Curbside Haiku

From The New York Times City Room column, November 29, 2011:

Traffic Warnings, 17 Syllables a Sign

by Michael M Grymbaum reporting on the New York City Department of Transportation’s collaboration with the artist John Morse to create new visual and poetic signs to advise residents, visitors, pedestrians, cyclists and all motorized street traffic to be careful: Walking, riding and merrily moving along the sidewalk and street is a dangerous undertaking.  Enter the DOT and Artist to warn said traffic in new and clever signage that consists of colorful stick figures and seventeen syllable haiku to be posted at dangerous intersections.

Disclosure first: I am a lover and writer of haiku. Usually not the seventeen syllable/three line form that is mostly taught in grammar school. This format and syllable count is now open to discussion and has been discarded by most progressive and serious haijin (haiku poets).  Therefore upon first glance at the DOT’s attempt to merge haiku and street signs, I was intrigued, somewhat mystified and somewhat pleased at the same time.  After reading the full article and a sampling of the haiku, I am baffled and amazed at this mixed-marriage of lost opportunity.

First and foremost – how are people even in this age of multi-tasking, tweeting, walking/driving supposed to slow down long enough to read a haiku that is in essence telling them not to really do this – not to read, tweet shuffle or do anything that takes their attention away from being fully present.  The haiku become  safety hazards in themselves.  This is crazy.  Does anyone else see the irony in this?

Once again, a good idea on paper but a horror in a real New York minute.

That being said (safety issues first), I can get on to the the real niggle.  The haiku are terrible!  No offense to Mr. Morse (I like your artwork), but these are as far from being real haiku as I am a grafitti artist. For example:

She walks in beauty

Like the night. Maybe that’s why

Drivers can’t see her.

And this, in my opinion is the best of the lot.  For those of you who cannot see anything wrong with this – God Bless – ignorance is bliss, and I say this with love in my heart.  For the rest of us Ugh.  Gonna be hard to sleep tonight.

This is the first blog that I have written from a negative standpoint and it saddens me, but truth be told I am very disappointed that once again haiku, such a lovely form of poetry, is so often misunderstood and now so misused.  And to my fellow haijin I express the deepest sympathy.

Lest it be said that I am not a good sport – I decided to pen my own haiku for the NYC DOT (in three lines and seventeen syllables no less):

New safety signs

car and pedestrian crash

Haiku poetry lives!

Thank you for reading/listening to my rant. 

For anyone else interested in learning about how really cool haiku is written please check out some of these sites:

Haiku Society Of America/Frogpond

The Haiku Foundation

The Heron’s Nest

Modern Haiku

Blogging Along Tobacco Road

Morden Haiku

NaHaiWriMo on Facebook

2 thoughts on “Curbside Haiku

  1. Andre,
    I share your point about the caliber of the haiku. But was thinking these signs would be in places that were safe to read them – the QR code in the corner led me to that conclusion – and that the positive would be to make people more aware and engaged with their immediate surroundings. And that might make them reflect on their perceptions and behaviors in a way different way, hopefully with improved outcomes.
    One of my optimistic days today.

  2. Hal, I hope you are right and I am wrong about the safety issue. At least we agree on the caliper of the haiku. (That is the truly important issue here -LOL. It is all interesting and fun to debate, and I’m grateful that you shared your viewpoint. I do prefer optimism to pessimism, but was having one of those ‘other than delighted with life’ days. Good to hear from you.
    Andrea

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