The wonderful world of haiku, tanka and renga

I’m not sure whether we were ever introduced to the world of haiku at school. I don’t think we were as I don’t recall ever feeling like I sounded very wise, and that is an almost guaranteed benefit when writing haiku, according to people who know these things (here’s looking at you, Mum).

I came across haiku as a form of poetry a few months ago as I began to realise that writing spoken word now feels a bit like running a marathon, and sometimes all I have in me is the capacity for short bursts (I would say sprints but let’s be realistic).

So I looked up micropoetry and realised I had no idea what haiku actually was. For a fascinating and extremely readable look at haiku I would recommend An Introduction to Haiku series by Ashley Capes.

As he mentions though it can become very addictive! One of the things I’ve particularly enjoyed about trying to create haiku is the puzzle aspect (in Portuguese the word for a jigsaw puzzle is quebra-cabeça, which literally means ‘breaks (your) head’). It adds to the satisfaction to get across what you hoped to say within the 5, 7, 5 syllable count, although preferably without actually breaking your head.

I find the haiku form particularly helpful as I’ve been feeling more aware that I want to somehow capture moments now – the ones that seem almost everyday at the moment but in a few years may have vanished from my memory – as a haiku can work as a written snapshot. I don’t know if the snapshots I manage to capture will still evoke the memories as vividly as I see them now but I hope they do.

And then I discovered that haiku does not just work on one level of meaning (what poetry does?) but that makes the puzzle significantly more tricky to solve (or perhaps to create).

Open your eyes
and then open your eyes

(to haikuise Terry Pratchett, Wee Free Men)

I had a wonderful time at the Haiku and Tanka Workshop organised by the Stay-at-Home! Fringe Literary Festival and led by NC Tanabe. It was such a bright and refreshing time learning about the forms and seeing all the amazing contributions from other participants in the workshop.

After all the excitement of the discovery of haiku and tanka, it was only natural for me to jump at the chance to take part in a multilingual renga when multilingual haikuist Pheagan posted an open invitation on Twitter. I’m a complete beginner who doesn’t know what renga is and has never written haiku in Portuguese. What could possibly go wrong?

Renga is collaborative (‘a sort of haiku call-and-response poem’ as Pheagan describes it) and in this case, would be switching between poets and languages in tweet form.

Well, it was definitely a challenge, perhaps also because I’m not given to the overly dramatic (although my husband would not agree) and I found it a bit difficult to work out how to follow the initial ku, and the link-and-shift progression of the poem (where two stanzas may be linked but three may not, or as Pheagan helpfully explained to us “I have heard Renga described as taking the path of a butterfly, travelling from flower to flower, but never landing for long…”) adds to the challenge. At the same time it was wonderful to read each poet’s contribution with distinct and beautiful imagery and even more special to see the poem unfold tweet by tweet around the world.

This is the finished renga, which becomes visible as you open the initial tweet and unravel the thread.

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