Send Your Haiku To Mars! (or… not)

Have I mentioned that I hate Haikus? Not real haiku, but haiku as it has been translated into American.

I don’t speak Japanese–well, not much. Very little, but I have been told by a Japanese student that my pronunciation is remarkable. Which, I suspect, is only true in comparison to this student’s experience with other Americans. A low bar is easy to jump.

But I am told that haiku is Japanese like baseball is American. Yes, it has been exported, but not without transplant rejection. Haiku is, I am told, beautiful and perfect in Japanese; in American, haiku is counting syllables. Sometimes more than that, but only rarely, and oh my goodness is it difficult to tell.

But that’s not my point.

My point is, NASA is looking to send three haikus to Mars, with the MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) mission. Three haikus. In English, which means 51 syllables in total.

And I think it is a horrible idea. If you are going to send haikus, have a Japanese competition (the current competition specifies haikus in English). If space (or rather, mass) is at a premium, send heroic couplets. Dirty limericks. Whatever. Hell, you are sending poetry to Mars! Why on Earth (yeah, ok, work with me) are you limiting yourself to 3 haikus? Don’t send it because you can, send it because you must–send poetry that belongs on Mars. That’s the way to do it.

Here’s mine. Spirit was the muse, so Spirit should get to read it.

(off topic… I was astonished at how good it felt not to write for a week or so. I honestly don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing. I am not really back yet, but drafts are returned, and final papers aren’t due for a bit, so I may be around for 2-3 days. Or not. I have discovered there is a real world, so I may explore it for a bit. If you are among those who have read this far… thank you for everything you have done for me!)


  1. says

    I’m glad you’ve had a nice time away!

    (the current competition specifies haikus in English)

    That’s hilarious.

    For some reason, haikus always put me in a subversive mood.

    Here’s my first attempt:

    Strange anoxia
    alien planet too hot
    for us animals.

  2. Leiningen's Ants says

    We Are Ar So Nists
    Like Two Ships In The Night Pass,
    Cannonball Yer Ass~<3

  3. Leiningen's Ants says

    This Is So Dumb; Man.
    Can We Get A Distraction?

  4. embertine says

    While I agree that the haikus shouldn’t be in English (what a silly idea, they should be in Mandarin, language of our future) I am rather fond of the Anglicised haiku as a form of poetry.

    They are pithy and often very beautiful. My favourites, though, are the ones that have been translated from the Japanese by someone who is a poet, but isn’t counting syllables:

    Disturbed, the cat
    Hauls its belly
    Onto its back

    Handsome boy!
    Oh for a thread
    To pull him over to my side

  5. says

    Oh! and I read your haikuphobic piece.
    Great as usual, but…
    you just missed inventing the hairimeraku yourself, so I guess there’s a tinge of sour grapes in the offing. :-)

    Reddish planet,
    Silly plan (et
    But on Terra
    can’t ban it!

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Actually, Hairimeraku are wonderful, and take a lot more thought than just counting syllables!

    And, embertine, I agree wholeheartedly… which is why the vast, vast majority of “submit a haiku in english” situations are just so incredibly wrong.

  7. Johnny Vector says

    Eek, please don’t try to pluralize “haiku” as “haikus”. People familiar with Romanized Japanese immediately translate that into はいくっす, (haikussu), which makes little or no sense. There is no distinction between singular and plural in Japanese, so it should be just “haiku”. One haiku, two haiku, red haiku, blue haiku.

    I agree that American haiku is a pale ghost of real haiku. Just like American “karryokee” is to real karaoke.

  8. embertine says

    Speaking of translated haiku (sorry JV!), can I do a poetry shout-out to the book that introduced me to the format, and to a love of PEOM: A Flock of Words, anthology collected by David Mackay.

    I won it as a school prize in 1987. It has poems from all over the world, many different meters, format, etc. I dunno, perhaps a True Aficionado ™ might think it was a bit lowbrow. But I thought, and think, that it is a beautiful, beautiful book.

    Now the man has a child
    He knows all the names
    Of the local dogs.
    ~ Karai Senryu

    Judging from the pictures,
    Hell looks the more
    Interesting place.

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