The Shadorma Connection: Haiku Today 2015.04.24

(Image credit: Wonderlane)

having sat
long enough to dream,
turned to stone;
when rising
awareness returns once more
yields a lighter shell

Several weeks ago, I told myself I would do this. I would broach “shadorma”. This is a poetic form that — to me — appears to share many characteristics with certain languages: Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki, et cetera.

I’ll admit that I’m kind of a language freak. While I don’t have the time or leisure to study or practice full-on the scholarly art of linguistics, I do my best to pick up and retain what I can. I don’t, however, tend to mess around with synthetic, or constructed languages; that is, languages that have been invented, rather than evolving naturally from preexisting languages through everyday use over time.

In any given fiction-based media format, an imaginary language can be named, described, and used as a tool for world-building with little more than a few fabricated words. This is the easy route, and there is no shame in delving any deeper than that. The creator in question is, after all, writing a book, script, or screenplay; there are other considerations that take precedence, and that language is only one component of a window dressing that must at some point move the product.

And what is this product the author seeks to move? Is it blocks of glorified wood pulp? Volumes of the under-appreciated written word? Or is it the imagination? The heart? The soul? You can’t achieve the latter bits by micromanaging the mechanics of a language nobody speaks, while letting the other details become shadows by contrast. So most fictional languages never achieve synthesis, and they really don’t have to. That’s the realm and bailiwick of theoretical linguists, after all.

On the other hand, Tolkien was a lifelong scholar of ancient European history, specializing in Anglo-Saxon epics and languages. He invented fourteen languages, and from them came stories of Middle-Earth, whose very creation sprang from a single word spoken by Eru Ilúvatar.

“Ea!” — Let it be! (I imagine it sounds like the German “ja”, which would be appropriate.)

The Klingon language started as twelve words created by James Doohan (“Scotty”) for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. When Star Trek III rolled around, linguist Marc Okrand — a specialist in Native American languages — was asked to make a real language for the Klingons to speak, so he took those dozen words and created a lexicon and grammar that eventually became The Klingon Dictionary and two more books on the Klingon language. Coincidentally, Okrand has been quoted as saying that others have achieved greater fluency in the language than he. Considering the Star Trek franchise’s fan base, this is probably the most living of synthetic languages.

A cashier once tried speaking to me in Klingon at a Radio Shack. Maybe he thought I looked the type, but I was mostly confused and sought a hasty exit.

Dothraki was one of those languages that were thrown in for an added feel of reality by George R. R. Martin in his novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, but when HBO started production for Game of Thrones they vetted the creation of a solid language to linguist David J. Peterson, who delivered about 3,400 words (only half of it before filming began, though,) and a grammar inspired by both dialogue from the novels, and several real languages. Unlike Klingon, it sounds really cool and probably wouldn’t be nearly as hard to apply to the real world . . .

Except there’s no way to say “thank you” in Dothraki — which makes less sense than you might think if you’re familiar with that fictional culture.

What does all this have to do with a poetic form called “Shadorma”?

Shadorma was created by someone, but we don’t really know who. The mystery behind its creation is something that people usually write about when introducing the form. Often, they quote a part of the brief Wikipedia entry that says that shadorma allegedly originated in Spain and was revived and popularized somewhat recently, but that there’s no evidence of the form or its moniker ever existing until its recent “revival”. That does nothing to mitigate the fact, however, that shadorma is here and people like and use it. Some people write that it may be a hoax or a lie, but is that a useful way to introduce this form to someone?

Like the aforementioned languages, shadorma is clearly inspired by some extant forms of its kind — the Americanized haiku (three lines in 3/5/3 syllables) and the tanka (a haiku plus two more lines of the longer length — 3/5/3/5/5 or 5/7/5/7/7 for American and Japanese forms, respectively) because of its form: six lines, in 3/5/3/3/7/5 syllables. Twenty-six syllables in all, almost doubling the length of a Japanese Haiku. One could imagine several methods by which the form may have been a hybridization of the aforementioned forms.

A little extra room makes a whole lot of difference. The form gives the poet some more wiggle room for the picture they want to paint, which in a synesthetic way explains why it has started to become popular: I’ve read enough double haiku posts, where the author writes two haiku that work together to make one image. Most people won’t go outside the rules with haiku, though, because that’s a form rife with querulous rule-mongers and exasperated rebels. The shadorma, then, would be a natural draw for someone who cares about the fact that a single haiku is meant, as a rule, to stand alone.

The most striking and interesting feature of the shadorma is that as its fictional past is untied to the forms that clearly inspired it, all the rules that attend to those other forms are allowed to fall away; and that’s not only super-convenient but it’s also extremely liberating. You aren’t required to use nature as your subject. You don’t have to have the “cutting word,” which as I understand it is not a word in truth, but a form of punctuation. You can rhyme, if that works for you. You can write a piece in multiple shadorma, and forget the tanka tradition of haiku-plus-opinion . . .

Not that the rules have ever applied to me!


At the end of the post, I don’t really care where shadorma came from. The fact that someone made up this form just makes it like any other poetic form, although most people lay claim to their creations; even if they do so only after it’s proven useful to others, so as to avoid embarrassment by being tied to a flop. My only beef with the shadorma is its name. Though a bit of imagination might attribute a Middle Eastern influence on the name via traditions of the Moors in Spain, it’s really just gibberish, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t feel right in my mouth, but maybe that’s just the newness of the word; if I had been its creator, It may have been called a “cuadrito”:

A little painting.

The most epic cut of the most epic TV show intro ever:

Are you interested?

Some other titles I considered for this post:

  • I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here: the adoption of something small by a rich, poetic house
  • Klingons, Dothraki, and Elves — what the?!?
  • Shadorma: not a Middle-Eastern soft-serve treat (sorry to say)
  • The Difference Between Fluency and Geeky? About Half the Vocabulary
  • Shadorma: low fat, zero carbs, and naturally gluten-free
  • Nixon’s Plan for Sweeping the 2016 Election
  • Hold Onto Your Hats . . . it’s SHADORMA!!
  • Shadorma: I bet you can’t say that ten times fast without feeling dirty!
  • How to Charm Your Khaleesi in Just Twenty-Six Syllables
  • Shadorma: how something that can’t help you tame dragons can still be useful
  • Dragon Soup for the Poetic Soul
  • Sharpen Your Bat’leths, and Hone Your Haiku: Going to war with mythical poetry!
  • Fifty Shades of Shadorma

All comments, suggestions, and additional content are welcome in the comments thread!

(Header image by Alan Levine)

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