to submit some of your own Haiku for the next edition of “Under the Basho”.