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Frogpond 44.2 • 2021

Museum of Haiku
Literature Award

Haiku & Senryu

Essay 1 - "Persimmons"

Essay 2 - "Heft of Haiku"



Book Reviews

From the Editor

Haiku Society of America


The Heft of Haiku

by Michael Dylan Welch

"The Heft of Haiku"
(complete PDF version)

Here is a sample excerpt from the opening page of this interview:

It occurred to me recently that one way to apprehend the difference between the sounds of Japanese and the syllables of English is to think of baseball. The pattern of 5-7-5 sounds (not syllables) in a Japanese haiku produces a poem of a particular heft or weight. Think of that as being like a baseball. And I do mean a baseball — a specific size of ball used in American professional baseball leagues. But if you write 5-7-5 syllables in an English haiku, you end up producing a bigger ball — like a softball — because of differences in language. Japanese words are typically many short staccato syllables, so a Japanese haiku reaches 17 sounds using fewer words and less content than an English haiku provides in 17 syllables. In fact, I recently read an observation by Kit Pancoast Nagamura, a Japan-based haiku poet who hosted NHK’s “Haiku Masters” television show for three years, that if you write 17 syllables in English, you can easily write enough content to fill two haiku in Japanese (in her book, Grit, Grace, and Gold: Haiku Celebrating the Sports of Summer). Thus, an English-language haiku will typically reach the weight and size of a “baseball” with fewer than 17 syllables, whereas insisting on 5-7-5 syllables nearly always produces a larger “softball” size of poem. As a result, a 17-syllable haiku in English may be said to be “obese” compared with the leaner weight of a Japanese haiku. That leaner haiku isn’t “hefty” at all, but does have a particular heft.

Although it helps to know Japanese, one can still get a feel for this difference in heft by listening to haiku in both Japanese and English, hearing the distinction that 5-7-5 syllables in English nearly always takes longer to say, never mind that the English also contains more words, concepts, or images. Sensitivity to the words and images shared in Japanese haiku will give you an additional sense of each poem’s individual heft, and therefore a sense of the heft of the genre itself if you pay attention to many haiku in Japanese, even if only through translation.

[feature continues for several more pages] . . .

Welch, Michael Dylan. "Heft of Haiku." Frogpond 44.2, Spring-Summer 2021, 109-115.

This excerpt inclues the first page of the feature: page 109. The complete feature includes pages 109-115. To read the complete feature, click on the link to the PDF version:

"Heft of Haiku"
(complete PDF version)