Haiku – do you?

An editor is someone who cares about language and about expression, particularly about subtlety and economy of expression, which can seem to be mutually exclusive categories. I was once describing for someone, in long flowing sentences, how much I loved the power of language to inform and to persuade, to build connections and relationships between people, even, in the case of written language, across space and time. He listened patiently, and then said, ‘I find words a rather coarse medium myself,’ thereby demonstrating modesty and mastery of language in one fell swoop.

Poetry is a sharp tool for carving out an exact idea with subtlety and economy, and one form I’ve been reading about recently is haiku. I’ve dabbled in this form while standing in queues

(which gave rise to the unimaginative:

An excuse to stop
And practise meditation
While standing in line)

and have had the pleasure recently of listening to Ross Clark talk about being a poet and editing poets’ work. Ross presented to the Queensland Society of Editors’ meeting in February and his description of haiku, which among other things made me realise that my example above is not a good haiku at all, prompted me to read some more about it. I discovered that what I learned in high school about haiku needing to be three lines with the pattern 5, 7 then 5 syllables long was incorrect, and that they usually include a season word and are comparing two visual images for effect. Here’s one from Frogpond, the Journal of the Haiku Society of America:

pinwheeling leaves
thirty-five years end
with the word amicable

Dave Baldwin, Lake Stevens, Washington

So, imagine how pleased I am to see the collision of all that I love about language with my new interest in haiku. National Grammar Day is this Sunday, and it comes complete with a Tweeted Haiku Contest. Last year’s winner was about spelling:

Spell-checkers won’t catch
you’re mistaken homophones
scattered hear and their

@GordinaryWords

Everyone ready?

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