Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Great Haiku Debate

So, Chuck and I were having a discussion about haikus today. It all started because of a guy I am going to be interviewing. His first and last names together sound a lot like haiku. So, I submitted the following for Chuck's amusement...

I must interview
A man whose name is Haiku.
Oh! The irony

However, I had to quickly correct myself. According to the definition, this is not a valid haiku. I seemed to remember something about the lines not rhyming.

Chuck disagreed. He had heard rhyming haiku before. Here is one such by Taniguchi Buson:

The piercing chill I feel:
my dead wife's comb, in our bedroom,
under my heel ...

He feels that the imagery and feel are less strong without the rhyme. I tend to agree. But the fact that it is beautiful does not make it a haiku. Add to that the fact that the english is a translation. Did the original rhyme? Or were the words chosen for a visual as well as auditory impact?

Thus began our debate. And so we turn to you, gentle reader, to answer this question. For Chuck's side of the story, click here.

Poem flows like stream
Syllables all correct, too
Uh-oh, rhyme. Haiku?

During the course of it, I slung links at him, and he at me. It was quite a lot of fun because we mocked each other's positions as we debated. Usually in haiku. I'll tack on the definition and support links at the end.

His first take was that "unrhymed" was open to interpretation. Unrhymed does not mean that it *can't* rhyme. It just means no special effort is made to make it This, he called the accidental rhyme.

Fine. If the rhyming rule is optional, so is the meter. What if I accidentally add an extra syllable and make a 5-8-5 poem?

CSeggelin:THat's an issue of meter, not rhyme.
CSeggelin:A poem can rhyme by accident
Briwei: Still. It's a deviation of rule.
Briwei: Unrhymed means not rhyming
Briwei: The word isn't nuanced enough to carry intent.
Briwei: You can rhyme by accident, but you have still rhymed.
CSeggelin: Poetic license is about breaking rules. If someone chooses to rhyme their haiku, as far as I'm concerned, it's still a haiku--to me rhyme is far less structural than meter say. A purist might argue otherwise.
Briwei: If a man rhymes in a haiku and he didn't mean it, does it make a sound?

At last, a breakthrough. Chuck has found the proof that is bound to sway Brian:

CSeggelin: Harold Henderson, writing in 1967, observed that only one rhymed haiku had won any prize in the journal American Haiku (in vol. 2, no. 2), the following one by Ethel Freeman:

Brown mimosa seed
where blossoms once invited
hummingbirds to feed.

CSeggelin: Isn't that beautiful?
CSeggelin: I love it.
Briwei: It'd be better if it didn't rhyme. :)
CSeggelin: Purist.

Chuck felt that proved that haiku are allowed to rhyme. I think it proves that Americans are not good at haiku. Or following directions.

CSeggelin: As far as I'm concerned there is no hard and fast rule requiring that Haiku have an ABC rhyme scheme. But perhaps we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.
Briwei: In that case, I'm going to start writing Haikus in a different meter and call them Haikus. ;)
CSeggelin: Meter <> rhyme
CSeggelin: In fact
CSeggelin: Meter > rhyme
Briwei: Depends on the format.
CSeggelin: On the poetic animal, rhyme is fur color and meter is number of legs
Briwei: LOL
CSeggelin: If it doesn't have 8 legs it is not a spider.
CSeggelin: If it's pink... well MAYYYBE it's not a spider.
Chuck is mad
I changed the meter
Is this haiku?

CSeggelin: Probably not.
Briwei: I just used poetic license.
Briwei: Maybe you can't change meter on a poetic learner's permit, but I have a license. :-D
CSeggelin: But this is:
My dear friend Brian--
A literalist is he--
At least he's tryin'.

dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt
dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt
dirt dirt dirt dirt mud

Briwei: I call it "Ode to the first rain of Spring"
CSeggelin: Hey
CSeggelin: the first two lines rhyme
CSeggelin: you suck
CSeggelin: LOL
Briwei: But the syllables are all correct. So, I must be a frickin' genius!
Briwei: And it's about nature. So, I get bonus points.
CSeggelin: With respect to poetic license and meter, I would probably take the position that poetic license generally allows one to muck with the meter when the format doesn't call for a specific meter. If you set yourself up with iambic pentameter, and then you throw an odd syllable into a line, poetic license covers your ass. It doesn't let you write a 3 line sonnet or a 38 beat haiku.
CSeggelin: Because meter > rhyme.
CSeggelin: Depending on format of course
Briwei: Iambic pentameter does call for a specific meter!
CSeggelin: You are missing the point
CSeggelin: You can come up with a name for any meter
CSeggelin: And then violate the meter for poetic license
CSeggelin: That's different than saying, this is a sonnet, and then violating the meter.
CSeggelin: Or that's a haiku and violating the meter.
CSeggelin: And really it would depend on the haiku in quiestion
Briwei: But whereas "unrhymed" is in the definition of Haiku, it is clearly as important as the meter.
Briwei: So, by defying that, you are defying the format.
CSeggelin: "the" definition?
Briwei: And in that case, meter is not greater.
CSeggelin: Everywhere I look I see "rarely rhyming", "usually not rhyming", and so forth. Popular usage wins.

Well, not everywhere. As I pointed out, I found several sources that call out the lack of rhyme. But we'd be there all day if I kept on that tack. I decided that I would use poetic license as well.

Briwei: I'm going to start a 3-5-3 Haiku movement.
CSeggelin: I would argue that in Haiku meter>rhyme requirements, since haikus do not have rhyme requirements
Briwei: Get it into popular usage.
CSeggelin: If you were talking about limericks, which must be AABBA, then you could start making a strong case for rhyme of equal importance to meter.
Briwei: What if I wanted to make a free verse limerick?
Dictionaries play
Catch up because popular
Usage wins. Always.

CSeggelin: Then it would not be a limerick, because limericks require AABBA scheme
Briwei: If I say it's a limerick and get other people to do the same, then it is a limerick.
There was a young man from Kentucky,
Who ate a large quantity of chicken,
Then went to the crapper,
And pooped out some feathers,
And decided that perhaps he shouldn't have eaten them whole.

Briwei: LOL
Briwei: See!
Briwei: That's good stuff.
CSeggelin: Brian, yes, if you and a large number of other people started making limericks with no rhyme scheme, and calling them limericks, to the point where it became accepted into popular usage you would be correct.
CSeggelin: Good luck with that.
Briwei: The meter on the last line is a bit clunky, but otherwise, I like it.
Briwei: This is the age of the internet. Never understimate the power of one man and a stupid idea.
CSeggelin: But as far as I'm concerned "unrhymed" <> "rhyme scheme ABC". "unrhymed" = "no set rhyme scheme".
CSeggelin: Which means the occasional rhyme is on.
Briwei: I'll call my site
Briwei: And I'll obliterate all formats as oppressive.
Briwei: I'll use your usage equals fact argument and start a movement.
Briwei: :)
CSeggelin: Well, your movement <> usage until popular culture buys into it.
CSeggelin: I would say that an occasional 6-7-5 or 5-8-5 would still be a haiku, whereas a set of 7-9-7's would not.
CSeggelin: Depends.
Briwei: Right. But by becoming a trendy counterculture, I virtually guarantee that people will want to buy into it.
Briwei: Academians will pan it, thus swelling my ranks.
CSeggelin: I think you're a little too swollen in the ranks today as it is.

Things got a bit sillier from there...

Evidence gains mass
But Bri can't cast off his chains
The pain in the ass.

CSeggelin: Anxiously awaiting more Bri-ku
CSeggelin: Make sure it doesnt rhyme!!!
That's not a Haiku
Your rhymes were intentional
Quit being a prat

Suddenly, inspiration hits Chuck. He will derail my counterculture by giving a name to my new meter.

CSeggelin: Hey!
CSeggelin: That's what you can call your 3-5-3 stuffr
CSeggelin: BRIKU
Not Haiku
But Briku, but can
It rhyme?

Briwei: Absolutely NOT!
After all
It's YOUR format--
Up to you.

Briwei: But I will not let vanity dissuade me from my quest.
Rhyme scheme only please
Are we clear?

Briwei: Are you going to form a counterculture group to compete and try to prevent my format from gaining acceptance as Haiku?
CSeggelin: YES!
CSeggelin: And I will do it by making the worst Brikus I can think of!
Briwei: Excellent!
what the fuck
is this shite supposed
to be, huh?

Briwei: Dueling countercultures!
Umm, what? Damn.
Shit I forgot what
To do here.

Briwei: Stop. You're killing me!
CSeggelin: LOL
Briwei: That's damn funny.
My work here
Is done. See you on
The flip side.

Briwei the Dancing Fool:
I must pee
You are too funny!
Thanks a lot.

CSeggelin: HEY
CSeggelin: LOL
Briwei: But it loses the imagery if I change "pee" to "whizz"

Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster

One entry found for haiku.
Main Entry: hai·ku
Pronunciation: 'hI-(")kü
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural haiku

Etymology: Japanese : an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively; also : a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference. also supports the "unrhymed" detail. So does Lynnea's teacher credential examination. The study guide highlighted the fact that haiku don't rhyme. She actually had to pick out the correct haiku from a group of four. Two had the correct syllables. One rhymed and the other didn't.

Here is yet another link that talks about the lack of rhyme in haiku.

But is that ALL the evidence? No! I found something else! Of course, it doesn't support my original point. But it does poke holes in the meter > rhyme argument. Check out The Definition of Haiku. It's a really good site that talks about the conventions surrounding the haiku.

According to this site, when translated to Russian,haiku are more often twenty syllables. In English, they are better at 12! That's practically 3-5-3. Briku anyone? :) According to this author, rhyme is not prohibited. However, neither is the number of syllables or lines!

I also saw an article (though I lost the link) that says that the original rule was 5-7-5 units. Someone arbitrarily decided that a unit was a syllable. But the effect of a syllable is not the same in English as in Japanese So, perhaps there is fluidity in the meter after all.

Either way, neither Chuck nor I can claim a complete victory here. If haiku can rhyme, than they can be flexed in all manner of ways.

I may be on to something with the counter culture thing, though. That could be fun!