Ya, ya, yaa!

Ya, ya, yaa!

 Posted by Susan Shand on January 7, 2013 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (0)



Ya, ya, yaa!




English is a lyrical language. By that I mean that because of the structure of the language the spoken word naturally falls into rhythms and patterns and the voice travels up and down to add meaning, emotion, and sense to the syntax and sentence structure. In youth culture modulations take on a group identification significance as with girls? who adopt the high rising terminal? get it yaa? Or cool yoofs wot like rap on a single like low note cos like singin is gay, innit?



Performance poets in English have their own modulations. Strike a pose indicative of Lord Byron, deliver your Auden knock-off in serious and sonorous tones or sing-song rhythm and then modestly lower your eyes, slumped like an exhausted miner, to indicate the end. Or leap onto the stage waving your arms about like Billy Connolly, shoot out your dialect or streetspeek in incomprehensibly rapid staccato delivery freely peppered with obsceneties, tell the audience to F-off and march off the stage. ….But what on earth are you going to do with a haiku the size of one breath?




Few of us are going to be brave enough to attempt a rendering of Japanese originals. Japanese language sound units are very short and fairly even in length. A spoken haiku in Japanese in a 5/7/5 rhythm falls into a natural pattern which makes it easy to say and remember. So I am told. They use them for advertising jingles, its that memorable. It really doesn’t work the same in English. In any case your audience is unlikely to understand what you are saying unless they happen to be Japanese… and unless you are fluent in Japanese yourself it probably isnt a good idea to attempt it. That is unless you want to reduce the audience to uncontrollable laughter.




Early translators tried to reproduce the poetic element of haiku by translating haiku into English poetic metre, even rhyming the translations in some cases. This of course makes Japanese haiku look a lot longer than they are, considering that even a simple word-for-word translation into English can often double the spoken length of the original. So if you are being true to the brevity of haiku, then your work is going to fit into one breath, and less than 15 syllables. That isn’t going to go far into your 15 minutes of fame. I suppose you could say it twice… people do…




Another thing about the Japanese language is that they have these strange spoken sounds which we sometimes call “cut-markers” which break up that even rhythm as well as indicating meaning – as in “Furuike ya” and “Samidare wo”. We don’t need them in English because our rhythms are dictated by the variable length of syllables to create patterns called ‘metre’. The rhythms in spoken English naturally create slight and longer pauses within the sentence, which help us to understand the sense and to create those patterned modulations and metre. English poetics call these breaks ‘caesura’. A soft caesura is a slight halt and a hard caesura is an audible break. These pauses, and where we choose to put them, separate different parts of the sentence to change the meaning. We also use capitals and punctuation which the Japanese don’t. Does a haiku look more authentic and Japanesey if its all in lower case and without punctuation? I admit that I myself make mileage out of not adding punctuation because I like the ambiguity it causes, but is it really necessary? Is it somewhat like ‘striking a pose’?



One solution to your one-breath 15 seconds of fame at the local Poetry Slam is to do a sequence or a renga/renku or a haibun.




Here’s a little gem which may, or may not, introduce you to longer forms…  http://haibuntoday.com/ht52/Jones_Rules.html





(stardate 20130107)






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