Haiku, the Japanese 17-syllable poems, have become exceedingly popular in the West. Many translations (some in rhyme and some not) of Basho, Buson, Issa, and other poets have appeared. Frequently, Westerners have attempted to write in the familiar three-line (five syllable, seven syllable, five syllable) manner, but they have discovered that haiku does not lend itself readily to original works in English. The Japanese language has a different construction from English; traditionally, Japanese syllables (hiragana) rather than Chinese writing (kanji) are used in haiku. Seventeen syllable poems in English usually appear stilted and without impact.

To meet this difficulty, I have invented a form I call Pyramid Poetry. (Actually, the shape of the poem is more like a diamond.) The first line has one syllable, the second two syllables, the third three, and the fourth four. Then the fifth line has three again, the sixth only two, and the seventh and last line has only one syllable. Ideally, the last line should be explosive, or at least put a powerful climax to the poem.

The construction looks like this:

– –

– – –

– – – –

– – –

– –

An example:

heat is gone
how wel_come is
the sud_den

This, perhaps stronger, poem has a more powerful last syllable:

to pray
keep_ing naught
but thoughts of God
and no more
thought of

These are fun to make and seem to be relatively easy in English or Japanese. At times students and I have spent an entire evening composing, and reading aloud, these Pyramid Poems. I recommend this activity very highly. Turn off the television and come to life, offering a little creativity. We have gotten so used to spectator sports and television dramas that actual participation may require a particular effort. No matter. Let some experience come to the surface and try to express it in this one, two, three, four, three, two, one syllable form. You may surprise yourself.

saffron monk;
just what do you
hope to gain?
you must

can we
hope to build
a better world
unless we
change our

This article is published in Climbing the Joyous Mountain.

Published On: March 7th, 2024Categories: Climb the Joyous Mountain

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