SNEAKY MODERN HAIKU.

Your eighth-grade English teacher.

Intellectual fashions are often enforced with a Stalinist zeal; and, just as in the days of Stalin, they are usually enforced by the very people least qualified to understand any intellectual pursuit. And just as in the days of Stalin, the intellectuals can make use of those low qualifications to their own advantage.

For example, it is a fact that many teachers in public schools will assign haiku as an exercise in some class (perhaps auto mechanics), and then rigidly enforce the new orthodoxy that English haiku must be formless, insisting that it cannot be written in the traditional 5-7-5 formula, or grades will suffer, detention will be assigned, and parents will be notified that little Albertus is a very bad boy.

Now, for most of the class, this simply makes the assignment easier. You don’t have to put any effort into counting syllables, which is a kind of math, and math is work. But what of the two or three natural poets in the class? A poet craves the challenge of form; form is what makes the poetic imagination soar. You might as well tell a bird that he can fly without those ridiculous wing contraptions as tell a poet she can sing without form.

Now, Dr. Boli loves to be of service to his young readers who are groaning under the oppression of the educational-industrial complex, so here is where we bring in the suggestion Dr. Boli made a few days ago: we invent our own form. For example, you decide, arbitrarily, that you will make a modern haiku in a 5-3-1 pattern. You have the challenge of a form, but you need never tell your teacher that you actually set a form for yourself. (In fact, you would not dare tell her, because you have heard that the reeducation camps in Siberia are very cold.) So you turn in your poem and win appropriate praise:

Form in poetry?
What a crock!
Pthhhhht.

After all, you read that essay that explained why Japanese haiku usually expresses shorter thoughts than English 5-7-5 haiku. You are simply trying to get into the Japanese spirit of things with shorter lines. You could probably get away with several more poems in the same meter before your teacher started to notice something was up:

Dead bird in the street
makes me feel
sad.

Scent of gasoline
gets in my
nose.

Dandelion seed:
here now, then
gone.

But you would be even safer if you added more forms. For example, you could reverse the form you just made up and make a 1-3-5 haiku:

Bark!
The trash cans
bang and wake my dog.

Sun
pours in and
makes me want to dust.

Or you could make a 4-4-4 haiku:

I sometimes think
I can say more
in fewer words.

Come up with two or three forms, mix them up, and your chance of being sent to the principal’s office for egregious formalism is practically nil.