With friends and those new to haiku I am often asked to explain this quixotic yet simple form. I tend to revert to the introductory description on THE DAILY HAIKU. My opening shot is usually haiku is a short 3 line poem, 5/7/5 syllables a guideline not a rule that attempts to capture a moment. But within this I am aware that it does not help those start to write haiku, that the how is missing. So I defer, as ever, to the power of our community and after writing this post: ‘HOW TO HAIKU? How would you encourage someone who has never written a haiku before to have a go – even in under 50 words’ here is the plethora of wonderful offerings to feast upon.
I feel that HOW TO HAIKU is a great accompaniment to our existing blog collection of imaginative responses to HAIKU – WHO ARE YOU? https://thegreatmargin.org/conversations/haiku-who-are-you-a-creative-exploration/ and also the highly entertaining and insightful responses to WHAT DO WE CALL A COLLECTION OF HAIKU WRITERS? https://thegreatmargin.org/conversations/conversation-44-what-do-we-call-a-collection-of-haiku-writers/
Can it be that between the three posts we are getting closer to the essence of haiku, even the essence of life itself!
Huge thanks to those that provided their input especially the final and extensive response on this post by Sebastien Revon. For those who have not contributed their thoughts this is an open invitation here to add to this ongoing and most stimulating conversation.
Get an idea, a picture
How would you express it simply?
Put that down on paper
I would ask them to think of the most powerful experiences in their life, choose one or two, get them to write say 100 words about it, then invite them to reduce it to 17 syllables or fewer.
Or have them consider this very moment – make lists of what they can see, hear, smell, and then a list of what they are feeling. Then try to put the two together.
Talk about the haiku that move you. Go into lots of detail. Share your enthusiasm. It’s catching.
Start with an icebreaker quiz about haiku to dispell various myths around haiku e.g haiku always have 17 syllables, haiku are usually serious, haiku were invented in the 17th C in Japan etc.
I’d say, start small – capture a glimpse, and, to begin with, make the most of the 17 syllable guideline to help you really weigh the words and their possibilities. Plumb the depths with little shafts of light.
The classic’ English haiku is a 3-line poem, with the syllabic structure 5-7-5. That’s commonly thought of as the closest approximation we have to the original Japanese haikus.
Some people are very strict in adhering to this structure, whilst others see it more as a guide. I think it’s a good idea, when starting out, to follow the guide until you really know why you need to break the ‘rules’ in any given poem, but, for me, content and feeling must lead structure.
Go quietly into your reflective space. Settle. Muse on nature and find what you want to say. Refine it. Simplify. Every word means something. Try not to twist or push it out of shape. Aim for 5, 7, 5 format but keep the authenticity. The last line is the reveal.
String syllables and
Thread meaning into the sounds
Something will emerge
To paraphrase Aristotle (?) you learn to write haiku by writing them
See a striking scene.
Link it to a greater truth.
Make a subtle pun.
“Discover yourself gently”
I’d say writing haiku in any way is challenging. It was only twenty years of haiku writing that I attempted haiku in a 575 syllabic pattern
For me going into haiku started by reading haiku. One day, by chance, I read a haiku by Chiyo-Ni part of a book called “Poems that make grown men cry”. That was an instant crush. You need some trigger. Read first.
You beat me to it Sébastien. The only way to learn any art is to start by looking at those already made. When the light goes on you are ready.
Get them to dip into their pocket or bag – pull out the first thing – look at it for a minute – put that observation, set of feelings to work.
Then do the same looking out of a window. It doesn’t have to be grand. A simple observation of the everyday.
You see something (5 )
Something happens to it (7)
Something else somehow linked happens (5)
I would encourage them to get a copy of
Poetic LicenseIt’s a great introduction to haiku and a lot of fun!
Do extensive research, practice and join the famous haiku groups and ask your experienced groupmates for feedbacks.
Just have a go. Poetry is meant to be a fun, meditative exercise for your mind not a chore.
This first one is just for you. Take notice, dwell for a moment clear your mind then see what connections arise. Breath in and speak a phrase Write Repeat breath and phrase longer or shorter Play with the words. It’s just for you. Enjoy moments. Counting syllables is for next week.
Dont talk about 575 and all other complexities. Just let the person start writing 3line poems. Tats the trigger which would motivate the person to attempt haiku. Thats all. Once they start trying it as a challenge, they will start enjoying it.
I would start by playing with the 17 sylables with things familiar and gradually add variety and contrast. Listen to words by reading aloud also helps.
Suggest writing a daily haiku of their main memory each day. And to read good haiku.
Describe a memory by using nature as the metaphor, background, or allusion. 5-7-5 syllables in three lines.
Have fun with it. Read some haiku then chose a moment in your life and create a haiku about that moment. Haiku are like mini meditations for me
Haiku’s are Icebergs
Three lines floating on the top
The rest Unwritten
A snapshot of life
An image in your mind’s eye
You never forget
Go for a walk
Pick a subject or activity first, then choose some adjectives to describe it or ur mood towards it, then count syllables. Change words to longer or shorter synonyms of certain words in order to fit into 5,7,5
Take walks in nature
Just write. The thought, the image, the idea. Write. Then later consider whether it can be 17 syllables. And read lots of haikus. It will happen naturally.
Notice the things that you love… then either walk around with them for a bit or spontaneously write from the top of your head. If it flows you’ll find the right 17 syllables.
Wendy Houser Blomseth
Take a walk in your garden. Walk slowly and feel the pull of the flowers, statues, birds, whatever calls to you. Write what you see, feel, hear, etc.
” All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know…. and then go on from there,” according to a quote about writing from American writer Ernest Hemingway
Write about any
thing in only seventeen
syllables. Then, hone.
There’s that sudden end point, subtle though it may be, unusual, vaguely, maybe obliquely out of place. See the incongruity or odd similarity as it may be. Capture the highlights in few words.
I ask you this question, do you acknowledge your senses. If the answer is yes then my next point will be, in three lines and seventeen syllables write what you are feeling at this point. Anything, it’s not wrong. Work out the rules later if you really want to.
Shortest art form of poem to describe your own thought.
Use all your senses and go out for a walk. Look up at the sky, see what shapes the clouds are making. Take notice of trees, plants, flowers, animals and don’t forget the busy bees. Ask yourself various questions. How do you feel about nature? How does your walk make you feel? Jot down words and phrases. Then using the 5/7/5 form as a guide, write your haiku.
Remember it is meant to be a moment in time.
Once you have mastered this you can learn about kigo, cutting words and juxtaposition. However as with everything, you have to walk before you can run.
Brevity, the point of the knife rather than the blade shows you the way
First suggestion… read as many haikus as you can. As you read them, decide which ones work best in your mind. This exercise lets your mind establish what works, what is good and what is better. When you find an exceptionally good one, pay close attention to what the writer did, how he/she chose and used words, then you will have a better road map established in your mind for your own creations. Then practice, practice and practice and revise, revise, revise. In time, it comes easier.
Use all your senses. Something will suddenly make you stop to appreciate it more. Ask yourself why that is, and put it into words. Start with the 5-7-5, because that discipline gives you a framework to hang your thoughts on, then as you improve, you can branch out, if you wish.
suggest they walk and look and try to capturesomething in three lines, 575 unless it really calls for some other line length. When something grabs you, I’d say write three lines, capturing as exactly as poss the what and how of it.
It’s a picture in 17 syllables
Dhyano Luca Angius
Write something about the now and here. Than start to chip off all the non essential. Like you do with a sculpture. Refine what is left in only three lines and finally sand off all the exceeding syllables changing words if necessary.
think of a moment
think of another moment
juxtapose the two
Laura Frances Martin
What would you write, if you could only say another twelve words, in your whole life?
Think of a word, select a subject or title with a an aim of a positive conclusion. Start, Middle and End (Introduction, The story and finale. If writing on a PC leave a space between lines, so you can move text around without having to re-write. Read other Haikus from established writers, Enjoy!
there was a recent haiku on TDH concerning seeing syllables as chopped vegetables esp; mangos and cucumber or was it avocado but whatever it was a brilliant way of getting syllable counting over
Don’t force it
Wait ’til it drops
Out of the blue
The words will flow.
Join a haiku group , read the posts one by one for atleast five days get a feel of it try out yourself and learn better and better with mistakes
Learn about the five senses
Connect with the five elements around you
Think and resonate in silence the feeling of this revelation
Write down on a paper
Keep it to rest
Come back with a contrast, comparison, link, association, etc
Teach about the syllables
Ask them to try to write that in 17 syllables
William Dean Ford
What is most like you
Can be found in your Haiku
Cautious, then braver
I would suggest people try to play with the form before they worry about the specifics of the art. Even (especially?) if they already write. Form is supposed to be a framework, not the substance, of a piece. The canvas, not the finished picture
If you can count five
And can count to seven you
Might enjoy haiku
Rules you can research
And apply as you’re learning
May improve technique
But no tree will spring
From even most fertile earth
Without eager seed
Chance of perfecting
Occurs while steps are taken
Not before first one
See how others count, when creating a haiku, then copy the plan.
Try to paint in words
Whatever is in your mind
It helps you find peace
It’s short. Always liked that about haiku
Linda Kay Gifford
Make an observation of something that, by its nature or placement, lends itself a dual meaning or association in that moment. Express the object, or theme, and it’s dual meaning/association, in five, seven, five syllable format.
Julie A Dexter
Write at one side of page
Then get them to write to that ( expose to a stimulus e g a cane of bambo , cherry tree , walk in garden , city .
Get them to write eg.
I see dust
I taste steel metal
I hear the clanging resound of tubular pipes
I smell centuries of old dry plaster
I feel apprehensive
I say new is a palimpsest.
Then remove the I say I hear etc and you will be left with ;
Dust, steel metal,
The resounding clank of tubular pipes.
Centuries of dry, old plaster.
Apprehensive, the new is a palimpsest.
How about that ?
You can then trim and fiddle to get the desired syllable count / rhythm / meaning.
I’ve just spun off this and posted on the main page – to the tune of 575.
Five seven five. Or not. Whatever
A haiku is oft
Seventeen Morae, five, seven, five
Sometimes three, five, three
Sky turns brass
Leaves as scales of gold
Birds fly South
Hooded eyes still stare
Sharp tongues cut the deepest wounds
Love hurts you the most
Syllables (Morae) 5/7/5 or 3/5/3
Introduction to haiku (part 1)
glimpses of evanescence
what else could it be?
but a transcendent haiku?
the art of poetry
in the tradition,
they ought to evoke seasons
in three lines only
was the ultimate master
of this form of art
but many others
have paved their way into his
refining their own
four undred years old
will be the age of Basho
in twenty forty
Art is not static
that is the contrast
we are passengers
poetry is meant to evolve
the cycle of life
nothing new in that
whether you like it or not
so here is my point
completely free now
rules are meant to be broken –
followers did it
even the phonics –
it used to be seventeen,
today no more
often way shorter,
not Nature linked
attempting to read
many of them in one go –
sometimes feeling lost
sometimes feeling dumb
many of them written now
I don’t get the point…
have you tried yourself
to dive into those pieces
without any sense?
am I really numb?
should I give up so?
but still I’m waiting
for that moment when you read
a beautiful one
for instance these ones
from Virginia Brady Young
a real Wow! moment:
“On the first day of spring 6
snow falling 3
from one bough to another” 7
than the prairie – 4
this wind” 2
In my opinion
Haiku is the Art of sense
out of randomness
some can be funny
some can be political
it doesn’t matter
music has evolved
for instance, Jazz became free
why Haiku shouldn’t?
more than having fun
writing haiku could bring you
some peace and stillness
Introduction to haiku – part 2
(inspired by “The Haiku Apprentice” by Abigail Friedman)
I entered Momoko’s office on tiptoes. My haiku master was eyes-closed, sitting cross-legged.
I was waiting by the opened door for her to finish her Zen session, when she suddenly stared at me and said:
“A haiku is composed of three basic elements, seventeen sounds, seasonal words, and kireji or “cut-words”.
Firstly, let’s concentrate on seventeen sounds or the 5-7-5 format:”
“seventeen phonics –
more than enough to mess up
the art of haiku”
I didn’t even laugh. It felt like a bad joke to me even though I could hear the 5-7-5 pattern.
star” (L.A Davidson)
“Which one is a haiku?” she asked me.
“Eeehh… the second?”
“There you go! Who cares about format, as long as you manage to distil the essence of your haiku.”
“Secondly, let’s talk about seasonal words or kigo.”
their own light” (Virginia Brady Young)
That one felt so beautiful to me. Evocation of early spring through a lovely picturesque poem that represented the essence of haiku to me.
“fuchsia in July
Dutch tomatoes for Christmas –
kigo, what are you?”
“Which one is a haiku?” she asked once again.
“Well, that’s easy… the first one obviously, the second one is just a wisecrack.”
“You’re right, yet what is a kigo?”
“It’s a word that is associated with a particular season. In that first haiku you can see the white lilacs with their colour bright enough to glow before sunrise. And we know we are in early spring.”
“And what about the second haiku?”
“Again! It has seventeen phonics but it is a question that just sounds like a bad prank to me.”
“But what if there is a genuine question in that piece?”
“You know already about saijiki, these books that are listing the kigo we have in Japanese language. But what about seasons in other countries? And what about Dutch tomatoes for Christmas?”
I was left slightly puzzled by Momoko’s odd questioning of this basic element in haiku.
“Thirdly, let’s talk about kireji or the “cut-word”.”
I was dreading this part as I was still struggling with concepts like juxtaposition, phrase, fragment, but she ignored my worried expression and started:
“In Japanese we have several words that stand as kireji. These words have no concrete meaning but are sounds that can add emphasis or alter the rhythm of a poem. They typically divide the poem and engage readers in intuiting the relationship between its two juxtaposed parts.”
I knew that sometimes I would find kireji translated into English as a dash, an exclamation point, or a comma. Some translators insert the exclamation “Ah” or “Oh!”. Momoko recited:
“the beggar child prays
with trembling voice…
for a doll” (Kobayashi Issa)
She then asked me to sit for ten minutes and write a haiku that would define the concept of kireji.
I struggled for nine minutes and nine seconds when suddenly: Satori! I came up with this and was quite happy about it:
“kireji cutting clean
between two separate parts –
Momoko read my piece, and without turning to me she said:
“Not too far but you could have done better within those ten minutes…”
The lesson was finished. I went home and jumped straight to bed looking at the ceiling. I was confused with all those rules and their ambiguity. I was starting to fall asleep when something came up:
don’t let them tell you
how to write proper haiku
cuz nobody knows
There was no kigo, no kireji. I had just retained the 5-7-5 format in me.
But for the first time I didn’t care.
WOW! What extraordinary responses that all leave me towards a zen moment of
Huge thanks again to everyone who took part and to those who were unable to at the time of the original post do comment, add your thoughts and most of all as Diana Bliss says ‘Just write’.