The tourist cast his lines while I cut bait.
I told him tales of Innsmouth. The sun beat
back from the sea. He thought he had a bite,
but no. He leaned to look over the boat,
and he was gone, all but one bloody boot.
(for Cthulhu Haiku)
Most people probably don’t care about inserting line feeds (“carriage returns,” for you older folks) into a Twitter post. I mean, the whole post is limited to 140 characters. Why would anyone need a line break?
Well, for poets, line breaks can mean a great deal. And there’s quite a healthy #haiku and #micropoetry crowd on Twitter. Some use “/” to indicate a line break; some use “::”; and I’ve even seen some use “;”.
(For you American punctuation purists, I realize that period should go inside the quotation marks, but think how confusing that would be in this case.)
Wouldn’t it be great if we could make a haiku or lune look like a haiku or lune? Well, I’ve done some Web searching and experimenting, and here’s what I’ve discovered so far:
- In the Twitter interface itself, SHIFT+ENTER (or, on a Mac, SHIFT+RETURN) creates a line break in the text-entry box, as it does pretty much anyplace else on the Web.
mentioning cherry blossoms
this is not haiku
(from Zen Rampage, back cover)
Everyone knows what a haiku is, right? A poem in three lines, with seventeen syllables divided five/seven/five.
That’s the commonly accepted definition of a haiku in English, but to understand how we got there, it’s worth knowing a little bit about haiku in Japanese. You can look up the history yourself: I’d just like to point out a few standard features of a Japanese haiku.
- It has seventeen syllables.
- It has a conceptual break after either the fifth syllable or the twelfth.
- It includes a seasonal word to ground it in nature.
- It is not metaphorical.
The conceptual break explains why English haiku are commonly divided as they are: Five/seven/five includes both possible breaks in thought—depending upon where your poem puts its emphasis. This format also explains why so many English haiku are simply bad: It isn’t enough to divide your lines; each line also needs to be a complete mini thought in it’s own right; and one of those breaks must create an interesting shift in perception if the poem is to have any power.