Photo by John J. Dunphy
Scifaiku Discovers the Power of Six
John J. Dunphy
(Originally published in Scifaikuest, Feb. 2022)
I genuinely enjoy expanding the limits of haiku. When I began writing haiku in the 1980s, my reading of the various haiku journals of that era informed me that few poems dealt with gritty, disturbing topics such as homelessness, domestic violence, child abuse and drug addiction. I immediately began writing such poems and was pleased when editors selected them for publication. A friend recently brought to my attention that my contribution to haiku is duly noted in Wikipedia. The entry “Haiku in English” includes this passage:
Newer poets exemplify tendencies, from self-effacing nature-oriented haiku (Allan Burns) to Zen themes perpetuating the concepts of Blyth and Hackett (Sanford M. Forrester), poignant haiku-senryu hybrids in the manner of Rotella and Swede (Roberta Beary), the use of subjective surreal, and mythis elements (Fay Aoyagi), emergent social and political consciousness (John J. Dunphy) and genre-bending structural and linguistic experimentation as well as “found haiku” (Scott Metz).
Upon reading this, I feigned having a heart attack from the sheer shock of finding myself mentioned in Wikipedia. “Mom,” I facetiously addressed my deceased mother while clutching my breast,”I wish you were here to witness this. I’ve finally amounted to something in life.”
While I played no role in the creation and emergence of scifaiku as a haiku-related literary genre, I at least got in on the ground floor. Since its founding, Scifaikuest has played a critical role in introducing scifaiku to the public and much of my work has appeared in its pages. Still, I haven’t made an original contribution to scifaiku that expands its boundaries. Until now, that is. Scifaiku and haiku poets and readers, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the sestet.
And what, pray tell, is a sestet? The on line Litcharts Library defines it as “a six-line stanza of poetry,” which “can be any six-line stanza — one that is, itself, a whole poem, or one that makes up a part of a longer poem.” The definition notes that “Most commonly, the term refers to the final six lines of a sonnet.”
“Most commonly,” huh? Well, we scifaiku and haiku poets are a decidedly uncommon lot, so we’re going to concern ourselves with the sestet as “a whole poem.” A scifaiku or haiku sestet isn’t the tail-end of a sonnet. It’s a work unto itself: complete and unabridged.
The sestet as an independent, stand-alone work is also mentioned in the on line Literary Devices, which states that the term sestet “originates from the Italian word sestetto, which means ‘sixth.” Petrarch, Literary Devices notes, “was the first to have introduced” the sonnet in Italian. A sestet, we are informed, “has six lines, and also refers to a poem of six lines.” It’s “a complete (my emphasis) poem of six lines.”
While Literary Devices is correct in asserting that the sestet is a complete poem, it missed the boat regarding the identification of the poet who introduced the sonnet. According to Oxford Bibliographies, “Giacomo da Lentini was the central figure in the formation of the Sicilian school of poetry in the early 13th century at the court of Frederick II. He is plausibly considered to be the inventor of the sonnet.” Good to know, but let’s return to the sestet.
And why should we want to include it in our scifaiku and haiku repertoire? Because it will enrich both literary genres by expanding their boundaries. Those six lines will give poets an opportunity to express experiences and realizations that couldn’t be conveyed in a scifaiku, haiku, senyru or tanka.
Think of haiku as a swift, deep river that is coursing its way to the sea. The creation of scifaiku was like a meandering stream that breached its earthen boundaries and became a tributary to that mighty river. Sestet will comprise yet another tributary that empties into the river of haiku. Let’s get to work and deepen the channel of this new tributary.
John J. Dunphy owns The Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, IL. His poetry collections include Touching Each Tree, Zen Koanhead, Stellar Possibilities, Old Soldiers Fading Away, pagan rites and Dark Nebulae.