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Campaign against joke Haiku

Continuing in "Heh, interesting", quick-link-and-blockquote mode until I'm feeling my cantankerous, nuance-free self again...

In a post from 2003, the wonderful Dsquared writes:

In English, the answer to the question "can you compose a haiku?" is basically the answer to the question "can you count?"....

And yet there are still people in the world who believe themselves to be showing off their intelligence and even, ye Gods, sensitivity, by attempting to "compose" haiku extempore. I've seen it happen in real life as well as on the internet (obviously)and in Simpsons episodes about precocious kids. It's horrendous. The fact is that, unless you have decided to adopt some restriction of English metre or rhyme, the haiku is free verse, end of story. The intellectual effort needed to fit the seventeen syllables is equivalent to solving crossword puzzles in one dimension. It's much less intellectually challenging a form than the limerick, for example; damn few people can write a good one of those.

How the hell did the haiku get so popular? I can only blame English teachers. Nobody, apart from a few freaks, Orientalists and other statistical anomalies, would have bothered with trying to import this form into English otherwise. Obviously, as with so many abstruse and foreign forms, Ezra Pound has to cop some of the blame for introducing the English speaking world to the bloody thing in the first place, but I find it rather difficult to believe that a single one of these 456 people has ever heard of him...


If you're thinking of writing a haiku, don't do it.

His commenters then take the opportunity to torment him more, and one of them points him to an actual campaign against joke haiku:


"Never" might be an exaggeration, but the vast majority of joke haiku posted to the Internet just aren't funny. Short enough to take the form of a simple sentence, the typical joke haiku is just that: a brief observational sentence about some random aspect of life. When shorn of its haiku form, its true banality emerges.

Consider the example I posted above:

Milk after five months
in my refrigerator
tastes just horrible.

This poem is easily the equal of any number of joke haiku posted or e-mailed anywhere on the Internet. Yet look at what happens when I remove the line breaks:

Milk after five months in my refrigerator tastes just horrible.

What once might have elicited satisfied chuckles from joke haiku aficionados becomes an excruciatingly average observation that illuminates nothing other than the author's slovenly approach to foodstuff maintenance. Of course, you don't have to take my word for it; try it on any joke haiku you encounter and see if it retains even a fraction of its whimsy.

I've been guilty of joke haiku in the past, even going as far as to slip some into a White House in Orbit strip and the long Fight Cast or Evade guest comic I did last year. I'll try to mend my ways now, though.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 19, 2004 3:40 PM.

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