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I’m happy to welcome back to the podcast our guest Mineko Takahashi from Japan. If you remember she joined us in Episode 14. If you haven’t heard that episode then have a listen. Her Haiku was very moving..

This week I wanted to briefly discuss definite and indefinite articles in the writing of Haiku. Sometimes I really want to leave them out and I have been picked up by fellow English language writers and told that I shouldn’t do it and more puzzling, that I had strayed into Tontoism.

Tonotism? Apparently this was a term coined by Paul O Williams and a friend, to describe the tendency of some haiku writers to omit, from their haiku, articles or other sentence elements where they would appear in normal English usage.(1)

Why Tontoism? It comes from the Lone Rangers side kick, Tonto, from the way he spoke. He omitted articles from his speech, so it didn’t sound natural to an English speaker, for example “You not take horse,”.

As you may have realised from listening to this Podcast I rather like the minimal nature of the Haiku, which is why I often have a struggle with articles.

Reading Higginson (2) on the subject he says, “Grammar should be stripped to the minimum that seems reasonably natural. Complete sentences may or may not occur; articles (a, and, and the) and prepositions should be used sparingly but not unnaturally omitted and Paul O Williams agrees, “If it is desirable to write haiku that flow naturally, in syntax that does not call attention to itself as odd, articles are often necessary,” (3) which suggests that as long as it sounds natural, I can leave out my articles, but I must edit properly and make sure the flow of the Haiku is natural.

One of my favourite writers and teachers is Jane Reichhold. She says that one of the guidelines most commonly used in Haiku is to divide the poem into a phrase and a fragment. If you are employing this technique then, “in the fragment you can often dispense with the use of an article, leaving the noun to stand alone. That’s not to say you must dispense with it but if you feel stronger without the article, feel free to do so.” (4) I found this most liberating.

Articles cropped up in a discussion I was having with Mineko. She tells me that in the Japanese language there are no articles. I can’t help but think that the discussion about articles is coloured by the difference between the two languages.

I wanted to share this one of my Haiku with you:

on the concrete
a push a long lawnmower
purple rain

Where did this one come from? I was on the tram, travelling into the city and going through an area which had very little greenery. There were a lot of trees but the only grass I could see were little tufts which were poking through the concrete. Leaning up against an old building was an orange manual lawnmower. It was in total keeping with the age of the building, but it was quite incongruous nonetheless as there was nothing for it to do. Why purple rain? No it’s not an allusion to the Prince song. If you look up its meaning you will find that purple rain is a deep longing or desire that will likely not be met. It struck me that this applied to the orange lawnmower. It’s been edited since I wrote it, because my English totally escaped me and I couldn’t think how else to describe this very old lawnmower except as a push a long one.

If you would like to read Mineko’s Haiku, please click on the guest Haiku for this week

  1.  Tontoism in American Haiku by Paul O. Williams
  2. William J Higgenson with Penny Harter: The Haiku Handbook
  3. The Question of Articles in Haiku by Paul O. Williams
  4. Jane Reichhold: Writing and Enjoying Haiku
Week 18: The Haiku Chronicle Podcast – Articles , Lawnmowers and Worms featuring Mineko Takahashi