Updated: May 12, 2020
Those who know me know that I've been writing haikus for years--mostly, and quite purposefully, about very unsavory subjects like urine on sidewalks and random underpants left on my motorbike's handlebars. Very unlike the serene, meditative musings normally associated with the form.
Somewhat unfashionably, I really love working with and within form. Perhaps it's because I spent 12 long years in Catholic schools with nuns, but I have learned to find freedom in form. In addition to my schooling (and, indeed, perhaps exacerbated by my schooling) I am a pretty anarchic person, so I learned the hard way in an anarchic, hippie undergrad program that the best way to harness my own chaos was to make friends with form. I learned to see restrictions as puzzles that trigger ingenuity and creativity.
Sometimes, when writers are faced with a blank page, we don't find it freeing, we find it freezing. Too many choices fucks with your mind. It's called Analysis Paralysis, and I've often found that form helps me work through this. To me, the tighter the form, that is to say, the more restrictive, the more opportunity there is to play. (There's probably something in there about BDSM, Catholicism, and oppositional-defiant disorder, but best let's leave that to the NHS's non-existent shrinks.)
Enter, the haiku. For someone as excessively and unnecessarily verbose as myself, the haiku is about as restrictive as you can get! And the thing I know about form is, no matter what type you pick, haiku, sonnet, etc., once you start practicing the muscle, it is totally bitchin' how you find yourself automatically composing, say, five syllable lines. It's a really good way to train your ear. I was lucky enough to take workshop with the amazing, late Ciaran Carson last year and was elated to watch him be able to identify a pentameter line just by ear. People are often disdainful of practicing or writing in forms--especially the various x-meters, but I don't see what the difference is between this and practicing scales.
The peacefulness of N.C. Tanabe's Saturday morning "Haiku and Tanka Workshop" is the perfect testament to form's calming effects. The Crisis- and Plague-addled writers who sat, presumably like me, in their PJs, sipping coffee or tea, were slowly awakened to day along with the comfort--and freedom--of a syllable count.
I had never written a tanka before, but it was damn fun:
Giving good sky, she
says, like it's a sex thing, right?
But the clouds look fit
to burst like swollen berries.
Torn skins, leak on Glasgow.
We've put our fellow workshoppers' haiku and tanka here! Go check it out!