Jewel in the Crown: How Form Deepens Meaning in English-Language Haiku
Imagine you own a precious unset jewel. How would you store it? Would you toss it on top of your dresser? Or drop it in a desk drawer? Or plop it on a mantel to gather dust? To preserve it in a way commensurate with its value you might, instead, consider commissioning a specially carved wooden box with a fitted lid that closes snugly so that you can feel the care that has been taken to construct the box, care that speaks to the preciousness of the stone inside.
You could think of form in relationship to haiku that way—as a container in which to store your words. On the one hand, that box might be no more than a showy but unnecessary accessory. On the other hand, form can work as more than a mere “container.” It can become an integral part of the haiku, supporting, reinforcing, and amplifying meaning just as the setting of a jewel becomes part of a brooch or ring.
Consider these examples. The first by Deborah P Kolodji uses five-, seven-, and five-syllable lines. The success of her poem depends on her choice of this the most widely recognized form for haiku in English:
his oxygen tube
stretches the length of the house
The idea of the father’s confinement is reinforced by the feeling that the words themselves are being constrained by the form.
Another example of a haiku that depends on use of this same form to heighten its impact is one of my own:
maple on the edge
of the garden at the bare-
est edge of turning
The notion of being on the cusp, of being right on the edge, is amplified by the hyphenated word “bare-est.” The break in the word forced by the form gives a physical representation to the abstract idea of cusp.
But there are other forms for haiku which can be equally effective. This example by Graham High uses a form that he invented just for this haiku:
Garden chairs put away
for the year. Two squares
of yellowed grass.
High chose to write this in two sentences; the subject matter of the poem is two chairs and the two patches of yellow grass. The way the two sentences fold over the three haiku lines, imitating the way aluminum chairs collapse as they are folded for storage, is very ingenious and thought provoking.
. . .