Saturday, July 30, 2005


The History of the Hay(na)ku
By Eileen Tabios

In September 2000, I began a "Counting Journal" with the idea that counting would “be just another mechanism for me to understand my days." That journal lasted for only five months because I could maintain its underlying obsession, which was to count everything, for only that long. It was inspired, as this first entry explained on 9/20/2000, by:

Ianthe Brautigan's You Can't Catch DeathA Daughter's Memoir which noted the character Cameron in her father Richard Brautigan's The Hawkline Monster: "Cameron was a counter. He vomited nineteen times to San Francisco. He liked to count everything."

A month later, I would write in my journal: "I am in library intending to finish reading in one seating Richard Brautigan's An Unfortunate Woman. From P. 77:

     ‘I've always had at times a certain interest in counting. I don't know why this is. It seems to come without a preconceived plan and then my counting goes away. Often without me ever having noticed its departure.
     ‘I think I counted the words on the early pages of this book because I wanted to have a feeling of continuity, that I was actually doing something, though I don't know exactly why counting words on a piece of paper served that purpose because I was actually doing something.
     ‘Anyway, I stopped counting words on page 22 on February 1, 1982, with a total of 1,885 words. I hope that is the correct sum. I can count, but I can't add which, in itself, is sort of interesting.’"

Fast forward to June 10, 2003 where I am writing in my first poetics blog, "WINEPOETICS" at http://winepoetics.blogspot.com.  On the blog, I'd been excerpting from the Counting Journal.   At this point, I decide to write one last counting-related blog entry, which became:

But rather than spend more days having you witness me gazing into that part of my navel where Brautigan's eyes are twinkling back, let me write just one last Counting post. This one will feature snippets based on which page the journal opens to when I drop it on the floor. The idea came to me when .... I dropped the journal on the floor as I was polishing off my 2nd glass of the 2001 Dutch Henry Los Carneros Chardonnay.

Drop Journal: Page opens onto 12/18/00.  Bush secured Electoral College majority—271 votes—to become the U.S.' 43rd President. It was announced that Hillary Clinton received an $8.0 mio. advance for a memoir for her years in the White House. W/ Simon and Schuster. So much $ for tsismis, whereas one can't even find $5,000 to publish a poetry book!

Ugh. Close Journal. Drop Journal Again. Page opens onto 1/28/01: On plane returning to San Francisco, read Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac. P. 46—Kerouac says, "I think American haikus should never have more than 3 words in a line—e.g.

Trees can't reach
for a glass
of water

I am inaugurating the Filipino Haiku [PinoyPoets: Attention! I'll post if you send me some!]: 3 lines each having one, two, three words in order—e.g.

can't reach
for a glass


Enough poets responded to my blog-post so that I was able to announce just two days later:


It seems most apt to introduce the "Pinoy Haiku" on June 12, Philippine Independence Day. This was the day in 1898 that General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence from Spain.

But soon afterwards, the United States—having just tasted, and found sweet, its entry as a world power into the arena of global politics—chose not to recognize the Philippines's successfully fought battle for self-determination. The U.S. invaded the Philippines to turn it into a colony. It wasn't until 1946 that the U.S. formally ended its colonial regime on a day coinciding with the U.S. Independence Day of July 4. Consequently, the Philippines only began to commemorate June 12 in the early 1960s when President Diosdado Macapagal changed Philippine Independence Day from the 4th of July to June 12….

Filipino poets responded to my call for the “Pinoy Haiku” with enthusiasm. Perhaps in part because, as Michelle Bautista pointed out, the idea of one-two-three "works with the Filipino nursery rhyme: isa, dalawa, tatlo, ang tatay mo'y kalbo (pronounce phonetically to catch the rhythm)—which translates into English as "one two three, your dad is bald."

Here are some fresh examples of the Pinoy Haiku, beginning with one written by Barbara Jane Reyes for Philippine Independence Day:

of the
mo(u)rning, i toast.

Barbara deftly conflates the reference of "land of the morning" from the Philippine national anthem with the wine theme of this WINEPOETICS blog. Relatedly, Patrick Rosal offers:

NYC Pinoy Blues or
The Ay Naku Haiku

shit/different dog

Meanwhile, Leny M. Strobel and Oscar Penaranda's contributions reflect both the events over a century ago as well as the current times (the U.S. had just invaded Iraq)—befitting their shared status as scholars/teachers as well as poets:

Is Cheap
When You're Bushed
--Leny M. Strobel

Drippingly exudes
And always stains
--Oscar Penaranda

Here’s two riffed off by Oliver de la Paz while he was doing laundry:

writes darkly.
Birds trill unseen.

around wrists
make teeth marks.

In these works, what's evident to me is that the charge associated with the haiku remains in the Pinoy form with the type of paradox that one might find in the Filipino bagoong—a pungent fish sauce enjoyed by Filipinos but, ahem, misunderstood by non-Filipinos. Thus, does Catalina Cariaga also offer:

just eaten;
smell my breath


Most of the Pinoy "haiku" (scare quotes deliberate) came from writers who belonged to Flips, a listserve of either Filipino writers or anyone interested in Filipino Literature that was co-founded by poets Nick Carbo and Vince Gotera. While my compadres and comadres happily sent me what Vince called these "Stairstep Tercets," my project also ended up eliciting a discussion on the implications of Naming—and how I was approaching it by using the phrase "Pinoy Haiku." Vince asked:

Appropriating the "haiku" name has all sorts of prosodic and postcolonial problems (by which I mean the WWII "colonizing" of the Philippines by Japan, among other things). Am I being overly serious here? When you say Kerouac refers to "American haiku" not having more than three words per line, I think he might have been reacting to Allen Ginsberg's "American sentence" which has 17 syllables per line. I guess my concern about calling it a "Pinoy haiku" is that readers could say “Hey, Pinoys can't even get the haiku right!" They won't always have the Kerouac quote to guide them. Besides, why must we always be doing things in reaction to the term "American"? An interesting parallel poetic-form-naming might be Baraka's "low coup" form (the diametrical opposite of "high coup" / haiku). Maybe the Pinoy version could be the "hay (na)ku"?

"Hay naku" is a common Filipino expression covering a variety of contexts—like the word "Oh."

Another poet had suggested that I also rename the project because the traditional haiku form should be respected. Well, yes and no. As I told that poet—I also think that, in Poetry, rules are sometimes made to be broken.

And, I initially wasn't moved either by Vince's notion as regards Japan "colonizing" the Philippines during WWII. If anything, I thought that were I to move down that line of thinking (which I hadn't been), I didn't mind subverting the Japanese haiku form specifically because I thought of it as *talking back* against Japanese imperialism. But, on closer consideration, I realized that the perspective could work both ways...and that using the "haiku" reference also could imply a continuation of "colonial mentality."

Catalina "Catie" Cariaga also appreciated Vince's comments:

Hey Vince, I like "hay(na)ku." That's the spirit! Like halo-halo. There's a chapter in Vicente Rafael's Contracting Colonializm about that guy Pin Pin who translated the Spanish grammar book into the Filipino vernacular—which ended taking all types of forms, songs, explanations and translations—perhaps to SUBVERT the very project he was assigned to "translate." I read Rafael's comments very seriously. Pin Pin used combinations of long languid fluid lines and short syllabic bursts. We have those kinds of macro and micro-rhythms in our F(P)ilipino American repertoire. Like halo-halo.

Vicente's observations, indeed, should be read by many. But, with all due respect to Vicente, I also found Catie's reply most persuasive due to the reference to halo-halo: an incredibly yummy-licious Filipino dessert of shaved ice, coconut shavings, bits of fruit jello and tropical fruits like jackfruit, banana, .....I'ma getting hungry....

Anyway, I bowed to Vince's wisdom (he is, after all, older than I am; wink here at Vince) and renamed the form "HAY(NA)KU."


Since the birth of hay(na)ku, there has been a hay(na)ku contest judged by Barbara Jane Reyes which was quite popular in the internet's poetry blogland; the hay(na)ku form was taught by Junichi P. Semitsu, then Director of “June Jordan’s Poetry for the People" program at the African American Studies Department at U.C. Berkeley; and many other poets—non-Filipino as well as Filipino—have picked up the form to write it as I originally conceived as well as to offer variations. 

Maya Mason Fink, the 11-year-old daughter of poet Thomas Fink, concocted a variation whereby the first line has one word of one letter, the second line two words of two letters each, the third line three words of three letters each, and so on—as far as the poet wishes to take it.  “The Mayan Hay(na)ku” points to one of the hay(na)ku’s possibilities as an attractive tool for introducing poems to youngsters. 

Kari Kokko introduced a “moving hay(na)ku” via the internet whereby, through the wonders of HTML, the lines move across the screen.  Thomas Fink, a painter as well as a poet, also completed a painting series that presents his visual manifestation of the hay(na)ku. Other hay(na)ku variations include the “Ducktail Hay(na)ku” whose ducktail references a hairstyle that shows a thin strand of hair trailing down from an otherwise shortly-cropped hair cut; this version features the three-line stanza, followed by another one-line stanza of any length.  Another variation is the “Reverse Hay(na)ku” whereby the numbering of words per line is 3, 2 and 1, respectively, versus 1, 2 and 3.  One of the most effective variations has been the hay(na)ku sequence, as epitomized in the works of Kirsten Kaschock, Sheila Murphy, harry k.stammer, Tom Beckett, Ernesto Priego and many other poets. Some of these sequences are included in this anthology. Others, as the hay(na)ku continues to develop and spread as a poetic form, have been written since submissions and considerations closed, and have appeared elsewhere. At the time of writing this essay, Scott Glassman is introducing the “abecedarian hay(na)ku” sequence whereby each word begins with each succeeding letter of the English alphabet. 

As one can see by the history of the hay(na)ku, it is a community-based poetic form which fits my own thoughts on the poem as a space for engagement.  "Community" is a word laden with much baggage -- both good and bad. I, too, have a conflicted reaction to the word. But I have to say that some of my favorite poetic projects are those where I consciously am building towards a community -- through both poetic form and content. Why? Because I think a poem doesn't fully mature without a particular community called reader(s).  Poetry is (inherently) social.


Since the initial response by Filipino poets to the hay(na)ku, many—if not most—hay(na)ku have been written by non-Filipinos.  This is certainly a fine result since Poetry is not (or need not be) ethnic-specific.  But I’m also glad that non-Filipinos have taken up this form because I consider the hay(na)ku—as I’ve stated on its official “Hay(na)ku Blog” to be both a Filipino as well as Diasporic Poetic.

In the diaspora, the Filipino meets many influences and what would be the point of denying such?  Given that the diaspora has existed throughout Filipino history, to call something “Filipino,” in my view, is not the same as hearkening back only to so-called “indigenous” Filipino traits.  I agree with Filipino poet Eric Gamalinda when he observes, “The history of the Philippines is the history of the world.”


Ironically, I actually feel myself mostly mediocre at the hay(na)ku.  I’ve written just a few as of the time of preparing this anthology, such as this while potty-training my puppy Achilles:

”by” Achilles

Potty!" Mama
exhorts. Sigh. Poop.

But I also think it’s appropriate that I, presumably the hay(na)ku’s “inventor,” may be mediocre at this form.  I think this logical because I’ve long felt that Poetry ultimately transcends the poet’s autobiography.  Even when the narrative offers up elements of my own life, I consider the poem a space of engagement with others, with the results nothing I can either predict or control.  In this sense, the hay(na)ku very much retains my person-hood, even as its outcomes are based on others. 

For the hay(na)ku, as with any of my poems, all I can do is offer my hand and hope that someone ultimately will grasp it.  For the hay(na)ku, I feel as if the entire universe wreathed itself about that writing hand.  Thank you, All.

July 31, 2005
St. Helena, California


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