Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,
Welcome at a new "weekend-meditation" episode, this week it's a Universal Jane episode and it's also a kind of reprise episode, because I remember that we have had an earlier post on "fragment and phrase" by Jane Reichhold (1937-2016) and I think I have used it in several other posts, but this "fragment and phrase" theory by Jane is not easy to understand, but easy to use. So I thought to bring itt another time.
(By the way: This will be the last bi-weekly episode of "Universal Jane", because I am busy to create another special feature to honor Jane Reichhold, the Queen of haiku and tanka).
& Phrase Theory by Jane Reichhold
that the smallest literary form - haiku - has the most rules never ceases to
amaze and astound. The only real comfort one can find in this situation is the
concept that this affords a wider range of rules from which a writer can pick
and choose. You cannot follow all of the rules and several of them are so
contradictory that there is no way to honor them both at once. You must always
choose. In order to make a choice, you have to understand the reasons and
about one or two “rules” as if these are the “real rules” could (and should!)
easily offend those who have chosen to follow opposite or other guidelines. So
let me make the disclaimer that in discussing these rules I am discussing only
some of the current disciplines I am following in my own haiku writing and
which are currently shared by a majority of writers.
foremost, and certainly the guideline which I have consciously or unconsciously
followed the longest, is the one that a haiku must be divided into two parts.
This is the positive side of the rule that haiku should not be a run-on
sentence. There needs to be a syntactical break dividing the ku into two parts.
From the Japanese language examples this meant that one line (five onji) was
separated from the rest by either grammar or punctuation (in the Japanese an
accepted sound-word – kireji – was as if
we said or wrote out “dash” or “comma”).
purposes of this discussion, I would like to call the shorter portion, the
fragment and the longer portion, or rest of the poem, the phrase.
for distinguishing between the two parts of the ku takes on importance when one
begins to discuss the use of articles (“a”, “an” and “the”) because it is
possible to have different rules concerning the different parts. Before getting
into that, let me state that the fragment can be (or usually is) either line 1
or line 3. A clear example of the first is:
the electricity goes
on and off
without punctuation the reader can hear and feel the break between the fragment
(rain gusts) and the phrase (the electricity goes on and off). Also one
instinctively feels that the second line break would go after “goes”. Yet,
another author may find merit in continuing the line to read “the electricity
goes on” and then let the final line bring in the dropped shoe – “and off”. I
chose to have “on and off” as the third line because my goal was to establish
an association between “rain gusts” and “on and off”. One can write of many
qualities of “rain gusts”, but in this ku, the “on and off” aspect is brought
forward and then reinforced by bringing in the power of electricity. An example of the fragment found in the third
line is often used as answer when creating a riddle (a valid and well-used
haiku technique) as in:
with legs crossed in zazen
the roasting chicken
It is also
possible to write ku in which the reader would have to decide which part was
the fragment by combining either lines 1 and 2 or reading lines 2 and 3
together to make the phrase. An example might be:
here, the fact that “moonlit pines” is not written as “the moonlit pines” tells
one that the author was silently designating the first line as the fragment
even though the middle line has its own curious brevity. Still, the lack of
punctuation allows the reader to try out the thought that as the moonlight in
the pines became dimmer someone had to turn on a flashlight. Or, reading the
poem as it was experienced: the moonlight on the pines was so bright the
flashlight seemed to be getting dimmer.
us around to the articles and you may have already guessed the next guideline
for using them. In the fragment you can often dispense with the use of an
article to leave the noun stand alone. Sometimes you can even erase the
preposition from the fragment especially if you are feeling that you will
scream if you read one more haiku which begins with “in the garden”.
guideline asks sensitivity. It is not a hard and fast rule. But during the
revising stage of writing your ku, it is something to try. Cover up the
preposition and the article in the fragment and see if the ku holds together.
Perhaps it will even get stronger! If you feel the article and preposition are
needed, then by all means, use them. Do whatever works for your voice. In the “roasted
chicken” ku I debated about leaving the articles out, but decided the ku needed
the “grease to the wheels of understanding” of the articles. But if you are
seeking to shorten the ku, look first to the fragment as you cross out unneeded
one cannot follow the same “rule” in writing the phrase portion of the ku.
Sometimes critics make the comment in a workshop that a haiku is “choppy”. What
they are referring to is the feeling that at the end of each line the break in
syntax is final. The two lines of the phrase are not hooked together in a flow
of grammar and meaning. Notice the difference between:
red and green
If to this
“grocery list ku” we add a preposition and an article we get:
in the raspberry leaves
red and green
It pays to
be aware of which two lines you wish to make into the phrase. It helps to read
the two lines of a ku which are to become your phrase out loud to see how they
sound in your mouth and ears. If there is a too-clear break between the lines,
ask yourself if you need an article or an article plus a preposition to be
inserted. If you do, forget brevity and allow yourself the lyric pleasure of a
smooth shift between these two lines.
If I had
chosen to make the first line the fragment I would write the ku as:
raspberry leaves glow
red and green
verb gives the proper grammatical flow between lines 2 and 3. If one added “in
the” to the first line, the ku would read as “in the low winter sun raspberry
leaves glow red and green” which, to my ears would be a run-on sentence. One
other variation on this subject is the haiku in which the break occurs in the
middle of the second line. Often one finds this in translations of Basho's
haikai taken out of context from a renga. Basically you have a two-liner set
into three lines. Occasionally one will find an English haiku written in this
manner. Again, it is often “rescued” out of a renga or written by people using
5-7-5 syllable count who end up with too many images as in this example from
Borrowed Water edited by Helen Chenoweth in 1966 who wrote:
the sleeping child; on the porch
a man smoked and smiled.
comment above sounds too critical of the use of the break in the middle of the
second line, let me add that this method becomes very interesting if one is
working with parallels. Perhaps that is what Helen was noticing – the
difference between the sleeping child and man on the porch. Parallels were
learned by the Japanese from the Chinese and often used successfully in haiku
persons using punctuation in their ku, will often find themselves making a dash
after the fragment and hopefully nothing, not even a comma in the middle of the
phrase, even if there is a breath of the possibility of one. Sometimes, the
haiku sounds like a run-on sentence because the author is too lazy to rewrite
the fragment clearly and thus, has to add a dash forcing the reader into the
this is a red flag that the writer either did not believe in the “haiku has two
parts” rule or didn't stay with the rewrite long enough to solve the problem
see most punctuation as a cop-out. Almost any ku written as a run-on sentence
(with or without its dash) can be rewritten so the grammar syntax forms the
proper breaks. Or the author forms places where the reader can decide where to
make the break and thus, give the haiku additional meaning. From this
philosophy, I view haiku with punctuation as haiku which perhaps fail to fit
this basic form. Some writers, unable, or unwilling to understand the use of
fragment and phrase will write the ku in one line. If the author has a
well-developed feeling for fragment and phrase, the grammar will expose which
is which. In these cases, my feeling is - why not write the ku in the three
lines it “shows” by the way it sounds.
a haiku is written that is so full of possible divisions into what is the
fragment or the phrase that writing it in one line is the only way that offers
the reader the complete freedom to find the breaks. And with each new
arrangement the meaning of the poem varies.
An example would be:
heart in the stone mountain tunnel light
years I gradually gave up (and easily abandoned) the dashes, semi-colons,
commas and full stops to incorporate ambiguity in the ku, but it has been hard
for me to let go of the question mark - which is rather silly, as it is so
clear from the grammar that a question is being asked. Still, and yet . . . I
mention this, so newcomers to haiku understand that rules are not written in
stone, but something each of us has to work out for ourselves. It is an
on-going job and one I hope will never end.
way we find new “rules” is by reading the work of others and deciding for
ourselves what works as a ku or what we admire. Consciously or unconsciously we
begin to imitate the style that “rule” creates. Usually we stay with a “rule”
until we find a new one to replace it. Because there are so many rules, we all
have different set with which we are working. By carefully reading a
good-quality haiku journal, you can see which “rules” the editor is accepting
by the haiku printed. That does not mean “this” is the only way to write a
You need to
make the decision: are those a rules, goals or guidelines some I want for
myself? This thought is much more gentle than saying some haiku are good and
others are bad.
thank goodness, no one way to write a haiku. Though the literature has haiku
which we admire and even model our own works on, there is no one style or
technique which is absolutely the best. Haiku is too large for that. Haiku has,
in its short history been explored and expanded by writers so that now we have
a fairly wide range of styles, techniques and methods to investigate.
|Jane Reichhold (1937-2016) |
I would prefer more discussions of these techniques using riddles,
associations, contrasts, oneness, sense-switching, narrowing focus, metaphor
and simile (yes! judicially and in moderation), sketch (Shiki's shasei), double
entendre, close linkage, leap linkage, pure objectivism, and more, rather than
the mysterious idea that if one has a true haiku moment the resulting ku will
be an excellent haiku.
pure rot. The experience is necessary and valid (and probably the best part of
the haiku path), but writing is writing is skill and a craft to be
learned. Techniques are methods of
achieving a known goal in writing. They are something to learn and then forget
as Basho has already told us. But once you learn them you will understand why
some haiku “work” for you and others do not. It also prepares you to
instinctively use the best technique for each of your haiku experiences. Perhaps, nothing is absolute in haiku. Like
life, haiku require learning, experience and balance.
We have had two series of Haiku Writing Techniques here at CDHK (you can find the e-books in our Library), without Jane's knowledge I couldn't have done that. And the months in which Basho was the main theme were also possible through the knowledge of Jane. I have learned a lot from her and I hope the same for you my dear Haijin, visitors and travelers.
This episode I love to ask you all to create haiku (or tanka) in which you use the fragment and phrase theory as stated by Jane Reichhold, just to honor her.
bare branches of the twin oak
in the backyard
together as one
the butterfly and the bee
searching for honey
This haiku I wrote in 2011, it was part of an article about a haiku by Matsuo Basho in which I tried (as we do in our CD Specials) to write a haiku in the same tone, sense and spirit as the haiku by Basho. Maybe I have to give that Basho haiku also here to show you what I mean, but let me first give the haiku I wrote:
the shadow of the willows
Ah! that coolness
And this was the haiku by Basho which played the leading role in that article:
essential to life
the little space under my hat
enjoying the coolness
© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)
I have given it a thought reading it aloud and noticed that there were two moments to take a breath, after the first and second line. With the above article in mind and the idea that every haiku must be said in one breath ... I re-wrote the haiku to the next form:
Ah! that coolness
the willows' shadow
on a hot summerday
I don't know if this re-done haiku has become revitalized, but I have to say this second version is better than the first version.
And now it is up to you to use the "fragment and phrase" way of writing haiku yourself. Enjoy this exercise.
This episode is open for your submissions next Sunday May 21st at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until May 26th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our next episode around the same time as the submissions start.