On Haiku

Haiku, 17 syllables, 5–7–5. Simple.


Not quite. A haiku isn’t just a syllabic form. There are style and meter requirements as well, and as with translating the poems from Japanese to English, translating the form has its own issues, and there are nuances lost.

So what pieces are needed to make a haiku? There are 17 syllables[1], in a 5–7–5 pattern. The theme of the poem is an observation of nature, with no commentary. There is a seasonal word, and a pause.

The seasonal word is to designate time, but doesn’t have to be ‘spring’ or ‘winter.’ It can be something like ‘snow’ or ‘pumpkins.’ Known as kigo, these words invoke a season.

The pause is a slight shift in the lines. It is usually something like:

5-(pause)–7–5 or 5–7-(pause)–5

The pause is not as dramatic as a stanza break, but rather a slight separation from one line to the other two.

Here, a poem by Master Basho[2]. In this we have all the things above: the seasonal word, frogs for the spring; the concise observation; and the pause between the second and third line:

Old pond
frogs jumped in
sound of water

Now, in modern poets, the seasonal word has become optional; however, the comparison, and the change are still fundamental to the form. As is the length.

So you probably didn’t write a Haiku

That’s cool. First off, you still wrote something, so, that’s awesome. Let me suggest what it might be. You see, there is another 17 syllable form called the senryu.

The senryu is more of a slice of life type of art piece than a haiku is. It is witty, humorous, and is often satirical or sarcastic as well.

Sound more like something you’ve written?

I want to read more!

Don’t we all? Here are some books I’ve been reading.

The best one I suggest is this one:

  • Japanese Haiku; Its Essential Nature and History by Kenneth Yasuda

It contains a breakdown of the haiku, a lineage history through Japanese poetry, AND some great haiku. If you get one book on this list, make it this one.

  • Far Beyond The Field, Makoto Ueda
  • Basho and his Interpreters, Makoto Ueda
  • The Classic Tradition of Haiku, Faubion Bowers

And one on senryu

  • Light Verse from the Floating World, Makoto Ueda

(ok ok, I totally bought almost all of Ueda’s books. I got the one on modern tanka as well, which will be a different post…)

Online Resources

Here are some more resources on haiku:


Poetry Foundation


  1. Another translation issue, as in Japanese they are not syllables, per se. For this reason, there was significant discussion early on as to whether the form should be shorter in English.  ↩
  2. Translation, Hearn.  ↩

On Open Submission

There had been a discussion about editors and invite-only anthologies and about whether they were “real” editors.

First off, that’s a little silly; of course they are real editors. The question seemed to relate workload with professionalism, which is not a good way to think about it.

But the discussion evoked thoughts in me about ‘invite’ v ‘open call.’

I’ve done both—and do both for LampLight, and while there is an energy to the invite, I feel the strength and future of the genre lies in the open call.

Most of the people who have been published in LampLight, I didn’t know who they were before they submitted. I wouldn’t have been able to find their stories any other way.

The issue with invite only is that you are pulling from a known pool. “Only publish your friends…” was the criticism, and while that is not the case—it is the case. The bubble you live in as an editor only reaches so far. Your reach, your knowledge, is limited.

Now this is not saying “Nepotism!” or questioning the quality of these anthologies. But I would challenge those editors to make sure their reach, their invite, stretches further with each go.

The future is in the open invite. Literally. The future of the genre, of writing itself, is out there, unknown, sending stories, trying to get a break, wanting to be read, to be seen.

On Automation

I’ve seen discussion on automation come up, usually in discussions about raising minimum wage for fast food workers. It goes something like this:

“Well, if they raise the minimum wage, then the person will just get replaced with a kiosk.”

A thought which shows a lack of vision in what I see as the actual problem.

I was reading about robots in fast food restaurants, and the comment, which was a few years ago, was that the machines that could assemble your food were going for $40,000 a piece.

Ok, math time. Let’s assume a restaurant is open from 5 AM to 11 PM, which is 18 hours. Open every day of the year. So, 365 days, 18 hours per day, $7.25 per hour minimum wage is: $47,700.

Meaning that we, humans, are already more expensive than that machine. It would take less than a year to pay off.

But that isn’t the real problem. The problem isn’t “they will replace low paid workers with robots” the problem is “they will replace us all.”

When I talk about automation, here is what I mean. The guy who owns the fast food company will hit a button.

“Siri, we need three new stores in Ohio.”

“Yes sir,” Siri replies.

Siri (or whatever the digital assistant is at this time) then searches the areas for where there is land for sale, and cross checks that with any historical trends they have. Finds three plots that will be suitable.

She then tells the A.I. lawyers to draw up the purchasing paperwork. Once the land is purchased, those same A.I. lawyers then submit the planning and zoning paperwork.

The A.I. architects tailor the current designs for the spots, and send the build list back to Siri who purchases all of the necessary raw materials.

Those materials are shipped via driverless truck to location, where robotic construction crews are already waiting. Those crews work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the store is finished.

Then driverless trucks deliver the internal robots: they make the food, they clean the store, the load and unload shipments.

From there, the store opens, driverless trucks deliver the food, robots process orders and make the food. Hell if you want, their own driverless cars and drones can deliver the food to whoever ordered it.

Oh, and all those robots? Built by robots. We already do that now.

Not a human needed.

The impact alone, economically, of driverless trucks will be immense. Truck driving is one of the last areas where a high school graduate can sustain a middle class life.

Think your job is safe? I doubt it.

Here is another one. You decide you want to watch a movie.

“Siri, I’d like a space western type movie, light comedy, anime style, no make that photo-realistic.”

“Alright, I will let you know when it is ready.”

From there, an A.I. writes the movie script, animates it, renders the movie, and sends it too you.

“I included the novelization for your as well.” Siri proudly says.

When we talk automation, we are talking about taking the human worker out of the equation at nearly every level. Doctors, lawyers, pilots, drivers, builders, even artists, all replaced.

What do we do when there isn’t enough work for everyone? When we can’t afford to buy goods made by human hands because we aren’t paid well enough to support each other?

So when we talk automation, the problem isn’t the kiosk, it never was. The problem is what do we hold valuable–humanity or profits?