Art, Commerce, and Their Disgusting Collaboration

Denny's HaikuI have a great love of haiku — especially since I did the research for my article, How to Write Haiku Without Being a Pedant. Before that, I thought of it as just the simple 5-7-5 syllable structure. There wasn’t much too it. They were trivial to write. And if you sent one to a friend, it was likely they wouldn’t even notice you had sent them a haiku.

Since then, I suppose I’ve become something of a pedant in the opposite direction. Now that I don’t apply a strict structure to the poems, I’m required to call upon all my creativity. At the same time, the real structure of haiku in English provides so little room that even rendering the simplest of things is a technical challenge.

Haiku for Commerce

And as I try to write haiku that are transcendent, the simple 5-7-5 structure that every American schoolchild learns calls out to ad agencies to inject some “art” into their disreputable endeavors. And that brings me to a morning a few weeks ago.

At roughly 9:30 am each morning, I go on what I call my anti-stress walk. It lasts between an hour and an hour and a half. And I credit it with keeping me alive.

One morning, I was walking past a bus stop, and I noticed the cup in the image above. It was sitting on a bench. I had to have it. I love picking up weird discarded stuff on my walks anyway. But this was better. It was a “haiku” — by Denny’s no less. It displayed:

A DENNY’S HAIKU
WHEN THE HEART RACES
IT COULD MEAN YOU ARE IN LOVE,
OR TOO MUCH COFFEE.

It then explained that it had been tweeted by @DennysDiner. It outraged me, but most people were far more accepting of it. It is, after all, clever. It isn’t actually a haiku but rather a senryū, which is more or less a humorous haiku.

But I don’t like it in the same way that I wouldn’t like it if American Music Club’s song “Firefly” were used to promote a new chain of Firefly Steakhouses. I like to keep my art and commodity separate.

The Structure Is Wrong

But there are other problems. One is that the people who created the cup didn’t even know enough to call it a senryū. Or maybe, like everything else about it, they were simply pitching their product to the most ignorant people.

At a time when most serious haiku writers use 11 syllables — 3-5-3 (which I still think is too long) — they went with 17, because otherwise, their ignorant audience would have complained, having learned nothing since grammar school.

It Includes an Subject

What makes the haiku special to me is its lack of a subject. This could be easily fixed with the second line being changed to, “Could be the flutter of love.”

I think if they had made just that one change, I wouldn’t have complained. But a haiku is never about you or anyone or anything. And with such a simple fix, it’s much less offensive.

A Fix

The beauty is that it could take days to go from an idea to a poem that works.

But it isn’t that hard to make something that is okay. I wrote this with the 3-5-3 format. I don’t like it, but it’s easy.

Heart racing
Divine love’s signal
Or coffee?

Being a tea drinker, I’d make the last line, “Too much tea” or “Done teapot.”

But like I said, you could work on it for days.

The Pain

But what really hurts is just the idea of an art form — hundreds of years old — made so tacky. Why not just a picture of a naked woman?

There is something beautiful about pornography: there is no pretense to art. It’s just commodity. It sells orgasms.

Denny’s sells coffee.

You [sic] disgust me so [sic]
Defile art to sell coffee [sic]
Erectionless porn. [sic]

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