It is easy to see the influence of Japanese short verse on the American Imagist poet Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) in her poem

November Night

Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.
But we can also see where — from the perspective of hokku — she went astray.  Her chief error was in saying too much.
The first word — “Listen” — is superfluous.  In hokku we do not tell someone to listen.  We just present a sound, and they hear it, as in this Winter hokku by Ryūshi:

The sound of a bird walking
On fallen leaves.

Hokku would also remove the third line:

“Like steps of passing ghosts”
The simile — saying one thing is “like” another — is not used in good hokku.  Each thing is allowed to be what it is, without comparing it or likening it to something else.  Have you ever noticed how often in English-language prose and poetry we are told that something is “like” something else?  It is almost an addiction of many writers.  A good practice for composers of hokku is to learn to describe a thing or action without saying it is “like” something else.
So, having removed those unnecessary elements from the verse, we are left with:
With faint dry sound,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.
From the perspective of hokku that is already a great improvement, but it needs a bit more work.  Here is only one option for turning her verse into a hokku:
From frozen trees,
The faint, dry sound
Of falling leaves.
In that version, there is a kind of accidental benefit in the repetition of the breathy “f” sounds:


It happens because in that repeated f-f-f-f we hear the “faint dry sound” of the leaves falling.  The effect created by such repetition of sounds is often used to advantage in hokku, though it often “just happens” instead of one straining to achieve it.
If we want to lessen it a bit and get a slightly different effect, we could write the hokku as follows:

In frozen trees,
The faint, dry sound
Of falling leaves.

According to the old calendar, it would be a “Winter” verse, given that November is after the cross-quarter marker Halloween/Samhain.

Though they seem very simple, the principles applied here in the transformation of this poem by Adelaide Crapsy into a hokku — if kept in mind — will do much to improve the compositional ability of those who wish to write hokku in English.

3 thoughts on “CUTTING THE CRAPSEY

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