The initial idea was simple: one haiku -- seventeen syllables -- for every one of the 365 days in calendar year 1999. After a little experimentation, I decided the idea was actually a bit too simple. So I started making up some additional rules.
First of all, I cast aside the ideas about subject matter and tone found in the traditional Japanese haiku form. I wasn't really sure what these haiku would end up being about, but I was sure that trying to come up with a different seasonal reference every day would drive me quite mad. The one element the ancient poets were least particular about -- that 5-7-5 syllable count -- I strictly enforced.
Verbs, for the most part, stayed in the present tense. Pronouns were forbidden. For a while, concrete nouns of any kind were forbidden, but I found working purely in the realm of the abstract to be just too damn difficult. It's a concrete world, deal with it.
I refused to plan subjects for the haiku. Indeed, I refused to impose any continuity from one line to the next (or sometimes, from one word to the next). Writing the haiku became an exercise in trolling my subconscious for whatever words or phrases were lurking just below the surface. If they fit together, great -- if they didn't, there was always tomorrow.
I discovered that many of my favorite words were three syllables or more. In some respects this made building each line a little easier; in some respects it made the task much harder. It certainly gave me an appreciation for how hard it is to work in so confined a space.
I also discovered that many of my most favorite word combinations were exactly six syllables long, meaning that if I wanted to use them, I'd have to jam another syllable in there or find a way to hack one off. In either case, the end result was inevitably weaker than what I originally had in mind.
The haiku were composed digitally using Apple's Newton MessagePad 2000 (except for December, which was done on a Palm IIIx). I found it nearly impossible to sit down and tap out haiku on a computer keyboard. I don't know why.
So the task is complete now. This project was always more about process than product, so I don't know if what you'll find here is in any way illuminating or enriching. Nevertheless, here it is, all 6,205 syllables of it -- at the very least, proof that I did something productive with my year.
Jesse James Garrett
31 December 1999