Haiku Techniques: Line Breaks & Punctuation
During the course of the semester, the one thing I have really noticed and become interested in has been how a haiku is set up. I am not referring to the origins of the three lines or who did what first, but how the author of a haiku carefully decides what goes in which line, and how a little punctuation goes a long way. Until one actually sits down and tries to write a haiku, the importance of these things does not stick out. However, now when I sit down to write a haiku, all of these elements stick out to me. I often find myself wondering if I should or should not use a comma, period, dash, or ellipses. Sometimes it is difficult deciding between punctuation! In addition, figuring out where I want to separate my thought proves to be a quite significant aspect of my haiku. Not only am I conscious and self-aware of how my haiku is formed, but my peers are as well. I have observed throughout the haiku we have all written the attention to detail of how a haiku is set up and the usage of punctuation. This is why the following haiku I will talk about are all from the Millikin University’s Honors Global Haiku Seminar of the Spring Semester of 2013. All of the haiku cited in this essay are from kukai competitions available on the MU Haiku web site at: <http://performance.millikin.edu/haiku/courses/globalSpring2013/index>. I want to focus on how the formation and elements of a haiku can create so many different literary effects, such as tone, symbolism, and more.
I figure the best way to go about this is to go in order of the kukai. From the first kukai we had as a class I have two haiku I wish to talk about. The first is from Jordan Caulk, who has another haiku coming up later. Her haiku reads as this:
his blue eyes
lock onto mine—
a chill rushes over
Jordan Caulk, Kukai 1, Millikin University
I love this haiku for many reasons. First of all, I enjoy the symbolism of the dash in the second line that I, as a reader, interpret as the chill. The first image I get is of these piercing blue eyes that are owned by no face. Then, I feel them lock onto me, stopping me in my tracks with the dash. After I pause, I move on, and the chill literally rushes over my body as a reader. The form of this haiku also leaves the reader to interpret whether or not it is a good chill or bad chill that is happening. Little by little, Caulk draws the reader in and builds suspense, leaving a cliffhanger ending of the feeling one gets with a chill. I want to draw a direct comparison of this haiku to the next haiku I will talk about. Both of them build suspense and an image little by little and have symbolism in the tiniest parts.
The next haiku has no punctuation in it at all, but like Caulk’s, there is still symbolism in pauses and breaks of the haiku. What Heidi Zapp does with her three lines is remarkable and it is one of my favorite haiku that I have seen from my classmates. It reads as this:
under the blanket
their cold toes find
Heidi Zapp, Kukai 1, Millikin University
This is one of the cutest haiku I have ever read. It builds suspense, like Caulk’s, but in a different way. Caulk’s built suspense towards what would happen next with the man with the blue eyes and leaving with an ending open for interpretation. In Zapp’s, the suspense is built to what is under the blanket, which is soon resolved and a warm feeling rushes over the reader. The symbolism I find is in the break between the second line and the third line. Like the dash in Caulk’s, it is also a pause. It creates a wonder of what is under the blanket. This haiku uniquely and cutely describes a little game of footsie.
The second round of kukai that we did as a class was similar to Kukai 1 because the haiku I wish to talk about are again by Zapp and Caulk. The first one is Zapp’s and reads like this:
when did I last shower?
Heidi Zapp Kukai 2, Millikin University
This haiku is set up so that the quirky part that makes the reader laugh is at the end, which a lot of the haiku I will mention later also have that aspect to them. Here, Zapp relates to the feelings of stressing and rushing that a college student goes through during finals week. The first line sets up the scenario and the reader begins to develop his or her own personal connections to finals week. Then, the question of when the author last showered symbolizes the confusion and stress that the author feels. The punctuation of the question mark leaves a break for the reader to ponder, which gives the third line has this certain emphasis to it that is there because of the break in the second line. The lack of punctuation in the third line leaves an open and unresolved feeling; when did Zapp last shower? Is she astounded by how long it has been or just the fact that she is having trouble remembering? The ending is somewhat abrupt, which relates to the tone of the haiku that the aforementioned elements pertained to.
The next haiku by Caulk shows just how clever the usage of punctuation and form can be. This haiku is what I think of a definition haiku. The author starts off by giving a term and then uses the next two lines to define it in a way that one would not find in the dictionary. It reads as so:
Jordan Caulk, Kukai 2, Millikin University
This haiku is another one of my favorites from this semester. The way it is set up is unlike Caulk’s first haiku, which leaves the meaning a little more open for interpretation. This haiku is blunt and to the point. It clearly defines how the author feels about the first line. The colon is used to let the reader know that what comes next is defining it, for that is the well-known purpose of a colon. Without the colon, the haiku would lose some of its edge. The second and third line standing alone draws more attention to the meaning behind the two words that each line has. The break between the second and third line gives the third line an even more clever punch to the overall tone of the haiku.
While Kukai 3 and 4 each had some great haiku, the haiku in Kukai 5 better exemplified my topic. I will now introduce to new authors: Molly McCullough and Emily D’Ambrose. I wish to talk about two different haiku by McCullough and how they are similar and different than one another first. The haiku read as this:
you look so old!
. . . it's been a month
Molly McCullough, Kukai 5, Millikin University
a branch breaks—
obviously a serial killer.
Molly McCullough, Kukai 5, Millikin University
In each haiku, McCullough leaves the funniest part of the haiku for the third line. In the first two lines, she gives the background of the situation that the third line pokes fun at. Her use of punctuation in each haiku has symbolism that is very important to the meaning of each haiku. In the first haiku, the exclamation point relates to the tone of the second line. The ellipses represents a sort of sigh that any teenager or young adult does mentally when someone exclaims how much different he or she looks when nothing has changed. In the second haiku, the dash symbolizes the nervous stop that she does in her tracks when she hears a branch breaking. It is in that brief moment that the last line of the haiku is deduced: there must be a serial killer. The ending period makes it a definite statement, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
she takes off her shoes
and her belt . . .
Emily D'Ambrose, Kukai 5, Millikin University
This haiku is the perfect example of what I refer to as the “punch line” haiku. D’Ambrose leads the reader to believe that the girl is taking off her articles of clothing for something a little more scandalous, and then she uses the ellipses for a dramatic pause before she hits us with the clever twist of the haiku. The punctuation is used to shift gears and tones of the haiku, which is not always easy to do, so I applaud D’Ambrose for that. In this case, the first and second line relate to each other more than the third line and second line. However, like in a lot of the haiku I’ve mentioned, the break between the second and third line is really what gives the haiku it’s flavor and showcases D’Ambrose’s personal style.
Overall, what I have learned is that the relationship between each line and the punctuation used can make or break a haiku. A lot of times the first line sets up what the next two lines will correlate and expand on. The elimination of one punctuation or word can change the meaning entirely. That is what is so unique to haiku as opposed to a novel. In a novel, not every word is the most important thing that the reader will encounter. In a haiku, every drop of ink printed stands for something.
Randy Brooks. Millikin University MU Haiku Courses. Millikin University, 2013. Web, <http://performance.millikin.edu/haiku/courses/globalSpring2013/>, 3 Mar. 2013