Tag Archives: haiku

What Is a Poem?

Before the crash I wrote poetry fairly often, and even got an award for one I wrote in middle school, but after the crash I suddenly stopped. The soul exception was the free verse I wrote after Columbine. That poem is notable for two reasons: I wrote it while staying awake for more than 24 hours while watching news coverage of the event (and skipping all of my classes), and it’s the only free verse I have have ever written, and likely ever will.

Ask five people what a poem is, and you’ll get at least six different answers. My favorite poetry always has defined meter (but sometimes break from it for effect), as do all but one of the poems I’ve written, but free verse strays far from that. I won’t do more than mention “prose poetry” here because I don’t want to sidetrack myself, but that’s another case where one person’s poem is another’s paragraph with randomly-inserted line breaks.

Then Twitter and texting came onto the scene, and the English language will never be the same. Merriam-Webster has probably been busier adding new words than they have ever been since Noah Webster wrote the original nearly two centuries ago.

Over the past year I have become more active on Twitter despite my deep Depression, so it was only relatively recently that I discovered Twitter poetry, and with it came a renewed interest in poetry. In the two decades since the crash I have often written poetically (mostly to my wife Lura), but no actual poems aside from a brief one for her every once in a while (usually shared publicly via Twitter or facebook, if you’d like to read them). Last year I even signed up for an online course called “How Writer’s Write Poetry“, but only managed to stick with it through three lessons before Depression and busyness distracted me from it.

I have tried repeatedly to write poetry over the past several years, including making a roleplaying character that only spoke in haiku, but can never seem to stick with it. That’s why I was so intrigued when I learned about Twitter poems. Reading many of them over the days following my discovery is what got me thinking about what constitutes a poem.

The essence of haiku is to show just enough to let the reader’s imagination take over, making the reader an integral component of the art. As Matsuo Bashō famously said: “The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.” As a result I’ve seen some wonderful three-word haiku, and even wrote one I may share someday, but that got me thinking about how short a poem could be and still be a poem, leading to this:

scream
catharsis

Only two words, but to me it is quite evocative because it is something I have experienced so often. Others who have felt the blessed relief that can result from a good cry or scream may feel something in reading that, but does simply being evocative make it a poem?

I have been writing Twitter poems for Lura more and more often over the past year, even one a month for a while. The forced brevity of the format means I can’t be my usual flowery self (a bad habit English teachers spent more than a decade trying to curb), and that has helped my writing in general. The character limit also means that the resulting poems are so short that I can’t agonize over them for months or years until I think they’re perfect, as I have done with several short stories for years now. In fact, I must instead treat every tweet as if it was a haiku, making sure I get my whole message through without any extra words.

As an example of what I mean, and because it’s Valentine’s day, here is the Twitter haiku I wrote for her last year to celebrate the 17th anniversary of our first date:

Seventeen years gone
Love lies sleeping beside me
Still watching her breathe

How did you read that poem? Was it sweet, or mildly erotic? Did you imagine me lying there watching her sleep and just being happy that she was in bed beside me? Or did you think I was just ogling her boobs as they went up and down? Could I have meant both? Was I saying that I was happy that she was still in my life after 17 years and that I still find her to be the most desirable woman who ever lived? The only thing you can be certain of is that I am still very much in love with her after 17 years together – the rest is up to your imagination and how you see the world.

That simultaneous clarity and ambiguity of meaning is why before the crash I wrote poetry almost exclusively (aside from the occasional essay, which is why blogging appeals to me so much). But since the crash, and especially since our wedding, I’ve written more prose than anything else, much of it inspired by things we have done together (even today we both tend to use tabletop roleplaying games to flesh out characters and settings).

Now that I realize how much I was telling the world when I sent that Tweet back in November, I have decided that I will end this by sharing with you my three-word haiku I referenced earlier. It is the most personal thing I have ever written, but I am sharing it despite my innate extreme shyness because it succinctly tells the source of the Depression that keeps me from blogging or doing anything else for months at a time. And even though I cry every time I re-read it or revise this post, maybe making it public will prove even more cathartic, and hopefully provide some comfort to others in my situation by letting them know that they are not alone.

longing
fatherhood
despair