5 , 7, 5 – or 3, 5, 3 – or even 1
the Japanese haiku poetry form was first imitated in English by the American poet Ezra Pound in 1913; the imagist poets, of which he was one, used the form a lot; they called them hokku
In a station in the metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
and then Amy Lowell
Twenty four hokku on a modern theme
Again the larkspur,
Heavenly blue in my garden.
They, at least, unchanged.
the beat poets, including Jack Kerouac, wrote them; here is one of his –
Snow in my shoe
but you will notice we are already all over the place in terms of those seventeen syllables.
the essence of the Japanese haiku is that one word (a cutting word – kireji) will cut between two images or phrases, colouring or disrupting the relationship between them, Jack Kerouac’s Snow in my shoe does this, or, it can be at the end, forming a full stop. You can argue that Amy Lowell’s “unchanged” is the cutting word.
the number of syllables, 5, 7, 5 is traditional. in japanese that makes a poem which is much more condensed than in English, and a truer feeling of the haiku is given by using 3, 5, 3 in English.
however, in japanese words can be placed wherever convenient for the poem without changing the meaning, which is not so in English.
my feeling is that both 17 and 11 syllables have their charms in the English language, a frame to hang words on, but to be ultra-strict about either can be defeatist.
traditionally also japanese haiku refer to nature, or the season of the year, but now there is a perception that the images juxtaposed must be directly observed everyday objects or occurrences.
finally, thinking up haiku can be a little addictive. these 3, 5, 3 verses have been tapped out on my iphone while walking in Cakes lane in the last few days, reacting to observed plants, birds, weather, happenings.
In the hedge
Clouds piled high
Calling through the sky
Blurring rain shower
Tall bleached skeletons
Flies over my head