The Haiku in the Internet Age

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Wired.com editor and haiku journal publisher, Dylan Tweney, has high hopes for the haiku in the Internet age. No, really. Tweney's first column for the Haiku Society of America argues that the ease of collaboration on the web could return the form to its 17th-century origins, when different people's verses tended to be linked together. In fact, he's seen evidence on his poetry website, tinywords; one poem drew 300 haiku responses. Here, Tweney explains:

Matsuo Kinsaku was a master of this form of poetry, and attracted many students and supporters. (In those days, it was actually possible to make a living as a poetry master!) But around 1682 Matsuo became dissatisfied and started traveling around Japan.

As he went, he wrote compressed travelogues interspersed with very short poems. They were kind of like those initial verses, except instead of being used to start a collaborative chain of linked verses, they stood on their own.

Over time, his new approach gained popularity, power and subtlety. His students collected his verses into volumes, and added their own -- except now, instead of the short verses being linked together into chains, each one stood on its own. The concept of haiku, as a standalone poem, was born.

Since the 17th century it's been primarily an individual activity, like other poetry: The poet, transfixed in a moment of solitary inspiration, writes a haiku and then, later, publishes it.

Of course it doesn't always happen exactly like that, but that's generally the outline of how we think of haiku -- and other poems. They're the product of one mind, usually, and they stand on their own.

But on the internet, haiku don't have to be like that. Indeed, one haiku may spark a whole chain of responses, turning it into something more than just a poem on a page.

Read the full story at the Haiku Society of America.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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