Formless haiku

by Bob Schwartz

Heart Sutra

If form is empty
Then the haiku syllables
Don’t count

The writers of haiku in English generally followed the Japanese tradition of seventeen syllables, dividing these into three lines of 5-7-5.

But as Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the US, points out, a syllable debate has resulted in a majority of English language writers ignoring the strict form:

Along with the outbreak of haiku in America in the 1950s came the Great Seventeen-Syllable Debate, which continues to simmer in the haiku community to this day….These days, many haiku poets—in fact, the large majority—ignore the syllable count. They stand by the linguistic fact that a “syllable” does not have the same meaning or weight in Japanese as it does in English….The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don’t think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again . . . bursting to pop.

I based the above haiku is on one of the essential texts of Zen, the Heart Sutra. There you find:

Form is emptiness
Emptiness is form

Countless commentaries have been spent on these words. Countless hours of silence have been devoted to these words.

Here and now is a haiku of 5-7-2 syllables that is less of a haiku if you are counting. More or less of a haiku if you are not counting. And of no account if form is emptiness.

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz