In our previous post, we started to explore haiku and scratched the surface of what such a small poem can contain. Not only do these poems pack a punch when it comes to its length to content ratio—looking back at the foundations of haiku is a monumental task. Since we’re experts of distilling down an entire conversation into seventeen syllables while writing on our typewriters at parties and events, we’ll see how brief we can make this recap!
Traditional haiku is a small, three line poem characterized by three restraints— a 5-7-5 syllable structure; a mention of a natural seasonal word or image called a kigo; and a kireji, or a moment in the poem that both separates two separate images and connects their relationship to one another.
Haiku, in its origins, were known as hokku. Hokku were used as an opening in a renga, another traditional Japanese form of poetry. Later known as renka, renga is a collaborative genre, created by two or more poets working together to write two or more stanzas. The most standard method is where the first writer creates three lines, and the second writer responds with two.
Throughout many periods of the pre-modern era, Japanese masters of poetry such as Ueshima Onitsura and Matsuo Bashō brought the haiku to new heights in the 17th century. Bashō is one of the most revered poets to come from the Edo period of feudal Japan and was instrumental in forming the hokku as a standalone form separate from renga. Hokku eventually transformed into haiku during the 18th century, and it was elevated to a new high form of poetry independent from renka.
A slew of iconic poets followed in Bashō’s footsteps—Buson, Issa, Shiki, and more—all of whom added their own styles into the mix. We’ll touch more on these guys later to explore their particular styles, highlight some of their best poems, and think about how we can harness their poetic influence as contemporary haikuists!
But how did this Japanese art form deeply entrenched in the annals of eastern literary traditions make its way into the western world? We’ll take a look at how it has expanded its reach, all the way into contemporary times. Do you think Bashō had any idea that The Haiku Guys and Gals would be writing free custom haiku on typewriters for guests at parties?
origins hold fast
at the base of form as it
sails towards horizon