Despite what you think you know, haiku is more than just the grade school teacher’s “5-7-5” dictum.
Haiku, in fact, come in several total syllables and sizes – although all of them are short. As per HaikuWorld‘s very first tip on how to write haiku, “haiku are usually not 17 syllables long in English.” Three lines are standard, however, and total syllable counts can range from 10 to 17. Michael Dylan Welch, the author of HaikuWorld’s 10 tips, suggests that shorter is better, but that writers should say what they need to say without concentrating on the specifics of the form.
If that blew your mind, you’re in for another surprise when I reveal the Haiku Society of America’s definition of their namesake poem’s form. From their website:
Definition: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.
So, yes, your grade school instructor was correct when she noted that nature was the main focus of the traditional haiku. Of course, in modern American society, most of us have very limited interactions with nature. Or, perhaps, our sense of what “nature” encompasses has grown to include puddles of oil casting rainbows across parking lots, plastic bags floating in the branches of community parks, or discarded glass bottles rubbed smooth by ocean waves?
What can we consider “natural” in a concrete jungle? For that matter, why write haiku about the natural world at all?
Enter Black Heart Magazine’s “City of the Future” haiku contest
Though we are looking for “traditional” haiku in terms of present tense writing about everyday events, we are also asking writers to stretch their definitions of haiku in order to project themselves into the future. What will be commonplace in the year 2442? How will humans interact with a world that is increasingly unnatural, and machine- or perhaps even robot-driven? As the disconnect from the natural world becomes ever more pronounced, will humans even need or want to capture these authentic moments in haiku?
We believe that in writing about the future, memories and personal experiences are still of utmost importance, but the key to capturing them best in haiku form is to ask oneself how they can help evoke a fictional society. Emotional responses should still come from the event that caused the writer’s emotion, rather than any portrayal of the emotion itself.
And, yes, we thoroughly break with haiku tradition in requesting a title for each entry. (Even if that title is simply your poem’s first line.) Rhymes are still eschewed, though if they happen naturally, what’s the harm?
Ultimately, our test of a good haiku is in the “naturalness” of its portrayal. Unnecessary or missing words that make reading the poem aloud difficult should be avoided. Awkward line breaks, too, are problematic. We like to think of a good haiku as something that might translate well to a tweet on Twitter, or a short and sweet status update on Facebook.
In three lines, with a maximum of 17 syllables, of course.
Submit your best “City of the Future” haiku to our annual contest by September 30 for a chance to win $250.