by Elizabeth St Jacques ©1999, 2001
|Those of us familiar with Western haiku journals,
collections, and anthologies are well aware that a titled haiku is
the exception rather than the rule. During the early years of North American
haiku, however, titled haiku were popular.
It's safe to assume that Harold G. Henderson's "The Bamboo Broom" (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934) - the first significant instructional haiku book in North America that was expanded and revised in 1958 under the title "An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki" (Doubleday & Company, Inc.) was largely responsible for titled haiku. Therein, all haiku not only bear titles, but are rhymed only because it was felt that western poets could more easily identify with and (hopefully) better understand haiku. These beliefs have gone the way of the dinosaurs: successful modern haiku are rhyme-free and in all but the rarest of cases, without titles as well.
In time, Professor Henderson, in collaboration with other North Americans serious in their study of haiku, would develop haiku to better accommodate the English language without burdening haiku with Western embellishments. (Consult "A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America, 1968-1988" published by The Haiku Society of America, 1994) Western haiku continued to evolve so that today, haiku range from 1 to 4 lines with few syllables.
The challenge of haiku is to capture a "now" moment in seventeen or fewer syllables. In only the rarest case is a title necessary simply because a skillful haiku poet can usually work in all necessary images. Allow me to offer my titled haiku as a case in point:
When this appeared in Frogpond, Vol. XII:2, 1989, I was relatively new to haiku. With more experience, this haiku has been revised several times. The final version is as follows:Motorcycle Moment
Perhaps you will agree that this version has all the necessary ingredients?motorcycle ride . . .
For anyone to insist that Western haiku SHOULD have
titles then, is to suggest that Western poets are incapable of fitting
necessary images into seventeen or fewer syllables. Today's active haiku
poets are knowledgeable enough to know such a statement cannot and should
not be taken seriously.
A slightly different version was first published in POETS’ FORUM, Vol 10:4, 1999 under the title “Should Haiku Have Titles?” The above is a revised and expanded version.
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