In exploring the ways in which haiku has spread from its traditional Japanese origins and into the international poetic stratosphere, it’s clear that it is one of the most commonly known poetic forms out there. It’s a jumping-off point and source of inspiration shared by third graders and Pulitzer-winning authors alike. We like to think our party poets—who come equipped with typewriters and insane amounts of creativity to craft custom haiku for party guests—fall somewhere in between.
But, it turns out, our writers might have a little competition—and that competition isn’t another team of impeccably dressed poets, it is, in fact, not human at all.
That competition is instead a well-known Tumblr account called Times Haiku. Back in 2013, one of The Gray Lady’s senior software architects, Jacob Harris created an algorithm that could detect the beloved 5-7-5 syllable structure when it occurred naturally on the New York Times’ homepage. And thus, a blog dedicated to documenting serendipitous haiku was born. Though it seems the blog hasn’t been updated since 2017, it remains a treasure trove of haiku—some whimsical, some funny, and some beautifully poignant.
Using an online dictionary as a database to count syllables, the algorithm scans recently published stories for naturally occurring haiku. As a means of providing a limit, these haiku must be contained within one sentence. Therefore, one of the restrictions on these haiku is that its sentence must be composed of no more and no less than 17 syllables. And the words must divide up in the proper structure, adding another box for the computer program to check. Even if a sentence qualifies on these standards, Times employees handpick poems for the blog to ensure they don’t contain sensitive material and offer a little creative expression. And while there are some restrictions and a healthy dose of editorial scrutiny, Harris makes note that there’s no way (yet) for the program to discern whether the sentence contains a kireji (cutting word) or a kigo (seasonal reference).
Here are a couple of standouts (along with the articles in which they fortuitously appear):
On an excursion
further downstream, the river
began to splinter.
—“Up Close With the Tribes of Ethiopia’s Imperiled Omo Valley”
“I can’t get modern
music to enter either
my head or my heart!”
— “A Life of Toscanini, Maestro With Passion and Principles”
Life is pitiless
and strange; only simpletons
look for neat meanings.
—“Sex, Drugs and Marxism in ‘Class’”
played above the swish of the
—“New York Today: Toilets Fit for High Society”
These poems prove unexpected haiku lives everywhere from essays on Marxism to features on toilets. Another great way to ensure an unexpected haiku encounter? A party with The Haiku Guys + Gals. Book your party entertainment with our team of poets, and while we can’t guarantee any algorithm-solving, we can promise an unusual party experience that will keep guests talking.