Monday, 3 January 2011

Welcome to our new Monday feature - One Stop Poetry Form - today we look at haiku

Welcome to a New Year and a new feature for One Stop Poetry. On One Stop Form we seek to introduce you to the elements of poetic form. There are many styles that fit into form; style being like an individual signature. The form is the structure preceding the style. We all have our favorite form which we often adopt because it is what we feel comfortable with. We would love to encourage you to explore different poetry forms over the weeks and months to come. We will spend the first "session" describing the poetic form and the second week will be a time for the individual poet to do exercises with the form. Please have fun as we learn together!

For the next two Mondays we will explore Haiku

toshi kurenu / kasa kite waraji / hakinagara

another year is gone / a traveler's shade on my head, / straw sandals at my feet      Basho (master of brief and clear haiku 1685)

When I was taught haiku, I was daunted by the structure and so I did the art-work for all my friends who wrote haiku.  Haiku in the "contemporary" form is not relegated to the same rules as the original haiku. For some as long as they keep the 5/7/5 syllable format it's considered haiku. That’s how I write mine. I just write them for fun which is what a good friend, who I consider an expert, says to do “have fun with haiku."  ~MDW

How To Write Haiku 

The haiku is a very simple form of writing. So think many poets exposed to this verse for the first time. The more perceptive of them soon realise that it can in reality be rather difficult. A casual glance at magazines or web pages will often show a wealth of examples, good, bad and indifferent. On asking further, the poet usually gets told that haiku are traditionally written in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. They may also be told that all haiku include a "season word" (kigo) to indicate the time of year to which the haiku relates. For a beginning this might do.

The haiku originates from Japan. Before haiku there was renga, a regal and highly-regulated form of verse with Chinese antecedents. In the 17th century modern haiku was born in Japan. It arose, not so much from a need to write poetry as to express the feelings of Zen. Enough of history for now.

The haiku in English, or, indeed, any other "Western" language, can only go so far in reflecting or emulating the Japanese haiku and individual writers must choose for themselves how closely they adhere to the rules informally gathered by exponents of the genre. So what are some of these rules to which we should adhere or ignore at our peril? For the beginner, it is probably best, at first, to stick to the 17-syllable rule. In general an English syllable is much longer than a Japanese syllable, and so, strictly speaking, 17 English syllables are too long for a Japanese haiku. For example, in Japanese, Tokyo is four syllables: To-o-kyo-o. For this reason, some authors consider the correct format to be 2-3-2 beats rather than 5-7-5 syllables.

But certainly
"The simple writing
of seventeen syllables
doth not haiku make"

[This poem entitled "Not a Haiku" by Gerald England is from "The Art of Haiku" (New Hope International, 1990)]

Those who have studied the form and become masters of it (haijin), will tell you that a haiku is essentially the distillation of a moment. Haiku are set in nature (in the widest possible sense) and they reflect the human response to nature. Often this is by the juxtaposition of images. Essential ingredients for haiku are simplicity of language, directness of communication, rhythm (but not rhyme) and the relative absence of the narrator. The trap into which poets new to haiku often fall is in using the techniques of other poetries inappropriately. Simile, alliteration, metaphor, rhyme, personification, intellectualization and other such devices have little place in haiku. Also, since haiku are meant to be complete in themselves, a title is generally considered an unnecessary addition.

The season can be represented by any of thousands of words. If you use your imagination you can come up with all sorts of ideas as to what season different words belong. Whole books called "saijiki" have been written describing and classifying things by their season.
A variant of haiku is the form often called "senryu." The senryu is similar in form to the haiku but concerns itself with the human condition rather than nature. Hence, they do not contain a "season-word" and are often either humorous or erotic.

To sum up: — a haiku should evoke the essentials of a keenly observed moment within nature; it should include a "season-word"; it should be written in three lines of either 5-7-5 syllables or 2-3-2 beats; it should avoid the use of traditional non-Japanese poetic devices. It should be untitled. You will discover many poems published under the title "haiku" that do not observe these rules — many will have a genuine haiku quality for reasons not fully discussed here, and be perfectly admissible as haiku. Others might well be mis-named as haiku — but be quite acceptable under the label of "short poem". The Haiku Society of America spent six years in committees trying to come up with a definition satisfactory for use by dictionaries. Even now they are not completely happy with it.

For many people, writing haiku, is not just another way to package content. It is a way of life; an open-ness to and one-ness

You can learn more about haiku by following some of the links on the Art of Haiku website. The site includes details about a mailing list where writers of haiku discuss all matters pertinent to haiku and related genres.

Thank you  Gerald England for this excellent overview of haiku.


early spring 
the sound of frogs
being frogs

winter night
the moon peeks through
a torn cloud

on his nose 
a koi balances
the moon

The three haiku are by Don Baird in the Journal of fine haiku Ambrosia 

Important elements in Haiku: 


This is the traditional requirement of referring to a season or New Years. But, it has been found through intense study by experts that many Masters including Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho) skipped the season reference from time to time. However, kigo adds a lot of character to the haiku and places the event in the time of year it happened. In Japanese a kigo will provide layers of cultural resonance to the haiku.


Haiku are, historically, about nature (though subjects have broadened a lot over the years). The poet sees something in nature.... and in the a moment of understanding, writes a haiku that reveals the image of that moment in clear and simple words. There are no words of padding; no convoluted wordiness. But rather, they were written with the fewest words possible ...... pristine.


This is a Japanese principle expounded on by Basho that the haiku should have a light characteristic about it. Haiku are not dark. Basho once said "shallow river over a sandy bed"...... when describing the lightness of haiku.

Photography: courtesy of Creative Commons and Leslie Moon

If you would like to use one of the images to inspire you to write a haiku we would love for you to share with us by using Mr. Linky


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to Mondays now.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to Mondays now.

Maureen said...

Excellent overview of the form.

I particularly like Gerald's third haiku.

Anonymous said...

oops! did not write about the pictures

man, I gotta learn to follow instructions! I love this new forum!

Tammy said...

Thank you so much for this look into the haiku. I had seen a few in the past couple months but wasn't quite sure on the form. I can see myself quickly embracing it. Horray for Mondays on One Stop!

Kenia Cris said...

Monday is official day to remind myself I can't write Haiku! It's so difficult! =S

I'll keep trying, though. Then I guess Monday is also official day to remind myself I'm not giving up.


Heather said...

Hey guys. Excellent overview of haiku. I already have some on my blog Where the Butterflies Go, but am hoping to draw more traffic to my new poetry site for children, A Children's Poetry Place--and had already written some winter themed haiku for kids there. Please check them out when you can, and I'll drop by your sites too.

Eric Alder said...

Haiku? What's that? (LOL!)

While I'm definitely NOT a strict style disciplinarian, I love traditional Haiku - and I even write it on occasion.

Hope said...

my attempt is on my blog. please visit and tell me what you think. not too sure of it!

thanks for the info one shot.

Someone Is Special said...

Yet another great initiative by One Stop Poetry.. I love this..

--Someone is Special--

Brian Miller said...

bitter cold highway
hums mercifully beneath me
following birds away

nice moon...

bumfuzzled said...

not sure I got it all right in concept, but if not. . .we tried :)

Claudia said...

thanks leslie - great to get this started - i'm linking up with a snowflake haiku - and bri has to work on his syllable counting...or maybe i count german and he counts english...smiles

Gerald (Ackworth born) said...

The article you quoted is by me but the three haiku quoted after the article are NOT mine.

Myrna R. said...

Thanks for this great lesson. I'm very new to poetry and want to learn so much more. I'll practice haiku, but for now, I'll keep them to myself.

Monkey Man said...

I am so confused
Which syllable count is it
Winter's or Summer's

Nunee said...

I am looking forward to learning more about haiku...something interesting to do on monday :)

Gigi Ann said...

I am new to the poetry world, and am glad to learn how to try to write haiku. I gave it an effort. I am not sure if it is at all right, but, thanks for the lesson, and looking forward to next Monday's second lesson.

Eric Alder said...

Okay, I just had to write another, this time based on that interesting photo.

hedgewitch said...

Very informative, and a lovely choice of haikus. I had to play, too.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Exciting stuff happening for the New Year at One Stop!!

Anonymous said...

This is a most thorough explanation of the Haiku...thanks to Gerald for the great article.

Gerald (Ackworth born) said...

The koi haiku attributed to me is by Don Baird and was published in the journal Ambrosia

John's comments said...

a haiku should evoke the essentials of a keenly observed moment within nature; [I agree with the keenly observed moment but the danger is that this assumes that humans not part of nature but if mean avoid introspective/ psychological subjective then yes]

it should include a "season-word"; [Not necessarily so - the Shiki Salon of Matsuyama University ruled that non Japanese Haikus could ignore season words]

it should be written in three lines of either 5-7-5 syllables or 2-3-2 beats; [ Again seen it argued that its a single vertical line in Japanese so the three lines is translation convention]

it should avoid the use of traditional non-Japanese poetic devices. [Agreed up to a point if it gets in the way of the first point but the distinction not always followed in the classical Japanese tradition ]

It should be untitled.[Agreed)

Also not sure if the distinction between haiku and senryu is a sharp as suggested]

I found a very good introduction to this poem form is 'Writing and Enjoying Haiku' by Jane Reichhold

Another good source of information that supports and questions my statements is George Swede

He discussed what an English haiku is in depth here

Louise said...

I'm a novice to Haiku - but giving it a try....not quite sure if it's right?
But great to try new styles :)

One Stop - The Place For Poets, Writers and Artists said...

this has been a really informative article which i am glad to see has sparked so much leslie says we will be running these Poetry forms every Monday as there is so much to discover and learn...all the best..pete

Gerald (Ackworth born) said...

excellent comments John -- in some ways my article is too simplified but it was only intended as a starting point -- absolutely agree that haiku are often best written in a single line - but even single line haiku need a kigo (which may be subtly hidden). Jane Reichhold always argued that there was no such thing as senryu - it was all haiku.

It is difficult - and often a thankless task - to get the idea across that haiku is not a strict form that can be learnt through adherence to a few rules.

John's comments said...

Can't agree more - this form is not about rules but capturing a moment so you the reader experience it. Here are three of mine that follow some and break some!

cold, grey leaden sky
falls to disrupt into snow
so we walk in clouds

white waves crash and sigh
seagulls scream by derelict
as sleeting rain soaks

snow tenderly falls
on your face a gentle kiss
from each tiny flake

Gerald (Ackworth born) said...

I like your third one very much

in the first I think you could drop the word cold (redundant - implied by snow) and the word "so".

in the middle one I assume "derelict" is a description of the seagulls.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for letting me link up.

moondustwriter said...

Wow- I'm gone on a quick trip and I come back

Shy little flower
Opens her face to the light
Becomes a poem

All of you shine - we are after all learning together

The Lettershaper said...

I love this site. Very informative.

Gigi Ann said...

I kinda goofed up with my linky. sorry.

John's comments said...

Thank you. I realised afterwards I should them posted as a link. Duh!
Yes used derelict for it various nautical associations as well as it social. And agreed could strip words from the first! Again thank you for your time to critique.

Alegria Imperial said...

Hmmm...I certainly love this. And reading most of what's posted, I think, Mondays will be another enriching experience for us One Stop Poetry bloggers! Thanks!

One Stop - The Place For Poets, Writers and Artists said...

wanted to thank Gerald for the correction. I want to apologize to Don Baird for the error. check out Ambrosia magazine it is a beautiful publication


Anonymous said...

err.. I hate to get pedantic, but those haiku demonstrations are neither 5-7-5 syllables, or 2-3-2 beat count. So why do they qualify if they miss one of these?

Steve Isaak said...

Please delete my name from this list. I accidentally submitted it to the wrong list! Thanks. :)

Padmavani Karkera said...

Thank you so much for this very informative post on Haiku!

Celestial Dreamz said...

Learnt a lot about HAIKU from the above piece and tried one. Thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks. This is a great idea for a feature. I found it very educational and it also got my brain juices flowing... which is not as messy as it sounds!