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Haiku and the Nuances of Nothing

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The Nuances of Nothing in Haiku

A brief on Haiku by Dan Brady Copyright 1997

This was written upon invitation by a member of the Haiku Society of Northern California. I was asked to speculate upon the meaning or effect that spacing and line breaks have upon the interpretation of a Haiku.

One idea that I wanted to share is the organic nature of the arrangement of poetic lines. By this I mean how well they reflect the voice of the poet reading them. Different people will read even the most common of sentences differently and if it is a moderately long sentence, they will pause in different places, between different words. This aspect of writing I call the organic aspect. I often use commas, extended spaces and line breaks to accurately reflect the pauses in the voice between sets of words, i.e. the mouthful, or between difficult syllabic combinations, or to allow for personal inflections or style. For my writing I have striven to write using breaks in such a way so as a reader, reading the poem, would, if they followed the words and spaces carefully, imitate the rhythms, tempo, and emphasis I would place on each word or phrase as I would read the poem aloud myself. In theory then, a reader could capture these subtle nuances that I'd place upon the words and the meaning of the Haiku by reading the piece with sensitive attentions to my shifting of emphasis through spacing, subordination, or the stretching of lines with additional space between its words or phrases.

Another idea is that the spaces and line breaks or punctuation even are used to emphasize, relate, or distance items or symbols in a poem. All to enhance the meanings of words, phrases, or images. For why else would one consider the effects of these quite vital aspects of a written poem. Particularly when the poem, such as Haiku, is quite brief, and the number of spaces between words and lines make up half of the body of the work, or more in some cases. It is interesting to think that half of what we do is nothing, nothing at all. And yet we work so hard at it, amazing!

There is also the notion that the grouping or separating of words, phrases, images or symbols can effect nuances on the meaning of the poem by creating or avoiding juxtapositions between lines or causing to effect the emphasis given by how they are placed on the page, arranged with respect to one another. A certain effect is gained by having the lines flush left for instance, as if to say, one might conjecture, that all the lines are equal and all are to be read therefore with proximate emphasis. Subordinating lines, indenting each successive line to the right indicates a relationship between the lines, perhaps subordinate, sequential, or the like. Centering the lines along a single axis point seems to abstract the importance of each line relative to the other and in this way create a visual effect that has more emphasis for the visual reader than for one who reads it aloud. All of these can be considerations.

In sum, the fact that spacing, line breaks, and punctuation can clearly effect meaning leads one to realize the uses that these may be put to, and, in this awareness become as much a part of the poem as any other element.

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