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The Advent of the American Haiku

It’s pretty hard to turn around on the web today without running around, stepping over, or bumping into a haiku. These short, three line poems are quickly becoming ubiquitous, and one of the internet’s favorite forms of poetic expression. I know I’ve commented before on this subject, but I think it’s worth taking a closer look.

Haiku, as you may know, are short Japanese poems, originally and more correctly known as hokku. They traditionally feature a single image, glorifying nature or using the natural world as a metaphor in some way. They are meditative and to-the-point. The writing of Japanese haiku is as careful and methodical an artform as the practice of bonsai. As Wikipedia is eager to tell us, the English-language form of the haiku is much less defined than its Asian predecessor, ranging anywhere from 10-14 syllables. A set number of syllables per line is encouraged but not required. The haiku is a very accessible foreign form of poetry, and as such has gotten wide play in America and other countries with a strong emphasis on cultural diversity in the last several decades. I, like many others, was first introduced to them in elementary school.

The internet, however, has redefined haiku, just as it’s redefined newspapers, phone calls, and pizza delivery. Somewhere along the way, internet poets, amateur and professional alike, have taken haiku and morphed into something new: something that’s both uniquely American and tech-savvy. Because they are short and relatively easy to produce, haiku are now the poem of choice to express the every day, from random spurts of thought on Twitter to hilarious and creative error messages. The contemplative and naturalistic nature of haiku has been replaced by the technological, the delightfully mundane, and the American sense that a poem can be anything it wants to be.

What we see now each day online is the beginning of a new era of popularity for haiku, both in reading and writing. This ancient form of poetic expression is having a renaissance right before our very eyes. Enjoy it while it lasts!

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