Oh please/ like THIS/ is a haiku? (May 24: 1-12)

So the last few days got kind of heavy and I was starting to feel like I never wanted to see another haiku as long as I lived. Instant panic: I can’t be burning out already! Something must be done!

Well…what is the best thing to do when you start taking yourself way, way too seriously? Start acting incredibly silly, of course. Stand on your head. Do a funny dance. Write bad haiku.

Okay, maybe not bad, exactly. But…weird. Different. Not…haiku-like.

Oh! That reminds me of this thing I bookmarked the other day and vowed to come back to when I got a minute!

” ‘Haiku-like haiku aren’t particularly bad. But haiku that don’t seem haiku-like at all—nowadays that’s the kind I’m after.’

—Santoka (trans. Burton Watson)

“…The relatively narrow (and necessarily hybrid) basis of the tradition of haiku in English, with its emphasis on the here and now, can only take us so far; thus many published haiku seem ‘thin.’ Perhaps what’s needed is less striving to perfect the ‘same,’ more writing against the grain.”

–Philip Rowland,  The Problem

Yeah, Philip (and Santoka), I know what you mean. Read and write enough haiku, and eventually even the good ones start seeming like parodies of themselves. All that nature! All those tiny exquisite details! All those lower-case letters! All that lack of punctuation! All those moments of enlightenment!

What if for one day I tossed out all those precious little haiku rules (as represented in italics below), and tried to write haiku that seemed un-haiku-like, and yet somehow preserved the spirit of haiku (whatever the hell that is)?

I think it would make me feel better. Though it might make you feel worse.


“Use concrete images.” And, “Don’t make direct references to emotion.” (You know, “Show, don’t tell.”) Also, “Slang is so unattractive.”


I’m sad.
Also happy.


“Three lines (or even one) are nicer than two. Or four. Five is right out.” Also, “Metaphors are kind of tacky.” Also, “Cliches? Don’t even get me started.”

This cup of tea
isn’t everyone’s.

Where I left the
balloon I bought
for your birthday:
On cloud nine

against the current:
passes me
like I’m standing still


“Don’t shout.” Also, “Don’t swear.”




“If seventeenth-century technology was good enough for Basho, it’s good enough for us.” Also, “Write in the present tense. Not the past. Or the future.”


My email vanished
before I hit “Send.”
Will Facebook reject me too?


“Please don’t be vulgar.” Also, metaphors, cliches, yadda yadda yadda.


No pot to piss in
when I need to piss.
Which I do.


My nose
in your armpit:
your long walk.


“Try to make at least a little bit of sense.” Also, “Minimize your syllables.”


Sticky tape, sticky buns
Fine reticulations of burnt toast
Mud sponging over black shoes


where it (oh who am I kidding anyway)
stopped (my stomach is growling, when did I have lunch)
Haiku (there is as much in the future as there is in the past)


Rhyme should be used judiciously. If at all.”’


In bed tonight
I know you’re right.
Just turn out the light.


“No entitlements.”


The Box

I opened it up.
There you were,
turned into packing peanuts.

10 thoughts on “Oh please/ like THIS/ is a haiku? (May 24: 1-12)

  1. I’m digging these! I especially like number one – it’s *almost* a zen koan.

    And if I may add to the profanity (at the risk of offending,) the frog haiku begs for :

    IN THE

    it speaks to the cranky old guy I will surely become

  2. Okay, I have to admit that I loved every bit of this post. Not that I don’t love haiku as well, but one needs a breath of fresh air! I’ve been struggling with this issue, too; I suspect that it has confronted most writers in the Japanese tradition, from Saigyo, to Basho, to Shiki and on down. How do you make it new without losing the essence of the thing? (Each of those poets, in his time, thought he was doing something new.)

  3. Steve: how appropriate that as soon as I decide to completely goof off I come up with an (almost) Zen koan. 🙂
    And feel free to be as profane as you want around here. I’ve been trying to restrain my natural tendency to swear like a sailor, but I feel my concentration slipping. 🙂

    James: Yeah…I’ve just started reading about the modern Japanese haiku scene and it seems much more experimental than ours. I think because it’s their tradition they feel much more free to change it when the need arises, whereas we feel a little shy about messing with someone else’s culture. It’s an interesting problem, I’m looking forward to grappling with it more.

  4. I return to this post every so often when I need encouragement. It’s too awesome! This is how all my haiku look. 😀

    I’m happy to know that there are people out there who dig haiku but not the whole “zen-nature-moment” thing–at least, not all the time. Maybe I’ll get into that, but I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see how much haiku I can squeeze out of Pirates of the Caribbean and Call of Duty. 😛

    I love this essay! Pure amazing!

    • I’m so glad this is so inspiring for you, Anne. It was sure a lot of fun to write. And yeah, I have no doubt you will turn the haiku world on its head when you really get going. 🙂

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