Look, I’m no haiku expert, and no doubt many would read my attempts and argue that they’re not in the proper format, but here is my understanding of how Haiku works.
You know when you see something that makes you think, ‘Hey, look at that’? And you want to share that thought with others? Well, that’s where haiku poetry comes in. They’re great for expressing little meditations, a snippet of time, an image or a feeling.
What is a haiku?
Haiku is an old form of Japanese poetry, essentially short poems written in three short lines, that try to succinctly capture a feeling or an image.
Haiku follow a set structure, which is:
- First line – 5 syllables
- Second line – 7 syllables
- Final line – 5 syllables
The first two lines combine to form a phrase (idea one), and then you switch quickly to something else in the last line (idea two).
The idea is to create a leap between the two parts, sometimes creating a contrast, sometimes a comparison. Creating this two-part structure is often the hardest part of writing a haiku, because it can be very difficult to avoid too obvious a connection between the two parts, yet also avoid too great a distance between them.
To make it even more confusing there are two styles of Haiku:
A Japanese haiku is composed of 17 sound units, structured as outlined above, but, since Japanese sound units are shorter than English syllables, Japanese haiku are often much longer.
The Japanese also write their haiku in one line and have two distinct parts to the poem. They include a ‘kireji’ or cutting word, which cuts the poem into two parts. Confused much?
The best-known Japanese haiku[ is Bashō‘s “old pond”:
This separates into romaji
furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto
This separates into ‘on’ as:
fu-ru-i-ke ya (5)
ka-wa-zu to-bi-ko-mu (7)
mi-zu no o-to (5)
Translated in to English:
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
American or English haiku
American or English haiku are divided into three lines, which not only acts as punctuation, but is also supposed to give the reader time to form the image before their eyes go back to the left to read the next line.
Whitecaps on the bay:
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.
Richard Wright (collected in Haiku: This Other World, Arcade Publishing, 1998)
Top haiku writing tips
- Many haiku focus on nature or have a seasonal reference (kigo).
- Try to focus on a single thought or image in each haiku.
- Haiku are based on the five senses, things you can experience rather than your interpretation of those things. So instead of saying ‘it’s winter’ focus on the ‘frosty air’, or the ‘crunch of snow’.
- Haiku shouldn’t rhyme.
- The haiku doesn’t have to be serious, it can be funny (although traditionalist might call that a ‘senryu’.
- The word ‘haiku’ is both singular and plural so it’s incorrect to say ‘haikus’
- Apparently haiku shouldn’t have titles (but mine do).
Here’s a couple of my haiku, in the English/American style:
Muffin top bursting,
Above too-tight summer jeans.
Weight Watchers beckons.
Sticky floors to mop.
Dust sparkles as bright sun streams.
I turn the next page.
Dog poo on green grass,
Steaming in the winter sun.
Waits for eager sniff.
In two of the examples above I’ve used explicit references to the season (BAD). I’ve also used full stops (BAD). Housework and Muffin top are probably most successful at having one thought in the first two lines and a linked but contrasting thought in the last phrase.
More Haiku information here:
Over to you
Are any of you brave enough to attempt a Haiku in the comments?
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