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!

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.

Essential Characteristics of Haiku

Dear Icebox contributors and readers,

You are invited to take part in a poll (displayed in the righthand side-bar below the  ‘Blogroll’ links) on what you feel to be the three DEFINITIVE characteristics of haiku in English – or at least what they should be! Choose only three from the list, please. The system does not allow the same person to vote more than once, by the way. After voting, whenever you click ‘View Results’ at the bottom of the poll, you will be able to see the number/percentage of votes cast for each category as they build up. Divide by 3 to get the number of voters so far.

I put the same poll up on the British Haiku Society’s online forum site a while back, and have so far attracted about 60 votes (20 people) over there. Once we have collected a worthwhile number of votes here, I intend to begin a dialogue on both sites. Where do you stand? It is a hard choice!

Tito, in Kyoto, at Doll’s Festival (3.3.11)