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10th Sailing

Sails is a section of troutswirl that is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku. Sails is overseen by Peter Yovu. For an introduction to this section, see Sails.

. . . 10th Sailing . . .

Making the Break

BY Peter Yovu

                                                                        October loneliness
                                                                        two walking sticks

                                                                                 —vincent tripi

                                                                        on the wind somewhere a
                                                                        child, crying

                                                                                 —Martin Shea

                                                                        pond ripples
                                                                        moving the clouds
                                                                        moving the sky

                                                                                 —Gary Hotham

It seems that poets who work in the haiku tradition, or whose short poems are inspired by it, have many choices, more perhaps than standard guidelines would allow. One choice, of course, is to stay within those guidelines, or within guidelines which one has discovered to be fruitful. Haiku plays within limits, does it not? Or is it truer to say, it plays with limits?

What determines the shape a poem takes? This question has been with us a very long time, has been explored, answered, argued, mooted and booted countless ways, primarily between two poles: free verse and formal verse. Perhaps where one lands on this question is as much a matter of disposition as anything else. Haiku is vulnerable to the same considerations, which for me is encouraging: it tells me that it is not a backwater but a stream, a tributary adding volume and force to the braided river it enters.

Among numerous elements, some of them subtle, which give a haiku its shape, the two most obvious are the number (and length) of lines employed, and how those lines are broken. That’s the territory I’d like to sail toward this time.

How do you determine how many lines your haiku will be? Formalists might say three lines are optimal, seventeen syllables, seven of them stressed, that such a structure will be magnetic to poetry, as an orchid is magnetic to its bee. Others might take a less patterned view, allowing the content, a sandpiper’s erratic running for example, to determine the form, including the number of lines. The question is not which is better, but how does this work for you? Does working from an established form give your imagination the support it needs and the freedom to unfold? Does your imagination require that you be open to something unforeseeable? (I am using imagination here to include every way by which experience may be embodied in language).

Line-breaks. How important are they to you? Do you honor them—that is to say, when reading a poem out loud or to yourself, do you pause at the end of each line, giving each line its moment? Do you feel there should be a reason (not necessarily intellectualized) that each line ends where it does?

A lot of questions. A lot of choices. What may be most useful here (and fun) is choosing poems which you feel demonstrate strengths inherent in some of these choices. Can you show us a poem which had to be written with two lines? Three? More? How come? Do you know a poem whose line-breaks amplify its meaning(s) and perhaps surprise us? Or one which you would simply like to present for exploration?

I realize it will be tempting to bring one-line haiku into this discussion, but I’d like to save that for the next Sailing.

I look forward to hearing from you.




This Post Has 80 Comments

  1. Line break caesuras and (if you really must) enjambments are all that are needed when laying out a true haiku. Readers aren’t stupid, let them scan the words without superfluous decorative interruption! If some form of kire-ji punctuation is really necessary (rarely) then use what you would use if you were writing an informal letter to a close friend. When speaking your haiku, speak naturally – don’t show off your acting skills! Again, as in the writing, let the haiku simply and clearly do it’s invocation/evocation job, by speaking simply and clearly and in a pleasant (though not obsequious) manner.

    — jp

  2. “When a poem is recited, we hear the reader’s voice and, quite often, this illuminates that reader’s view of the poem as something quit other than one’s own. Sometimes commitments have to be made in recital over matters that the silent reader would be happy to hold as unresolved” John Stevenson. . .

    John does have a point here. When you are giving either a
    reading or a performance, as the performer, you do not give
    an audience a chance to read the work. Am not sure if “trick”
    a good description, but, the performer pretty much tricks an
    audience into hearing said work the way he/she wants the
    work to be heard. You can use different devices including
    music, but it can be handle just as well by expression within the
    performer/reader’s voice. And, there is always body language.

  3. Dear Adelaide,

    Thank you so much for this beautiful explanation of why this four line haiku works. "waiting
    for a Bengal tiger… " — one more of mine:

    a sacrificial goat
    . . . the Kali temple
    at the rivulet

    Presence # 39

    It is almost like the Kali temple itself 'bleeds' and the rivulet is red with this blood of an inhuman act.
    But as three line haiku, I found the subtle hint was lost. So I changed it to a mid-line caesura: It didn't seem good enough – the sadness I felt when seeing it, wasn't there, somehow. With each line that dropped – my heart seemed to sink with it and I wanted that:

    But as a four line – it seemed to say everything I wanted to say . . . This was from my trip tracing river Ganga from her source at Gangotri in the Himalayas to where she joins the sea at Calcutta. Autumn 08

  4. I just received Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku.

    the two poems below struck me in relation to this Sailing discussion.

    They are each verses that compose part of larger “haiku” sequence:

    (Fannie Lou Hamer)

    feet deep
    in cotton you shifted
    the country’s eyes

    from 9 haiku (for Freedom’s Sisters)


    Did you hear the galvanized steel
    thundering like hunted buffalo?

    (verse 8) from haiku poem: 1 year after 9/11

  5. Alluding to earlier discussion around… The Haiku Anthology. I would have preferred:

    An Haiku Anthology

  6. 😉 …I have to smile twice, clampfish, as I wonder whether you have your tongue firmly in your cheek when you suggest, ‘Montage: A Book’.

    The humour in Allan’s title, ‘Montage: The Book’, lies in that it alludes to the time-honoured ‘Hollywood movie’ promotional style…you know the sort of thing, ‘Pride and Prejudice: The Movie!’.

    Well, I’d imagine that the humour and the nod are deliberate, anyway, since montage is a film technique and I noted the film strip on Ron’s cover of the book. Also of course, in reverse to the film industry’s penchant for making films of popular books, Allan’s ‘Montage’ was first an on-line production and subsequently, ‘Montage: The Book’.

    A witty title. 😉

    Looking forward to my copy, which is most likely wending its way across the Pacific to me right now. (Unless the planes take the long way around, heading out over the Atlantic)

  7. Here’s a 2 liner from Bob Boldman (the first line should be indented about 10 spaces)–

    jan. 1
    the corpse of a crow whitens the snow

    This can be found in Montage The Book,
    a wonderful production renewing my gratitude to Allan Burns. My one quibble is this: shouldn’t it be–

    Montage A Book

  8. FYI: Just got an email from the Poetry Foundation beginning this way:

    “No jokes about April being the cruelest month for us! Yet something else T.S. Eliot famously said resonates for us in the current issue of Poetry: “poetry can communicate before it is understood.” That may be true . . . but most readers want to understand exactly why poems look the way they do on the page, because the choices poets make in a poem can seem bewildering. In our editorial meetings, we find ourselves focusing on particular lines or stanzas in just the same way that—as we can tell from our letters to the editor—you do…”

    Btw, the discussion on line breaks, punctuation, capitaliztion, etc., continues under Viral 6.5, which is annoying to me, because I get a penny per post (a ppp if you must know) but only for what appears under these Sailings, so I’m losing money on the deal.

  9. well, yeah I guess that i am old fashion too Merrill, but
    I probably would have published the poem as:

    on the wind
    a child

  10. Peter I’ll check that out later…this morning vincent called with a haiku that fits right into “making the break”…he recited a haiku that sounded like:

    more acorns

    but if I know vincent, he’d want it written as:

    Acorns, headstones
    more acorns
    than headstones

    Acorns, headstones
    more acorns than

    Now I’m waiting to hear again from him so I can see how he really wants it written out on the page… and I’d be very interested in hearing how people viewing this post would think it should be written. The results of this little study of mine could be very interesting…to me anyway.

    It always helps to go back to the author…but what do we do when the author is not available???

  11. Jim, I’m delighted that you shared your ‘clouds’ ku process with us.

    It’s affirming to all writers that, after all the versions and considerations, you arrived at the final form of the poem with a sense that ‘it looked right’. You found the version which most completely ‘enacts’, not just the literal sense, but the experience of those drifting cloud layers.

    Your quoting of the Stephen Addiss ku is an eye-opener for me: I’m reminded of ‘the magic of thrice’ in incantations and spells.

  12. I appreciate Jim’s post and did not feel that the three lines as he had set it forth should have been written in any other way. I contained no words other than those necessary and in a form that made clear what he was saying.

  13. I guess the longer I write haiku, the more I seem to be drawn to one breath haiku…although I have been accused of being too curt… but I find too many words in haiku diminish the poem somehow. So I’ve been trying to work out a happy middle way. But to me a haiku is an instantaneous impression…the words themselves hold the poetry.

  14. Wow! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your process, Jim. I really appreciate that.

  15. Thanks for remembering my poem and sharing your comments on it, and for asking me to comment on it as well.

    I think it’s probably wise to begin by recalling what Jung wrote: “Being essentially the instrument for his work, he [the artist] is subordinate to it and we have no reason for expecting him to interpret it for us. He has done the best that is in him by giving it form and he must leave interpretation to others and to the future.” So, bearing this proviso in mind, I can share with you some of my thinking in casting my cloud poem as I did, for what it’s worth.

    It will probably not surprise you that I considered the one-line version that Sandra offers, as well as the two-line version where both lines are exactly the same, and even the three-line version that Claire offers, with “cloud” solo on the first line.

    The multiple stops available in the one-liner

    clouds seen through clouds seen through

    work against the sense of this poem, I feel, and the speed so engendered also discourages finding the cumulative layering which Allan suggests is central to its effectiveness.

    The two-liner

    clouds seen through
    clouds seen through

    struck me as very slick, and the less effective for that; also, I found that I wanted more poem in this version, something similar to Stephen Addiss’s

    late summer rain
    late summer rain
    late summer rain

    Without that third line, something feels missing. Besides, I was after a much different effect than Addiss achieves here.

    Claire’s suggestion

    seen through clouds
    seen through

    captures the literal sense of the poem, but also limits the reading to that literal sense. Also, the poem is not so dense looking, again returning to Allan’s sense that the layering of the lines is important to the ultimate feel of the poem.

    I also liked the slight irregularity of the lines at the same time that they appeared quite regular: that is, I liked the fact that each line is two words, and that the whole poem is made up of three pairs of identical words, and yet no two lines are quite the same, either in terms of which words, or in terms of length (including spaces, the lines are 11, 14 and 12 characters long, so they appear ragged, refusing to line up even though they seem to suggest some sort of unity). In musical terms, this arrives at a kind of hemiola, admittedly of a most abstruse sort, but it appeals to me nevertheless.

    Ultimately, all this sort of argument can bolster a decision that is often made quite subconsciously: the poem looks right in the final version, at least to my eyes, and it contains not only a literal meaning but also suggests overtones and elisions. But it didn’t simply arrive at that version: it was worth living with all these other versions as well, to let the “final” version emerge and inform me, the instrument of the work, which was “correct.” I ultimately trusted the version you have come to know, and I have been happy with that decision.

    clouds seen
    through clouds
    seen through

  16. The one-liner is not bad (to me), however, we cannot see the pause(s in that form, indo-european form – whereas Japanese language needs this single line… the little particles between words inside the haiku…

  17. Pauses are important to me. They, not only give rythm, but determine the meaning of a haiku much more clearly than haiku written like an ironed te cupboard. Poetry is something made sensitive by rythm and pauses. This is the difference to prose !

    I meet the girl she
    never mentionned the mist
    lit by briefly by the sun

    I see two clear pauses, after “girl” and after “mist” ; which implies a pivot.. she… mist, and an importance to “she” and “mist” ; both words are deeply related in this form – reading it again,, the pause I feel between girl … and.. she makes me think that the importance of this haiku lies in that GIRL quite clearly — because followed by the article “she”, placed just behind the “direct object”, with the pause in-between.

    Finally, “girl” seems to be the true real pivot.. Or, can we say there are two pivots with an all important word “girl” ???
    GIRL – MIST – sun. A bit as written as

    The verb in the present time insists on the special moment of the meeting and of “briefly lit”.

    I meet
    the… girl
    mist and sun

    whereas the second version appears to me as not being heightened by any word or pauses, even if there is a pause at the end end of the 1st line.

    Jim Kacian’s haiku is to me, perfect, with its three lines, a rythm in all theses “seing through” clouds.

    but, why not,

    seen through clouds
    seen through

    ? Ha !


    massive to ocean
    drifting clouds west pushed back by
    Atlantic trauma

    (Xynthia – 28 februry)

  18. Yes, sorry Chris I muddied the waters by asking about the single line, whereas my real query was about the line endings.

  19. clouds seen
    through clouds
    seen through

    Given that it’s a poem about layers three lines is an ideal way to render it.

  20. clouds seen
    through clouds
    seen through

    – Jim Kacian

    I wonder if Jim has the time to talk a little about he arrived at these line breaks, and why he didn’t see this poem as a single line:

    clouds seen through clouds seen through

    Hope so.

  21. I think no matter where the line break is, most
    haiku poets can pick up on it even if there are
    several ways to read it. However, people unfamiliar
    with haiku often say they do not know how to
    read them.

    Do we construct our haiku for ourselves, our
    peers or a larger audience?

  22. But I really do think there is a place for one line haiku that has moving breaks…the instant of conveying something …. i.e. today I went out to plant a bit of lettuce and parsley and turned to see my forsythia…

    frost killed forsythia still blooming

    At the moment I realized just how extensive the frost kill was I also realized it had been hidden by the extensive blooms…and there was a loveliness of the image I found in the poetry of the moment (not that I necessarily require haiku to be “lovely” by any means. Yet I certainly wasn’t aware of using meter and it wasn’t till I’d gone to write it down that I found I couldn’t break it up into more than one line.

  23. Chris,
    I agree with what you say about the disequilibrium created
    by the line breaks of the original poem being perhaps more dramatic than the sound.

    For me it is not the rhythm that changes from the original to the altered version, but the pitch inflection. I raise my voice more at the end of the first line, on the word “she”, and the two words together “twin she” form an inflection of voice in the original,
    that I do not have in the altered version, which adds a different lilt to the whole poem, especially with the caesura in the second line.

    But as Sandra has pointed out, there are certainly differences
    in the “natural” cadence that we bring to language, and mine
    may be a more personal reading than I realize.

  24. Hmm… While Levertov’s essay, and this discussion, are both quite interesting, I find myself reading the examples aloud with the same rhythm regardless of the lineation. The way John reads “long night” is just how I would naturally read it, and the way I recite Chris Gordon’s poem is exactly the same in both versions:

    I meet the twin she
    never mentioned the mist
    lit briefly by the sun

    I meet the twin
    she never mentioned
    the mist lit briefly by the sun

    What changes dramatically for me isn’t the rhythm but rather what’s conveyed visually through the line break choices. In this poem I feel a strong sense of disequilibrium in the original version, which heightens the content, whereas the revised example lacks any such sense, and feels flat by comparison. It isn’t the kind of effect most haiku would want but it’s used to nice advantage here.

  25. “…comparing these discussions to “essays” on lyrics etc will foreground these differences, I think.” –Tom D.

    Tom, I’d be curious to hear more about what differences you’re referring to.

  26. The beginning of art-
    a rice-planting song
    in the backcountry.

    translated by Robert Hass
    (can’t use his formatting here)

  27. My two cents on this (and thanks to all the contributors for such an interesting discussion) is that haiku containing repeated sounds to create an effect are those that I would describe as being written from the “head”, while those with a clear rhythm are generally a combination of “head” and “heart”, mostly because we all speak with a native cadence.

    Depending on where we’re brought up that cadence will differ between groups of people, not just ethnicity to ethnicity but between areas of settlement too.

    Elizabeth St Jacques addressed this topic in a 1992 essay, writing:

    “Think for a moment about the variety of rhythms that pulsate through each day: wind, breeze, watersound, birdsong, barking dogs, the drone of traffic, bangs, bumps, whistles, whispers, heartbeats, breathing. We are comprised of rhythms, saturated in rhythms, move with rhythm.

    Although we learn to ignore some rhythms, they register in our subconscious simply because they exist, while other rhythms that please the spirit are accepted willingly. Considering that rhythm is an integral part of our reality, isn’t it appropriate that a certain amount be reflected in the haiku we write?”

    She quotes British essayist and critic Walter Pater who once said that “all art constantly applies towards the condition of music” and notes that Cor van den Heuvel, when discussing the growth of the haiku movement in The Haiku Anthology, chose the term “singing songs” to describe haiku.

    The full essay may be found here:

    Tanka are, of course, known as “songs” and there’s no reason why haiku can’t be thought of as song-like either. It’s a nice concept and may open up new directions.

  28. I meet the twin she
    never mentioned the mist
    lit briefly by the sun

    my landlord who doesn’t
    like crows she opens
    the door without knocking

    chris gordon
    ant ant ant ant ant issue ten

    I offer these two poems in consideration of what John and Mark were discussing about the relationship between the written
    poem and the oral recitation of it, as well as in response to
    some of Levertov’s ideas about line. Thank you, Lorin for bringing that into the exchange here.

    I find Levertov’s ideas about how melody ( and not only rhythm) is created through line breaks, and how pitch is affected by the positioning of words at the beginning or the end of a line, to be quite helpful in such a short form as haiku. ( I think alot of us limit ourselves to assonance and consonance in thinking of melody. ) I think chris’s poems above illustrate the power of what Levertov is talking about. The enjambment affects both the melody and subtlety of meaning. Listen how the inflection of your voice changes if you read the first poem above as chris has written it, versus

    I meet the twin
    she never mentioned
    the mist lit briefly by sun

    I also find it interesting how both of the poems above and John’s “long night” poem utilize caesura by relying on the way we are inclined to naturally intonate English grammatical structure. I like that the poets do not see the need to use punctuation to ensure a pause, but allow the cadence of word order commonly used in English sentence structure to create the slight break, and in the case of chris’s poems, play with other possible meanings suggested by the syntax. When I first encountered John’s “long night” poem I read it very similarly to the way he describes reciting it.

    I constantly struggle with how much to try and direct the reader through the written “scoring” (to use Levertov’s term) of a poem. In this regard the one line form offers some very special attributes. Though I personally allow a haiku to take form in any number of lines that might illuminate any given experience, while hoping to create room for the reader to have their own experience. For me, the reader’s interpretation is as valid
    as mine and offers me new ways to understand my own work.

  29. “I instinctively look for the inner rhythm of a poem, any poem. Granted, free verse poetry often does much to try and “score” this inner voice for you. But a musician who does no more than faithfully reproduce the score is missing much of the potential of a piece. ” John

    I’m wholly with you there, John.

    It’s a good exercise to hear one’s draft poems read out by others, though, whether haiku or otherwise.

    Almost as good as having a good editor suggest a rearrangement of line breaks in a haiku, when one is floundering around in one’s haiku beginnings. 😉

    (your suggestion, back then, was a revelation to me)

  30. I’m fascinated by the current haiku culture as expressed in these responses in light of the wider poetic culture. In the haiku culture, appreciation is often based on a comprehension of “choices” made by the poet; haiku culture is formal, in that sense. In her various works, Jane Reichold often has fun enumerating “rules” only to show how they may contradict each other, so it’s just a matter of “choice.” I wonder if this is a reaction to another tradition in which the “haiku” moment, whatever that is, took precedent over the formal choices that lead to the composition as such. On the interpreters side, the contemporary comment is often based on hypotheses: if we say this, then that follows. So is the contemporary model of haiku based on a model of ambiguity for the reader and compositional calculation for the writer. This is no doubt too blunt an assessment, but comparing these discussions to “essays” on lyrics etc will foreground these differences, I think.

  31. Sorry, Lorin, but I’m with the young woman at your local workshop. As someone who has acted Shakespeare extensively, I can tell you that one easy way to lose your audience is to pause at the end of every line. Oh course Shakespeare’s line is very different from a haiku line. But the principle holds. Recite a few dozen haiku with a pause at the end of each line and you will start to see the eyes going blank. I instinctively look for the inner rhythm of a poem, any poem. Granted, free verse poetry often does much to try and “score” this inner voice for you. But a musician who does no more than faithfully reproduce the score is missing much of the potential of a piece. The score is the skeleton, essential but insufficient to make the music live and breathe.

    PS I agree with you on the one-liners. That’s a principle motive for me to put a haiku into one line – the desire to offer multiple readings that line breaks would have eliminated.

  32. “a question I’ve been dealing with for a long time of why editors sometimes don’t “voice” the haiku as I have it written…” Merrill

    It is an interesting question, whether dealing with ‘free verse’ or the many variants of form in ELH.

    In a local workshop, only a few years ago, we were reading each others poems (not haiku) aloud. A young woman remarked that she didn’t like the way I paused slightly at the end of each line. I had noticed that she’d read my poem without any regard for line breaks whatsoever.

    One thing this shows is that with haiku (apart from one-liners, which I agree with Peter are a different matter . . . imo the best one-liners require more than one rendition when read aloud) I tend to read them, aloud or silently, as they are ‘scored’ on the page, with that approximate ‘half a comma’ pause (so nicely described by Levertov) at line breaks.

  33. lorin, I appreciate your info from Denise Levertov…(she had a great influence on my trying to find my voice.) Since I write and think my poems in solitude, and due to a breathing impairment find it not very helpful to speak them, I guess my “breath” line is my inner voice.

    I’m grateful to John for his “long night”…but I have to tell you, I probably would have written it the way he presented it for recitation… which confuses me a bit. Since haiku usually comes to me as an image (in an inner voice) I try to recreate that image as best I can in words…spacing them on the page.
    But this answers a question I’ve been dealing with for a long time of why editors sometimes don’t “voice” the haiku as I have it written…I wonder if they are used to a certain rhythm, a certain form within which to work.

    This discussion is very helpful. I hope we can explore it to its fullest.

  34. I made an assumption in those last few sentences that I should probably clarify. It tripi’s poem were

    October loneliness two walking sticks

    I think most people would read it with the same pause implied by the line break in the form he chose.

  35. I am tempted, despite Peter request, to bring one-liners back into the discussion. A one-liner without punctuation or extra spaces is one way, from my perspective, to allow the reader to come to the rythm through the patterns and sounds in the poem. Tripi’s poem interests me because it would be hard to pause in the midst of saying “October loneliness” or “two walking sticks”. And when I read the poem aloud, it’s hard not to pause between the words loneliness and walking. And yet, I think it works better in two lines, which accentuate the concepts of loneliness and separation.

  36. “When you use an accepted form, one line for example, or three with a cut after the first line (as illustrated in your poem “long night”) do you rely on convention to make the form disappear or at least not get in the way?”

    I suppose that convention helps – that the poem looks unremarkable in some sense and only begins to develop and engage the reader as a result of its unique content.

    I try to appeal to the senses and stimulate intuition on first reading, before I’ve stimulated the rational mind. Not that I consider rational thought inferior but the rational mind (asking who, what, where, when, why, how, etc.), once engaged, tends to drown out further impressions of the senses and to silence intuition.

  37. Thanks John,

    I was smiling warmly and riffing on my associations with breathing and meditation. I hope you didn’t think I was being flippant about your poem, which I enjoy and can relate to through personal experience.

    You answered me, and with your comment about forcing the reader helped me to further understand my question, which is one I ask myself. When you use an accepted form, one line for example, or three with a cut after the first line (as illustrated in your poem “long night”) do you rely on convention to make the form disappear or at least not get in the way?

  38. Hi Mark,

    I prefer the written version for the page and the other version for recital. I don’t like to force a reader (since I don’t like to feel forced myself) to read the written word in a narrowly prescribed way. But, when I am speaking, I’m going to have to pick a way. (Although I’ll sometimes recite the same poem two or three times, with differing inflections.)

    I hope I’m answering your question. Sometimes I miss the point in “typed” dialog and usually I either get it more clearly or can see by your reaction that I’ve strayed when we’re speaking face-to-face.

  39. We all have a rhythm and music to our speaking that seldom can be entirely communicated on the page. For that reason, I enjoy hearing my favorite writers read. When a poem is published it is set in type and time, but I don’t believe it’s no longer a candidate for improvisation by the author or reader.

    John, I imagine you hypnotising your audience with breathing



    and them leading them out into the moonlight.

    Can you share with us why you prefer the published format to your rewrite above? Do you prefer it?

  40. “. . . I have presented one way on the page but will offer differently to listeners.” (not “readers”)

  41. The mention of an inner and outer voice reminds me of something I’ve been wanting to add to this discussion.

    Decisions about how a poem “moves” may differ on the basis of whether the presentation is on the page or in recital. Line breaks, as such, are features of the visual poem – on the page. It seems to me that they do well to express the inner voice.

    The writing I like best (poetry or literary prose) allows me to read it with my own inner voice. I’m less of a fan of writing that attempts to force my reading. A personal preference and not absolute.

    When a poem is recited, we hear the reader’s voice and, quite often, this illuminates that reader’s view of the poem as something quit other than one’s own. Sometimes commitments have to be made in recital over matters that the silent reader would be happy to hold as unresolved.

    The equivalent of line breaks in recital are the nuances of pace that each of us uses fluently and quite effortlessly in daily speech.

    In preparing recitals, I often notice that there are poems that I have presented one way on the page but will offer differently to readers. I wish I had time to give you a really telling example but this is the most recent and, the way my mind works, the one that obscures my views of other examples at the moment:

    long night-
    breathing until breathing
    is just breathing

    is how this poem appears on the page. A crude indication of how I generally recite it might be:

    long night
    until breathing
    is just breathing

  42. Lineation continues to be an issue in contemporary American free-verse poetry. Lineation can even be an issue in metrically-regulated poetry, or syllable-counting poetry.

    Lineation rarely ‘makes’ or ‘breaks’ a poem, although it can be a distraction.

    Lineation often is a reflection of the way the poet ‘thought’ the poem. It’s a way of thinking, one of the ways of organizing the words, a way to find out what word comes next in the act of composition, or what word works best among choices.

    It’s interesting that lineation can be an issue in a form so short as an English-language version of a haiku. If the poem is interesting, if it ‘works’, why woulud anyone get stuck on whether it has one, two, three, four, or even more lines (in those longer cases, usually lines consisting of one word or even less-than-a-word syllables)?

    English-language versions of haiku can blur into ‘concrete’ poetry. If they do, is this a problem?

    I can cite examples by way of illustration of some of the above points, but I’ve gone on too long here already. I will though, if anyone cares to see them.

  43. Lorin:
    I would just point out that interpretation 2 would not require a period, since there is no verb and so there is no sentence involved.
    Let’s just say that the poem stands well in either case, however it is written.
    There are justifications for either preference, I think, and it is for Mr. Shea to decide what bests suits his poem.

  44. ” It seems to me that each poem should elicit its own lineation.” Jack

    …and I’m thoroughly in agreement with this.

  45. Jack, I find your interpretation valid, too. It’s the ambiguity of that pause marked by the comma. How are we to read it?

    On the wind somewhere, a child crying, “Here!”.

    On the wind somewhere, a child. Crying, here.

    (prose rendition of the two interpretations)

    Whilst it’s true, as you say, that in prose the comma would not be needed in 1., it’s also true that in 2. a full stop (period) would be needed after ‘child’.

    Yet, since this is poetry, I think it’s quite possible that the author chose a comma to create an ambiguous pause, allowing both readings, or a meld of the two. Another writer might’ve used ellipses, a dash, a double space or something else to create such a pause.

    Having got out Levertov’s ‘New & Selected’ for Chris before, I ended up rereading the interview, ‘Linebreaks, Stanza-spaces and the Inner Voice’ (1965, before gender-inclusive language) where I found this:

    “Q- ‘When you think of the variable foot, then, you think of beats rather than the spacing of phrases or of breath-based units of expression?

    DL – I’ve never fully gone along with Charles Olsen’s idea of the use of breath. It seems to me that it doesn’t work out in practice.

    Q – Of course, he thinks of this as one of the achievements of the modernist revolution — that Pound and Williams inaugurated the use of breath-spaced lines.

    DL – But I don’t think they are really breath-spaced . . . It’s too easy to take this breath idea to mean literally that a poet’s poems *aught* by some moral law to sound very much like what he sounds like when he’s talking. But I think this is unfair and untrue, because they may in fact express his *inner* voice. . .

    Q -You think, then, that the rhythm of the inner voice controls the poem?

    DL – Absolutely, the rhythm of the inner voice. And I think that the breath idea is taken by a lot of young poets to mean the rhythm of the outer voice. They take that in conjunction with Williams’s insistence upon the American idiom, and they produce poems that are purely documentary.

    Q – What do you mean by the inner voice?

    DL – What it means to me is that a poet, a verbal kind of person, is constantly talking to himself, inside of himself, constantly approximating and evaluating and trying to grasp his experience in words. And the “sound'”, inside his head, of that voice is not necessarily identical with his literal speaking voice, nor is his inner vocabulary identical with that he uses in conversation. At their best sound and words are song, not speech. The written poem is then a record of that inner song. ”

    Goodness… 😉 ‘young poets’ in 1965.!Some of us were indeed young, and some of us were yet to be born by a decade or more.
    Yet we have all inherited the ‘breath’ idea from an even earlier time in the C20, and it has certainly found it’s way into haiku, perhaps without the close examination it deserves.

  46. I wouldn’t even venture a guess as to what vincent had in mind with his “two walking sticks”…but I do like the idea put forth earlier that perhaps someone will come along. That does sound like vincent to me.

  47. I’m old fashioned too…and I’m so glad you pointed it out…so our rules and things do have a good purpose. I was thinking about this haiku last night, and there’s something else about it.
    The haiku starts out with “somewhere”…a vague awareness of a sound somewhere… then the realization it is a child…, and the child is crying… and then the further realization that it is here… and I hear the poet becoming aware of his own sorrow…like a “motherless child”…
    Pretty amazing for three small lines…

  48. Lorin:
    It’s funny that you should mention Charles Olson’s Projective Verse because after rereading Shea’s poem, I went back to Olson and had a look at his principles of breath, line,and composition by field.
    After reading Olson, I was still not satisfied with the way Mr. Shea lineated his poem.
    Before, beginning to discuss this, though, I have to say that much may depend on the interpretation given to Mr. Shea’s poem. For instance, as I understood it, the hearer discerned the sound of a child on the wind, but not that the child was necessarily crying (though he may have been crying), but that in contrast to the sound of the child (perhaps joyful sounds), there was crying where the hearer was situated, perhaps his own.
    If the writer meant that the child was crying, then the comma after crying is unwarranted, and if the child, as you read it was finally heard to be announcing his situation, his presence, then there would have been quotation marks, as in crying “here.”
    The strength of the poem as I read it is its ambiguity: the sound of a child somewhere (like the sounds of distant children on a summer night) and the contrast with crying here (maybe the hearer, maybe someone else crying).
    As to Olson, I simply don’t see how the dangling of the indefinite article at the end of the line articulates the writer’s sensitivity to the syllable as the presence of the breath as the mind’s heart. It seems to me that closely listening to the syllable, the pause comes after somewhere and adding “a” sounds more like the mind’s doubt than its assurance.
    Put differently, the poem is a layering of presences, beginning with the indefiniteness of wind and “somewhere,” then moving to the more substantial,but still indefinite “a” child, to the final solidity of “crying” and “here.”
    Olson said it is from the syllable comes from the breath and together, in close attention to them, comes the line. Of course, Olson said in the enactment of the poem, only the poet listening closely to the syllable/breath could determine the termination/line, so it is not for me to say where Mr. Shea should end the first line.
    However, for my ear, the breath ends at the word “somewhere” and not at “a.” I don’t think the interactive sounds of the verse call for such a dangled article.

  49. Hi Gabi…if the function of the kireji is to indicate a caesura, a gap, which to my understanding it does (in ELH, anyway, when we use a dash, ellipses etc), then it is quite a different thing to the line break, which provides a short pause between lines.

  50. to BREAK or to CUT

    on the wind somewhere a
    child, crying

    Martin Shea

    . . . . .

    This poem makes me feel a difference between the use of a BREAK in English language haiku and
    the use of the device of a CUT (kire) by means of a cutting word (kireji) in traditional Japanese haiku.
    To translate the kireji into English has been attempted by various means, which I usually call “cut markers”, like elipsis, hypen, exclamation mark (click on my name for more ).

    The cutting word is one of the three essential contidions of a tradtional Japanese haiku, according to Inahata Teiko.

    I wonder wheather the break (line break) and
    the cut are seen as identical or are two different devices used in ELH ?

    Greetings from Japan

  51. yes, ‘flow’ … 🙂 at the super-speed, ‘Keystone Cops’ pace of utter panic, (recollected in humour along with the traditional ‘tranquility) Love that visual image of ‘all my hands’.

    Best seen and read, though, as David has it on the page.

  52. Thanks for the Levortov link, Lorin. It looks interesting (and I like some of the poetry I’ve read of hers)

    I posted above before seeing this:

    across all my
    hands a

    which is a good (and somewhat rare) example where the intent of the haiku is flow. And each line still gives us an image or part of an image.

  53. um… forgot

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

    Levertove, Denise 1923 —
    New & Selected Essaya/ Denise Levertov
    p. cm
    ISBN 0-8112-1217-3 (cloth) – ISBN 0-8112-1218-1
    1. Title. II. Title: New & Selected Essays.
    PS3562. E8876N48 1992

    They have probably put out another edition by now, but if not, this edition would be in libraries.

  54. Chris, I don’t think so, but they are republished by the very reasonably priced ‘New Directions Books’ (published for James Laughlin by New Directions Publishing Corporation, 80 Eighth Avenue, New York 10011)

    title: ‘New & Selected Essays’ – Denise Levertov

  55. Hi Adelaide… I agree that much would be lost from Kala’s ku if it were written in three lines, as with David’s (very different) ku.

  56. “I recommend Denise Levertov’s essays on the line break.”

    Lorin, are these available online?

  57. Hi Chris..I didn’t mean to suggest that ‘here’ on the ‘narrative’ level is the *only* interpretation I make. This ku’s resonance 😉 comes from the layers of possible interpretation.

  58. I use the word image a lot whenever I attempt commentary and it’s also how I tend to view individual lines. Looking again at the examples Peter started with, each line holds an image, part of an image, or an idea, and wants the reader to be able to contemplate each of those images on its own. So if that is the intent it’s obviously better to end on a noun, or a verb, rather than a preposition, say, which acts as a run-on into the next line. Conversely, with a lot of free-form poetry, flow is desired intent, and prepositions at the end of lines help create that. Haiku certainly can and do use that method as well, though in the case of the Martin Shea poem I think he is doing something else along the lines that Merrill and Lorin described (though my interpretation of “here” is different from Lorin’s).

    It also occurs to me that one of the most desirable qualities in haiku is surprise, which the third line of a haiku often accommodates quite nicely, and which couldn’t happen as readily or effectively in a two line poem, the Shea poem being of one of a myriad examples we could give.

  59. For the Japanese, the perfectly symmetrical lacks movement and so is “dead.” -Jack G.

    Glad you mentioned that, and I think Japanese art was an example (if not THE example) the prof mentioned.

  60. I found this 4 line haiku published in Gean.

    for a Bengal tiger…
    I sense the power
    of silence
    kala, India, Gean, Issue 1

    The 3 line haiku would not work here.

    waiting for a bengal tiger
    I sense the power
    of silence

    for a bengal tiger
    I sense the power of silence

    No matter how the lines are combined they appear awkward, top heavy or bottom heavy.

    A shorter version

    for a bengal tiger…
    the power of silence

    misses the impression I get that the waiting has just begun. “I sense,” as used here, is an intuitive feeling of what’s to come. “Power” at the end of the line requires a pause and emphasizes the strength of the word and creates a tension. There is power in the tiger, in the night, (my imagination tell me it’s night) power in the silence, power in nature, and in man, who does not have the natural power of the tiger, but who has power in thinking and in objects made by man, guns and ammunition.

    I don’t think this haiku could have been written in any other way.

    For myself, I find that I usually think in 3 lines
    with 2 pauses.

    Of the 3 examples above, I, too, find Martin Shea’s awkward with the hanging article. I instinctively paused after “wind” the 1st reading. Then at a 2nd reading I paused after “somewhere.” If a pause is not intended after the article, why end the line that way?



  61. Peter, yes, line breaks are important to me and yes, when reading a poem aloud or silently to myself, I do pause at the end of each line, by habit. There are other considerations, of course, but when writing haiku in ‘free verse’ style, the choice of line breaks is a crucial one. I recommend Denise Levertov’s essays on the line break.

    Here’s a humorous ku that I like, which won’t type out properly here, but is worth reading in it’s published form, where line breaks and spacing make all the difference:

    across all my
    hands a

    David Serjeant, UK

    ‘Notes From the Gean’, Issue 2, September 2009

    …another case where the ‘dangling article’ works in context of the whole.

  62. Jack, I’m ‘old-fashioned’, too, and granted — the dangling article has often been used by some ‘free verse’ poets for no good reason, and my impression is that they haven’t even understood Charles Olsen’s ‘composition by field’ idea. Yet here:

    on the wind somewhere a
    child, crying

    —Martin Shea

    …I find a good reason for the poet’s choice: it is that ‘what? what is it?’ in the space after the article. So the line break after the article enacts the action, which is all about hearing, the stages of hearing/discerning sound.

    It is windy. On or within the wind blast there is a sound which is not wind, but at first I don’t discern what direction it might be coming from or what it is and my stream of awareness pauses. Then, pricking up my ears, focusing hard, I identify first that it is a child crying. Further, having focused my attention on this one thing within the wind sounds, I can discern that the child isn’t just ‘crying’ in the sense of the sounds of crying/ wailing, but is crying out a word, ‘here’.

    On the ‘narrative’ level of this poem, that is a child who is likely to be found, perhaps by the hearer.

  63. Well, Merrill, the dangling of the “a” certainly creates suspense and the comma after “child” adds conflict, so read in this way it could be said that the ambiguity of the poem finds its realization.
    However, perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t care for separating an article from the subject (as a rule).

  64. The “a” cut off from the “child” give emphasis to the lostness of the child…cut off.

  65. You know, I went back to look at the Shea haiku…the way that “a” just is dangling out there…and I read it both ways…and I have to tell you, there is something to the breath of this poem just the way it is written – an instantaneous pause?
    I don’t like things where the article is cut off from the subject either, but in this case, I rather enjoy the way Shea played with the rules… It gives the haiku a certain rhythm it wouldn’t have had otherwise. Thanks Peter for including a poem like that for us to ponder.

  66. Chris:
    Your comments are invaluable and highly astute. They open up a great expanse for experimental uses of the image in haiku based on compositional terms and tradition. And your analysis of the asymmetrical in haiku is of paramount importance: it is actually the essence of how Japanese understand art. For the Japanese, the perfectly symmetrical lacks movement and so is “dead.”
    I’m reminded by what you say of the paintings of Francis Bacon, his tryptychs, as well as the entire history of painting, photography, etc.that follows from the principle of the rule of odds.

  67. usually I don’t write anything down, for such a short genre. Here is a poem no one bought into:

    shooting star

    To me it is aclear August poem, who knows? I was never a big fan of a two line poem, but that is pretty much all that Martin Cohen writes. The only problem that I have with a one line poem is when it reads as a three line poem.

  68. PS- I once had a design prof who encouraged us to develop an “occult sense of balance” by which he meant getting away from the overly centered and symmetrical. The fact that three-part haiku is usually cut two parts to one rather than symmetrically divided in half has always struck me as one of its compositional strengths.

  69. I find two-line haiku to be far less satisfying than three (except as alternating links in renku and rengay), though Vincent Trippi’s poem is a nice exception with its form following the content. Likewise, four line haiku seem to need some poetic justification, which Gary’s poem has.

    I doubt it is merely a matter of convention but rather that three-part haiku is enduring because it’s so effective. And though more thoughtful reasons could enumerated as to why, it seems to me it could be as simple as the compositional ‘rule of odds’ (as well as the literary equivalent of the ‘rule of thirds’).

  70. I would like to anticipate the discussion of one line haiku. I know there are some who think this is the only legitimate form for haiku. I think this is wrong, from an English language perspective.
    For instance, if a person was writing a modern day Psalm, would they feel compelled to write it from right to left as in the original Hebrew. I doubt it.
    But historically Japanese and Chinese poems are written in one line, sometimes across, sometimes from top to bottom, and even sometimes from bottom to top.
    But, this would not agree with our literary or linguistic history.
    As to the poems included in the 10th Sailing, I think there are some interesting choices made by the individual poets.
    Tripi’s poem is well-balanced and therefore the choice of two lines seems appropriate. It also lacks balance (perhaps intentionally, in that the first line has 6 syllables and the second 4). This arrangment seems to me to stress the loneliness, the subject of the poem by adding weight to it. I also like the possible ambiguity of two walking sticks-either a man carrying two hoping for a companion, or a man walking coming upon two walking sticks (insects) and feeling even more lonely that he/she has no companion.
    As to Shea’s poem, it is rather piercing in the juxtaposition of the sound of a child on the wind and crying here; it is not clear,nor must it be, that the crying is coming from the child or the crying is contrasted with the sound of a child’s voice.
    I do, however,find it a problem that the lineation is as it is: I find it disruptive to separate an article from its noun (“a” from “child”) and I do not feel this separation enhances the contrast or correspondence (whichever it is) between a child’s sound on the wind and crying here.
    As to Hotham’s poem, I think the lineation is perfectly suited to the content. The poem is all about movement and the many lines move in conformity to it. And the assonance of the many “o” sounds adds to the depth with its openness (it’s movement).
    It seems to me that each poem should elicit its own lineation.

  71. I have found that for me, I let my breath determine the breaks, if there are breaks … I’m always stiving for that one breath haiku…and yes, I think haiku does play with the rules. The idea is not the rules, but the poem. Sometimes my breath breaks are not the editor’s breath breaks and this is where I learn an awful lot…

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