I am never asked why I read haiku (as opposed to, say, obscene limericks). I am sometimes asked why I compose haiku (as opposed to obscene limericks), especially since I am not a great writer of haiku (or for that matter obscene limericks).
As a journalist, the discipline of the right word or phrase is invaluable. Being able to capture a scene, an image, a moment is a few well-selected nouns can enliven copy and engage readers.
For example, a year or so ago I wrote a trend piece about steampunk. Yes, it is really a sub-culture, but mainstream journalism doesn’t recognize such distinctions when it comes to geeks and freaks. If it’s not a trend, it’s a sideshow. Steampunk certainly has elements of both.
It takes three examples of something to make a trend (as opposed to a folie à trois, which it may well be). Instead of starting with breezy examples of this person doing that bit of steampunk, I decided to try to make the examples set the tone and mood with images, which in itself is a haiku-like decision. The article began:
The monthly meeting of NYC Steampunk was up one flight of Dickensian steps on a side street near Bloomingdale’s. A woman welcomed me to the future as it might have been. Dressed in a black corset and matching Degas-like tulle petticoats – as much Victorian prostitute as 19th century ballet dancer – she had a Buck Rogers ray gun slung on one hip.
Of course, I should have arrived by the night pneumatique from London, that speedy parlor car capsule shooting its way under the Atlantic, or at least the Hohenzollern, an 81-hour zeppelin trip out of Berlin. Instead I rode the Lexington Avenue Local, which at least was built in the era many Steampunkers fancy.
As the more advanced poets guessed, the first “haiku” is our lady of retro-futurism. Or to diddle it a bit to fit a more traditional format:
Black petticoats and merry widow
Ray gun slug on one hip
The next two images are more about establishing the blimp and goggles aesthetic of steampunk than creating crypto-haiku. And, yes, it did take 81 hours for a zeppelin to travel to the United States, assuming the captain didn’t decide to play chicken with a lightning storm in the name of German punctuality.
The coda (or in journalism, the kicker) not only links back to the beginning, but also is another crypto haiku:
As for me, if I take my steam-powered penny-farthing, I can still make the 12.23 clipper to Port-au-Prince. The Orisha are rising.
Again to tweak it a bit to make it a haiku:
To catch the clipper to Haiti
Of course, the approach is better for features and soft topics than it is for hard or breaking news. Writing three haiku for examples of bribes a corrupt politician took would get a reporter fired, if not summarily shot.
But if it’s a letter or a lifestyle piece, then a few crypto haiku could make for more interesting reading than, say, obscene limericks.
The complete steampunk article is available at: