Saturday, August 30, 2008
"The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa" by Robert Hass, The Ecco Press 1994.
An attractive feature of many poetic forms like the sonnet or the haiku is structure. The writer's challenge is to be true to the form (lines, syllables, meter) and be original at the same time.
I always shied from the challenge, retreating (if you will) to free verse.
Now, reading Hass' history of the Haiku form, I discover that the rules we were taught in high school (17 syllables divided into 3 lines [5/7/5]) aren't really a big part of the haiku at all. What a liberating revelation!
Hass says that the important characteristics of Haiku are (aside from the three-line form) a reference to time or season, personalization (that is, the subject is something the writer experiences directly and in the present), and a sense that the observation is both simple and connected to something more. Humor is also frequent, though not required.
Hass* was the verse translator for this volume and there are some essays translated by others.
My favorite by Basho:
A cicada shell;
It sang itself
The cicadas are putting on a concert in my yard as I write this, four centuries after Basho wrote those words.
*My dad's name is Robert Haas. Not the same guy.