The Problem with Haikus

I'm not a fan of haiku, the unrhymed "poetic form" that is based on syllables rather than beats (three lines: five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables). The haiku, as you already know, originated in Japan. I have learned from Wikipedia that in Japanese, the key unit of the haiku is the on rather than the syllable. There is a difference between the two. I don't know the difference myself, but it must be a crucial one. I can't imagine haiku surviving among a people as sensible and aesthetically gifted as the Japanese unless the effect of a Japanese haiku is very different from the effect of an English haiku. In English-speaking countries, of course, the haiku survives because anybody who can hold a pencil and count can write one. If your third-grade language arts teacher did a unit on creative writing, I'm sure you've written several yourself.

Here's my real problem with haikus: If you were to meet someone who spoke only in perfectly-formed haikus, you might talk to that person for an hour before realizing that he or she was speaking in poetry. You would surely notice (after twenty minutes or so) that there was something unusual about this person's speech, but I'm not sure you would understand that it was poetry that you were hearing.

My son is writing a play, and in one scene the protagonist finds himself shipwrecked on the Isle of Haiku. The natives there only speak in haikus, and they punish anyone who doesn't. It takes our hero a little while to understand why the natives are so offended by his speech, but once he catches on, he finds it easy enough to comply with their custom. I asked my son what it was like to write a whole scene in haiku, and he assured me that it was only a little harder than writing in non-haiku. This is what I'm talking about.

Perhaps you, dear reader, have a word to say in defense of the haiku. If so, I'd love to hear it.

Bonus haiku link: I allow myself one exception to my strict anti-haiku stance. My friend Andy Gullahorn, a singer-songwriter, often writes "haiku reviews" of shows he has played. They are quite funny. In at least two of his haikus he mentions that he doesn't read books. This may or may not be relevant to the fact that he is a gifted haikuist.