Greg Bryant wrote and posted a fine haiku over at his site. I immediately caught the use of personification in it — giving a non-human object human traits. This, I had always read and been told, was one of the big no-nos in haiku, no matter how good the result might be.
Haiku (so I was taught) is the poetry of simply noticing and letting the reader draw his own conclusions. Simile, metaphor, personification, apostrophe, and all the other staples of Western poetry have no place in a form that seeks to describe in the plainest terms that which is.
But is that the case?
Peggy Willis Lyles reminds us that the masters used such literary devices occasionally. She discusses the use of kigo (season words) especially in Japanese haiku and how these words are made to stand for larger concepts than their simple connotations. She concludes that we may similarly safely use the common Western literary devices, but they should be used sparingly.
This article from the British Haiku Society supports the general shunning of personification, etc., and suggests that we patronize nature by reading human nature into it. But here, too, we discover a distaste for an ironclad prohibition on such haiku. We are also reminded of the differences between haiku and senryu, which many English-language haiku poets ignore. To me, that would appear to be a big strike against prescriptivism.
In answering a poet’s question about personification, Jane Reichhold notes that this is a sore spot in the haiku community. She lays out the arguments for and against personification and in the end comes down on the side of greater freedom.
Haiku is a Japanese poetry form. We in the Western world who have adopted it should give a certain deference to its origins and standard Japanese practices. But we are also informed by the poetry of our culture; there will naturally be some overlap, and I see no point in getting upset about that. I am drawn to haiku, in part, because it does not use standard Western literary devices. Still, when the poem is as good as Greg’s, clinging to a rule for the sake of clinging to a rule is foolish.