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12th Sailing: one-line haiku

Sails is a section is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku.

. . . 12th Sailing . . .

BY Peter Yovu


Can you make just one line dance?

close to someone in the stars white seeps inward

Marlene Mountain

moon almost new we pass through the construction of unseen walls

Chris Gordon

their wings like cellophane remember cellophane

Lorin Ford

In his Montage for the week of May 3, 2009 (and also as Gallery Three in Montage: The Book), Allan Burns writes:

“English-language haiku tend to be written in three lines, corresponding to the metrical division of Japanese haiku, but Japanese haiku are actually usually printed in a single vertical column. By way of analogy with this form, poets such as Matsuo Allard and Marlene Mountain began writing English haiku in a single horizontal line—and thanks to their efforts that form has become established in English as the major alternative to the typical three-liner”.

To get to the heart of things, what does this alternative offer? What can a one-line haiku do that a 2, or 3, or 4 line haiku cannot? For you, does working with (or curiosity about) one-liners come, as Allan suggests, “by way of analogy” with the Japanese form, as a kind of natural extension of it? Do you look outside that tradition, to Western poets like Apollinaire and others, who explored the one-line poem from a different perspective? Or both?

Emily Dickinson, frequently admired on troutswirl, wrote:

I dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Prose—

A one-line haiku might resemble a line of prose, but it does decidedly different things. What are its possibilities? Can we dwell there a while?


For an ongoing discussion about looking beyond Japanese traditions for inspiration and information, please see POSITION 1.

And for more information, especially about the history of one-line haiku, and its possibilities, here are three places worth checking out:

From One-line Poems to One-line Haiku
William J. Higginson

from the mountain/backward by Marlene Mountain

The Way of One by Jim Kacian (inside Roadrunner X:2)

And also, not to be forgotten, four important print sources on translating Japanese haiku (and tanka) into one line, by Hiroaki Sato:

Chapter 6 (“Translating Hokku, Haiku, and Renga”) of One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English (Tokyo and New York: Weatherhill, 1983)

“Lineation of Tanka in English Translation” in Monumenta Nipponica (Summer 1987)

“The Haiku Form Revisited, with a Thought on Alternatives for Kigo” (Haiku Society of America Newsletter, August 1990)

“On Translating Haiku in One Line” in Right under the big sky, I don’t wear a hat (The Haiku and Prose of Hōsai Ozaki), p 21-22 (Stone Bridge Press, 1993)




This Post Has 47 Comments

  1. “In summery; when penning true haiku we don’t need single lines we need the efficacy of three-line structural presentation.” The Haiku Master

    Summery or wintery, springy or autumny, Zenny or Taoisty or animisty or even bad old Fundamentalisty, there have been and perhaps always will be different views on what constitues a ‘true haiku’.

    – Lorin, a haiku student

  2. Single line poetry is an affectation – tweet an email instead.

    Three lines allow for and visually assist the main formative image compounds of a haiku to act as clear sub-themes – the whole being more than the parts.


    These signal,evoke and conjure the vivid diorama, which, in proper haiku, does all the work, as intended, vis-à-vis aesthetics, meaning and shifts of cognition to other disparate or contiguous associations embedded in the personal / transpersonal psyche.

    ‘SHOW not tell.’

    A gross lack of authenticity is bad enough here in the Western haiku world without allowing the appearance of snippets from random books to be an alternative model.

    My firm advice would be to compose quality material, from direct experience, in the original traditional form (converted to Western conventions of layout, of course) and, by striving thus, become increasingly worthy of being read.

    With haiku, as we should all know (but often do not,) the primary spin-off is an enhancement of ‘Zen-vision’. Haiku is the ONLY form of ‘poetry’ that does this as it’s essential criteria – to my knowledge. As vision enhances so to do our haiku become more qualified. Allow them their natural formal justice. The typical reader will, albeit unconsciously, appreciate that.

    In summery; when penning true haiku we don’t need single lines we need the efficacy of three-line structural presentation.

    NOTE: None of this sort of nonsense either – although the form is good enough :

    A quip
    snipped in three, stacked

    — jp

  3. Peter wrote: “For me, what many one line poems seem to do, actually, is *undermine* the sense of the concrete. Perhaps the chief means here is ambiguity, a multiple presentation of meanings. The excitement of it is in the play of control and loss of control—at least on the conscious level.”

    This hits the nail nicely on the head, I think. And because English-language haiku has tended to emphasize the importance of presenting ‘concrete’ images, Peter’s point also explains why one-line haiku tend to seem more experimental than conventional three-liners. Personally, I’m keen on variation from the 3-line template, whether in 1, 2, 4 or more lines, particularly when reading a collection or large number of haiku at a sitting. It allows for more contrast and interplay between poems, as well, of course, as changes of pace. Such poems may also help haiku “survive” in “Western soil” (to recall Hasegawa).

  4. Continuing with Scott’s poem, I think the one line presentation offers a richness– some nuance– that a 2 or 3 line presentation does not. A fairly logical three line version might go:

    almost bare
    touching you

    It may be that much or all of what I and Jack have suggested as layers of meaning can be mined from this version– but I’m not sure. For one thing, if in reading the poem one honors the line breaks, one is directed to pause after each line, if only briefly. This, to me, alters the sense of layering– it places emphasis where the one line version does not. My notion is that every possible meaning comes through at the first reading, some, or maybe most of it below awareness. Going back we may discover meanings, but we are not directed as to how to do this. One line poems, not exclusively, are like dreams in this regard: we don’t know what we have experienced until we wake and talk about them a bit, pull back the layers like those sheets of acetate (?) one on top of another, each depicting a different portion of anatomy. “Oh yes, that was going on too!”

    Every meaning: I’ll push that out beyond what some will feel acceptable and say that, if only for a moment, even the two words “tree almost” will have meaning, which won’t exist in the 3 line version. This “meaning” may be quickly rejected as impossible, or improbable, but is that not how perception works? Not only as directed by language, but prior to that. We may have the momentary, raw perception, for example, that a tree’s branches are rooted in the sky. We may reject it almost as quickly as we perceive it, because we know better, but that does not change the f(act) of perception.

    The danger with this is that one may get lost in language. I suppose it is the poet’s job to do that– up to a point–, but
    not get so lost as to get locked into some closed system of self-reference.

    Scott’s poem works because all the meanings that have been teased out thus far feel true and coexist, as I see it, in ways that go beyond cleverness.

    Years ago Modern Haiku used to publish compressed poems such as Emily Romano’s on a fairly regular basis. I published one myself:


    I always thought if one were to go along with this, it would be necessary to accept every possible word within the compression. So for me, the main event was the word “phantom” sandwiched between “alpha” and “omega”. But then what about the words “alp” and “ant” and “tome” etc.? Are they important? Well, they would have to be. Though I suppose that any system- genetic, cosmic, what have you, is going to develop a share of junk RNA, random quacks and quarks, etc.

    One can get lost in a one line haiku in similar fashion, but the key is, is one being merely clever, as I was, or using language to convey and embody a felt, intuited reality (multi-dimensional) unavailable by other means?

  5. The editor of Haiku Presence, Martin Lucas (whom I’ve quoted earlier) publishes a fair number of one-liners:

    at the edge of the wood again that childhood dread

    Stuart Quine, Presence 21

    my shadow could be anyone

    Owen Bullock, Presence 18 (two spaces after “shadow”)

    a fish leaping ripples the sunset clouds

    Martin Lucas, Presence 15

    This, I feel, could work just as well in a single line, inserting a space where the em dash now sits:

    the snowflakes —
    a single star

    John Barlow, Presence 8

    beyond the snowflakes a single star

    There seems to be nothing tying it to 3 lines.

    My approach to one-liners, of which I’ve written only about half-a-dozen (and none accepted yet for publication), is which form fits the poem best – sometimes it’s one, most likely 3 (I find 2 very unsatisfying) and sometimes it’s more than 3 (only had 1 of those accepted for publication so far).

    If it didn’t sound so “mad”, I’d say that the poem “tells” me what it wants!

  6. A correction (boy, I wish we could edit): fossilence is Nick Virgilo’s poem. I won’t bother with my grammatical mistakes.

  7. To answer Adams question, I don’t know what I can add to the explorations and explanations of the essays above, for instance, and other discussions of the form.

    I appreciated Peter’s commentary on Scott’s “trees.” He also mentioned something about ‘all-at-once’ which reminded me of the “one-line–one-thought” and “speedrush” categories Jim Kacian described in The Way of One. I once described it for myself as an all-in-one quality, where the layers, shifts, bumps, ambiguities or what have you, all happen simultaneously to create a sort of subtle ecstasy. But of course such attempts at explanation make poor substitutes for the experience of it, which either works or doesn’t with individual poems for individual readers.

    I’ll also note that I like the example of Emily Romano’s fossilence, and other one-word compressions I’ve seen (but can’t now locate) which I find highly inventive while also doing what haiku do– give an “inspired presentation of two concrete images” for instance, as well as taking on some of qualities of one-line haiku.

  8. Well, then there’s also a reading that would interpret the poem as the trees are almost bare the narrator is moved by association to want to touch the “you,” who may be accompanying him.
    Or, a couple is walking amongst trees and the you is almost bare, barely clothed and the narrator is drawn to touch him/her.
    But, I don’t see how the format affects this; the nuances would be there just as well in 3 lines.
    I don’t think one-line haiku create more ambiguity than three-line haiku; it is a matter of how well the poem is lineated.

  9. I appreciate Adam’s prompt. (Very different from Eve’s). As presenter of these Sailings, I guess I see my role to some extent as moderator as well, stepping in when things “stall”. But I also feel that anyone can play that role, and appreciate it when it happens.

    For me, what many one line poems seem to do, actually, is *undermine* the sense of the concrete. Perhaps the chief means here is ambiguity, a multiple presentation of meanings. The excitement of it is in the play of control and loss of control—at least on the conscious level. That is, in such a poem meanings may emerge which the writer was unconscious of, didn’t intend, and maybe didn’t want. Two and three line poems can do this as well, of course, but I think the one-liner brings this possibility to the fore, maybe because it messes with the expectation that what we are reading is something akin to a sentence which will follow certain rules. Most sentences don’t have the speed bumps and sudden lane-shifts that a one-line haiku (or derivative) often does. A 2 or 3 line poem often provides them for the reader, and may do so skillfully.

    Perception, I’ll tentatively assert, is all-at-once, multiple, and layered. To make sense of something, I suppose, requires that we do a kind of choosing of what is important, significant, or has meaning. A road has meaning: it takes us where we wish to go. It’s important to know what to expect, and to concentrate on it, and especially important not to text your little poems to your friends as you drive. Concentrate as we may and must, there’s a lot more going on than the road, as anyone who has closed his/her eyes to sleep after a long drive can testify—for me, I can be flooded with a dizzying slide-show of images, not all related to the journey I took—a kind of discharge of the nervous system, I suppose, which for so long was forced to a narrow vision.

    A one line poem can be the road, the car, the passengers, the dead armadillo, the inner fleeting associations and feelings, and the sky. All at once.

    Here’s a quite simple poem by Scott Metz:

    trees almost bare touching you

    A first reading may follow the logic of sentence structure, and fill in the gaps:

    (The) trees (are) almost bare(,) touching you (as you walk by).

    Another sense, harder to translate into sentence-language, might be:

    There is something about the fact that there are only a few leaves remaining on the trees, leaves which must eventually fall, which touches your heart.

    But there is another level, another layer, which is yet harder to translate because it is more felt than thought, but which has something to do with feeling, in one’s very being, almost bare in the presence of things which touch us. There is an all-at-onceness to experiencing the almost bare trees and feeling oneself as almost bare.

    Other layers are likely, but I’ll stop here as I don’t wish to overburden the system. I’ll just add that I don’t think Scott’s poem would be as rich in any other form.

  10. Hi Adam,

    Subscribe to haikaitalk:

    It’s the main posting site for excellent one line haiku, with contributions by Marlene Mountain who’s terrific at the form!

    This discussion site was led for years by Gerald England who had to step down recently, although he’s still involved. It’s now run by the equally friendly and informative Norman Darlington.

    Hope to see you on that site.

    I have no idea why the other site hasn’t garnered more comments. One line and one liner haiku are excellent companions to the more recognised three line haiku.

    all my best,

    With Words

  11. I’m a bit curious as to why, after only 4 days, the latest Quicksilver has garnered 34 posts (and seems to have momentum), while this Sailing, after 19 days, has 35– only one more– and seems to have stalled. I’m glad there is so much discussion on season words– i’m learning, if only my own response to the subject. But why so little response to the subject of one-line haiku? Is it because it is somewhat new, maybe even risky– the territory of the avant garde, as practiced by Metz, Gordon, Mountain and others?

    As always, my lack of consistent access to a computer makes it hard for me to be a consistent contributor to this blog, but I look forward to any thoughts about this. In the meantimes, I’ll think about one-line haiku– study a bit– and hope to come back later. Maybe with thoughts about season words too.

    Thanks, everyone, for the discussions–


  12. Catching up with the interesting discussion of haiku and concrete poems …

    Yes, Chris. I write some “concrete haiku” too! They’re fun. But please don’t follow what I do, but what I say!

    Sandra, thanks for calling attention to David’s Lanoue’s statement, which is certainly true. I did not mean to say that all one-line haiku are concrete, only that the two used as examples both had concrete elements in them.

    Philip, no, I did not mean to say that those two haiku themselves were one giant step away from true haiku. Jim’s, especially, seems to be quite “kosher” in this regard–it always reminded me of Raymond Roseliep’s 1980 classic:

    the space
    between the deer
    and the shot

    though Margaret’s, which to my eye does rely on the formatting for some of its effect, probably is a little bigger step in a questionable direction. What do you all think of this other type of poem along these lines, the compressed poem, such as Nick Virgilo’s


    or Emily Romano’s



    I’d reiterate: a little bit of fun is OK, but I still look at haiku first in terms of the inspired presentation of two concrete images.

  13. I can’t find a haiku that came to mind (they are never were I was sure I first saw them) but there’s a space before the last line:

    first line
    then something


    Which I found pleasantly effective, along with these by Patrick Sweeney and Charles Trumbull

    three caws / to cross / the evening sky (with spaces instead of slashes)


  14. “The fence post example certainly qualifies as concrete poetry,” Chris writes.

    Does it? I wouldn’t have called it a concete poem and this opinion was reinforced after using the link you provide to examples of concrete poetry which are rather more elaborate than simply writing a haiku in a vertical form.

    Margaret’s use of the vertical, I think, quietly supports the words, rather than overtly recreating a picture using typeface.

    Now I’ve found this quote from David Lanoue:

    “The more I read haiku, the more I am conviced that it is an art of step-by-step accumulation, as word builds on word into a single, resonant compound … Presented vertically, the haiku forces the reader to dwell, ever-so-briefly, on each word, each building step in the sequence toward full revelation. In my opinion, there is more of the freshness of the original in this arrangement than one finds in the usual three-line English format.”

    Which ties in pretty much with what I’m groping towards, and expressed much more elegantly! 🙂

  15. Jumping in to answer Dafne’s question. The suggestion is being made that these are examples of “concrete poetry” which is about making pictures out of words (google images link below) as opposed to lineation, 3 lines or otherwise.

    The fence post example certainly qualifies as concrete poetry. Though Jim’s ‘gunshot’ brings it to mind it’s also no different from any one line haiku.

    I’ve done some concrete haiku myself (I’m a graphic designer after all) and I’ve seen pieces I like (e.g. John Stevenson’s jampackedelevatoreverybuttonpushed is quite fun) though I agree that visual cleverness is more often than not at odds with haiku.

  16. Mr. Rowland and Mr. Trumbell,

    With respect and curiosity about your comments above: “While, I agree, it’s easy to go overboard in the sense of depending greatly on visual elements to no profound effect . . .” (Mr. Rowland) and “Visual elements, like wordplay, call attention away from the core of the haiku, for me at least.” (Mr. Trumbell) —

    Could not the three-line haiku be considered a visual element?

  17. Hello Charles, – who wrote: “A little of this is fun, to be sure, but I wouldn’t want to go overboard. Visual elements, like wordplay, call attention away from the core of the haiku, for me at least.”

    While, I agree, it’s easy to go overboard in the sense of depending greatly on visual elements to no profound effect, I think the notion of ‘wordplay’ is too often used as a catch-all term to dismiss haiku that don’t match the “normal definition”.

    If you’ve time, I’d be interested to hear exactly how you think Jim’s

    gunshot the length of the lake

    takes “a giant step away from a normal definition of haiku”; or how it “calls attention away from the core of the haiku” (if you mean that comment to apply, to some extent, to the example of Jim’s “gunshot”).

  18. Responding to Sandra Simpson and Jack Galmitz on August 1, I would point out that both Jim Kacian’s horizontal haiku and Margaret Beverland’s vertical one introduce and even rely upon visual elements: “length,” as stated directly by Jim, and the fence-post-like structure of Margaret’s poem. This is already one giant step away from a normal definition of haiku and veers in the direction of concrete poetry. A little of this is fun, to be sure, but I wouldn’t want to go overboard. Visual elements, like wordplay, call attention away from the core of the haiku, for me at least.

  19. …delighted at your astute reading of ‘shifts happen’, Eve. They do and it does. 😉

  20. Thanks so much for your post, Philip.

    I think there is an essay burgeoning from what you have culled here (hint, hint!).

    Would love to see you delve further into the ideas of metonymy articulated above by Hejinian and their relationship to metaxy, as well as ma and kire. (continuing on with the Positions discussions)

    and what a great way Armantrout frames readability.

    Thanks for these citings.

    …and now back to the one-line form:

    a big smile for this, Lorin,

    explain red-shift why shifts happen see I predicted watch out for Victor

  21. The examples of ‘found’ one-liners that Eve has given also highlight a feature that I don’t think has been mentioned yet: that the one-liner makes us look/listen more carefully for rhythm, rhyme and cadence, precisely because the usual indications – lineation, and usually punctuation – are not there. I particularly enjoy the music (the aphoristic swing) of:

    one year’s weeds made seven years’ seeds an antique

    Thanks also, Eve, for reminding me that it is time I read My Life, rather than dipping in to excerpts in anthologies. Funny the way Williams meets Stein (as in her potatoes in Tender Buttons) in “No ideas but in potatoes.” And then there’s an echo of Stein’s famous “rose is a rose…” in “A pause / a rose / something on paper” (which, incidentally, Cor van den Heuvel mentioned, as appealing, in a piece in frogpond from perhaps 2002).

    Lacking My Life, your message sent me back to Hejinian’s book, The Language of Inquiry, and a passage dated August 30, 1988 in particular:

    ‘When the term *realism* is applied to poetry, it is apt to upset our sense of reality. But it is exactly the strangeness that results from a description of the world given in the terms “there it is, “there it is,” “there it is” that restores realness to things in the world and separates things from ideology. … The ontological and epistemological problem of our knowledge of experience is, to my mind, inseparable from the problem of description.’

    (Here again, Hejinian extends the work of Stein, who brought the problem of description to the fore in her writing.)

    A little earlier in this essay, entitled “Strangeness,” Heijinian suggests:

    ‘If one posits descriptive language and, in a broader sense, poetic language as a language of inquiry, … then I anticipate that the principal trope will be the metonym, what Roman Jakobson calls “association by contiguity.” … Metonymy moves attention from thing to thing; its principle is combination rather than selection. Compared to metaphor, which depends on code, metonym preserves context, foregrounds interrelationship. … While metonymy maintains the intactness and discreteness of particulars, its paratactic perspective gives it multiple vanishing points. (p. 148)

    Sorry to quote at such length, but much of the above seems quite relevant to haiku (most evidently, the last sentence) and to grasping the potential relationship between “language-oriented” poetics and contemporary haiku. The following passage sums up an important point of connection/emphasis:

    ‘The metonym, as I understand it, is a cognitive entity, with immediate ties to the logics of perception. … metonymy conserves perception of the world of objects, conserves their quiddity, their particular precisions …’

    One last quote: Rae Armantrout, speaking of metonymic work by Hejinian and Niedecker:

    “Their poems may not be as easily readable as those of [Sharon] Olds … but clarity need not be equivalent to readability. How readable is the world? There is another kind of clarity that does not have to do with control, but with attention, one in which the sensorium of the world can enter as it presents itself.”

    This is an argument related to the question of “difficulty” that we were discussing earlier, in the Positions section of this blog. That, along with consideration of “another kind,” or other kinds, of “clarity” (which also returns us to Oppen) seems essential towards better understanding and so bridging the gap between the predominant, received version of English-language haiku (as represented, for instance, by the Norton Haiku Anthology, etc., and most of the work published in the major haiku print journals) and the other kinds of haiku appearing most often in the past few years online in Roadrunner (the latter influenced more by avant-garde Japanese haiku and innovative modern and contemporary E-L poetry).

    I haven’t read Lorin’s latest post yet, but have filled more than enough space here, so will call it a day!

  22. Hi Eve… what fun! 🙂 Thank you for ‘mining’ and demonstrating the possibilities.

    Thus encouraged, here’s a poem made of separate lines which I wrote not long after I first heard about haiku and not long before I first attempted to write a haiku. I would edit it *down* quite a lot if I were writing something like it these days. (and I *promise* this will be the last ‘long’ poem I will post here. It was written in 2004, and I did have a painful jaw infection at the time I drafted it)

    No problems with spacing for this one. Each line goes straight across the page and is separated from others by a mark)

    *21 lines with jaw infection*

    wash hair will shower write sonnet saying same for days

    attempt a rave hours days spaces tell them not crow but raven

    don’t want you to come in pain read these I’ll go down the street disguised

    I’m not anywhere you’ve escaped my imagination nowhere also man

    purpose to remain here sleep wake sustain without me will it

    bacteria more resilient than thought antibiotics more codeine questions

    until and trusting one brown dove in the morning world keep it please

    three days the blowfly I can’t see you rise and fright me Emily D.

    he proposes a toast a letter postmarked June ’72 postcard soon

    hybrid they startle these tall men aquilegia nod ti-tree and freesias

    spaces between…soft-shoeing… moodily…the weather unlike haiku

    smoke but try to walk on it anything exhumed wormholes star-corridors

    June and Angus in the hill above the mill here too and the horses hear them

    head-butt and knead frequently my cat applies her wise techniques

    return to earth refer to bird as mine and the cherry branch it roosts on

    explain red-shift why shifts happen see I predicted watch out for Victor

    just an old drunk dances lets down my hair we’re not there and yet

    yes garden Ganesha a relic note that monkey backpack what marriage

    now we internet together get well and kindly I like your gentle

    will pop script in letter box valium too eat three meals and ring if

    o was that love the river breaking bridges watching through windows

    [’21 lines with jaw infection’ copyright © Lorin Ford, October 2004
    First published Blue Dog Vol 5, no 10, December 2006 ]

  23. Lorin,

    How great to see the longer poem.
    Forgive me but I had some fun mining a few more one-liners out
    of “Lamentation at 45º C”:

    where tree-ferns were such wet dreams fade

    one year’s weeds made seven year’s seeds an antique

    despite forecasts there’s the mustard seed parable

    and Philip,

    your post about Ashbery made me think of all the haiku/senryu-like gems sprinkled throughout Lyn Hejinian’s
    “My Life”–not intended as such, but for me quite inspiring.
    The joy of attuning the mind to read for one-liners, especially in a text that reiterates fragments and phrases from one place to another:

    “as if sky plus sun must make leaves” p. 13

    “The refrigerator makes a sound I can’t spell.” p.37

    “We would have been kicked away had we been cats.” p.43

    “Twigs are the many sounds of light.” p.55

    “No ideas but in potatoes.” p.70

    “I laugh as if my pots were clean.” p.78

    “The better things were gathered in a pen.” p.7

    and, If I recall correctly, first appearing as a three line epigram
    (p.7?) and then reoccuring in a single line integrated into the prose later:

    A pause
    a rose
    something on paper.

    (not sure of the punctuation as I’m transcribing from my own scribbled notes.)

  24. Hi Philip,
    Thanks 😉

    I want to say though that the completed ‘long’ poem, as published and given here isn’t ‘the original’ from which the one-liner was taken. That poem went through quite a few drafts! Often I have lines or bits and pieces that find their place in a poem later.

    It’d be truer to say that both the one-liner and the ‘long’ poem in which the one-liner is embedded ( and so works differently in context of) both came from a hodge-podge of notes and ramblings …which I’m fairly sure a lot of us have.

  25. Typo in previous: “least enhances” shd read “at least enhances” (or just “enhances”).

  26. Thanks, Lorin, for showing the original context of your “cellophane” one-liner. It’s interesting to see how the fragment allows for, or least enhances, the reading which (for me) makes it most effective: the “impossible” possibility that “their wings … remember…” The way in which you found a potential haiku within a longer poem is an example of how beneficial it can be (for haiku) to remain open to variety of possibilities in writing: of letting “form follow function” (as Charles put it in this thread a little while ago) then finding what works or seems interesting to present as haiku.

    Good to hear you found my comment on working “within” haiku smilingly provocative! I do not, of course, mean to criticize poets’ choosing (like yourself) to work experimentally “within” haiku, having explored poetry more broadly and perhaps found that haiku is what they do best; or as a way “in” to poetry. (I’m using the word “experiment” here in the sense of seeing what happens under certain conditions or within certain parameters; not to suggest that the experimenter doesn’t know what s/he’s doing!).

  27. “Which may also mean (I would add) that the would-be haiku ends up best as something else.Obviously enough, perhaps, but it is tempting, in specialist venues such as this, to speak as though haiku were a mode of writing to work entirely “within”, rather than one to move into or out from as, with each poem, seems fitting.” – Philip

    hmmm 🙂 provocative, Philip , but interesting.

    I’ll be completely transparent here (as is my wont, come hell or high water, and sometimes both do come). Though I’m now so interested in haiku that I’m concentrating on (what I consider to be) haiku entirely these days, there *is* of course an overlap, since I consider haiku to be poetry. My one-line ku in Peter’s ’12th Sailing’, above, which I submitted to ‘Roadrunner’, also forms part of a ‘long ‘ poem, which is also published (though published later than the ku in Roadrunner). I thought it might ‘stand alone’ as a ku. I was actually deliberately testing the boundaries, trying to learn, attempting to gain an understanding of what might be considered to be ‘gendai haiku’ or that misty border between what is considered to be haiku/almost haiku ‘at the edges’.

    In the interest of transparency, and I hope in relation to Philip’s posts ( and will the …essential… spacings work out?):

    *Lamentation at 45 °C*

    we dreamt wheat-fields compressed within thunderheads
    bruised indigo

    prayer kites aloft on an old promise our rain focused
    hope inbreeding

    resurgent creeks deep as the blood beat along believed
    channels awash

    despite forecasts there’s the mustard seed parable but
    shakti shakti

    where tree-ferns were such wet dreams fade we fail these
    cropless seasons

    in grief for lost bees once one year’s weeds made seven year’s
    seeds an antique

    adage now that clouds have gone and given up on dragonflies
    damselflies wasps

    their wings like cellophane remember cellophane before
    PlakkiRap Kleer

    and these the coral reef the coral trout the coral lipstick
    model famous

    in her day in her day-glo lime bikini against this wide
    blue ache of sky

    i recite the water cycle backward pride in my expert mind
    remember rain

    Lorin Ford (c) first published ‘Going Down Swinging’ #28, 2009

    – written in 2008 *before* we had actually did have days with temperatures of 45 degrees C here in February of 2009, and the bushfires.

  28. Speaking of pushing the boundaries, I wonder whether there’s any one-line haiku longer than these (from John Ashbery’s collection A Wave, 1981; each one-liner coming at the end of a haibun):

    The subtracted sun, all I’m going by here, with the boy, this new maneuver is less than the letter in the wind

    Striped hair, inquisitive gloves, a face, some woman named Ernestine Throckmorton, white opera glasses and more

    Interesting to note that Ashbery’s appropriation of haiku and haibun was inspired by his reading of Hiroaki Sato’s translations of Basho in From the Country of Eight Islands. Interesting also that Ashbery had earlier “approximated the concise form” (John Shoptaw) in ‘The Skaters’ IV, from the collection Rivers and Mountains, 1966. (Shoptaw, in his book on Ashbery’s poetry, describes haiku as “the verse equivalent of macramé in America’s 1960s.”) Here are some haiku-like stanzas (proto-E-L haiku, owing much also to Stevens and Stein?) from “The Skaters”, part IV:

    The wind thrashes the maple seed-pods,
    The whole brilliant mass comes spattering down.

    An earlier litigation: wind hard in the tops
    Of the baggy eucalyptus branches.

    The day was gloves.

    The train is still sitting in the station.
    You only dreamed it was in motion.

    The “second position”
    Comes in the seventeenth year
    Watching the meaningless gyrations of flies above a sill.

    Heads in hands, waterfall of simplicity.
    The delta of living into everything.

  29. Lorin wrote: “My view is that one-line, three-line, two-line (& yes, even four-line) haiku work differently, and that we have the choice of rendering any particular haiku in the form that seems to us (as writers) to suit it best.” Which may also mean (I would add) that the would-be haiku ends up best as something else. Obviously enough, perhaps, but it is tempting, in specialist venues such as this, to speak as though haiku were a mode of writing to work entirely “within”, rather than one to move into or out from as, with each poem, seems fitting. To work exclusively within haiku (at least for poets writing in languages other than Japanese) does seem limiting.

    I remember reading somewhere that a “one-line stanza” seems a contradiction in terms, and the same could be said of a one-line poem – pushing the boundaries of verse and prose. This, I think, is why, as Carmen put it, one-line haiku in English often seem to “have an edge”; and as an approach to exploring the potential of the one-line poem, the one-liner is surely one of the most interesting things that haiku has to offer.

  30. yikes… my glasses are broken & I’m using cheap magnifiers in the meantime. Sorry, it’s

    wind blows a glimpse of ducklings through the reeds

    Janice M. Bostok

  31. My view is that one-line, three-line, two-line (& yes, even four-line) haiku work differently, and that we have the choice of rendering any particular haiku in the form that seems to us (as writers) to suit it best. Blame my early reading (long before I even heard of haiku) on Denise Levertov.

    I think it’s fair enough to say that three-line haiku is the ‘default’ form in ELH and that a haiku that could be rendered just as well or better in three-line form is better presented that way.

    Also (& I know this won’t be popular) that a haiku that the writer considers best presented in 5-7-5 form should be presented *that* way, despite fashion.

    We have alternatives! 🙂 We are not bound. The pauses that can be subtly emphasized by line breaks are as useful as the blurring speed at which one-line haiku is read. It depends on what we hope to convey.

    Janice M. Bostok, the pioneering haiku poet in Australia who understood how Marlene Mountains haiku worked, wrote many one-line haiku, as well as three-line haiku.

    From memory, a favourite one-liner:

    wind blows a glimpse of duckings through the reeds

    – Janice M. Bostok

  32. I’d like to share this quote from a paper given by Martin Lucas (UK) at the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference in Australia last year. His topic was the “poetic spell”.

    “Even greater fluidity, ambiguity and reflectivity are made possible by the single unpunctuated line … The one-liner has great potential for authority, inevitability and ineffability. It heightens both ambiguity and immediacy, and seems more tolerant of effects that are in essence poetic rather than prosaic, without any sacrifice of the haiku ideal of image-based understatement.”

    Two of the one-liners he cited were:

    my sister skating here comes her yellow hat

    – frances angela

    sharpening this night of stars distant dogs

    – Stuart Quine

  33. Yes, Peter, let’s “dwell a while” on one-line haiku.

    Since I began writing haiku in Japan, not America, I have never felt that one-line haiku are something daring because in glossy haiku magazines or journals (in Japan), haiku are often written in one vertical line to save space, whereas haiku written in calligraphy presents three vertical lines.

    In my preparation for my columns in the North American Post and Essences, I have been in touch with Anita Virgil. She told me that Harold Henderson gave a group of the NY haiku poets an assignment to write one-liners in 1971. Here’s Anita’s:

    twilight blue & pale green leaves everywhere scent of watermelons

    I’ve always enjoyed reading marlene mountain’s and jim kacian’s one-line haiku as well as others who often use that style. I wonder if some journal editors only accept a sprinkling of them. As far as the heron’s nest, none are accepted, probably to keep the unity of the text. In EL haiku, it often seems that haiku written in one-line have a bit of an edge.

    Most of those I have written have been rejected by journals. However, Presence has published one:

    faded freight cars the bloated letters of fresh graffiti

    Presence #23

  34. What is interesting about one-line haiku is the way the form better opens up other readings, other tangents. For example in Chris Gordon’s poem:

    moon almost new we pass through the…

    If I were to restack this as a multi-line poem, where do I break the beginning? Is the moon almost new, or are we?

    moon almost new
    we pass through…


    almost new we pass…

    However, while these readings are interesting, I do not like the stumble I make with illogical readings such as in Marlene’s:

    close to someone in the stars white seeps…

    “someone in the stars white seeps…” doesn’t make grammatical sense and kicks me out of the poem. So I am one who really wants a space break between the parts of the poem, which is how I recall many early practitioners of the form did it. I believe I will still be able to get those tangential readings I enjoy, and which it seems to me really are the point of the one-liner, but not at the expense of a first pass normal reading.


  35. “What Peter does not say is that some of us think that English-language haiku is now mature enough to push away from Japanese models, stand on its own, and work out its own guidelines or even rules. Charles Trumbell.”

    Well, I would hope so Mr. President, and I would also like to believe that a haiku is strong/mature enough to carry any theme and/or subject line?

    It’s rare that I personally write a one-line poem, because they
    do tend to screw up my three line poems.

    Today, I do not go looking for haiku, so if a poem happens to
    find me as a three line poem, that’s fine, if the poem finds me
    as a one-line poem, that’s fine too.

    Myself, I do not care for the term “ku,” other than if you are
    coining a term such as Michael Dylan Welch’s “déjà-ku,” and
    I tend to call a one-liner, a one-line poem or a one-line haiku.

  36. Philip:
    It’s interesting to note that James Kirkup, for all the years he was the English language advisor to Ku, was the strongest proponent of three line haiku written in 5-7-5 meter I ever encountered. He wrote a number of essays on the subjects and never deviated from his opinion that this mode was the correct one for ELH.

  37. Seeing one of chris gordon’s at the top of this page reminded me that in a recent issue of ant ant ant ant ant he reworked some previously published one-liners in three lines. e.g.,

    a love letter to
    the butterfly gods with
    strategic misspellings

    the breakfast special
    missing a few letters
    not quite spring

    I tend to prefer these in one line (which may be missing the point of the experiment) and wonder what others think. This could relate to Jack’s earlier point.

  38. An incidental note, considering one-liners outside the tradition of haiku: According to James Kirkup, in his essay “Yannis Ritsos: A Modern Greek Poet with Haiku Feeling”, in 1979 Ritsos “composed his first collection of ‘fragments’ – poems of one line, under the title MONOXOPDA or ‘One String Songs’ which have now been beautifully translated into French by Dominique Grandmont under the title Sur une Corde and published by the small Editions Solin. ….. Many of these short poems are like rapid sketches drawn with a single stroke of a brush, almost in a certain style of oriental calligraphic painting.” Among those Kirkup quotes in his own translation:

    The egg shining in the mother’s hand.

    A mountain, two apples, three soldiers.

    Every second, a tree, a bird, a chimney, a woman.

    Big proletarian moon over the sleeping town.

    Outside the locked house, winds, smoke, chairs.

    Kirkup goes on to say that “this is the type of poem which I started experimenting with in the early 1970s, under the influence of Gyomindo Ikehara’s one-line haiku magazine ‘Shikai'”, and “I have rarely passed a day without getting into shape for the writing of longer poems by practising some one-liners.” He also writes that when he was “Englishing” Ritsos after his “own fashion”, he found many of the one-liners falling into a 5-7-5 “disposition of syllables”. One of which:

    A slim crescent moon.
    The heroes urinating
    at the street corner.

  39. Those two poems are good examples of how single line haiku are effective, Sandra.

  40. Hmm, I see that this message format won’t allow the vertical poem to appear as it should, with all the following lines centred under “the thrush”.

  41. Sometimes the visual component of writing in a single line (across or down) is an active part of the poem.

    I offer examples of a horizontal and a vertical haiku that use their layout to add to the poem:

    gunshot the length of the lake

    – Jim Kacian

    the thrush

    – Margaret Beverland

  42. I find something of the purposeful asymmetry of haiku lost in one line haiku.
    Japanese poems, and their antecedents in China, were written in lines that went from top to bottom, sometimes from bottom to top, sometimes from left to write and sometimes the reverse.
    If I were going to write a modern Psalm, for instance, I wouldn’t try to write it from right to left the way the original Hebrew was written.
    I prefer three line haiku as it conforms to our poetic tradition.
    I’ve read the recommended sites Peter introduces and certainly something can be said for one-line haiku. On the other hand, the imbalance of either one line then two or two lines then one juxtaposed seems to keep the poems moving. Just a preference, I suppose. Some works do well in one line (although I have to say that they seem easily realligned in three lines.

  43. Interesting question and one that I think about a lot.

    What Peter does not say is that some of us think that English-language haiku is now mature enough to push away from Japanese models, stand on its own, and work out its own guidelines or even rules.

    The early practitioners of one-line English haiku, Matsuo-Allard and Marlene Wills/Mountain, DID consciously employ an analogy to the Japanese one-vertical-line arrangement of the text—I seem to recall that these two poets explored this notion in the 1970s in correspondence that I read on Marlene’s Web site (but can’t find now). There was a lot of imitation of all aspects of Japanese classics going on in the early years of American haiku, and it still dogs us and can lead to bland, even cliché haiku.

    The gendai movement in English is hardly less imitative, however. It consciously patterns English-language haiku on Japanese models, modern this time to be sure, in terms of structure, mood, and content. I doubt, as Peter suggests, that haiku poets look to Appolinaire and others (or even our own Ginsberg or Ashbery) when deciding to write one-line haiku.

    I know I don’t. When I write I try to have “form follow function.” Because of the internal rhythm of the material, sometimes one line works best. Period. Nothing to do with Bashô or Kaneko Tôta, much less Hiro Sato or Marlene Mountain.

  44. This is taken from the haiku writing center blog:

    Notes on Scott Metz “certain now” (Modern Haiku, vol 14:2)

    Scott Metz’s single line poem — he prefers the word “ku” — published in the summer issue of Modern Haiku (p 62) is a good example of what can be done by/with a one-liner. Published in a haiku journal, this poem draws on haiku tradition in certain respects– for example, a focus on the impact of the life of non-human nature on human consciousness. As a series of juxtaposed “cuts” or units (often syntactical but also topical) it is extremely efficient and fiercely focused on just this “that.”

    Here it is:

    certain now i am somewhere among the dawn [2 spaces] bird [two spaces] notes

    The English language haiku tradition of three parts is acknowledged by the graphic spaces (I had to indicate these with brackets for this blog); overriding that is the energy of the line itself – a line of words, after all; and these words gather a “certain” momentum that is all to the point.

    What I especially admire is the tension in the unfoldment (I almost wrote funfoldment!) of the syntax: “certain now” is followed by the arch (a nod to e. e. cummings?) lowercase first person (which itself is a misnomer). The lack of certainty in “somewhere” further erodes the first theme.

    The sense of dispersion of the ego takes flight, as it were, in “among the dawn” (Hart Crane?)where the misuse of the noun pushes the reader deeper into the text and finally, with expressive gaps between the nouns in a noun-on-noun phrase, into the full emptiness of “bird notes.”

    In one line Metz recaps the Rimbaud theme “I is another” and the meaning of that paradox is given sensuous significance in the blast of dawn songs from ambient birds.

    So, yes, a bit of ecstasy as fine as any hyper-romantic modern, but sweetly skillful in its proportions, which skill undercuts the egotism of the expansive romantic ego. The flow from “certainty” to the bubble burst of the ego (source of such certainty) is both high wire and high comedy.

    A haiku or what-you-will, Metz’s one-liner is a gift worth circulating!

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