After Billy . . .

If I write spring moon
or mountain, is that
haiku plagiarism?
                               –Billy Collins

I’m a big fan of the poetry of Billy Collins but only recently discovered what he does with haiku.  Instead of 5/7/5, many of his ku (see above) are inverted into lines of 5/5/7 or, sometimes, 5/7/7, like a katauta or “half song”of the sedōka (5-7-7-5-7-7). 

Collins’ variations make for an interesting riff on the more familiar haiku form, so I’ve decided to try my hand, from time to time, at some of these schemes.  And since I’m bathing in the afterglow of my recent memorial page tribute, I’ve chosen to start with some Halloween leftovers álà (5/5/7) mode:

Fires on the road
twice I have seen them
on Halloween: burning ghosts

Bleeding sky tonight
I see your colors 
and remember distant love . . .

 putting on witch hat
bonus: it covers
gray I haven’t colored–yet!

Here’s a “half-song”:

The well man lays hands,
preacher-style, on our sick pipes.
Then we all pray: Water’s life . . .

And one final 5/5/7 homage to Collins:

If I write blue crane
or cherry blossom,
is that . . . plagiarism, too?

Any thoughts?





About Margaret Dornaus

I’m a writer and a teacher, as well as a haiku-doodler. I live in a beautiful woodland setting, surrounded by native oak forests, that inspires me to record haiku snapshots of luna moths and our resident roadrunner, and even an occasional black bear as it hightails it across the top of my road, my mongrel dog barking at its heels as I watch with wonder. My work as a travel writer has appeared in publications from The Dallas Morning News to the Robb Report. You can find examples of my travel writing–as well as excerpts from a travel memoir I’m working on–at my other WordPress site, Travelin’ On. What more than that do you need to know? Only that I started this blog with an eye toward collaboration. Got a haiku? Send it my way. . . . I’m all about new visions & voices. Best, Margaret
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2 Responses to After Billy . . .

  1. MLA says:

    Well … I tend to think that Collins has done a disservice to haiku by perpetuating the myth that 5-7-5 (or some similar pattern adding up to 17 syllables) is an essential part of English language haiku.

    I think it can be a fun exercise to count syllables in that way as a challenge to yourself and obviously there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a 5-7-5 haiku, but that syllabic pattern is a holdover from Japanese, which is a completely different language and counts syllables in a different way (actually what they’re counting isn’t even syllables in our sense). So ELH poets have generally moved away from considering syllabic count an important feature of English haiku, except in the sense that haiku should obviously be quite short. I’m not sure how Collins managed to write an entire book of haiku without figuring this out.

    Sorry if this sounds a little snotty, I’m coming down with a cold and feeling grouchy this morning. 🙂

    • Melissa,
      You’re, of course, absolutely right about it not being necessary–or even preferable–to adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable count structure but rather to the breath/breadth of the poem’s lines. And I’m not sure, without looking at Collins’ complete book of haiku, whether or not he veers off from such a strict counting of syllables. But I do still think his approach is, as you said, a fun exercise . . . and I’m still defending Collins on the grounds of his poetic invention and wit.

      But, hey, it’s okay to be snotty . . . especially if you have a cold.

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