Book Review: Grooks

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I finally came up with a copy of the first Grooks collection this year (and now I’m on the hunt for the third).

A tiny bit of background: Piet Hein was a member of the Danish Resistance in World War II, as well as a mathematician and inventor. And a poet. Grooks started to appear in the newspaper shortly after the Nazi occupation of Denmark in 1940. They’re quick, witty, and frequently have more than one meaning if you look.

The collections, this one included, are short enough to be read in one sitting if you really want to, but more fun to draw out and savour over a few days, although that’s hard.

My favourite from this first volume:

Social Mechanism

When people always

Try to take

The very smallest

Piece of cake

How can it also

Always be

That that’s the one

That’s left for me?

Overall rating: 4 stars. Oddly, I like the next collection better (read it last year), but this has a lot of great work in it. Definitely worth anyone’s time.

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To Haiku or Not to Haiku?

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If it’s not the question, at least it’s a question.

For reasons known to only my subconscious, I’ve been writing a lot of haiku lately, and I’ve decided to focus the efforts into a pair of poetry projects.  Some of the haiku I’ve been posted, one per day, to Twitter and Facebook, under the #dailyhaiku hashtag.  Yes, strictly speaking they’re not all haiku.  Some are senryu, some are scifiku (or scifaiku, but I don’t think the ‘a’ is really necessary and I want to pronounce it differently), and some are, well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

Crash course:

Haiku = traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively, 17 total.  Haiku need to contain a seasonal or natural reference and often catch a single thought and/or image.  There’s a lot more to it than that if you look at things in depth, and there’s been a lot written on the subject in many languages.

Senryu = traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively, 17 total.  Wait, what?  Isn’t that haiku?  Well, yes, but where haiku looks at the natural world, senryu have to do with human affairs.  Again, I’m oversimplifying, but I’m not an expert.  Many people lump them together, anyway, as evidenced by a quick Google returning 13.8 million hits for haiku but only 338,000 for senryu.

Veering back from the tangent, 3 lines, 17 syllables.  Well, in Japanese.  When you’re looking at a purely syllabic structure and porting it from one language to another, the relative information density of both languages comes into play.  English is, apparently, a little denser than Japanese.  You can have fewer than 17 syllables; 13-15 gives about the same information content in English as 17 does in Japanese, but anything up to 17 is fine.  (Russian, I’ve read, is a little less dense than Japanese, and haiku tend to the 20-21 syllable mark.)

Clear?  Ish?

So I’m calling this project Daily Haiku.  Now, a nice numerical conjunction would be to think of that 17 classical syllables and write one each day for 17 days.  But that seems a little short for a project, doesn’t it?  Well, how about for 17*17 days (289)?  Less than a year, but still a fairly hefty project, even if each individual piece of it doesn’t take very long (a couple have taken only as long to compose as they’ve taken to type).  And yes, because I am a total geek, I did stop to figure out what 1717 days works out to, and the universe will be cold and dark long, long before that many years have passed (2.266 x 1018), so no.

A non-17-syllable example from the 13th of April:

The sump pump runs hard

Trying to keep my basement

Above water

That’s haiku project Number 1, which began on April 1st this year and will theoretically end on January 14th 2012, if I feel like stopping.  Haiku project Number 2, The Star Trek Haiku Cycle, comes under the heading of Scifiku (Scifiku, by the way, to my mind constitutes a sub-class of senryu.  SCIence FIction haiKU, or SCIence Fiction hAIKU, depending on how you want to spell it).  I’m writing a single haiku for each episode and movie of the original Star Trek series.  Yes, really.  And why not?  I’m a trekkie (and you should be, too).

Will I move on to the other Star Trek series when I’m done?  Well, the animated series, probably, but if you stop to add things up across all of the shows, there are 725 episodes and 11 movies.  That’s a much bigger project.  We’ll see.

It’s hard to encapsulate an entire episode in three lines, but you can grab a moment or a concept.  Some are obvious, some not.  But see if you can guess what episode this is from:

Not morg, not imorg

Brain and brain, what is brain?

Who can say?

Haiku anyone?

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