To Space or Not to Space:
An In-depth Comparison of Spacing and Form in Haiku
It is fair to say that haiku comes in various forms. There
is the "typical" 5-7-5 syllable pattern in three
lines as well as single lined haiku. Some haiku emphasize
single words while others seem to follow a free verse approach
with a looser form. This comparison paper will be discussing
the format of different haiku, by different authors. In particular,
spacing and how it affects the haiku, for example, whether
or not the spacing adds or detracts from the haiku, or whether
or not the spacing is essential to the haiku, are the issues
that will be examined.
(Raymond Roseliep, Haiku
walking the snow-crust
(Anita Virgil, Haiku
I have selected the pair of haiku above because both of
these haiku illustrate the story being told, or the image
being painted, in their haiku. Let me explain. The first haiku
looks exactly like it is pacing. Roseliep uses indentations
in the first and third lines, but not in the second to make
the poem look as though it is pacing. The lines themselves
move back and forth, representative of the pacing cat on the
ship. He is using the spacing of these lines to create a more
visual haiku. The content, or image, of this particular haiku
is nothing special, but the spacing gives it visual appeal.
In this case, I would argue that the spacing not only adds
to the haiku but is essential to it.
Likewise, the second haiku by Virgil also has visual appeal.
With the narrowing of the lines, created by centering the
haiku and using smaller words or shorter lines, this haiku
also does what it says: it sinks. Visually, it appears to
be sinking into nothing, much like the person walking along
the snow-crust. That person is playing a game, in a sense,
because she/he is walking on the snow not knowing when or
where she/he will sink. Whether or not it was the authors
intent to give the appearance of sinking, I do not know. However,
I think that the visual impact adds to this haiku. If it was
merely left-side justified on the page, I think it would lose
a lot of its charm.
In comparing the two against each other, the Roseliep haiku
seems to do a better job of creating the visual image to go
along with the words of the haiku. The spacing in this haiku
seems to be more obvious than the spacing of Virgils
haiku. That is to say that Roselieps form appears to
be more intentional than Virgils. Clearly no one but
the original author knows the intent of the spacing, but it
seems more likely that the Roseliep haiku is spaced to fit
the context of the haiku.
One-line or Single Lined Haiku
Another element of format to be discussed, focuses on what
I will call, single lined haiku. I consider single lined haiku
to: 1) be one line long; 2) present one to two strong images;
and 3) not be a complete sentence. I think that the best examples
of single lined haiku contain spacing between words but no
leaving all the morning glories closed
(Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Haiku
becoming a photograph winter
(George Swede, Haiku
The first haiku uses spacing very well. It is almost as if
the haiku is in three lines
or three parts. It could very well have read:
all the morning glories
but it does not. I think that it actually flows better when
it is a single lined haiku, but this one does not necessarily
have to be in this specific form in order for it to be a good
haiku. Though it flows, there are two big pauses created by
the spaces. I like that it is not a complete sentence and
has no punctuation. In fact, the reader has the ability to
interpret the haiku several ways when it is a single lined
form. It can be read as written or "leaving closed, all
the morning glories." Or perhaps even, "closed,
leaving all the morning glories." But most importantly,
it leaves out words and presents a vivid image, making it
a strong single lined haiku.
The second single lined haiku follows everything mentioned
above. The image is clear, the winter afternoon looks as though
it has the potential to become a photograph. It is just so
winter-like outside that the scene presented out the window
would make a great photo. Again, a vivid image is presented
in a single line, with a space, no punctuation, and it does
not make a complete sentence. Both of these haiku are nice
examples of the single lined form.
Comparatively, I would have to say that the second single
lined haiku, by Swede, expresses itself more like a typical
three lined, 5-7-5 syllable haiku. It creates just enough
of the image to excite the reader's mind, allowing him/her
to fill in the rest of the details about the scene. On the
other hand, the first single lined haiku example is rather
confusing in its interpretation. The spacing does not work
as nicely because it leads to too many possible interpretations.
The image is not as clearly presented as it is in the Swede
haiku. Also, the spacing does not need to be in single line
form for the first haiku to work best. However, the Swede
haiku needs to be in the one line form to create its complete
image; it just would not work as well as a "typical"
three line haiku.
Second Line (Single Word) Emphasis
only letting in the cat
the morning star
(Penny Harter, Haiku
snow falls from trees
of passing boxcars
(Alan Pizzarelli, Haiku
I paired these two haiku together because their second line
was only one word long. I think that spacing has a great deal
to do with control and word choice/usage. The second line
of a haiku is the second image or glimpse into the haiku.
Therefore, it needs to be strong. Whats stronger than
the use of a single word to represent the second image?
In the first haiku the second line "until" completely
slows down the reader and the meaning of the haiku. Having
lots of the white space after the word "until" makes
the reader pause when reading, forcing the emphasis of the
haiku on the last line. Because there is a break in reading,
the last line needs to be stronger than the second to complete
the image of the haiku. In the second haiku, the reader can
practically feel the "rumble," in addition to seeing
the "rumble" in the falling of the snow from trees.
But it is not until the last line that the reader can find
out where the rumble comes from. I think that the use of single
words in a line of haiku is a great idea and these two poems
illustrate how to use a single word wisely.
Upon comparison of these two haiku, the Pizzarelli haiku
seems to be the more effective haiku. Giving pause to the
word "rumble" by putting it by itself on the second
line, stresses the importance of the word more than "until"
in the first haiku. The reader actually gives pause to "rumble"
to think about where the rumbling could be coming from. The
word also appeals to two senses, sound and sight. I can hear
it and see its affects. "Until" is not as effective
in the first haiku. But the spacing and placement of the single
word in the Pizzarelli haiku seems more thought-out, more
intentional, thus making it more effective.
Loose Form or Free Verse Haiku
on this cold
night 3 4
(Marlene Mountain, Haiku
loosens her bra
peeling off panties
(Alan Pizzarelli, Haiku
I paired these two haiku together because they are just
pure fun. There doesnt really seem to be any rhyme or
reason as to why these haiku are spaced like they are, at
least I have yet to find a reason. I like to consider these
haiku to be comparable to the poetry of e. e. cummings. The
form of the poem tells a story of its own. It can have meaning
behind it or not. Meaning in form would have to come from
the author though, I would not want to assume the meaning
behind their use of form, particularly in this looser form.
These two haiku are very different in their use of spacing,
particularly the first haiku. This haiku could probably have
been just as effective in three lines. However, the "loose"
form makes the haiku fun, as does the use of numbers. After
much critical thinking, I feel that I have finally come up
with the most reasonable explanation for the numbers: it refers
to the number of kittens in the rain. The author or character
in the poem is counting the kittens as he/she is telling the
story. It is sort of a mental inventory because our brains
have a tendency to think about multiple things at any given
time. While taking in the scene of the rain, the author/character
is counting the kittens, taking inventory, and including that
counting as part of the haiku. But then, this is merely the
most logical explanation for the numbers that I have come
up with; I have yet to completely determine what the numbers
represent in this haiku.
Unlike the numbers in the second haiku which clearly stand
for the amount of money needed to view the porn show. The
use of a "title" (or is it part of the haiku) in
the second haiku is interesting. To me, "PORNO MOVIE"
above and separate from the rest of the haiku, looks like
a title. It is also capitalized, separating it further from
the haiku. Spacing throughout the rest of the haiku seems
fun rather than having any specific purpose. I think that
this unusual style (in both of these haiku) forces the reader
to put emphasis on the whole haiku, rather than a single word
as exhibited in the haiku that place a single word as a line.
This loose verse style, can be compared to single lined haiku
in that respect. The reader must concentrate on the whole
image presented; it cannot be broken down into separate images,
which may occur in "typical" haiku. The reader has
to focus and interpret the entire haiku.
It is easy to see the differences between this free verse
style of haiku and the other forms previously discussed. However,
it is difficult to compare these two haiku to each other.
They are so different from each other that to choose one as
a better example of the form is impossible to accomplish.
Honestly, I like both haiku and think that they both represent
this form well.
As far as spacing is concerned, I like how unique it makes
the haiku look, but I do not think that it works for every
haiku or every author. As an author, one must know how to
use spacing to their advantage. I think all of these authors
have, in wonderful ways. Through their use of a more free
verse style of haiku, to one or single lined haiku, these
authors demonstrate effective uses of spacing, formatting,
and white-space. This experimentation with forms of haiku
other than those containing the 5-7-5 syllable and three line
format, makes reading and interpreting haiku more interesting,
not to mention more enjoyable.