May 13, 2011

Haiku Fantasy

         Haiku has never been my favorite style of poetry, as evidenced by one of my own flippant contributions to the genre:
   What can you say in
   A poem with only three
   Lines, seventeen syll-
However, I thought we needed a little variety from all the Romantic poets (of whom there will be plenty more to come, too.)  So I've gathered a little bit of haiku on sci fi/ fantasy themes.
        Actually, haiku is a natural fit with fantasy, since an important part of the style is not just the stress count but the pithy turnaround, the twist that invites you to think about something ordinary in a new way.  Often haiku evoke feelings of wonder and mystery.  Some traditional haiku, while not explicitly intended as fantasy, still seem fantastical.

    I called to the wind,
   "Who's there?"… Whoever it was
    still knocks at my gate.
          (Kyorai (1651-1704), translated from the Japanese by Harry Behn)

    That duck, bobbing up
   from the green deeps of a pond,
    has seen something strange…
          (Joso (1662-1704), translated from the Japanese by Harry Behn)

    Deep in a windless
   wood, not one leaf dares to move…
    something is afraid.
          (Buson (1716-1783), translated from the Japanese by Harry Behn)

        I've also discovered that there's a "thing" called SciFaiku.  According to "The SciFaiku Manifesto" of 1995, "SciFaiku is a distinctive and powerful form of expression for science fiction. It packs all the human insight, technology, and vision of the future into a few poignant lines… SciFaiku takes its form from contemporary international haiku. A usual poem is 3 lines and contains about 17 syllables. The topic is science fiction. It strives for a directness of expression and beauty in its simplicity."

    desiccated mind slug                                               removed 2 planets
   clings to a hamster brain                                     for the view
    in a yellow jar                                                          it's okay, we'll plant more
          (Tom Brinck)                                                            (Todd Hoff)

(Apparently the future has no need for punctuation or capital letters.)

        My favorite use of haiku in fantasy, however, comes from the "Tales of Ba Sing Se" episode of the animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender."  In this episode, Sokka (a brash teenager) accidentally stumbles into a classroom of the 5-7-5 Society and engages in an impromptu haiku slam with strict teacher Madame Macmu-Ling.  She says to him meaningfully
    Chittering monkey
   In spring he climbs treetops
    and thinks himself tall.

To which Sokka blithely replies in perfect haiku syllable-count
    You think you're so smart
   with your fancy little words…
    this is not so hard.

Madame Macmu-Ling warns angrily
    There's nuts and there's fruits.
   In fall the clinging plum drops
    always to be…  squashed.

Sokka, getting cocky, retorts
    Squish-squash, sling that slang…
   I'm always right back at ya
    like my boomerang!

The showdown ends, though, when Sokka accidently puts too many syllables in a line and gets thrown out ignominiously by an outraged bouncer.
        Someone pointed out that in this exchange Sokka and Madame Macmu-Ling are wordbenders, and that idea really struck me.  After all, what is poetry, or any kind of writing, but the ability to use the "element" of language to teach, to touch, to attack, to protect, to heal, to entertain… all the ways the benders of "Avatar" have the ability to manipulate their own elements of water, earth, fire, and air.
        So I'm going to keep on practicing my wordbending in the hope that someday I will be a true master.

[Pictures: Mallard Among Lilies, rubber block print by AEGN, 2006.]
[Cricket Songs: Japanese Haiku, translated by Harry Behn, 1964;
More Cricket Songs: Japanese Haiku, translated by Harry Behn, 1971, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.]


Tom said...

posting a comment
must it be in haiku form?
for this - but of course

Anne E.G. Nydam said...


Excellent comment!
But counted syllables
do not a poem make.


Martha Knox said...

I got into Scifaiku about 6 years ago, wrote quite a few, and even submitted some to scifaikuest magazine (alas, no acceptances.) Really enjoyable blogpost - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great post. When I finished reading it I closed the page and said to myself: "That's ku."
Aging Wordsmith

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Martha, that's really cool. I'm glad you're still writing the haiku, even if none of the scifaiku got published!

Aging Wordsmith, thanks for the silliness! :)