Haiku, and how they can help improve your communications

June 4, 2014

Haiku are traditional Japanese forms of short poetry. In Japanese the poem is traditionally printed in a single vertical line.
In English, we split the poem over three lines.
And we split the syllables, five, seven, five – so there are 17 syllables in total.
Haiku are described as painting a multi-tiered painting without telling all.
And I’ve found them massively useful for helping people to simplify their writing.
When I’ve been running writing skills training sessions I always give the attendees an article from the paper and we attempt to summarise the article into a haiku (or, normally, several haiku).
And it’s great fun. I suggest that they use the haiku to develop sub-headings to split up their copy, and make it easier to read.

I recently heard a great haiku by John Cooper Clarke, the renowned punk poet. His haiku is typical of his insight, brevity and wit.
I saw him deliver this haiku on Have I Got News for You (a very funny UK comedy news quiz):
To freeze a moment
in seventeen syllables
is very diffi

Apparently the original version of it read:
To convey one’s mood
in seventeen syllables
is very diffi

Whichever one, it’s still bloody lovely.
I’m fairly ignorant of much of John Cooper Clarke’s work, but I’m getting into it and loving it more and more.
He seems to be almost like a comedian, in that he has such great timing for what I’d call ‘the reveal’ (others might call it the twist).
His poetry has lovely ideas through it.
Like “(I Married a) Monster From Outer Space”. He shines a light on racism and contrasts it with how outraged people would be if you had a relationship with an extra-terrestrial.

Robert Chalmers, writing in The Independent, has this lovely anecdote, which shows, I think, how the mind of the great John Cooper Clarke works.
“You remember that evening with Yevtushenko?” the promoter asks Cooper Clarke.
“Yes.”
“Remember that thing he said: ‘If you can’t love with love that’s unrequited, you cannot love’?”
“That was wonderful,” says Clarke.
My contribution to this discussion is a complaint about backache. “I’ve got Nurofen,” Wise says.
“You know what’s good for back pain,” someone interrupts. “That thing the Chinese do… with needles… what’s it called…”
“Heroin,” says Cooper Clarke.

I love his approach, and his confidence. As writers we often forget the power of poetry. So watch this as JCC goes for it with his astonishing poem, Twat.

As I mentioned, I often use haiku in writing skills training sessions, to help the people attending to write short, relevant subheadings for the copy they’re writing.
It sounds daft but it really works.
Have a go yourself. Read an article in a paper or magazine (or even online) and try to write a haiku that summarises the story.
The great thing is that you’ll find loads of different ways to do it.
If you like the sound of learning to write more effectively (and having fun while doing it), give me a shout.

Here’s a 4th grader from the US’s attempts at writing the perfect haiku. I think they’ve nailed it.

The perfect haiku

The perfect haiku

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