“Then I’ll invent
the American Haiku type:
The simple rhyming triolet:–
No, as I say, American Pops:–
Simple 3-line poems”
-Jack Kerouac, Reading Notes 1965
…and with that, Kerouac laid out his treatise on the Western Haiku.
Here’s something you might not know: Haiku is both singular and plural. ”I wrote one Haiku.” ”I wrote two Haiku.” Here’s something you most likely do know: The Haiku was developed over hundreds of years in Japan to be a complete poem in a mere 17 syllables and to compact an entire vision of life into three short lines.
Arguing that the Japanese language has a syllabic fluidity that western languages do not, Kerouac tossed out the 17 syllable rule and simply kept the three line vision of life.
So here’s some Kerouac’s grand masterworks:
“The windmills of
In every direction.”
on the cliffside
Nodding at the canyon.”
“In the medicine cabinet
the winter fly
Has died of old age.”
I had a friend once in High School and we wrote notes to one another in English class solely in Haiku. We had to communicate everything, from how we were feeling, to what yesterday’s homework was, all in three short lines. Do it enough, and it changes the way you look at things.
Life becomes distilled.
Here is an often favorited Kerouac quote form before his Haiku days, from the begining of On the Road.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!””
… a tad scattered, no? He is caught up in the action, not the master of his own world. And here is some prose from after his Haiku satori. This was a travel piece for Holiday Magazine in 1963:
“Oklahoma– in any direction flat, pure, quiet. Cows rushing like dots as tho they were as far away as Nebraska. Grain elevators waiting for the farmers to come home from church. Grain elevators, like tall trucks waiting for the road to approach them. Radio antennae hard to see somewhere…. Windmills looking in every direction.”
So next time life seems more complicated than it needs to be, try to compress your entire world view into three lines, and read it over, and write it over, and commit to those three lines and then do it again. I mean, despite the e-mails and the phone calls and the bills to pay and the dog to feed, life really just is a few lines.
And how simple and myseterious those lines are.