The 5-7-5 Gorilla in the Room

O.K. I got to get it out here in the open – this 5-7-5 thing. Most people—including a surprisingly large share of non-haiku poets have a dismissive attitude about haiku as being a syllabic parlor game—a form poem that anyone can write by following the five, then seven, then five syllable count. This reminds me of a t-shirt I bought, but never wear. It says:

Haikus are easy

But sometimes they don’t make sense



Now that I think about it, I own several t-shirts that were dumb purchases. I’m wearing one of them now, because I don’t have plans to go anywhere. It’s from the town of Spread Eagle, Wisconsin and it says Spread Eagle, Wisconsin with Spread Eagle in large type and Wisconsin in medium-small type. My two young-adult daughters have banned me from wearing it in public because they claim I look like a “creeper” when I wear it. So much for proclaiming civic pride.

 Back to the issue at hand… haiku are not structured form poems. Admittedly, I have read and written some wonderful 5-7-5 haiku myself, but mostly by accident, not conscious syllable counting. In English, because our sound syllables are longer than the Japanese language, our 5-7-5ers can become weighty and cumbersome for capturing the aha-essence of the moment. Good haiku captures that eye-blink realization pivot point… that cosmic spiritual flash… and for me it does it with few but exact words. The number of words and the respective syllable count becomes very, very secondary in light of capturing the essence.

 But…….. and this probably makes me sound contradictory, I do use 5-7-5 as my guardrail. In my writing, I shoot for short-long-short line lengths that give a 5-7-5 silhouette and I generally don’t let my lines exceed the syllable counts. So, even with all my anti-5-7-5-as-form bravado, I still cave to tradition in that I do shoot for the poetic pacing found in a short-long-short line form. But, then again…. there’s nothing better than the wordlessness of a minimalist haiku that nails it. To me that’s very cool.



3 thoughts on “The 5-7-5 Gorilla in the Room

  1. YES – you make a very good point. Why do men of a certain age (past it 😉 try to recapture their youth, show how cool their musical tastes (once were) are with embarrassing rock band affiliatory T. shirts!!! I now insist that such t.shirts are strictly ‘bedroom wear’.

    Oh, sorry. that was not your point 😉 I also agree having a few 5 7 5 which’ just were’ and completely work, they were not forced as some 5 7 5 feel. I recently wrote some for a competition and although I quite like them they are not natural and would be better haiku if I wasn’t trying to fit the form required.

    ps I think everyone should wear/ write what you like, just don’t expect young folks/ all haijin, or women in general. to be impressed 😉

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