It is one of the world’s oldest forms of poetry, honed down the centuries with not a word or syllable left to waste.
Now haiku, the major form of Japanese verse, is set to take the Gaelic world by storm with the forthcoming publication of The Little Book of Gaiku – believed to be the first full-length volume of Gaelic poems composed as haikus.
Alistair Young, who wrote the gaikus and their English translations, accompanied by black and white photographs he took of the featured locations across the Highlands, says Gaelic, in which some words have many different meanings. lends itself better to haikus than English.
Young, a former mountaineering leader and photographer who now works at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic college on Skye, said: “Lots of Gaelic words have quite a few meanings describing different things which can include fairly detailed descriptions.
“For example, the English word for quartz crystal is ‘grioglachan’ in Gaelic which translates as ‘sparkle of quartz crystal in a mountain spring, on a good day’. Gaelic also has the concept of gender with so many words for natural features such as mountains, depending on their shape, the landscape and seasons.
“Gaelic is all about the context and it’s a language which can squeeze a lot in, so therefore a Gaelic haiku – or gaiku – says a lot.”
Young, who is self-publishing the book which will be available from his website gabbrophotography.uk next month at £5.99, learned Gaelic as a teenager while living in Glasgow.
The haiku, which has existed as a distinct literary form for at least 400 years, became popular in English thanks to poets such as Ezra Pound.
Consisting of three lines, the first with five syllables, the second with seven, and the last with five again, haikus traditionally focus on nature but contemporary haiku also cover a range of subjects from politics to relationships.
Colin Waters, communications manager of the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, said haiku’s “democratic” nature and ability to reinvent itself over the centuries had helped it survive. “Alistair Young’s book of ‘Gaikus’ matching his Gaelic haikus with an English translation and image is an of the incredible flexibility of haikus and its openness to reinvention,” he said.
“One reason for the popularity of haiku is how democratic it is. It’s very easy to grasp making it a good form to start writing poetry in, unlike some of the longer, more involved forms that need a little practice first.
“Traditionally, haiku has recorded moments of nature observed, but one of the interesting developments in recent times has been the way haiku can also record very normal, mundane moments, and by observing them, heighten them.
“A recent haiku by promising young Scottish poet Harry Giles was a haiku about signing on at the dole. Haiku is also perfect for Twitter, as most fit into a tweet’s 140 characters.”