What is Haiku? – personal reflections on the exercise ~ John Bird

Between October, 2008 and March, 2009 HaikuOz published 74 responses by 71 poets (57 Australian) to the question, What is haiku?. These numbers reflect our enduring fascination with the nature of this haiku thing. Rich pickings are there to be had. Perhaps our scholars will be encouraged to persevere with discovering the aesthetic(s) of English-language haiku?

Responses ranged from formal, descriptive definitions to abstract expressions. I found the latter at least equally interesting and instructive. I won’t try to paraphrase them – it’s best they be (re)read in the authors’ own words.

But looking to the definitive answers, some analysis is possible. The near-universal view was that a haiku is a poem whose most distinguishing feature is brevity.

It seems we insist that our haiku is poetry despite daily-published ‘haiku’ that might persuade others to a contrary view. Is it that we don’t wish to be known as writers of anything less than poetry? I wonder if this mind-set encourages a striving for ‘depth’ or ‘intellectual significance’ or ‘semantic complexity’ that might make an older Bashõ uncomfortable. What happens to haiku when stressed to measure up to its bigger cousins?

Brevity. We are agreed the haiku is: small, short, concise, a snapshot, brief as a synaptic flash, a molecule of poetry, an atom! Nobody suggested that it should, like its Japanese parent, have a minimum length.

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