Something new about haiku

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Something new about haiku

You may have learned about a form of short poem called haiku. Perhaps you were asked to write one using the five-seven-five formula: one line of five syllables, one line of seven syllables and a final line of five syllables.

Jon J. Muth wants to free would-be haiku writers from the limitations of five-seven-five.

The children's author and illustrator says that Japanese, the language of original haiku, has sound parts that are different from English syllables.

With Japanese haiku, "sometimes the first line will be just one word," Mr. Muth said.

So for his new book, "Hi, Koo: A Year of Seasons," he ignored the poetry rule he was taught in school.

Eating warm cookies

on a cold day

is easy.

This poem -- and 25 other haiku in the picture book -- take Koo the panda and two young friends through the seasons. There's no story, just moments captured in a few words alongside Mr. Muth's gentle watercolors.

The children's characters are inspired by Mr. Muth's 6-year-old twins, Molly and Leo, who also gave him the idea for a book of poetry.

He said the twins aren't interested in poetry more than any other kind of writing. But neither was he as a child growing up in the 1960s in Cincinnati. His mom was an art teacher and took him to many museums.

He developed a fascination with Asian art after seeing a painting called "Ju (Big Tree)." The painting was shaped like a tree but also was the word "tree" in Japanese calligraphy. Mr. Muth was hooked.

After studying Asian art and illustrating comic books for 20 years, he began to illustrate and write children's books. He introduced kids to an Asian form of storytelling called Zen tales through a series of books about a giant panda named Stillwater. One of the books, "Zen Ties," features Stillwater's nephew, Koo, who speaks only in haiku.

Mr. Muth said he isn't using the new book to criticize the way haiku has been taught in schools. He said five-seven-five is an easy way to learn about poetry and begin to write it.

"But I wanted to go back to the inspiration of the poetry in the first place," he said.

So, "Hi, Koo" is less about form and more about "the wonder of the world as it is."


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