Haiku: The Universe in Seventeen Syllables

The formal requirements of the haiku may be as stringent as an IRS 1040, but a good one is pithy, sometimes revelatory, and, occasionally, just flat-out funny.

Haiku, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, traditionally invoking an aspect of nature or the seasons, though in its contemporary incarnation, subject matter has widened considerably.

I find it fascinating that haiku has managed to worm its way so thoroughly into popular culture. Google the word sometime and you’ll find more websites dedicated to Haiku than you can shake a chopstick at. Some are serious, some are less so. Many of them worth a look.

I’m not sure why the haiku has lodged in the public consciousness when most other forms have gone the way of the quill pen. All I know is that a lot of people who couldn’t tell a sonnet from sunbonnet can rattle off the requirements of a haiku like it’s their social security number. Perhaps it has something to do with that rigid structure -- that unvarying form. Let’s face it, the average joe or jolene sees the world of poetry as esoteric, elitist, and chockfull of formless, self-engrossed bleating. by people they'd rather not talk to. I think the idea of a simple, short poem whose form is unchanging and unchangeable is key to its popularity. In short, it is exactly the hard and fast rules of the haiku that give us the freedom to puzzle, invent and play with language.

Below are just a few of the titles from Harris County Public Library’s collection. Find more haiku books for every age and almost any taste here, or dip a toe in one of the books below!

The Japanese Haiku

The Haiku Anthology

The Haiku Handbook

If Not for the Cat

Baseball Haiku