Friday, September 11, 2015


Three Poet-Editors introduce The First Hay(na)ku Anthology
(Meritage Press / xPress(ed), San Francisco & St. Helena / Finland, 2005)
A not so tercet note
By Mark Young

It’s almost paradoxical to be writing an essay about hay(na)ku, a form that’s extremely simple & has few rules – “Six / words. Three / lines. One poem.” But don’t let the simplicity deceive. It’s simple in the sense that a wormhole that passes through the space/time continuum is simple, &, what’s more, you’re not expected to know the physics of it.

The creation myth of the form has the serendipity associated with all great discoveries, the right person in the right place at the right time able to transmute the conjunction of a number of things to produce something that goes beyond them all – a quote from a Kerouac letter exposing itself as it fell from an elegant knee, Brautigan counting in the background of the mind, a cultural heritage of sufficient elasticity to be able to absorb the form, taste it & say “Haynaku! This is as easy as one-two-three.”

& then there’s the similarity in name to the Japanese haiku. Plus a similar structure. But hay(na)ku is an exception to the quacking duck analogy. Haiku are hidebound with restrictions – seasonal cyphers, seventeen syllables, the proscription on more than one strophe unless you’re writing with someone else, bouncing verses back & forth like one of Corso’s poets hitchhiking on the highway. & then there’s the Aha-Erlebnis, the Aha!-experience, that’s almost mandatory for the final line.

Hay(na)ku are open. Any subject. No code. Words can be as short or as long as you want them to be. There can be any number of verses. The usual 1/2/3 form is expansionary both to the writer & the reader. To quote Crag Hill from his piece a few pages on:

I’ve been attracted by the line I’ve seen in these poems: limber, bending, stretching, a yoga, something I haven’t felt much in the poetics of the line in poetry of the last twenty years. These lines have hinges, armature, as well as full-ranging shoulders and hips.

Hay(na)ku is officially defined as a diasporic poetic. Eileen Tabios, in her essay on the history of the hay(na)ku that accompanies this, refers to the diaspora of the Filipinos, how there are eight million of them scattered around the globe. New Zealanders, too, are diasporic. There is a standing joke that could the last New Zealander to leave the country please turn out the lights. & poets too, by nature & craft, have embarked on their own diaspora even if they never leave home.

Regard hay(na)ku then as postcards from wherever their author has touched earth. They can depict something as simple as a cormorant sitting on a bollard or as complex as any painting by Hieronymous Bosch. To close with one of my own:

are both
seed & tree.


The Chicken and the Egg
By Jean Vengua

While we may acknowledge the Japanese haiku’s traditional focus on brevity, the tercet form called “hay(na)ku” is even more brief; it springs from the space and breath of an exclamation. The term in its common Filipino usage registers a moment of excess, a brief venting of some interior emotion: “Hay, naku!” The “hay” part (pronounced like a long “I”) is an exclamation similar to “Oh!”, “Ay!”. Or “Oy!” According to the Tagalong-English Dictionary edited by Leo James English, C.Ss.R., “naku” comes from the term, Ina (mother) ko! (my), or “my mother!” In act, the pronoun “ku” is pronounced more like “ko”. The synonym given in the Dictionary is “Madre mia!” in Spanish.

On the other hand, there is the egg, or offspring theory. Catalina Cariaga argues that the term, hay, naku, comes from the Ilocano word for child, “anak”. Her mother would exclaim, “Hay, anak-o!” (Ay, my child!). Luisa Igloria remembers that “the Ilocano phrases equivalent to “m’ijo” or “m’ija” (Spanish), were indeed “anak co.” Compact, but containing infinite potential, the egg can crack open and become many, maanak. In a brief phrase, one can express surprise, dismay, shock or register a mild curse. Cariaga recalls that, as an errant child, hearing thtat phrase could also mean that she was “busted.” She insists that “hay, naku” is a term used familiarly; that you are more likely to see it around family and friends than to use it around strangers.

Ernesto Priego writes: “I feel the hay(na)ku is a form that grants a common space for poetic practice in different languages; a way of writing in English without completely obliterating one’s “mothertongue.” In an e-mail message to me, Luisa Igloria notes that “…the word ‘naku’ occurs in other Southeast Asian languages and dialencts, including Japanese, Indian, Polynesian, not to mention, in some Latin American indigenous cultures.” There are over one hundred seventy languages in the Philippine archipelago, and no doubt, all of them have their own way of expressing “hay naku!”

My point is not to claim a precise etymology, or to worry about which came first (chicken or egg), but maybe just to note that, despite its brevity, the name of the form contains precious memory, especially in those two letters contained like a yolk in parentheses, it is both “mothertongue” and “offspring”, even as it pays tribute to the Japanese haiku which happens to play itself out in more formal refrains. I first encountered the hay(na)ku on the internet. In this medium, it has passed around quickly, globally; poet-bloggers hae tried it, nursed it, tasted and tested it. I suppose that poets will each perceive through the lens of their own locale and language.  The hay(na)ku remembers what iti is: a product of diaspora, its seeds scatter, searching for good ground.


For Nico Vassilakis, Quarrying About Hay(na)ku
By Crag Hill

(“crag, curious about these here hay/na/ku's i looked around for definite descript but it seems it's just one two two three three three is that right? is there another constraint involved? subject? length? mood? syllabic? is it a blog product? or something that quivers herein unchecked?”)

Nico, as far as I can tell, the two primary criteria of an hay(na)ku poem are tercets comprised of a one word line, followed by a two word line, capped by a three word line.

A blog product? The form first caught my eye on the As/Is blog, especially the hay(na)ku produced by Mark Young and Tom Beckett. These poems had the immediacy of haiku with more, much more surface and sub-surface/versive potential. Word count shapes the line, not a syllabic, accentual, parsing (though I think hay(na)ku is open to a variation that could include a tercet made up of a one-syllable line, followed by a two syllable line, underlined by a three syllable line). I’ve been attracted by the line I’ve seen in these poems: limber, bending, stretching, a yoga, something I haven’t felt much in the poetics of the line in poetry of the last twenty years. These lines have hinges, armature, as well as full-ranging shoulders and hips. Check some of Mark Young’s poems out on As/Is and pelican dreaming. They’ve got a dance I’ve found quite appealing of late.

I’m not sure when Eileen Tabios birthed this form, but it’s grown exponentially. Although it must not be more than a year old, there’s an anthology in the works. I'll paste in the submissions call which provides some more information.*

* HHR Editor’s Note: Crag was referencing the First Hay(na)ku Anthology, which was followed by two more hay(na)ku anthologies; for hay(na)ku information, go HERE

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