Tag Archives: poetry


timelessly touching time
then gone
in an instant
and present

Fun with haiku


What it is

Haiku, a japanese form of very brief poem, is quite popular at the moment. It’s particularly popular on the social interaction site Twitter, where messages are limited to 140 characters each, since a haiku will normally fit comfortably into one message.

You can read properly about how Japanese haiku works here. Most people who write it for fun, though, disregard most of the conventions and treat a haiku as being simply a three-line poem of seventeen syllables, broken up as 5+7+5.

Why I like it

I’ve recently started trying to write haiku, and it turns out that I like it, for a variety of reasons.

I suppose haiku’s most obvious feature is that it’s very short. And in fact, because the Japanese version doesn’t actually count syllables but an even shorter unit, seventeen syllables is a bit on the long side.

The shortness means that

  • every word counts
  • you can, however, take time to choose every word carefully, since there are so few
  • you’re forced to get to the core of what you want to express
  • there are a limited number of rhythmic patterns for each line, and you can experiment with them

These features make it a fascinating exercise, good editing practice, and for me, quite therapeutic: if there’s something you want to express, there’s nothing quite like boiling it down to seventeen concentrated syllables to get it out of your system.

Haiku rant

Digression: why I hate misused .pdf files

I get particularly irritated online by use of .pdf files as a substitute for web pages. For example, I recently joined my local NHS Trust. They started sending me their newsletter–so I thought. But what actually came was a link to a .pdf file.

As it was in .pdf form I had to go to my local library to read it. Once there, I found it was laid out like a large, glossy publication, with pages too large to read even on the huge PC screen I was using. I couldn’t simultaneously have the text a legible size and see the whole page; but seeing the whole page was necessary in order to read the text without scrolling from side to side, and to find my way around. And this was in the interests of “inclusion” in the NHS. If they’d not bothered with the glossy print layout, I could have read it, and they could probably have published it weeks earlier too and saved time and money.

That’s not surprising, really. What .pdf excels at is preserving a print layout, so that whoever prints it out gets the same result. It’s ideal for sending material for commercial printing, for example. In other words, it’s totally inflexible. Whereas computers are good at displaying material flexibly. As I write this, I can resize the window and simultaneously view another containing my notes.

There are of course solutions like Google Reader for reading online .pdf files. And it often does a good job. Though I’ve several times had the experience of trying to read maths .pdf files that way, only to discover that Google Reader had in fact removed all the maths from them. Presumably the equations had been treated as images which it ignored.

OK, now that was a longish explanation of why I’m not keen on .pdf documents on the Web. But it doesn’t really express how I feel about it. I think it was because of the maths-free maths articles that I found myself posting a series of haiku on Twitter.

The haiku

First was

PC screens–and Mac!–
are not the same as paper.
Don’t post PDF!

which expresses the basic problem. But it’s not very specific. One of the main difficulties is

Your paper layout
is precisely the wrong shape
to view on my screen.

And then there’s the way I have to read the things:

Acrobat Reader
is not a way I would choose
for reading your stuff

Ane even if I liked the program,

Acrobat Reader
cannot run on my mobile.
My web browser can.

You want me to read?
Then let it wrap to the screen
of any device.

Usually I’m accessing the Web not from a PC, but from my phone. I use Opera Mini, which does a brilliant job of making most HTML pages viewable. But every so often, I’m told that I need to download “a more current version of Flash Player”. And I’m 99% sure that it couldn’t run on my k750i. And 100% sure that it’s no use at all for enabling Opera Mini to display Flash. So, please:

ERROR: your website
lacks compatibility
and needs upgrading

and finally,

You cannot predict
my operating system.
Be universal.

You’d be amazed how satisfying those were to write.

And yes, I know, this is a fixed-width page, going against the spirit of what I’ve just said . . . But one step at a time.