Characteristics of English Haiku Poll Results
It’s high time we reviewed some of the lessons to be gleaned from our Essential Characteristics of English Haiku poll (see btm. rt. margin of top page, still open). Thank you very much to those of you who took the time to think and vote. In the spirit of discussion, I will try to pull together a few threads here, and then invite you all to add your own insights and conclusions.
Firstly, then, let me summarize the aggregated scores from the Hailstone Icebox site (260 votes ÷ 3 = 87 people) and those from the British Haiku Society Members’ Forum site (62 votes ÷ 3 = 21 people). 108 people (but I voted at both sites to start the ball rolling) = 107, mainly, one presumes, writers and readers of haiku in English. The second site and its polls are ‘members only’, but nonetheless I estimate that up to three other people probably voted at both sites. Shall we say a pool of 104 people, then, and a probable margin of error of 2 to 3 votes? The Icebox site has quite a number of bilingual Japanese contributors, but I know for sure that Canadians, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, and poets from several other European countries (not just Britain and Ireland) have taken part. The BHS forum is mainly frequented by British poets; not exclusively, though. In sum, a good cross-section.
Each voter could only choose three characteristics (a couple of people only chose two). There were 23 (plus ‘Other’) essential characteristics (some technical, others spiritual) to choose from, although a few were fairly close to each other. To a certain extent the result was affected by which word the voter felt happiest with. Juxtaposition or Cut? (Not the same, but related.) But you wouldn’t choose both, surely! Moment or Present Tense? (Ditto.) Originality or Poetic Voice? Resonance or Open-endedness? Brevity or Omission? Later, I will clump a few of these together, but for now those individual characteristics coming in with the most votes were:
Brevity (30 votes), Originality (29), Resonance, Juxtaposition, and Real Experience (each 26), Seasonal Reference (24), Moment (23), Cut (21), and Open-endedness (18). 30/104=28.8% of people voted for Brevity, and 18/104=17.3% of people voted for Open-endedness. The other seven top characteristics each attracted between 20 and 28% of voters. There is a gap of a full seven votes to the next characteristic (Transience 11 votes). Sound, and Present Tense (both 10), and Omission, and Three Lines (both 9) were the next most popular. 5-7-5 garnered only 7 votes, the same as Intersection; Sensation got 6; Poetic Voice, 5; Lack of Poetic Voice, Lightness, Animism, and Humour, each just 3. Keyword got 2 votes, and, least popular of all as an essential characteristic, Zen, only 1. It was interesting, however, that all of the 23 characteristics got at least one vote! The fact that Other (unspecified characteristic) received 10 votes indicates, however, that my list of 23 was by no means exhaustive. It may have been a pretty good attempt, though.
The Japanese haiku has been traditionally defined in terms of its length (17 Japanese phonemes), its seasonal reference (kigo or kidai), and its cut (kire, out of which juxtaposition is often, but not always, born). Modern Japanese masters often have their own little sheaves of sacred characteristics they push. Kaneko Tota, for example, is beholden to a ‘trinity’, if I may call it that, of light-heartedness, fiction, and musicality.
OK, now let’s put some kindred characteristics together. It is first perhaps worth noting that form did not seem to be of special importance (Three lines and 5-7-5 together totalled only 16 votes). Much more popular were Juxtaposition and Cut (J&C total 47 votes), Resonance and Open-endedness (R&O 44), Brevity and Omission (B&O 39), Originality and Poetic Voice (O&P 34), and Moment and Present Tense (M&P 33). Between one-in-two and one-in-three people chose one of these popular aspects as ‘essential’. Only Real Experience (26 votes) and Seasonal Reference (24) come close to the importance we seem to feel for the above five broad criteria. J&C represents a Leap for the imagination; R&O, Space for our savouring; B&O, Concision; O&P means we reject the Formulaic approach; and M&P, that we value Immediacy. If we couple this Immediacy with the desire for Real (rather than imagined) Experience, one might even conclude that in English haiku in the early years of the 21st century, it is the authenticity of a real shared ‘moment’, and not just seasonal feeling, that we most want our contemporary haiku poets to offer. Anyway, 57% of our pollsters would agree!
Well, this is only a beginning. What do you conclude? Comments would be appreciated.