Saturday, April 05, 2014

On Writing: brevity

I like to think I have gotten better at writing haiku in the ten plus years that I have been experimenting with the form. I like to think I have improved in general as I have made my way through the years. What constitutes a better person is, perhaps, a subject for another time and/or place. What makes a better haiku, however, is a question that is still up for grabs.

My thinking along these lines has led to at least one word that might be used to describe the most important aspect of good haiku. That word is: brevity.

This is a concept that has come, through my experiments with haiku, to inform all of my literary efforts – fiction, poetry, blog posts…

In short, the idea is to keep it short. As short as possible. Consider the value of each word. Haiku is a short form already, of course, but we can, and must, edit.

I believe brevity, especially in haiku, is power. In saying only what needs to be said, by underlining the essence of any given situation or thing, the writer engages with the reader and empowers him or her to imagine the greater picture (which is, of course, composed of tiny details).

By way of example, I offer the two pieces below, each written April 4, 2014. Now, these are obviously English language haiku. English language haiku is not Japanese haiku. This is a subject that I may have covered previously in this blog, so I will just say that while I do concern myself with syllable and line count, these days it seems brevity is the first rule that I try to apply:

 After the rain,
the sun
shines all the brighter…


 After the rain,
the sun…
I know it will ultimately be a matter of the reader’s personal taste, but I hope the above example proves my point. While I like the cadences and form of the longer piece, I find the third line becomes not only irrelevant but cumbersome in the light of the second and shorter poem.

Two lines. Five words. And, I believe, powerful imagery. Could the second piece be trimmed down further? One might start with deleting the “the”s, but I like them where they are. One might also enquire about the usefulness of punctuation in haiku. I tend to punctuate most of my haiku. So the commas and ellipses stay. For now.

Perhaps as I continue writing I will continue whittling the poems down to their very essence until I have a perfect haiku of only one word.

Or maybe the perfect poem is


Brother Ollie said...

right on - keep 'em tight

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

I love your second. Such brevity requires the reader to supply nuances — but that's what haiku is all about anyway, I believe.

Such a journey, writing haiku!