Welcome to the second term of Jan’s Master Class! We’ll be covering Forms of Poetry for the next several weeks.
I hope that this new class will appeal to poets at all skill levels; I’ll try to give examples and assignments appropriate for both beginners and advanced poets, and everyone in between. And for those of you who are not poets, or who are intimidated by poetry—I encourage you to take advantage of these lessons to stretch yourself as a writer.
So…I’ll start with haiku. I’m going to give you the Literature 101 definition of haiku, since that’s the most common definition. Just know that there are exceptions, and that there are more advanced, literary haiku. Feel free to go beyond this class and research those on your own.
Haiku is a form of poetry of Japanese origin. In its most common American form, haiku has the following characteristics:
1. Three lines with a syllable count of 5, 7, 5
2. No rhyming
3. A reference to nature or the seasons
5. Capitalization, punctuation, and centering (or not) are up to the whim of the poet
Here are a few haiku (yes, that’s the plural) by several poets:
Small bird, forgive me.
I’ll hear the end of your song
in some other world
In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white
Good Friday. At three,
a swarm of bees sets its heart
on an apple tree.
Lots of modern poets have taken the haiku form, disregarded rule #3 above, and made it comic or satirical: some of my favorites are the cat haiku
, the dog haiku
, and the computer ones
Obviously, a haiku is far too short for the writing challenge; the average word count for a haiku is around 15. However, it’s possible to write a series of haiku on a theme, as I did for the “Fragrance” topic, with a piece called Tantalizing Tidbits
. (I’d like to change that title, if I could.) Notice that I broke a few rules: I gave each one a title (to increase the word count and to make a connection with a Bible story), and I didn’t use nature references in them.
Someone else did a series of haiku recently, but I don’t remember who, or for what challenge. If you know who it was, please post a link for us!
You could also incorporate a haiku into a prose piece—have a character write one, or read one, perhaps. Or use a haiku as an introduction or a conclusion to your entry; that would work well for an essay or a devotional.
Some further points about haiku before I give you some homework:
1. They’re great for practice in the discipline of strict syllable count. If you’re weak with syllables, practice haiku. Aim for a non-forced feel—you don’t want to pick an awkward word or construction just to fit the 5, 7, 5 pattern. A haiku should flow naturally and organically, like its subject matter.
2. Use haiku as an exercise in imagery. In fact, haiku don’t have to have any deep meaning—a haiku may simply be a word picture.
3. Contemporary haiku often end with a bit of a punch. This is difficult to do with just 17 syllables! Give it a try.
4. You can deviate from the 5, 7, 5 pattern, but don’t do it too much. Haiku purists will be all over you…and it’s always best to master a form before you fiddle with it.
Homework: Write a traditional haiku that follows all of the 5 rules above.
IF you do the first part of the homework assignment, you MAY also do the second: Write a more contemporary haiku that either a) tweaks the rules a bit, or b) comments on something in a comical or satirical way.
As always, I really hope to get additional insights from you. What have I missed? What comments do you have about haiku? What questions do you have? Let’s talk.
In the following weeks, I plan to cover the following poetry forms, and I’ll go approximately from simplest to most complex: limerick, sonnet, sestina, acrostic, ballad, blank verse, cinquain, ode, quatrain, clerihew, tercet, villanelle, pantoum, concrete poem, free verse, tanka, diamante. Maybe a few more…
If you’re interested in last year’s Master Class (Literary Terms), most of those are still available in this forum, and I’ll gladly continue to respond to your input on any of those lessons. Look through the titles, and if you see something that interests you, feel free to read through the lesson and respond. Unfortunately, many of last year’s class threads were lost to the FaithWriters boards melt-down last year. If you are unable to access a class, I probably have the lesson saved (sadly, not the whole thread), and I can send the document to you. Let me know.