The August Haiku


Sometimes a strict adherence to the rules is the only method that makes sense. That’s the case, I submit, with the haiku—the subject of this week’s “Next Line, Please” contest.

A rarity among poetic forms, the haiku is indifferent to patterns of meter and rhyme and dependent entirely on syllabic count. The rules of the three-line form are few. The first and third lines must consist of exactly five syllables each. The middle line—the sandwich line, if you like—has seven syllables. Consider Ron Padgett’s exemplary “Haiku”:

First: five syllables.

Second: seven syllables.

Third: five syllables.

The traditional haiku may make an evocative reference to a season. With this in mind, and on the conviction that constraints are paradoxically liberating, I would add two more rules as suitable to this august Asian form: your haiku must include the word “August” and you are not allowed to use the words “I,” “me,” “my,” or “mine.”

Any rule-observant haiku submitted by midnight Sunday, August 17, is eligible.  Enthusiasts, please limit yourself to a maximum of five. Title is optional.

The haiku is more versatile than people realize. Richard Wilbur is one poet who has used the haiku stanza as a building-block. See his “Thyme Flowering among the Rocks,” which begins:

This, if Japanese,

Would represent grey boulders

Walloped by rough seas.

For further reading, you might take a look at Robert Hass’s 1995 volume The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa with English translations of three formidable Japanese masters.

Next week we’ll have a tanka contest. What’s a tanka? All I’ll say now is that it begins with a haiku. You’ll see.

Leave your haiku in a comment below.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

David Lehman, a contributing editor of the Scholar, is a poet, critic, and the general editor of The Best American Poetry annual anthology and author of the book One Hundred Autobiographies. He currently writes our Talking Pictures column.


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