This morning, while listening to the radio I heard the following two items of interest:

The director of this year’s Young Writer’s Festival in Newcastle NSW, Nick Powell, was asked how the opening day went on Saturday and he declared enthusiastically that ‘it literally blew my mind!’

No, Nick, it really didn’t, because you’re talking to us on the radio. If it literally blew your mind you’d most likely be in a cold metal cabinet with a tag on your toe, and someone would be sloshing liberal quantities of Clorox over the Writer’s Festival office floors. It figuratively blew your mind, perhaps, and it seems to me that if it is incumbent on anyone to know difference between those two things it should be the director of a Writer’s Festival for chrissakes.

On the same show, reviewer Geoff Page dispensed some pearls of wisdom about poet Jane Gibian’s new collection Ardent.

There is considerable range here, from the mystery of the title poem… through certain semi-satirical works… to several impressive haiku and tanka sequences. These latter forms can be a trap for younger poets who take them to be easier to write than they are, especially since, quite reasonably these days, we ignore the strict syllabic requirements of the Japanese.

Whoa there boy!

When did it become quite reasonable to abandon the strict syllabic requirements of the haiku? I said it before about limericks, and I’ll say it again about haiku: you can forget all about the structure of the form if you like, but then the thing you’re writing is not a haiku!. It is a short non-rhyming poem. Or, being charitable maybe, a short haiku-like poem. BUT IT IS NOT A HAIKU.

Allow me to draw an analogy: an elephant is a big heavy grey mammal with four solid legs and a fearsome demeanour. If we ‘ignore the strict descriptive requirements’ of the biologists we could call it a rhinoceros. Indeed, an elephant even bears some superficial resemblances to a rhinoceros, but I put it to you Mr Page: you may disagree with the biologists about what it is, but that does not actually change anything in reality.

So. A traditional Japanese haiku is a poetry form such that three lines consist of five syllables, seven syllables and then five again. There are many variations of this form that are similar to haiku, such as senryu, haibun, kimo, scifaiku and waka, but here’s the thing – they are variations, and are not called haiku! That’s why they have other names.

The Reverend sighs
When those who keep the language
Are its greatest foes