Like me, you’ve seen all those recommendations to read lots of haiku or senryu if you want to write good ones. So, you read them. But do you ‘really’ read them? Or just scamper through….
These little verses are made up of so few words that each one must count. The author chose them carefully. It’s not that common that a haiku just comes out of a head in finished form. Some editing and polishing probably took place. The reader should not have been told what to think – the best haiku leave space for a reader to interpolate meaning; and that meaning is open to interpretations that may not have been the original thought of the author.
Appraising a haiku or senryu is a little like savouring a good wine rather than gulping it down. In most cases, you don’t have to pay, even for the best ones.
First, find some good ones. There are plenty from translations of the Japanese masters. Among many places you can find them, the terebess website, for example, has a wealth of good material: https://terebess.hu/english/haiku/haiku.html. For more modern haiku, the archives of The Haiku Foundation have many publications free to read. Journals such as Heron’s Nest, Cattails (the United Haiku and Tanka Society journal), tsuri-doro, Cold Moon, and many others are published online free to read. Frogpond (Haiku Society of America) and others are by subscription, but make a handful of examples publicly available from each issue.
You’ll also find that some of those journals select a few haiku for some detailed commentary by the experienced editors. These commentaries will help you develop your reader skills. Each week, The Haiku Foundation invites haiku/senryu on a theme. The editor selects a few for instructive commentary. These are free for all to enter and read. There is also a weekly spot for any and all readers to try their hand at explanatory commentary of their own on a selected haiku. Look for reVirals. You can read these commentaries for months past. They will help you tune in to what to look for.
I’m not going to try to list all the features of a haiku to look for, but I will suggest you focus on principles rather than ‘rules.’ Find two or three haiku that you like; and two or three that are acclaimed but you do not (at first) like much. Think about them; meditate upon them, savour them…. You may wish to consider a few questions:
– Is there insight (or merely a clever pun or joke)?
– Is there more than one image or thought? Are there too many?
– Is there clutter, are there unnecessary words?
– Is the author telling the reader what to think; finishing with some aphorism or cliché; spraying lyrical adjectives or adverbs around for colour?
– Has enough space been left for doubt, for wonder, for reader interpretation?
– How do you understand the symbolic associations of words used?
– How does it sound when rolled off the tongue; is the rhythm pleasing? Do the sounds fit the messages in the words?
– Does the whole seem balanced?
Of many examples, a recent one to be commended is Scott Mason’s commentary on an editor’s choice in The Heron’s Nest September 2021: https://www.theheronsnest.com/September2021/editors-choices.html
i wonder if wind
is even necessary
And there are many more such commentaries at The Haiku Foundation re:Virals pages, on https://thehaikufoundation.org/?s=re%3Avirals
You have your wine.