I started writing Haiku and Tanka in English on Medium. Here I am writing on Substack for one of my newsletters, and I think I should explain that my Haiku poems are a little bit different from the ones written by English poets.
Haiku and Tanka are Japanese poetry styles. Haiku has 17 syllables that consist of 5-7-5, while Tanka, which can be literally translated as “short songs”, has 31 syllables with 5-7-5-7-7. Therefore, when English poets create Haiku poems, they normally compose them with 5-7-5 syllables in English.
When I first tried to create Haiku in English, I tried to put 5-7-5 syllables in each piece, but soon, I felt that it is not really a “Haiku” that I had been familiar with. Because lots of English words have fewer syllables than Japanese ones, if I put 17 syllables in a Haiku poem in English, I found that it can contain much more meaning, compared with the 17 syllables of Japanese words.
Look at this old popular Haiku here,
古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音
written by Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694)
Here are Japanese pronunciations,
Hu-ru-i-ke-ya, ka-wa-zu to-bi-ko-mu, mi-zu no o-to
These are Japanese syllables that correspond to the Japanese phonetic alphabet. There are surely 17 syllables, but if I translate it into English;
An old pond
A frog jumped into
A sound of water
They only have 14 syllables with 3-6-5 and it’s impossible to add any more words because Haiku is to be a minimised poetry that leaves some space for readers to use their imagination.
I think that Haiku in English can be more flexible, so I often write English Haiku poems that are shorter than 17 syllables or sometimes even as short as 12 syllables. You may be surprised with my shortest Haiku, but I believe that you can enjoy it as a minimised creation.
古人の 亡き後なごる うたの韻
An ancient poet
has gone and left behind
rhyme lingers long