Dear Haiku Maven, I notice that increasingly one-line haiku poems are appearing in the journals. Modern Haiku had about a quarter of the poems in the one-line format in the last issue, whereas a decade ago Modern Haiku published almost no poems in this format. Even The Heron’s Nest has started publishing a few one-line poems. What is going on? Is this a fashion, a fad, an easier way to get published? And can I simply delete my line breaks and call my haiku “one-liners”?
Signed, Out On a Limbo
Dear Limbo, You are correct that one-line haiku, also known as monoku or monostitch are in vogue. In recent years, more and more contest prizes have been awarded to one-line haiku. There is even an anthology of one-line haiku in the works. Sometimes this type of haiku is a one-hit wonder by poets who most often write in three lines. These poets like to experiment with a form just because it is there. For them, one-line haiku is a bit like Mount Everest. It has to be climbed just once. So in that sense, yes, one-line haiku is a fad. But for other haiku poets, one-line haiku is their preferred form, and they consistently produce successful monoku. It is not difficult to spot when the form does not work. This can happen for any number of reasons, but often is the result of a haiku poet’s unnatural attempt to turn three lines into one, hoping that the form will prove “an easier way to get published.” A tell-tale sign of a former three line haiku, now monoku, is too many images. The secret of one-line haiku is that it is very difficult to write a good one. In effective one-line haiku the meaning is not obvious; it requires a deeper reading. And although monoku may be enjoying some popularity, Haiku Maven hesitates to label this upsurge the current fashion. One-line haiku have been with us since the last century in English-language haiku and for many centuries in Japanese haiku, which traditionally is written in one vertical line. If you would like to start your own fashion, try your hand at two-line haiku. The rarity of this form would guarantee that your haiku, if well-written, would stand out on the printed page.
The Haiku Maven posts each Friday to The Haiku Foundation blog. Haiku Maven offers advice about awkward situations involving haiku poets. The word maven comes from the Yiddish meyvn, meaning “one who understands.” Please use our Contact page to send a question. Haiku Maven will select a pseudonym for you based on your question. Click this link to see the Haiku Maven archive. Feel free to leave comments.