Just recently (autumn 2003), browsing in the library, I came across a book of Japanese haiku. These are short poems, made up of 17 syllables and usually written as three lines, with five syllables on the first and last lines and seven on the middle line. Apparently, the structure suits Japanese, though it's awkward if you try and write one in English. Traditionally, the poems are normally linked to one of the four seasons or the New Year and have a basis in the natural world: rivers, cherry blossom, birds, insects, mountains, and that sort of thing. They use contrast between things - such as soft/hard, big/small, general/specific - a great deal and often conjure up a visual picture. If you're interested, it's worth looking at several books because you'll come across some of the more famous haiku translated by different people, and you'll quickly understand the difficulties they faced in translating them.

I couldn't resist having a go myself, so here are my haiku on the subject of libraries. They're not very good, and a lover of the real thing would probably be appalled, but never mind. If you think you can do better, and you almost certainly can, have a go. It's great fun.

Closing the cover
I lose my quiet thoughts and
hear the library.

I put this one first because it seems closest to the spirit of what a haiku should be. It came from the experience itself, and reading it afresh takes me straight back to that moment in the library when the thought occured to me.

Classification -
dividing the many worlds
falls to a barcode.

I'm taking liberties with this one because the barcode doesn't really classify - it's just an identifier. And, my poetic licence hasn't come through yet. Tut, tut.

Sit and imagine
books classified by colour -
rainbows on the shelves.

This was one Sunday in the library whilst thinking about what classification is all about (I had been struggling with Mr Dewy's one-dimensional effort at the time). It seemed to me that, as a piece of interventionist art, we could classify the books differently. Sadly, I didn't have the nerve to do this in practice. Some small voice in my head told me that not all of the weekday staff would be art lovers and that they might not appreciate the deep profundity of what they saw on the Monday morning.

Catalogue records -
just like an old vinyl disc
peppered with scratches.

Any large catalogue maintained by lots of people is usually a bit of a mess and Suffolk's is an impressive example. This haiku, though, isn't as cynical as it might at first appear - vinyl had a real life and warmth to it. Do we want a sterile perfection? (I think the librarians might disagree with me here.)

Clatter of keyboards
caught in a web of fibre -
so still are the books.

I'm explaining too much with all these. Decide for yourself if computers in libraries are a good thing. Progress or a category error?

Splendid ladybird -
in some fictional world
a librarian.

Why on earth did I think of this one? Where did it come from? Isn't creativity wonderful. If only I could extend the word count from eight to a quarter of a million I could write a novel. Does anybody want to buy the film rights?

Security loop
microwaving all the books
Ding! Egg-heads soft boiled.

That last one was meant as a joke. The heating effect from the security scanners is quite minimal, so don't worry too much when you walk through them.

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8th August 2004