(17 March 1998)Elliott points out a linguistic error I made (where C stands for Consonant and V stands for Vowel):
The katakana and hiragana aren't quite syllabaries. Each symbol stands not for a syllable, but for part of a syllable called a mora (Latin for "delay"). A mora is famously defined by James McCawley as "that which short syllables have one of, and long syllables have two of". In Japanese, a short syllable (CV, like "ga" or "ko") is indeed written with a single kana symbol. But a long syllable (CVV, like "gaa", or CVN, like "kan", or CVC like "kap" in "kappa") takes two symbolsone for the CV and one for the extra bit. Native Japanese speakers have a very strong sense of how many moras a word or phrase has, but none at all of how many syllables (at least, my Japanese classmates are like that). I, a native English speaker, have a strong sense of syllables but none of moras, which is why I can't hear the meter in Latin verse. My friend Jen Smith once pointed out that it can't be completely true that Japanese speakers lack a sense of syllables, since some conventions in personal names seem to involve syllable count (four-syllable names are masculine, for instance). But the verse is based on moras, and the kanas are really mora-aries.
I knew most of that at one point, but had forgotten. Thanks for the explanation, Elliott! I guess that explains that old Japanese lament "O tempura, o moras."
Anyway, Elliott also recommends checking out John Cho(et alia)'s Spam Haiku Archive for "[t]he best haikus being written in English as the twentieth century draws to a close... The page has become too famous for its own good, almost, with clueless people contributing really bad stuff, but it's worth reading the early ones at least." I've never been a fan of Spam in any form, and I don't have permission to reprint these, but take a peek at the site if you're not averse to poetry about pink stuff in cans.
Finally, Elliott reminds me to mention Jim's haiku-limerick, which Elliott calls "THE BEST English haiku of our era."
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