Friday, March 9, 2018


Hay(na)ku/Sci(na)ku – Six-Word Poetry
by Lauren McBride

[This article appeared in Scifaikuest (May 2015) print edition.]

Six words. Three lines. One word, two words, three words sequentially per line. This is the basis of hay(na)ku, a delightfully simple tercet with no syllable or rhyme restrictions.

The form surfaced on the web around 2003, and was invented by the award-winning Filipino-American poet, Eileen Tabios, author of essay, fiction, and poetry collections. About her poetry, Tabios says, "I try to create an emotion that transcends the dictionary sense of what words mean or what they typically evoke in the current cultural context." Considered an experimental writer with a love of words, some of which "are beautiful outside of their meaning, like azure or jasmine or cobalt . . ." it might naturally follow that Tabios would invent a form based on six precisely chosen words.

The name, Hay(na)ku (pronounced Ai-na-ku), came later from Vince Gotera, also a Filipino-American poet, who says that it is a pun on "haiku" and the Filipino phrase "ay naku," which means something like "oh my gosh."  There are multiple examples of hay(na)ku on the web, including an essay about the form followed by several poems at Dragoncave and a hay(na)ku poetry blog.

Add a speculative element, and the Hay(na)ku becomes Sci(na)ku. A post to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association's Facebook page on April 9, 2014, credits Martin Tomlinson with the first ever published Sci(na)ku by the Aphelion Webzine, April 2014, reprinted here with the author's permission: 

lies empty
in the void

After reading Tomlinson's Sci(na)ku, I was hooked both by the speculative theme and minimalist form. For me, the appeal is the distillation of a thought or an image to its essence for expression using precise, economical word choices.

Tomlinson also enjoys the "minimalist elegance" of the Hay(na)ku style he found by browsing the Internet. He feels it fits speculative poetry, "almost perfectly . . . leaving the details to the reader, letting them create their own fantasies within the poem."

As for his creative process, Tomlinson says, "When I make a Sci(na)ku, the first thing I think of is the first line; this is what I base the poem around. Then, I start to think about what possibilities there are for this theme. I then base the rest of the poem around this theme."  Here is another example by Tomlinson:

consumes definitively 
Ships dance, lost 

Like Tomlinson, I started with the first line for my first Sci(na)ku, which was accepted by Star*Line (reprinted here). In this case, the form led the poem. I had decided on daydreaming, and that it could be a bad idea if . . . which left three words for what could go wrong.

bad idea                                            
during telepathic exchange   

In the following unpublished example, the first line came to me last as I imagined what it would take to leave safety behind and step into the void of space.

first step
of a spacewalk

In this final unpublished example, I reverse the order, beginning with three words and ending on one.
long, hot showers
old Earth

Six words. Three Lines. A new minimalist form fun to try. Write them in reverse, or as a chain. Write one. Write hundreds. They are addictive.

Works Cited
Brewer, Robert Lee. “Hay (na) ku: Counting Up a New Poetic Form. Poetic Asides. 17 Sept. 2007. Web.
Durkee, Arthur. “Hay(na)ku.” Dragoncave. 9. Nov. 2009. Web.
Johnson, Ben. “Haynaku.” Poetry Forms. n.d. Web.
McBride, Lauren. “daydreaming.” Star*Line.37.3 (2014): 27. Print.
Poetry Foundation. “Vince Gotera.” n.d. Web.
---. “Eileen Tabios.” n.d. Web.
Tabios, Eileen. “Hay(na)ku Bibliography.” Hay(na)ku Poetry. 30 May, 2014. Web.
Tomlinson, Martin. “space.” Aphelion. 2014. Web.
---. "Creating Sci(na)ku."  Message to the author. 23 July, 2014. Email Interview.
Zimmerman, J. “The Hay(na)ku Verse Form, a 21st century poetry form. n.d. Web.


Lauren McBride finds inspiration in faith, family, nature, science and membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the SFPA's Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards, her poetry has appeared in dozens of publications including the Aurorean, The Heron's Nest, tinywords and Songs of Eretz where she is a frequent contributor. She enjoys swimming, gardening, baking, reading, writing and knitting scarves for troops.