Jun 272011
 

Sample Sonnets

Apr 152011

SAMPLE SONNETS

by David B. Axelrod

While the sonnet may be the best known example of formal poetry, dating back to at least the 13th Century and, of course, most known for the average literature student from study of Shakespeare, the contemporary poet who attempts the form is advised to “not try to write like Shakespeare.” That is, a contemporary sonnet does not use “fancy” or out-dated words (poetic or archaic diction); does not invert sentence structure to make a rhyme (see “Telling Good Rhyme from Bad”); does not necessarily treat abstract ideas or heightened emotions as the subject matter. Rather, the test of a contemporary sonnet is to follow the form precisely, but make it sound like normal, conversational speech.

As for following the form–precisely–I would say that is the only way to learn. Roll up your sleeves and sweat with the muse. Do not go for easy rhymes, but rather just those rhymes/words that express what you mean. Do not quit until the meter is perfect iambic pentameter. There may be such a thing as “poetic license,” wherewith one feels exempt from the rules–able to break form. (Poetic license is a bit like learning to drive properly, then rolling an occasional stop sign.) But a poet who wishes to learn any form, truly ought to learn and follow the rules completely. Any less than an exact adherance to the rules would be, simply, a cop out! You would not have mastered the form.

That said, below I offer you some of my own attempts.  

 NEAR DEATH

 (a sonnet for Aaron Kramer)

“Do not go gentle?” Dylan missed the mark;

as if we all must think of death as dark.

I think that death’s more gentle than a birth.

I’ve seen a light that glows beyond the earth;

but not a heaven, not Elysian Fields.

One needn’t find salvation; rather, yield

to that same light that little children miss

in nurseries where doting parents kiss

their fears away indulgently.  But why?

Suppose it isn’t fear that makes kids cry

but yearning for the pre-birth light they left.

Then go, good journeyman, gently cleft.

Greet death as quietly as candles burn.

From light you came. To light you shall return.

THE SNOWBIRD’S LAMENT

The promise of an endless summer brought

me here. Daytona Beach, its hard, flat sand,

green surf, an amphitheatre where a band

performs for free each summer weekend. I thought

the warmth of Florida would compensate

for all the ice and snow I had to clear—

an end to winter doldrums and the fear

I’d never leave that endless, frozen state.

I hadn’t calculated how far north

I picked, or how one summer thins the blood

so nights in forties, days just sixty would

need a jacket when I venture forth.

It isn’t freezing. Sure, I’m glad for that.

I wear a bathing suit and woolen hat.

WHAT WE EXPECTED 

If I had said, “Please stay,” if I had said,

“I’ll go with you,” would you have then been pleased

or quickly run away?  Each time in bed,

I said, “I want to care,” you only teased,

as now you sign your letters cryptically,

“X K,” so I am left to guess it means

you send your love.  Or are you scripting me

in lines so hard to read the words are dreams

and I, fool, wanting love, fill in the lines

with longings long held in a breathless creams?

We thought our brief romance beneath Key pines

would never last.  We fooled ourselves it seems.

You say my leaving you has left a space.

For me, you are a love time can’t erase.

 TWO SONNETS IN FEAR OF CANCER 

1. THE ODDS MAKERS 

Awakened simultaneously at one,

we argue who’s to blame, whose cough resounds

percussive, whether health foods help prolong

one’s life; count careful people still struck down.

We quote the facts, make odds and place our bets:

In WW I, one out of four was killed.

Now one if four will die a cancer death.

An hour–no sleep.  The bottle rattles, pills

half gone; we drink a glass of tepid juice.

Our terrors slow their ticking, numbed by drugs

that stop diurnal clocks.  At noon, transfused

with sugared tea, we slump behind our mugs,

ignore the nitrates bursting in our guts,

the table strewn with bacon rinds and butts. 

2. THROUGH SICKNESS

Crises, you never let me comfort you,

would rather sit alone in dark and cry,

as is we hadn’t been together through

ten years of births or watched our close friends die.

To show your rage at life you call the cops,

phone threats of self-annihilation, 9-

1-1.  I wake when the receiver drops.

Dazed, I find you flushed with fear and blind

with tears.  You only asked them for protection–

a guard with gun to keep the cancer out.

“Don’t call again,” I beg.  “The cops will come

and get you.”  Then who would drive me crazy,

shout my fears away, or with her madness, fight

to wear me out enough to sleep at night?

(Two little notes about the second sonnet in fear of cancer. Notice that it breaks a rule at the opening by starting with “Crises.” That is the opposite accent of syllables form an iabic foot–a troche. But I wanted to start with a “cry” so I broke the rule for a reason! Also, I believe I am still the only person to use 9-1-1 correctly as part of a sonnet!)

Among those friends and poets whose sonnets I have admired, I also recommend: Aaron Kramer; Peter Meinke; Dana Gioia; X. J. Kennedy; Lewis Turco. I’m not giving you their links. Sometimes it is more fun to just type in a name and see who and what you discover!

Apr 152011
 

SAMPLE SONNETS

by David B. Axelrod

While the sonnet may be the best known example of formal poetry, dating back to at least the 13th Century and, of course, most known for the average literature student from study of Shakespeare, the contemporary poet who attempts the form is advised to “not try to write like Shakespeare.” That is, a contemporary sonnet does not use “fancy” or out-dated words (poetic or archaic diction); does not invert sentence structure to make a rhyme (see “Telling Good Rhyme from Bad”); does not necessarily treat abstract ideas or heightened emotions as the subject matter. Rather, the test of a contemporary sonnet is to follow the form precisely, but make it sound like normal, conversational speech.

As for following the form–precisely–I would say that is the only way to learn. Roll up your sleeves and sweat with the muse. Do not go for easy rhymes, but rather just those rhymes/words that express what you mean. Do not quit until the meter is perfect iambic pentameter. There may be such a thing as “poetic license,” wherewith one feels exempt from the rules–able to break form. (Poetic license is a bit like learning to drive properly, then rolling an occasional stop sign.) But a poet who wishes to learn any form, truly ought to learn and follow the rules completely. Any less than an exact adherance to the rules would be, simply, a cop out! You would not have mastered the form.

That said, below I offer you some of my own attempts.

 NEAR DEATH

 (a sonnet for Aaron Kramer)

“Do not go gentle?” Dylan missed the mark;

as if we all must think of death as dark.

I think that death’s more gentle than a birth.

I’ve seen a light that glows beyond the earth;

but not a heaven, not Elysian Fields.

One needn’t find salvation; rather, yield

to that same light that little children miss

in nurseries where doting parents kiss

their fears away indulgently.  But why?

Suppose it isn’t fear that makes kids cry

but yearning for the pre-birth light they left.

Then go, good journeyman, gently cleft.

Greet death as quietly as candles burn.

From light you came. To light you shall return.

THE SNOWBIRD’S LAMENT

The promise of an endless summer brought

me here. Daytona Beach, its hard, flat sand,

green surf, an amphitheatre where a band

performs for free each summer weekend. I thought

the warmth of Florida would compensate

for all the ice and snow I had to clear—

an end to winter doldrums and the fear

I’d never leave that endless, frozen state.

I hadn’t calculated how far north

I picked, or how one summer thins the blood

so nights in forties, days just sixty would

need a jacket when I venture forth.

It isn’t freezing. Sure, I’m glad for that.

I wear a bathing suit and woolen hat.

WHAT WE EXPECTED 

If I had said, “Please stay,” if I had said,

“I’ll go with you,” would you have then been pleased

or quickly run away?  Each time in bed,

I said, “I want to care,” you only teased,

as now you sign your letters cryptically,

“X K,” so I am left to guess it means

you send your love.  Or are you scripting me

in lines so hard to read the words are dreams

and I, fool, wanting love, fill in the lines

with longings long held in a breathless creams?

We thought our brief romance beneath Key pines

would never last.  We fooled ourselves it seems.

You say my leaving you has left a space.

For me, you are a love time can’t erase.

 TWO SONNETS IN FEAR OF CANCER 

1. THE ODDS MAKERS 

Awakened simultaneously at one,

we argue who’s to blame, whose cough resounds

percussive, whether health foods help prolong

one’s life; count careful people still struck down.

We quote the facts, make odds and place our bets:

In WW I, one out of four was killed.

Now one if four will die a cancer death.

An hour–no sleep.  The bottle rattles, pills

half gone; we drink a glass of tepid juice.

Our terrors slow their ticking, numbed by drugs

that stop diurnal clocks.  At noon, transfused

with sugared tea, we slump behind our mugs,

ignore the nitrates bursting in our guts,

the table strewn with bacon rinds and butts. 

2. THROUGH SICKNESS

Crises, you never let me comfort you,

would rather sit alone in dark and cry,

as is we hadn’t been together through

ten years of births or watched our close friends die.

To show your rage at life you call the cops,

phone threats of self-annihilation, 9-

1-1.  I wake when the receiver drops.

Dazed, I find you flushed with fear and blind

with tears.  You only asked them for protection–

a guard with gun to keep the cancer out.

“Don’t call again,” I beg.  “The cops will come

and get you.”  Then who would drive me crazy,

shout my fears away, or with her madness, fight

to wear me out enough to sleep at night?

(Two little notes about the second sonnet in fear of cancer. Notice that it breaks a rule at the opening by starting with “Crises.” That is the opposite accent of syllables form an iabic foot–a troche. But I wanted to start with a “cry” so I broke the rule for a reason! Also, I believe I am still the only person to use 9-1-1 correctly as part of a sonnet!)

Among those friends and poets whose sonnets I have admired, I also recommend: Aaron Kramer; Peter Meinke; Dana Gioia; X. J. Kennedy; Lewis Turco. I’m not giving you their links. Sometimes it is more fun to just type in a name and see who and what you discover!

Apr 132011
 

WHAT IS POETRY?

by David B. Axelrod

Years ago, when my daughter was only three, we lived atop a high bluff overlooking Long Island Sound. Summers were spent climbing down a six-flight steel staircase to a beachfront where we could sit or swim for hours.

On a particularly hot July day, my daughter and I set out for a cooling swim with our towels and beach toys, and I, with my poetry notebook. When we got down to the scorching sand, my daughter, smart little kid, immediately wanted to swim, but I, the family poet, insisted that I capture the moment in my notebook first.

I opened to a blank page and contemplated. She waited. I contemplated some more and she continued to wait. After a while, she tugged at my arm and, pointing toward a remarkably blue sky she asked, “Daddy, what is the blue sky made of?”

I reviewed a few facts of science and looked for words a three-year-old could understand but she didn’t wait for my answer. Instead, pointing to one particularly puffy white cloud, she asked, “Daddy, what is the white sky made of?” And then, without hesitating, she said, “Look, the sky is blooming!”

Startled, I watched the white cloud expanding upward into that gorgeous blue sky just like a perfect magnolia opening to full flower. I closed my notebook, sure I couldn’t match the brilliance of her observation and we took the long-awaited swim.

My three-year-old daughter, without having taken a single course in literature, without having studied poetry or even knowing the word “metaphor, ” had written a wonderful poem:

What is the blue sky made of?

What is the white sky made of?

Look, the sky is blooming.

For me, and much of modern American poetry, that is all it takes. A good poem has the capacity to observe something–often a perfectly ordinary thing–in a way that makes it remarkable, makes it new.

The American tradition is often first person, experiential, imagistic. If it doesn’t tell a story, it has the quality of careful observation. If it doesn’t have a touch of dialog in it, it is nonetheless “conversational.” Whatever defines American poetry in our time, what makes a poem a poem is that transformation that makes the subject seem “true” for the reader.

Poetry comes from a variety of traditions, so that it is not clearly any one way of writing or another. Early poetry was as likely an oral history which used rhyme as an aid for the teller’s memory. Or, it was a song done, as likely with a dance, so that the music–sonics, metrics–were as critical as the words themselves. Poems could be prayers intoned by priests or the babbling of fools.

The beauty and, indeed, the challenge of poetry is that even the most formal poem can take some license–poetic license–with the rules.

There is, therefore, no rule for how long a poem should be. One of the shortest published poems of record is by Archibald MacLeish:

O MOON

Clearly, it can be spoken with a great variety of inflections, from a howl to a moan, implying as great a variety of interpretations. Try this to test the cleverness of it: close your eyes after looking at the poem and picture the moon.

Time and time again, students asked to picture the moon after looking at the poem, in the vast majority, picture a full moon. Hence the poet has not only played with sound, as poets often do, but controlled our eye as well!

It should be reassuring to know there is no rule for what a poem must be. Rather, it is a pass-time or a profession that allows the practitioner to observe well. The only challenge is to do it with a slight of hand akin to the stage magician who can, after all, take a simple coin and make it appear and disappear in the most fascinating ways!

Poetry can be the faithful companion of the solitary soul, and as often prove therapeutic for those who need to give voice to their trauma or pain. It can be the word-game of the witty, the slight of hand for the clever, offering a neat verse for any occasion or a literary puzzle for those who just love to parry words.

The best of poetry continues to renew the language, using words in new ways, inventing syntax that others haven’t tried, observing the ordinary in the most extraordinary ways.

David B. Axelrod, Daytona Beach (my new home), Florida

Apr 132011
 

TRY EXPLICATING A SHORT POEM

THE RED WHEELBARROW

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside

the white

chickens.

(http://www.gale.com/free_resources/poets/poems/redwheel.htm)

Try writing a note, literally, for each word or phrase separately and as a line or unit:

“red”

“wheelbarrow”

“red wheelbarrow”

“so much”

“depends”

“so much depends”

“upon”

“a red”

“wheel”

“barrow”

“upon a red wheelbarrow”

[Note that you should consider “wheel” and “barrow” separately first as that is how Williams presents them to you.]

“glazed”

“with rain”

“water”

“glazed with rain water”

“beside”

“the white”

“chickens”

“beside the white chickens”

Write as much you can think of for each word. Allow yourself to write even silly or unexpected thoughts that you have when you read each word and phrase. See how many ways the words can be read.

REVIEW YOUR NOTES AND INTERPRET

Try to provide a paraphrase or summary for the poem. Based on how you read all the words, what is the poem about? What subject matter has been provided? Do you think others will come to the same conclusion? What if someone says the poem is not about something (a wheelbarrow) that is red, but about an enemy sneaking up on us and for that matter, unless we defend ourselves, we are just “chickens?”

Because the poet has chosen to divide what is essentially just one “simple” sentence into a particular set of lines, say how the way the lines are divided has affected your understanding of the poem.

If “plot” is what something is “about” and “theme” is “what it means, ” can you state the theme of the poem? Trust yourself! The poem’s meaning should be directly derived from the words you just studied.

HEY, HEY! DON’T BE AFRAID. THERE IS NO DEEP HIDDEN MEANING AND YOU WON’T BE WRONG if you state your interpretation or theme!

The way we are analyzing, explicating, all we need are the words on the page!

Comment on any other idea you think is important for a reader reading the poem. Comment on whether you liked the poem and why.

Apr 132011
 

TRY YOUR HAND AT EXPLICATION*

by David B. Axelrod

*This method can be applied to any writing you wish to “interpret!”

Let’s start with any one line to get the feel of the discussion! Suppose our poem consisted of a single word:

Red.

How would you “interpret” the poem?

Try closing your eyes to picture “red.” Write what you pictured. Is that what the poem means?

Try writing down as quickly as you can every thing that comes into your mind after you write the word “red” on a piece of paper. Make the list as long as you can. Don’t hold back. Free associate! Which of the things you wrote comes closest to how you read the word/poem “Red?”

Go to the dictionary and look up the word “red.” Copy out the definition. (The Merriam Webster On-line Dictionary lists at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/red lists “114 entries”! Which definition of “red” comes closest to the way you want the word/poem “Red” to be read?)

How does your definition and interpretation of “red” go with the following definition found in the Official (ISC)2 Guide to the CISSP CBK by Harold F. Tipton?

RED: [The] designation applied to information systems, and associated areas, circuits, components, and equipment in which national security information is being processed.”

What if someone said “red” meant “the enemy” as in “better dead than red?”

Clearly, words can have many meanings–an infinite variation of meanings if one considers the individual connotations we each bring to words! But do not despair. Reading a poem is just a matter of thinking about the words, noting what comes to mind, and weaving a “meaning” from what you think.

ARE YOU READY TO TRY EXPLICATING A SHORT POEM? CLICK HERE TO EXPLICATE!

Apr 132011
 

TRY YOUR HAND AT EXPLICATION*

by David B. Axelrod

*This method can be applied to any writing you wish to “interpret!”

Let’s start with any one line to get the feel of the discussion! Suppose our poem consisted of a single word:

Red.

How would you “interpret” the poem?

Try closing your eyes to picture “red.” Write what you pictured. Is that what the poem means?

Try writing down as quickly as you can every thing that comes into your mind after you write the word “red” on a piece of paper. Make the list as long as you can. Don’t hold back. Free associate! Which of the things you wrote comes closest to how you read the word/poem “Red?”

Go to the dictionary and look up the word “red.” Copy out the definition. (The Merriam Webster On-line Dictionary lists at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/red lists “114 entries”! Which definition of “red” comes closest to the way you want the word/poem “Red” to be read?)

How does your definition and interpretation of “red” go with the following definition found in the Official (ISC)2 Guide to the CISSP CBK by Harold F. Tipton?

RED: [The] designation applied to information systems, and associated areas, circuits, components, and equipment in which national security information is being processed.”

What if someone said “red” meant “the enemy” as in “better dead than red?”

Clearly, words can have many meanings–an infinite variation of meanings if one considers the individual connotations we each bring to words! But do not despair. Reading a poem is just a matter of thinking about the words, noting what comes to mind, and weaving a “meaning” from what you think.

ARE YOU READY TO TRY EXPLICATING A SHORT POEM? CLICK HERE TO EXPLICATE!

Apr 132011
 

Hidden Meanings

by Dr. David B. Axelrod

The poet John Ashbury once said “I don’t know what it means when I write it and I don’t care what it means when I am done.” He is regarded as a language poet–and I really don’t like his writing, though I see the craft of his creations. I, myself, measure the success of my own writing by how purely I have communicated what I had in mind when I wrote. That’s why writing workshops are so useful if people engage in them honestly and correctly. You get a range of interpretations so you can see if the words you picked meant what you expected when people read the work.
So, I say, when reading poetry,  first read all the words–only the words that are there on the page in the poem. Then decide what all the words in a row are actually, literally, saying. Don’t bring anything else to the poem except your use of the language. If there is a word, a term, a reference that clearly, you don’t know, then the ideal reader–you–will take a moment to look up that word or detail. If no definition or clarification is forth-coming, then the poet may have “lost out” on that chance to communicate. Your job is to make sense of the words on the page without introducing the author’s life, outside critical sources, historical or any other details that are not actually word-for-word within the poems.
It isn’t what you think it means. It is how well you can read the words themselves to see what the author actually meant. But you aren’t a mind reader, after all. So of course it does come down to you “creating” a meaning from the poem as you read it–from the first time through to as many times through as you may feel the poem warrants for you to decide what the author wishes to communicate to you.

It follows that, if you begin with the notion that the words are not trying to say what the author means, then the way I’ve described reading a poem is irrelevant. If the author doesn’t intend to communicate, then just look at, listen to, read through the words and let them affect you in any way you wish. Ashbury uses words in ways words aren’t often used and even if you don’t understand him (and he doesn’t care) you may like the way it sounds. Lyricists, in fact, often care more for the music–the sound–than meaning. And certainly poets who use experimental language, or just play with words and typography, are there to enjoy.

But I think if you can’t trust a poem to say what it means–directly–then that could explain why so many people have no place for poetry. They don’t like having to figure it out and they like it less that they are made fools of with word games.  We call contracts that work that way fraud.

Apr 132011
 

EXERCISE TO FOCUS YOUR CREATIVE ENERGY

by David B. Axelrod

Find a time and a place where you can spend an uninterrupted period of time. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. Provide yourself with what you will need to write as soon as you feel ready. Those who meditate will find the next step familiar.

Allow yourself to feel yourself sitting; feel gravity holding you, your seat on the surface, hands and feet. You don’t have to work to relax. Sitting quietly, it happens for you. You can feel the sensations more if you close your eyes. Notice that it doesn’t get dark. There is a pleasing light that filters through.

If you listen you can feel more relaxed again, knowing that whatever sounds surround you, for a moment at least you are at rest, relaxed and untroubled. The sounds become a background on which to build. Finally, in this initial exercise, take in a long deep breath and as slowly, let it out. Let your shoulders droop.

Do it again and allow your whole body to relax. As you let the air escape you can imagine allowing any tensions leaving you. Rest in the moment and enjoy the feeling of having cleared yourself of distractions. What is left is your own clearer energy.

The next step toward learning to focus and increase your creative energy is to allow yourself to visualize a place or an event. Do the exercise above again so that you are the more relaxed and let your mind go to a moment that interests you. You could ask yourself “what is my earliest memory.” You could ask”what is my favorite place.”

Don’t feel obligated to stay with one thing. Let your mind wander where it wants. But when you find something that feels right, stay with it, picture it, feel it, remember the details. Build the recollection by asking yourself:

What season do I remember, the time, the temperature, the light, the aroma, if there was a sensation of warmth. Were you inside or out, with others or alone? Were you dressed a certain way, holding or carrying something?

Look more closely at yourself, what age you were, what color and style your hair was, how you carried yourself. The more detail you can muster, the more sensations you engage, the stronger the moment becomes, the stronger the energy.

Let the moment become as real as you can, and when it feels as if you are really there, reach for your pen, turn to the keyboard and write what you see, write what you feel. Let it all out. Write quickly, in any form your writing takes. Allow the energy to flow and enjoy your own creative power.

 

Apr 132011
 

HOW TO TELL GOOD RHYMES FROM BAD RHYMES

There’s nothing wrong with rhyming if you do it well. Our own new director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, is a great proponent of rhyme. Lewis Turco, the author of The Book of Forms and The New Book of Forms, is a wonderful craftsman and strong proponent of both forms and rhyme.

However, there is a way to tell good rhyme for bad. One common test is to ask, when you read your own or another poet’s poem, whether the rhyme is there to help make a point, or whether, instead, the poet is working hard to rhyme than say what he or she means.

If a poem is obsessed with rhyming, if the rhyme is clearly there in the way of saying what the poet means, it can be said to be a bad rhyme. This, of course, assumes that the purpose of the poem is to say something to the reader and that the message comes before the rhyme.

An example would be a poem which clearly breaks from normal syntax for the sake of ending lines with rhymes.

“Why can’t it be/ that everyone can see/ what has happened to me?” consists of three lines which flow normally to say something (if unremarkable) and each line ends in the “e” rhyme. As rhymes go, therefore, it isn’t bad.

“For goodness sake/ for a rhyme to make/ you must give me a break,” on the other hand, is a bad rhyme because it has forced the middle line into an awkward sentence construction to keep the “ake” as a rhyme scheme.

Generally, if your rhyme comes naturally, flows with your normal pattern of thought and syntax, and adds to your meaning, it is a good rhyme. If you find yourself forcing the lines so that they rhyme, you are writing bad rhymes.

As a way to expand your skills, why not, if you rhyme, assign yourself to read and write some poems which don’t rhyme at all. In place of rhyme, most modern poets substitute a large measure of imagery—which also cures another common complaint in poems: “Don’t tell me, show me.”

Of course, if you don’t ever write rhymed poems, you owe it to the tradition of poetry to try some. They say you aren’t a “real man” if you haven’t climbed the Great Wall of China (with apologies for Chinese male chauvinism). Perhaps it can be said that you aren’t a “real poet” until you have rolled up your sleeves and sweated to create a sonnet!

Writing rhymes, or as the prominent poet and anthologist more aptly spells them “rimes, ” is bedrock for poets, who, after all, come from an ancient and honorable oral tradition. And sometimes, as with the wonderfully clever Ogden Nash, it is just fun to fiddle with rhyme.

Apr 132011
 

HAIKU, POETRY AND MEDITATION

by David B. Axelrod

Haiku isn’t just a short poem, it is a way of looking at life. For so brief a form, it has a long and impressive history. If you get into the spirit of the haiku, you have learned a central principle for writing poetry, if not a philosophy which can enrich your life. The haiku–indeed many a poem–can, through it’s careful observation of detail, make the ordinary suddenly extraordinary.

As surely as haiku comes to us from a language and tradition quite distinctive and different from that of English, the definition or rules for writing haiku can vary. Imagine that early haiku was as much graphic art as written art. A haiku might consist of three artfully rendered pictographic Chinese characters. The combination of the three would be enough to create a successful haiku:

Frog

Pond

Splash

For a number of reasons, this page will encourage writers of haiku to begin with a slightly longer version. The rule of haiku here will be:

  1. three lines
  2. arranged by counting syllables, 5, 7, 5
  3. each line an image
  4. the last line the sum of the first two

Add to this, if you would, the notion that your first haikus should draw upon nature for the subject matter. The benefit in describing nature is not just in following the lead of the earliest haiku writers but in more likely finding landscapes, flora, fauna, worthy pictures to paint in words.

Here is a sample haiku by Basho (see link below) which has endured for hundreds years:

That brown leaf I saw

drifting back up toward its branch

was a butterfly.

A good haiku, in its simplicity and brevity, can offer a wonderfully revealing perspective. Indeed, the way haiku works has been likened to the logic of a syllogism and even to the technique of telling  a joke with its set up and punch line. Perhaps one of the best interdisciplinary discussions of the haiku came in Serge Eisenstein’s Film Form and Film Sense. He used haiku to teach techniques for editing films. By placing images side by side in a montage, motion and meaning can be created beyond that in any one of the images. Victor Grauer, in his discussion “Montage, Realism and the Act of Vision, ” explains:

The nature of montage as Eisenstein ultimately viewed it: the shot itself is neutral until it “collides” with another shot, an event that gives rise to an active idea. It is the play of ideas rather than the simple juxtaposition of shots that is the true essence of montage. A picture of a bowl of soup is followed by a picture of a man’s face and the concept “hunger” arises. Through careful selection and relation of shots a series of very specific ideas can be made to arise in this way in the mind of the viewer — as though the shots were words. http://www.worldzone.net/arts/doktorgee/MontageBook/MontageBook-part1.html

Study these three still images, side by side:

When the eye views these three pictures, a story is created, motion takes place in the mind. The images work as a montage. In the same way, the three pictures presented in successive lines of a haiku are able to create a story. Each picture is a separate and distinct view but together something new has been created.

A good haiku has that transforming quality. Each part is of interest, but its sum is extraordinary. A haiku must present the exact words which will render the pictures clearly. There are so few syllables that wasting even one will be a great loss to the poem overall. Then there is the challenge of placing the images in just the right sequence, so that the joy of haiku is in that little “click” at the end. Your reader should give a little gasp! Can you make that happen?

Haiku links:

An essay defining haiku: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku

A link to Haiku links (also good for teachers)!  http://www.gardendigest.com/poetry/haiku4.htm

More about Basho: http://www.big.or.jp/~loupe/links/ehisto/ebasho.shtml