In the spring of 1958 Jack Kerouac went into the studio with tenor saxmen Al Cohn and Zoot Sims to record his second album, a mixture of jazz and poetry called Blues and Haikus. The haiku is a traditional Japanese poetry form with three unrhyming lines in five, seven, and five syllables. But Kerouac took a freer approach. In 1959, the year Blues and Haikus was released, he explained:
The American haiku is not exactly the Japanese Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don’t think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again . . . bursting to pop.
Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.
The opening number on Blues and Haikus is a 10-minute piece called “American Haikus.” It features Kerouac’s expressive recitation of a series of poems punctuated by the improvisational saxophone playing of Cohn and Sims. The video above is animated by the artist Peter Gullerud. For more of Kerouac’s haikus — some 700 of them — see his Book of Haikus.