I am a sassy-pants, no doubt, but when it comes to my funny, I am a serious lady.
When it comes to haiku, I am not a fan of the “Oh, fleet, flying crane” variety. The world needs those haiku. Take heart: there are waaaaaay more outlets for your work than there are Not-Nearly-Annual Frozen Fish Head contests.
For our purposes, you are required to knock my socks off with your hai-larity. However, while I am all for “just” being funny, haiku works best for me when:
- each of the poem’s three phrases presents a stand-alone image that, in context of the poem’s story, evokes what haiku poet Alexey Andreyev calls “certain bright moments of life”—quixotic, troubling, deeply tender, or simply a flash of time whose specificity caught your attention; and
- the juxtaposition of images in the first and second phrases create friction that sets up a big-bang finish. The idea is to initiate a circular pattern, drawing reader back to the beginning of the poem.
If you can be funny while doing this, you can do anything.
Let’s Talk 5-7-5
The 5-7-5 rhyme scheme is a big debate in the haiku universe. Do the constraints provide a certain freedom, or are they just constraints? We at Frozen Fish Head will play Switzerland on the issue. Focus more on letting the writing prompt unfurl your funny flag. However, for the record:
Japanese haiku doesn’t count syllables. The three phrases are more like: short-ish, longer, short-ish. The syllable thing is an American construct. Brian P. Cleary’s classic, “Report Card” is the go-to example:
Four days of the year,
One tiny piece of paper
Turns my stomach sour.
Funny. Would it win? I think you could do better. Let’s examine a few more.
A few years back, an Austin writer-mama named Kari Anne Roy came out with her book, Haiku Mama. Check out this gem:
Red leaves on tree
poop in the diaper.
It’s the holidays!
Boom. Each line here presents a single image; in the case of the second line, a striking and original one (if you go for that sort of thing). Without inserting herself into the poem, Roy conveys a mama-specific perspective. She even slips in a “season word,” the word that traditionally created a backdrop (often from nature) for the “haiku event.” (Contemporary haiku has moved toward an urban aesthetic; THANK GOD. Flying cranes: boo.)
Unfortunately, the majority of Roy’s work settles for what I am absolutely uninterested in: mere thoughts wrestled into the requisite five-seven-five:
Tennis ball in sock
sad yet apt description of
If a poet has but 17 syllables, “sad yet apt description of” wastes seven. Give me a second image to equal “Tennis ball in sock,” driving to “post-nursing boobies.” I want one of the same caliber as one Roy uses elsewhere, and smashingly so, to describe her tush: “Small, like fresh ham steak.”
So, do that, and you win. Good hunting.