Haiku, You Ku, We All Ku

You thought it was gone,

But you should have known better.

Haiku never dies.


If this feels familiar, blame Arizona.

As a lot of folks know, Arizona gets dust storms. Haboobs, if you want to use the local phrase (swiped from Arabic). People being people, Arizona also has its share of drivers who will try to drive through a haboob, even though their perception of detail is about as low as the average TV newscaster’s.

The state wanted to warn people, of course. More importantly, it wanted them to actually listen.

Enter the haiku.


You’re not a Jedi.

This is not Tatooine, Luke.

Pull over now, man.


For those who skipped English class, the haiku is a 17-syllable poem: five in the first line, seven in the second line, five in the last line. (Yes, the last part of that definition is itself a haiku.) Technically, it should be in Japanese and about nature, but most of us skip that part. After all, they’re just too much fun.


Mixing and matching,

Oblivious to the boss.

Syllable playtime.


I last wrote about haiku in 2010, when National Punctuation Day picked the form for its annual contest. Now it seems the Arizona Department of Transportation has started a contest of its own, to find the best short warning that can be tweeted to drivers across the state. The Star Wars entry is my favorite, but others are more down-to-earth, so to speak.


Dust storms mean danger,

Zero visibility.

Pull over and wait.


Whenever a story like this gets mentioned in the newsroom, by the way, the usual result is several minutes of frantic haikuing by the staff just to see if we can. (Is haikuing a verb? It is now.) Even among friends who don’t write for a living, it gets quickly addictive.

Why? Well, it’s a short attention span hobby. Once you know the rules, it doesn’t take long to join the fun. That helps.

But the real secret is in the strictness of the rules themselves. Think about it. In all the best sports, it’s the challenge that makes it interesting.


Who’d watch basketball

If on the court, all players

Could use a ladder?


Strict boundaries. And within those boundaries, total freedom. Combine that with instant gratification, and how can you lose?

Besides, once you’ve got the knack, there’s nothing that can’t be enlivened with a little haiku. Such as local government:


No fracking in here!”

No, leave our gas wells alone!”

Yes, it’s Council night.


Or sports controversies:


A Boston pitcher

Gets “not guilty” from the court,

Fans say “Can’t fool us.”


Or even a blazing summer:


Please turn off the sun,

Scorching rays make thirsty crops,

Let’s have a downpour.


If you feel like joining in the fun – well, I can’t stop you. I can’t pay you, either, but you knew that. Just look me up on Facebook or hit me with an email, and I’ll try your 17 syllables on for size.

Besides, it beats watching political ads. Right?


Most fame is fleeting,

But haiku is forever.

Come on out and play!