“About Haiku” is a brief unpublished definition of haiku written about 1971 by American poet Truth Mary Fowler (1907–2000). It represents an early attempt in English-language haiku to define the genre and provide guidelines for composition.
“About Haiku” by Truth Mary Fowler is a single typewritten page inserted in a copy of Fowler’s 1971 book Glow from a Stone Lantern. The book is inscribed ”With appreciation for you and Claire,” but it was found in the haiku library of Elizabeth Searle Lamb who apparently received this copy from someone else.
The text below is a complete and accurate version of the typescript. Two emendations were made in longhand; these are indicated here by italics.
Fowler’s definition represents an early attempt in English-language haiku to define the genre and provide guidelines for composition. Cogent and well written, “About Haiku” captures the standard view of English-language haiku in the late 1960s and 1970s.
A haiku is a poem of Japanese origin that suggests perception and awareness about the miracles that surround us in every day living.
It doesn’t have to be grammatically correct, for it is but a fragment of nature, making use of space in the same way that Japanese Art does.
Until a few years ago, the haiku was defined as a three-line poem containing seventeen syllables divided into groups of 5–7–5. Today there is much controversy over this pattern. Purists believe that exactly seventeen syllables are required. Modernists believe that the spirit of haiku is the important thing. (Some have written haiku only three words long).
1. All agree that it is a nature poem related to human nature.
2. The season of the year must be indicted by name or implication.
3. It must not rhyme, use alliteration, simile, metaphor or other poetic devices.
The thinking behind this rule is that in so short a poem, poetic devices detract from the thought of the poet in the same way that gesturing toward the moon with a hand that wears a jeweled bracelet takes the attention away from the meaning and symbolism of the moon.
4. It must be untitled as a title imposes the interpretation of the author upon the reader instead of leaving him free to interpret for himself.
5. It must be non-violent
6. It must be in the present tense. The time is now.
Haiku are not to be read. They are to be re-read. Two examples follow:
Ragpickers searching / something useful on the dump / uncover violets.
On Easter morning / the cicada’s outworn shell / cast off for the new.
Truth Mary Fowler
PREPARED BY: Haikupedia editors
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
Fowler, Truth Mary. Glow from a Stone Lantern. Francestown, N.H.: Golden Quill Press, 1981.
Fowler, Truth Mary. Haiku for All Day. Francestown, N.H.: Golden Quill Press, 1968.