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I just learned, through this recent TED talk by Clay Shirky, about HaikuLeaks — 65 "naturally occurring" haiku mined from 1830 cables leaked by WikiLeaks back in 2010. Each one falls into the 5-7-5 syllable pattern that is (broadly) typical of haiku. The haiku were turned up by running the leaks through a bit of software code appropriately named HaikuFinder.

Are they poetry, or only "poetry"?

Some seem to be more freestanding, and to have more resonance, than others. Three I particularly like:

He has written books,
    but most critics understand
that is not his gift.

The three officials
    have informed their capitals
but have no response.

As is typical,
    the Pope stayed above the fray
and did not comment.

4 Comments

  1. Unknown User (lmg19)

    Are they poetry, or only "poetry"? Personally, I prefer free verse or Shakespearean sonnets over a minute haiku, but I wouldn't say haiku are only "poetry". Some haiku can be very effective and creatively poetic. I think there is a certain standard when it comes to haiku in the genre of poetry. Simply falling within the 5-7-5 syllable requirement does not qualify all haiku as poetry. A regular sentence can be broken up if it had the right number of syllables, but I won't categorize it as poetry. I think haiku are poetry as long as they demonstrate other forms of literary devices within them. Since haiku are easily formulated, someone's haiku must be amazing for me to really enjoy it.

  2. Unknown User (bbc5)

    Poetry, like all other works of fiction, is subjective.  What "counts" as poetry is up to the individual consumer to define.  Granted, some poems may have more literary value then others, but anything that is written down can "count" as poetry if the consumer deems it so.  For the same reason that different people read for various reasons, different people find various sources of value in works of poetry.  And that's just fine.  Certain poems mean certain things to certain people.  

    I once wrote a poem for my mother in second grade.  Although the specifics of the poem have since eluded my memory, I'm pretty sure I compared her to a flower, a tree, a blue jay, or something pleasant like that.  Now there's no way that I could have possibly known the rhetorical devices common to poetry such as alliteration, enjambment, or syntax that poets, along with numerous other techniques, frequently apply to their poems.  There's little chance that I understood the difference between a simile and a metaphor.  To top things off, I probably even had a couple of spelling mistakes that I scribbled out in crayon or failed to notice in the first place.  But I don't even have to ask my mother, who probably has that poem of mine tucked away someplace, if what I had written for her so many years ago counts as a poem.  I could have written anything on that yellow piece of construction paper and my mother still would have stuck it on the fridge for the rest of the family to see the work of "her little poet."  Although my "work of art" is still pending publication, my mother finds value in the poem I had scrawled for her as an eight year old, and I was just as much a poet in her mind as Shakespeare or Frost.

    I'll admit it; I'm not much of a haiku guy.  Frankly, I don't get it.  The way I see it, a haiku is simply a sentence broken up into a couple of lines that generally doesn't make much sense.  Maybe I'm being ignorant, but I just don't see the value in these strange sentences that other people may marvel over.  Critics and poets can ooh and aah all they want over these haikus, but I'll never see any value in them.  Nevertheless, these, well, sentences, still fall under that hazy category of poetry if someone somewhere, aside from the author, finds value in them.  And I'm sure people do.  Chances are, this form of poetry probably appeals to a good number of people, and many of these haikus are probably revered as some of the finest examples of poetry we have today.  Some of these "haikuists" may even receive praise as some of the greatest poets known to mankind.  And that's fine with me, so long as a good number of people support these writers and their works.  I just won't be one of them.

  3. Unknown User (mka4)

    I agree with Brenden’s point that the definition of poetry is completely subjective.  When an individual determines whether or not a piece of writing is poetry, often the the extent to which a reader can relate to the writing is considered.  Haiku is a style that is restricted by rules that force a writer to choose words not based exclusively on intended meaning but also on the rhythm of the words.  This extra restriction narrows the audience that might find a haiku relatable, and therefore consider it poetry.  As it is the ability of a reader as an individual to identify with a work that defines whether or not it is considered poetry, haiku is less likely to be defined as such.  To some, the meaning of these specific “HaikuLeaks” may be insubstantial and disqualified from the realm of poetry, as merely random groups of words. To others, say those who had strong feelings about organized religion, or those who had experience with government, these pieces could speak with a resonance that would allow them to be defined as poetry.

  4. Unknown User (mrb21)

    I agree that poetry is subjective - to a point. What if a person who doesn't know or understand what poetry is (i.e. they believe essays to be poetry, or novels to be poetry) claims a person, truly a novelist or a essayist to be a poet? And, since poetry is such a subjective term and there is no accurate definition for poetry, can any of us truly say something is for certain a poem? To know whether something is something else, we must first be able to concretely define that something else - which we all seem incapable of doing. We are currently incapable of truly defining poetry. However... we can hint at things that might indicate something is a poem, correct? We can't completely define poetry but perhaps we could say things like form or literary devices, in combination, can hint at something perhaps being a poem. (For this argument I am again referring to Theatetus by Plato, where Socrates asks Theatetus to define knowledge and demonstrates that since knowledge is impossible to completely define at that point in time  [and still is] that it is impossible to have knowledge, not knowing for certain what you are possessing).

    So if that is the case, nothing is definitely, completely poetry - but sonnets, haikus, and limericks are all classified under the 'suggestive of the category of poetry' set. I'm not sure any random person should be allowed to decide if something is poetic just because it resonates with them - we don't all have enough knowledge about poetry to truly understand what it is. But maybe a general consensus, or a group of trained critics, could be the way to decide if something is poetry? It just seems that poetry shouldn't be SO subjective that anyone can decide something is a poem. I don't know - just some thoughts.