MIXING HOKKU AND HAIKU

People sometimes ask me about learning hokku simultaneously with practicing haiku.  All I can say about it is that from my experience, it is a bad idea.  The reason is that in general, hokku and haiku (as it generally exists today) have very different aesthetic approaches.  The former has specific standards and principles and aesthetics.  But the latter — haiku — has very loose and variable standards, so wide in fact that anyone can write almost anything in brief verse and call it haiku.  So those learning haiku almost invariably taint and spoil their learning of hokku with incompatible notions picked up from haiku.

The second reason I advise against trying to mix hokku and haiku is that learning hokku takes time and application.  If one is dividing one’s attention between two very different kinds of verse, one of them is going to be given less attention, and because of the ease of writing haiku, it generally turns out to be hokku that loses.

When I taught formal monthly classes in the past, I always told beginning students that they must agree to give up reading and writing haiku during their initial period of study.  Of course not all were willing, and even some who expressed willingness did not follow through.  The result was that neither group of half-hearted students ever properly learned hokku.

Today, now that I am teaching more informally via my web site, I no longer take responsibility for those who try to mix hokku and haiku in spite of my advising against it.  I just tell them that the best way to learn hokku is to give up haiku completely during about the first year of learning.  After that, one can do what one wishes.  But if people persist in wanting to try to learn hokku while practicing haiku, then I just tell them honestly that the result is their responsibility, not mine.

In spite of my constantly saying that hokku and haiku are today essentially two very different things, I still have people — even some claiming to have studied briefly with me in the past — saying that what they write as haiku is the same as what I teach as hokku.  Of course it is not, but they do not know that, because they did not stay long enough with hokku to learn the deeper aspects of it.  They just learned a few of the tricks of form and technique — things used as a beginning bridge into hokku from haiku — and went off to get their verses published on haiku sites.

So that is my view of the matter.  Those who really want to learn hokku will give up haiku while they are learning its principles and aesthetics.  Those who do not will likely pick up some tips useful to apply to haiku, but chances of their ever properly learning hokku are very slim.

Of course once one has a good understanding of the nature and aesthetics of hokku — something not achieved in a day or a week or a month or even several months — one can then read and write whatever kind of brief verse one wishes.  But without that good and fundamental understanding, one cannot claim to have learned hokku.

David

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