Poll: Chief Characteristics of English Haiku (Mar. 2019 update)

If you scroll down the right-hand margin of the Icebox top page, you will find a poll, in which everyone is still most welcome to participate – just once! The software has the ability to prevent second-timers or those who would try to choose more than 3 options. People from all over the world have taken part. If you click on the words ‘See Results’ at the bottom of the poll area, you will see the latest number of votes for each characteristic. Clicking there in Mar. 2019, I notice that we have now had 200 people return their idea of what might be the ‘Three Chief Characteristics of English Haiku’, so perhaps it’s time again to look at some of the poll’s emerging conclusions.

The two categories of Juxtaposition and Cut/break now total 89 votes together, which means that almost one in two people think that aspect is crucial. In Japanese haiku these are known, respectively, as 取合せ toriawase and 切れ kire and may be viewed as related features. It is true, however, that there are ‘un-cut’ haiku in both the Japanese and the English haiku-writing worlds. No, break is not an absolute requisite.

In second place, I notice that Originality and Poetic voice have thus far together polled 72 votes … and Resonance and Open-endedness garnered 71 between them. For now, allow me to put aside the first, Originality, which is a requisite of all poetry, not just haiku. I shall keep that quality of ‘expansiveness’ (Resonance) in mind, though, as we continue through the top of the league.

More or less equal in third place, we have Moment and Present tense (aggregating 64), and Brevity and Omission (aggregating 57). Ordinary present-simple and present-continuous tenses clearly rule the roost in English haiku-writing, but a ‘Present moment’ quality is not something that is considered in Japan, where verbs may come in many different tenses and might even sometimes be a touch classical in tone. Brief expression is obviously a requisite of haiku, though how brief exactly is open to debate.

As most will already know, the three chief characteristics of the classical Japanese haiku are: 1. 5-7-5 form, 2. Seasonal reference, and 3. Break (often using a cutting word). In spite of plenty of experimentation over the last 100 years, 5-7-5 kana letters as a single line is still today the normal style in Japan.  Looking again at our poll results, I find that 5-7-5 and 3-lines together polled only 31 votes from 200 people. Seasonal reference gathered in just 38 votes; the same number, interestingly, as Real experience. I propose now to add Real experience (38 votes) to Present moment (64): and we get 102, which brings it to the top of the charts!

It is thus tempting to conclude that the three most important characteristics of English haiku, at least from this poll as it stands today, are:
……… 1. The present moment (102 votes)
……… 2. Break (with or without punctuation) (89)
……… 3. An expansive quality felt at poem’s end (71).
Concision is in fourth place (57).

The English haiku poet’s craft, when thus analyzed, may appear to be quintessentially about the vividness of the Present situation and the utilization of Break as a technique through which to create Resonance for the reader learning of it. Being a Brief expression is evidently also highly valued, as it should be, although free-form haiku is clearly the current norm. For me personally, I was a little sad that Sound/cadence has thus far only polled 21 votes – one in ten: not insignificant, but definitely a minor characteristic for most. This is no doubt partly because of the almost puritanical minimalism that has reigned supreme since around 2005 in most of the leading haiku mags and sites, according musicality little importance. Icebox is in this respect rather different. Seasonality is probably in fifth place (38, and there’s nothing to couple it with): again, slightly disheartening for one who was born in Britain and now lives in Kyoto – a city with a deeply seasonal flow. The English-writing world is such a big place!

Your comments on this interim overview are welcome. Just click on the word ‘comments’ below to open up the reply box. Feel free to tweet it or to share it on Facebook. Next report? Perhaps after another 200 have responded!

3 responses to “Poll: Chief Characteristics of English Haiku (Mar. 2019 update)

  1. re “I was a little sad that Sound/cadence has thus far only polled 21 votes – one in ten: not insignificant, but definitely a minor characteristic for most.”

    That’s been such an interesting point for Karen Hoy and myself (Alan Summers) that Karen created the Sound of Haiku course. Interestingly we have discovered more cadence and musicality etc… feature in English haiku than we thought, which is great.

    The course quickly sold out and we are planning to run another one later in the year.

    Of course when any English haiku is super short there may be a reduction in the techniques expected in poetry. But we are creatures of sound, and I’ve personally discovered when making general members of the public relaxed during the big renku projects that they speak poetically so much that I write down their exact words for renku verses, rather than wait for them to write a ‘version’ of what they’ve said.

    I think we forget we innately have a rhythm when we ‘wax lyrically’ in public, and some of that does find its way into our writing if we pursue being a poet.

    Call of the Page – The Sound of Haiku
    Course Description: In this advanced course, we explore how elements of sound – like rhythm, pitch, key, and choice of consonant and vowel sounds – affect the success of haiku poems, whether they are read out loud, or heard in our minds as we read silently from the page.

    warm regards,
    Call of the Page

    • Thanks for your comment, Alan. Yes, the sound of haiku, an element often overlooked, but poetry is poetry and I’m a firm believer that haiku is a form of poetry and not just a formula for recreating a moment. In my own lectures and workshops here in Japan, we always read the things aloud as well as look at them Basho’s haiku in its original also has great musicality. Tota made ‘ongakusei’ (musicality/cadence) one of his chief points. Etc. Wonderful to actually entitle a course ‘The Sound of Haiku’!

      • Thank you Tito! :-)

        Poets on our course are actually hearing themselves and each other for the first time, and/or the first time actually hearing themselves read their poems back to themselves.

        A lot of surprising, in a good way, developments have been highlighted. We don’t often veer away from musicality, as we are musical beings, even if we don’t consider we are.

        warm regards,