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Japanese poetry

Everyone, well a lot of people who are interested in poetry, that is, will have heard of the haiku. This is the epigrammatic Japanese verse form comprised of just three lines and seventeen syllables. It doesn’t need to rhyme, but is more of a challenge to write if it does. It is hard to find good examples from famous Japanese poets as the translation will often have more or fewer syllables. But here is one from Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1696):

In the twilight rain / Those brilliant – hued hibiscus / A lovely sunset.

And here is a very bad example of my own:

The sky is so grey / The sun is behind the clouds / I hate the winter.

A typical haiga – painting plus haiku

Not many people realise that there are several variations on the haiku theme. There is, for example, the senryu, sometimes known as the human haiku, because it deals solely with human relations or emotions. Like the haiku, it is written in three lines of five / seven / five syllables, and is usually unrhymed.

Or you may prefer to compose gendai – that is, a modern haiku (post 1920) dealing with who we are or who we will become.

Or you may wish to create a haiga. This is a painting plus a haiku. The concept is usually intended to conjure up simple but profound observations of the everyday world.

Branching out a bit further from the basic haiku, is the haibun – a mix of prose and haiku. The prose can include autobiography, short stories, travel journals or prose poems. Or there is the renku – linked verses that are usually the work of two or more poets, and is sometimes known as a haikai no renga.

A slightly different poetry form is the tanka. This consists of five lines. The first and third lines have five syllables; the second, fourth and fifth have seven.

If you do an internet search for Haiku etc. you will find more examples, including a site that will generate haikus for you on demand! Composing them can be a constructive diversion when your work in progress isn’t progressing much at all. And an exercise to offer to your writing group if they are looking for a different challenge one day.

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