Get the word out in 17 syllables
Call it Curbside Haiku.
When the New York City Department of Transportation needed new street safety signs, the DOT posted 144 signs with Japanese haiku, the three-line poem with a syllable count of 17.
Cyclist writes screenplay
Plot features bike lane drama
Two crash test dummies.
Imagine a world
Where your every move matters.
Welcome to that world.
Why use the traditional Japanese poetry form of 5-7-5 syllables for safety messages?
“Poetry has a lot of power,” Morse tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “If you say to people: ‘Walk.’ ‘Don’t walk.’ Or, ‘Look both ways.’ If you can tweak it just a bit — and poetry does that — the device gives these simple words power.”
Haiku also cuts through the clutter of competing messages.
“There’s a lot of visual clutter … all around us,” Morse says. “So the idea is to bring something to the streetscape that might catch someone’s eye.”
How can you communicate with haiku? Use the traditional Japanese poetic form to:
1. Announce news.
Japanese poets usually use this form of poetry to write about the natural world. But you can use haiku’s syllable structure to write about almost any topic.
Jonathan Schwartz, chief executive of Sun Microsystems, for instance, announced his resignation on Twitter with a traditional haiku:
stalled too many customers.
CEO no more.
2. Present tips.
Entergy’s Chris Smith offers haiku editing advice:
Readers stayed away.
Did your headline have a verb?
I didn’t think so.
Heather Lloyd Martin of SuccessWorks offers these SEO copywriting tips in haiku:
Don’t write for engines.
Google doesn’t buy from you.
But your prospects do.
And Elaine G. Helms, director of marketing for Jenkins•Peer Architects, shares this suggestion:
Writing, like sushi,
should be thoughtfully formed and
easy to consume.
3. Write blog posts.
4. Update your ‘404: File not found’ messages.
David Dixon won Salon’s Haiku Error Messages challenge with this verse:
Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.
And The Motley Fool’s error messages are always entertaining:
You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.
Server is willing
Alas, the file is crafty
It cannot be found.
5. Develop PR pitches.
Jennifer Boulden, PR pro at Fort Smith, Arkansas, Convention & Visitors Bureau, pitches:
Fort Smith, Arkansas:
Outlaws, hangings, prostitutes.
Bad guys, great stories.
How to write a haiku poem
To write a haiku, just count the number of syllables. You’re looking for five in the first line, seven in the second and five in the final. Here’s a writing practice where cutting a word can make all of the difference.
“In haiku the half is greater than the whole,” writes Robert Spiess, American haiku poet. “The haiku’s achievement is in what it omits.”
Haiku gets attention
Haiku engages audiences. The NYC DOT’s haiku poems get plenty of news coverage. And that coverage really engaged readers.
“One of the joys of doing this sort of thing is how many people have responded to it with their own haiku,” Morse says. “There’s just a plethora of haiku coming out. It’s so exciting.”
Here are some of the responses to the NYC DOT’s haiku poems: