Sunday, May 21, 2006


[First published in MUNTING NAYON, Issue 194, Netherlands, March 2006]

Hay(na)ku: The Philippine Haiku and Eileen Tabios, Its Creator


we do
as much as

live. Then
we write: right

we lived
when we write

-hay(na)ku poem by Eileen Tabios

On the Hay(na)ku blog, which can be found at, the Hay(na)ku is described as a Filipino poetic form involving three lines. Each line consisting of:

Two words
Three nga words.

Launched, by Eileen Tabios on June 12, 2003 the hay(na)ku form has, since it’s conception, rapidly gained a large following and is now used by poets from all around the world. These poets include the 38 poets and editors whose works are included in The First Hay(na)ku Anthology which was published in 2005.

To me, the beauty of the hay(na)ku form lies in it’s allowing a poet in the diaspora to enter spaces that might have been closed to him or her.

As Ernesto Priego writes:

The diasporic nature of the hay(na)ku attracted me from the very beginning because it allowed me to express myself in English without being a native speaker. The apparently simple form is, in practice, very challenging, and allows for a series of singular possibilities. 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". Instead of the conquest and influx that has defined English in relation to other "less powerful" languages, the hay(na)ku is open and flexible, an invitation to share different ways of thought and writing.
-- quoted from Contributor’s notes on The First Hay(na)ku Anthology

The simplicity and grace of the form, allow space for the poet to play. Its flexibility allows room to explore. Where other forms tend to be exclusive, the hay(na)ku is inclusive, allowing say a Filipino poet to enter the space of Dutch poetry or allowing a Dutch poet to enter the space of English and even Filipino poetry.

What is so beautiful about hay(na)ku is how it allows room for experimentation on the part of the poet. Seductive in its rhythm of one-two-three, it can become quite an obsession.

To my mind, this form, more than any other form, provides an open door, an invitation to writers who have dreamed of, but not yet dared, to write poetry.

Mark Young, writing about the hay(na)ku tells readers to “regard the hay(na)ku as postcards from wherever their author has touched earth.”

This statement speaks of how the poet given this space utilizes words to great effect, weighing carefully what is included and what is excluded. To my mind, hay(na)ku’s universal appeal lies in its accessibility.

As Kari Kokko says:

It is a form that travels well.
-quoted from contributors notes on The First Hay(na)ku Anthology

Eileen Tabios, creator of the hay(na)ku form, answers the following questions related to the hay(na)ku form:

What was the inspiration behind the Hay(na)ku form?

Three inspirations: Cameron, a character in one of Richard Brautigan's novel The Hawkline Monster who liked to count everything; Jack Kerouac whose notion of an "American haiku" made me think of creating a "Pinoy haiku"; and a wish to create a poetic form that reflected the Filipino diaspora, which is to say: a transnational form.

Would you like to comment on the Diasporic nature of the hay(na)ku and its success?

Well, what's been interesting is although the hay(na)ku started out being written primarily by Filipino poets -- in celebration of Philippine Independence Day when I inaugurated it on June 12, 2003 -- most hay(na)ku writers are now non-Filipino and live all over the world, from the U.S. to Australia to Finland to the Netherlands and so on. Also, the first single-author hay(na)ku poetry collection will come out this year and it is NOT EVEN DOGS by Mexican poet Ernesto Priego.

I'm really heartened by how swiftly it became popular and global. I had conceived of the hay(na)ku when I was thinking of creating a welcoming poetic form. This partly stemmed from my early efforts to write the haiku -- many of my efforts were met with the response, "But it's not a real haiku" for many reasons. As a result, I rarely write haiku. And so I hoped, with the hay(na)ku, to create a form that invites, that welcomes.

When you first introduced the form, did you see other writers (including non-Filipinos) embracing the form?

No! Not at all. It’s amazing to me!

What do you think makes the hay(na)ku so addictive?

Well, according to those who write hay(na)ku more frequently than I do, the one, two, three scheme is helpful for rhythm and meter purposes. Also, the word count constraint is more loose than a syllabic constraint. Also, you got me the inventor not precluding any variant from the basic tercet form from not being a "genuine" hay(na)ku.

What should someone writing hay(na)ku for the first time, bear in mind?

To quote Mark Young, co-editor of THE FIRST HAY(NA)KU ANTHOLOGY: "Any subject. No code."

What does hay(na)ku mean to you? What does it represent?

So many things! A love for poetry and poetries. The expansiveness of poetry as a doorway into considering many varied things, from culture to politics to history and so on. Openness to life. Faith -- and specifically faith in Poetry's power. Last but not least, how the Filipino need not be victimized by the history s/he inherits -- that is, if we're colonial subjects, we can use that to rise above such a context's limitations and create anew, which is partly why it's nifty that it's mostly non-Filipino poets now writing in a "Filipino" poetic form.


Readers wishing to learn more about the hay(na)ku form may wish to visit the hay(na)ku blog at: The First Hay(na)ku Anthology is also available from Meritage Press at,, and from


In the interest of encouraging poets and writers, I would like to announce an upcoming hay(na)ku writing contest. Watch this column for more details or feel free to contact me at