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A regular contributor to Stoep Talk, Michael Pohl in Joburg, recently sent me some modern Japanese haikus that he hopes will replace the insensitive error messages one receives on computer screens.
If you own a PC you’ll recognise these aggressive error messages that go, “You have performed an illegal task and this computer will be closed down immediately”.
The Japanese, says Michael, are designing more poetic messages using haikus.
Windows 07 has crashed
I am the Blue Screen of Death
No one hears your screams
The Website you seek
cannot be located
but countless more exist
Chaos reigns within
Reflect, repent, and reboot
Order shall return
In the same vein, Ian Snelling of Hillcrest has sent this rather cruel haiku (but then, computers can be cruel):
A crash reduces
your expensive computer
to a simple stone
Years ago, Gus Ferguson, a now retired Cape Town pharmacist widely known for his comic verses, introduced me to haikus.
The form of verse was created at least 400 years ago in Japan, but only in recent years has it become popular in the West.
Haikus are best described as 17-syllable fun verses.
Gus says: “The main mover and shaker was Matsuo Basho in the 17th century.”
Writing haikus is very difficult because you have to keep counting the syllables. For Mr Basho to have done this while moving and shaking is very admirable.
I have since discovered that Basho, a former samurai who turned to poetry, tried to compress the meaning of life – or aspects of it – into three gentle lines.
His first famous haiku was:
On a withered branch,
a crow has alighted:
nightfall in Autumn
Gus, unlike most poets, hasn’t been forced by poverty to write in a cold garret living off soup bones and screwing up his written efforts and tossing them into a far corner wastepaper basket. Poetry is simply his hobby.
Gus probably writes SA’s most affordable books – affordable because poetry books are usually very slim and therefore inexpensive.
He’s published several and they are filled with the most delightful and often hilarious verses illustrated by his whimsical cartoons.
He once suggested how The Star might come to the aid of frustrated poets:
Tired of rejection?
Publish your poems in our
He frequently bemoans the fact that very few publishers are interested in poetry. He did so in a haiku:
Today I took books
to the pulpers but sadly
they don’t do poetry
Gus’s favourite haiku is taken from Robbie Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter and has a distinct and melancholy Basho touch:
Like the snow falls in
the river, a moment white
then gone forever
Val Brake, who is in banking, once sent me a haiku and a day or so later withdrew it. She e-mailed using my first name…
“Most honourable Sir,” she began, “it has been brought to my wandering attention that the haiku which I submitted did not conform to strict Haiku standards which Chambers Dictionary states, quite unequivocally, have to be ‘in three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables, usually comical… incorporating a word or phrase that symbolises one of the seasons’. I forgot the seasons.”
As a result Val felt it necessary to withdraw her poem but sent this unseasoned haiku:
A haiku is a
3-line verse with 17
syllables … like this.