ASK JANE 3
Dear Haikujane, Would you mind commenting on the use of upper case in haiku please? I have noticed that some haijin begin their haiku in upper case, while others maintain lower case for the entire haiku. Thanks. AC
Dear AC (does that stand for All Caps?),
Your question is a good one; one that has no short answer because in writing a haiku in English we will have to find our own way. The Japanese language does not normally use any indication, as we do, with capital letters.
Since we are trained to have a capital letter starting a poem, and even have believed that the first word each line of a poem should be capitalized, we get caught in a gap between cultures. This rule of caps in English poetry is slowly being dissolved for other genres, and there are those poets who want to follow this trend and to give a nod of recognition to Japanese by putting the whole haiku in lower case. I am one of those who feels a lower case haiku looks simple and uncomplicated, gentle and humble.
Some people, defending the use of initial caps, say they do it because they want the haiku to be given a “little jump of energy” with the use of a capital letter in the beginning. Others are bothered by this because it seems the capitalized word is the beginning of a sentence and yet, a good haiku is never a sentence but a fragment of a sentence and along with a phrase. Thus, you will find that those who do use periods do so mostly to make their caps “feel right.” Others, seeing this problem, will use the leading cap, but then omit the period at the end.
For me, the period is a strong signal of “this is the end” and I feel the mind is conditioned to close down the thought at this point. For haiku this is completely the opposite action that is needed. At the end of the last word of a haiku is when the whole poem begins – when the reader starts to imagine, to make connections and leaps with heart and mind instead of eyes!
The Japanese do not use commas or periods either, so to not use them feels right in our path of imitation. However, they do have words which convey the sense of “dash,” “exclamation point,” and “question mark” as well as about 8 –9 other indications of emotion for which we do not have any marks. Thus, people who use only lower case, will often include the marks we do have, if they need them, while eschewing our commas, and periods of sentence-making.
Some people, in an effort to be totally correct, over-use caps on seasons’ names, the names of birds and plants which most of us agree is unnecessary.
Others take this lower case activity to the point where words such as the personal pronoun “I” and proper names (such as months and personal names) are also put in lower case. Some people find this practice distracting since something inside of us jolts when recognizing an “error” in a haiku and we get sidetracked into grammar, rules and being right instead of enjoying the poem.
For several years I typed my haiku in ALL CAPS because the ups and downs of the tops of lower case letters bothered me. Unfortunately others saw my ALL CAPS as “shouting,” and I did not want to present my haiku with a bellow, so I gave that up – regretfully and slowly.
So here we have a place for each of us to show our individuality by deciding how we want to present our haiku for the eyes of others. When you know the reasons behind your decision to do whatever you do, and can remain firm in that understanding, then I think you have the right to write your haiku in whatever case you wish. There is no right way yet for us, and whatever you do will surely bother someone, but you should do what you feel best represents yourself in your work. And then be tolerant of how others want to present their work. Blessed be! \o/ haikujane
When publishing your work among the work of others, do allow the editor the freedom to make your work “fit” in with any typographical considerations that person has. Editors and publishers, though dependent upon your good works, are doing you a service by showing your work to a wider audience. If they wish to make changes in the cases of your haiku, if you can go along with this graciously, you sometimes simply have to let go of your highest ideals to be included and maybe see your work in a new light.