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Ron Scully's new digital chapbook release of seventeen-syllable single-line "haiku"

The cover of Ron Scully's digital chapbook titled Bureau of Weights and Measures (Half Day Moon Press No. 10) showing a miner's measuring tape from the late 19th century found in the Grand Canyon.

Ron Scully's Bureau of Weights and Measures, a mini digital chapbook release from Half Day Moon Press, has us peer into an existential toolbox. The poet says that his father would use tools as one would language, and this is in keeping with Wittgenstein's analogy of language being a toolbox (1).

The chapbook consists of what the poet calls seventeen-syllable single-line "haiku" inspired by those composed by Danish poet Johannes S. H. Bjerg. One particulary haunting one from Bjerg reads:

pondering solar flares I lit a smoke and watch a bridge cross water

tænkende på solstorme tænder jeg en smøg og ser en bro krydse vand (2)

That this practice of writing a single seventeen-syllabled line brings to mind the longer one-line poems of John Ashbery goes without saying:

Come to the edge of the barn the property really begins there (3)

Finally, the following two seventeen-syllabled poems are from Scully's Bureau of Weights and Measures:

snap of the plumb line measures where the words swayed left the purple chalk dust


chapel green bubble level proves the world round he said where it went wrong

Both make for wonderful micropoems regardless of whether they meet all or any of the criteria for more traditional haiku (e.g. disjunction, use of a traditional seasonal word, etc.)

There is some consensus in the English-Language haiku community that seventeen-syllable haiku written in English tend to sound over-stuffed and padded, thus belying the all-in-one-breath terseness of haiku. In short, this has to do with the mistaken assumption that seventeen syllables in English are the equivalent of seventeen syllables in Japanese (4). Therefore, when a contemporary English-language haiku poet who is well aware of this decides to write seventeen-syllabled haiku, it is a playful challenge or dare. And so the game is on. By way of comparison, the alternative Danish rock duo Raveonettes once wrote an entire album of songs in B-flat minor (5). The sheer attempt at writing an entire album in B-flat minor raises a burning question: how can this be made listenable enough without fatiguing the fans? While writing seventeen-syllabled haiku in English may seem like a gimmick or the sure-fire lightning path to cringe, it can also be considered as a catalyst for possibility or a fruitful writing prompt. What happens when one skillfully turns this into a intriguing collection of poems? This is what the seventeen-syllabled productions of Scully, and Bjerg before him, show us.

---Joseph S. Aversano


(1) Personal communication.


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