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Poetry and Medicine XV: Haiku

Haiku to capture a moment

Haiku are like snapshot pics to the video of a longer poem.

They are a great place to start when getting into writing poems, but there is more depth to haiku than first impressions.

she is an album

each time she visits she shows

me one more photo

This haiku demonstrates the classic structure of three non-rhyming lines, with five syllables in the first line, then seven and five syllables. A haiku does not have a title, but can be referred to by its first line.

Haiku should conjure a picture in the mind of the reader, traditionally one from nature, but in recent times social scenes are common subjects. Here the metaphor is of a patient or person represented by a photo album, and the doctor slowly getting to know her, one visit at a time.

when are you due

I ask she’s not

rapport aborted

Contemporary haiku often break away from the 5-7-5 syllable convention, but they must never be longer than 17 syllables. Also, they often dispense with punctuation marks and capital letters – in this haiku, the question mark is unnecessary, and the long gap in the middle of the second line conveys a pause, an embarrassed silence! I wonder how many of you have also been in this situation?

The picture is one of a misdiagnosed tummy, the theme is extreme embarrassment, and the use of the word ‘aborted’ to describe the loss of rapport, not only echoes the sounds in that word but also relates to early pregnancy.

masked depression

conspires with my sob conscious


When this haiku formed in my head during a morning jog, I was thinking of both patient and doctor factors contributing to depression or emotional distress being missed as a diagnosis. I meant subconscious prejudice or bias, but when putting it on the computer today, I made a typo error. As I was about to correct it, I paused long enough to realise that one prejudice that can lead to a missed diagnosis, is the assumption that depression comes with tears, with sobbing. I hope that a reader will see both meanings in these words. Ambiguity, allowing a reader to discover more than one layer of meaning, is a common device in poetry.

the patient need waits

with bare feet and shod soul

for the space between

What do you see in this picture? I see a needy patient waiting patiently for a pause in the consultation, waiting for the doctor to stop talking long enough to speak from the heart. Note the gap between need and waits, suggesting a pause in time or a brief silence. The feet are bare, as in poverty, and instead the heart or soul is shod protectively.

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