International Haiku Poetry Day

Some say it captures the ephemeral beauty of nature. Some believe it to be the essence of a keenly-perceived moment. Others describe it as the blank shape between thoughts. But there is no official definition of the Japanese poetry form of haiku. I prefer poet Robert Spiess’s description of a “breath-length poem” in which two objects are juxtaposed “in a now-moment of awareness”.

What is a Haiku?

Haiku is taught in the west as the “five-seven-five” structure, containing 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third. However, this is now considered to be a misunderstanding of the Japanese “onji” or units of sound which don’t necessarily correlate with western syllables. There’s no hard-and-fast rule regarding the number of syllables required to form haiku, but I think we can all agree that a good haiku is small but perfectly-formed.

Haiku developed in the first millennium A.D., and in the 17th century it was perfected by the poet now considered to be the master of the form, Matsuo Basho. Since then its popularity has spread across the globe; so much so that there is now an international foundation dedicated to promoting this most precious of art forms and containing the largest online repository of English-language haiku in the world.

Haiku and Scotland

Here in Edinburgh, we’re blessed in being the home location of the Scottish Poetry Library, the world’s leading resource for Scottish poetry.

Scottish Poetry Library

From their archives, you’ll find this haiku gem, by Scottish poet and author, Alan Spence:

that daft dog

                                                chasing the train

                                                then letting it go

April 17th is international haiku day. Why not have a go at writing one yourself? Or, if you prefer to enjoy the work of others, log into LibrarySearch and look up our many poetry collections. From the databases tab, you can access Literature Online. This fantastic resource includes a “poets on screen” library and a poetry archive audio collection.

Home Page – Literature Online – ProQuest

Happy haiku!

by Lesley McRobb

You can read about our celebration of World Poetry Day