Five Seven Five

In the trenches of grade school, when children are forced to learn dreaded subjects like government, literature, and geometry, they are shown brief glimpses into distant worlds and novel curiosities.

Each subject has superhighways of rabbit holes, intricacies and depths that come from every direction, and the poor teachers have the tasks of rapidly introducing a subject before moving on to the next.

Like a tattoo artist’s needle they much must a quick and sharp stab at the subject, hoping that at least an impression will be made. Poke after poke they aim to create a coherent imprint on these budding young citizens.

We know the truth of what happens though – these learners hold the knowledge in their head for about a week until they have completed their unit and taken their quiz on the subject, and then that valuable knowledge fades into a vague notion.

Few lucky pieces survive. I remember things like “Chuck Is Hiding Behind Jimmy,” a tool remind of the major world religions by population (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism), and “Use your head for more than a hat rack!” (That one is just useful advice.)

Among these surviving tidbits is the Haiku, a Japanese nature poem that is characterized by three lines, having five, seven, and five syllables. These formulaic poems are simple and beautiful, relying on a turn of phrase in the middle and final lines that reveal great truths in simple actions.

I enjoy the challenge of Haiku, the brevity and constraint. As with any formulaic product, the rules themselves serve as an obstacle and a support.. An artist builds on the frame like a tomato on a cage, and must take care growing ideas while sticking to the form.

Until now!

…for some reason…

I keep stumbling upon Haiku that no longer follows the good old 5-7-5. It is as though edgy, postmodern poets want to associate with the sophisticated history of Haiku while doing something essentially different.

Like many, they learned about these cool short poems in 9th grade, but then decided that the hundreds of years of refining the form were a waste, and that they knew better.

(I’m afraid this is starting to sound a little stodgy. Well then I guess I’ll own it…get off my lawn!)

I have published some meager Haiku, and now feel a certain loyalty to the form. And while I know that this is part of a bigger philosophical argument of what makes a certain thing a certain thing, there are so few explicit rules (yet so much nuance) to the Haiku that it deserves better.

Without the 5-7-5 and the turn, it becomes something else – the sophomoric whim of a lazy writer.

Or perhaps a fortune cookie.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be an enlightened postmodernist, but until then, I’ll leave you with this:

Only one who attempts
the absurd can achieve
the impossible.*


*before I get flamed in any comments, this is crappy for the sake of irony.

2 thoughts on “Five Seven Five”

  1. I’m all for breaking the rules of writing but somehow I’m with you when it comes to Haiku. I mean, if you can’t do 5-7-5…just don’t write a Haiku. I guess traditionally they are supposed to be nature related and I am fine if they stray subject wise, but not form wise.

    1. Yeah. So much writing comes down to personal style, but I agree, there’s something about Haiku. And I’m ok with subject straying – I think those are called Senryu in Japan, but the form is the same so I’m ok with that

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