Wednesday Words: Haikus with Archana Kapoor
Today we discover the art of crafting haikus with esteemed poet Archana Kapoor.
Haiku: The Art, Form and Craft
My husband and I love going for evening walks by the lake close to our house. Perhaps it has much more to do with the dramatic skies when the season becomes warmer, than the act of walking itself. The other day it so happened that we decided to sit by the lake instead of talking a walk. The place looked like a scene out of a painting and we were mesmerized. I saw how the clouds’ ragged edges took light from the evening sun, intensifying both – the pale white of the main body of the clouds and the bright blue of the late spring sky. And along with the rays of the sun, blazing away, it created colours extraordinaire. The experience triggered my feelings and as I looked at my husband, I knew he saw what I had just witnessed. We both felt the mixed feelings of the happy loss of winter and the beginning of warm sunny days. And as we both looked almost wordlessly, we felt a sharing that goes far deeper than words I have used to describe the experience can ever penetrate. This is the main lesson of Haiku!
When we compose a Haiku we are essentially saying, “It is hard to tell you how I am feeling. May be if I share with you the event that made me aware of these feelings, you may have similar feelings of your own.” When we want to ‘reach’ another person with our feelings, do we say “I am angry” or “I am happy”? Unless we tell them what it is that makes us feel angry or happy, how can they share our feelings? In fact, we automatically ask this very pertinent question to our loved ones when they say they feel pain or joy: “What’s the matter?” or “Who put that beautiful smile on your face?” Haiku is the answer to this ‘what?’
What is Haiku?
Haiku (high-koo) is a Japanese poetry form that uses just a few words to capture a moment and create a picture in the reader’s mind. One can also say that Haiku is a short poem that uses sensory language to capture a feeling or image. It is like a tiny window into a scene much larger than itself. Haiku is often inspired by an element of nature, a moment of beauty, or another poignant experience. The secret to writing great Haiku is to be observant and appreciate nature. Though Haiku poetry was originally developed by Japanese poets, the form was adopted (and adapted) by virtually every modern language.
Traditionally, Haiku is written in three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line – making it a total of seventeen syllables. A syllable is a phonetic unit or a sound unit of speech. Though in English we use syllables, the Japanese do not count syllables at all. They count onji – which means sound symbol and it refers to one of the phonetic characters used in writing Japanese phonetic script. This was just for general knowledge. For our sake, we will continue talking the syllable language.
Let’s put together all the rules mentioned above – syllables, nature, feeling and the moment; and consider the simple example below:
The warmth on my skin
Fire falls beneath the trees
I see the sun set
A simple moment of nature’s beauty translated into poetic lines (not necessarily rhythmic), conveying the feeling. And all of this in seventeen syllables! Profound, isn’t it?
To simplify it further, remember, when you see or notice something that makes you want to say to others, “Look at that,” the experience may well be suitable for Haiku. Japanese poets traditionally used Haiku to capture and distil a fleeting natural image, such as a frog jumping into a pond or rain falling on leaves. Many people (like me) go for walks just to find new inspiration for their poetry. But contemporary Haiku may stray from nature as a subject. Urban environments, emotions, relationships and even humorous topics could become subjects for expression in the form of Haiku. However, in the traditional form, reference to a season or changing of the seasons is an essential element of Haiku, in the Japanese way.
After having learnt about the basics, let’s move on to another important element of Haiku writing. It is essential to ‘create a subject shift.’ In keeping with the thought that Haiku should contain two juxtaposed ideas, shift the perspective on your chosen subject so that your poem has two parts. For example, you could focus on the detail of an ant crawling on a log, and then juxtapose that image with an expansive view of the whole forest. The juxtaposition gives the poem a deeper metaphorical meaning than it would have if it were a simple, single-planed description. Consider this:
Summer here again
Music plays sweetly, drifting
And life is renewed
The concept of a seasonal change has been compared to life being renewed. Beautiful metaphor, isn’t it? That one last line has given it such a deep meaning that perhaps may get missed by someone easily. But just by making that comparison, the whole context has changed and the brief poem has become larger than life. That is the beauty of Haiku and the satisfaction a poet feels after creating such a piece.
The art of poetry is beyond words. The bigger challenge is the way poetry transmits the thoughts of a writer to the reader. Haiku is the perfect size for holding our encounters with the natural world. A Haiku is brief, yet incredibly open and at the same time very exact, offering us an established, yet endlessly flexible way to express our self. Any willing person can become a writer, if he/she is able to capture a moment of inspiration, whether it involves a blade of grass, a mountain or love. So, go for it!