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The Los Angeles River: A Haiku Sequence

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

Kayakers on the non-navagational river

Kayakers on the non-navagational river

The River Still Flows


From wooded forest

Through the gritty, urban streets.

The river still flows.


It’s relegated

Through wide, sparse concrete channels

With straight and gray banks.


Glad bags, black and white,

swim freely in the slow flow

where salmon once spawned.


The fresh graffiti

on the smooth, gray embankment

sprout where plants once did.


Still, this river flows

under art-deco bridges

near the clogged freeways.


From creeks, storm channels,

to the wide harbor entrance.

Nothing stops its flow.


The L.A. River

altered by city planning

-- its nature, untamed.


Haiku and its 360 Degree Evolution

Haiku Sequence

Haiku’s evolution is interesting, to say the least. It started as being part of a longer format known as a renga, and was placed at the beginning of what was known as the Hokku (the introduction). Later, it became a stand-alone poem during the era of Basho.

And now, it has returned in a longer format known in the western world as a haiku sequence. The sequence started in Japan and was widely adopted in the rest of world. Major poets such as Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, Spanish poet Antonio Machado, and Jack Kerouac have experimented with haiku sequences.

Also, haiku sequences fall under two categories in Japan. The first is called gunsaku. It is often made up of independent haiku with the same subjects or themes. Often, they will examine these themes from many different angles.

The other is called rensaku. The haikus become dependent stanzas and reflect common themes with each haiku building on one another. Of the two, rensaku is the newest (it flourished in the 1930s and 40s) and most adapted form in western world. In many respects, the rensaku is akin to a narrative poem since it will, at times, be used to tell a story.

Westernized versions of haiku sequences tend to combine other formats and genre and follow a rigid 5-7-5 format for each haiku/stanza. As mentioned, many are turned into narrative poems. Others step away from nature and explore human qualities, love, politics, and other issues (in a sense, they become senryu sequences).

Haiku sequences have become popular in the English language. Interestingly, three forms of sequences have been used. The gunsaku, rensaku, and some variation of the older, original version, renga have been used. The evolution of haiku has seemingly come full circle.

Los Angeles River in Glendale, Ca.

Los Angeles River in Glendale, Ca.

Another Haiku Sequence About Los Angeles(It Never Fails)

© 2012 Dean Traylor

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