Haiku workshop

Like many in the US, I grew up believing that haiku was any poem that followed a 5-7-5 syllable, 3-line format. We wrote them as kids. Any topic was fair game as long as it adhered to the syllable and line restrictions. I never thought much about it beyond that.

Decades later, I discovered twitter and friends who enjoyed poetry as much as I do, many of whom wrote haiku (the short form adapts well to twitter’s 140 character limitation). The haiku they wrote were hauntingly beautiful. However, these haiku did not follow the 5-7-5 pattern. I was confused. Clearly, I did not understand haiku.

One of my haiku-writing friends sent me links on haiku and tanka (another Japanese form) and I found additional pages regarding the diversity of haiku. Reading these descriptions made me feel that I could wade in to this mysterious form and splash about for fun. I knew I would not become a haiku master, but enjoyed writing them as an exercise that could help my other writing.

Haiku is all that it needs to be and nothing more. Haiku leaves “space” between the words, which is a technique I enjoy practicing. Haiku causes one to focus on the essentials.

From what I’ve read, the 5-7-5 restriction refers to Japanese syllables (morae), and is not a necessary in other languages. Haiku does have a few binding guidelines, however:

  • Haiku creates juxtaposition between two seemingly unrelated things, linked by a “cutting word” or cutting punctuation
  • the descriptions are objective, and leave “space” for the reader’s personal or  subjective interpretation
  • the topic is sensory and grounded temporally
  • no rhyming! no metaphors! no simile! no title! no fancy words! no extra words! Haiku is simple as sunshine.
  • the result of haiku is to point to an epiphany, or more accurately, to have the reader discover an epiphany

So, I wrote some haiku. I would love constructive feedback, either from those who understand the form or from those who have a purely gut-level response. Poetry, after all, requires only a listening ear.

And please Haiku masters, do kindly correct any common misunderstandings about the form.

Full moon
through uncurtained window –
I turn off the lights

In the Sun’s reflection
a lighted tunnel
a portal in the dark
(Bonus points for guessing to what this refers!)

The low rumble
of a wild animal –
toddler snoring

Hot shower –
on a sunny morning
I make a cloud

Rainy morning
I stay inside
and shower

Hearts –
waiting to be eaten
in love
(Valentine’s Day haiku)

Feel free to add your own haiku in the comments if you wish.

9 thoughts on “Haiku workshop

  1. It sounds very much like you have done a lot of study into what a haiku should be, and your examples show that study very well. Most people do not work that hard to understand something. You make me smile :))

    1. And your comment makes me smile, Roary. Coming from someone who writes breathtaking haiku and micropoetry, I take this technical assessment with confidence. :) One must build the foundation first, right? Thank you! (and yes, I like to truly understand things!)

  2. Welcome Kat! So just take these as just a few subjective thoughts:

    You have the right idea on doing some research. There is a treasure trove of free resources available to anyone interested. I like Graceguts, which caters to the beginning and intermediate haiku poet. Jane Reichhold’s Aha poetry is another. But there are millions.

    Of course there is no substitute for reading a lot of haiku (btw, no “s” to make it plural). Frogpond has back issues available, as do electronic journals like A Hundred Gourds, The Heron’s Nest, Notes From The Gean, etc.

    Other thoughts — I’d take the word “binding” out from before guidelines above. The key is to learn the basics, principles, etc., and break as necessary. For my money, though, the most important of the ones you list are (i) no wasted words; and (ii) leave room for the reader’s interpretation — as you might imagine, these two guideline are complementary.

    And good haiku offerings! My advice would be to ratchet up the juxtapositions between the two parts a bit more. Should really be two distinct parts that the reader links. So, using what you’ve got:

    Valentine’s Day —
    her heart
    tastes like chocolate

    on both sides
    of the window
    full moon

    snoring toddler —
    my husband confesses
    his fear of bears

    You get the picture. One thought I use is, if everyone “gets” my poem, it’s too obvious. I shoot for more like 75%, but probably don’t always hit it, as I err on the side of lack of obviousness.

    Again — all that’s just me. We’re doing NaHaiWriMo on Facebook this month. You should join us.

    Best wishes.

    1. I appreciate this kind reply, thoughtful re-writes and trusted references. It’s good to hear the practice and what guidelines can stretched or forgotten from a talented haiku writer like you. I would love to join NaHaiWriMo on facebook. Writing one a day might help me get over the hump. Many thanks. :)

  3. Hi Kat ThankQ for sharing with me your poetry .. well I must confess I often # haiku because it catches the eye of others who also “write” haiku Or call it as you will, to me its its poetry that I love to write read & share with others on line twitter Yes,,,,,, now ask me what haiku is apart from the 5.7.5 or 3.5.3 that i have read been told about etc….. I actually would not in many respects by anyone who believes they are practicing the “traditional: haiku Of the “Masters” …be writing Haiku and it bothers me none at all. Why you may ask because I tend to Shy & with caution from Anyone whom refers to anybody by the name the word ‘Master”..! Anyone who puts another human being up on a pedestal as a Master of anything i find rather dictating controlling. …. I don’t feel i should be dictated by anyone on what I should write how I should write it because of one person who wrote a poem and gave it a title .. the person or person’s who did such things did them Wonderfully so only that was then and now is NoW and there are people who are doing things now with haiku that in my minds eye is Just as Wonderful … and so and so it will be as the world changes grows time passes so do things change in structure in mind thought etc etc etc..Nobody will ever be a Michelangelo the same as nobody will ever be a Matsuo Bashō and Nobody will ever be Moi ;)) or YOU…… so I write my haiku as I do… I have many dm me argue with me on twitter that err to call my poetry a haiku … if i was going to give it a name a title a what is it … :)) I guess you could call my poetry haiku … free hand haiku . I also am not someone who feels there is a need for another to tell someone how to write haiku poetry or anything I really truly detest all such titles but being on twitter It calls for a # of communication to share your writing with others so I follow suit but only so much :) I thought your reference to the Sun maybe the reflection of the sun as it hits the waters at the end of the day.. into the porthole…as .. being .swallowed by the sea ….. yes no ? lol & I truly enjoy reading your poetry,, always with peace love and the good grace of being beez :)

    1. Oh, I love this perspective, Beez, you are a poet after my heart. As EE Cummings wrote “since feeling is first who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you” and I suppose that is how I think of poetry. To me, poetry is primarily right-brained and I do my best poetic writing when I’m carried away, not paying attention to the syntax of things. :)
      To answer the riddle above, it is the moon. Sometimes I look at the full moon and pretend it as a bright portal to another dimension, the end of a lit tunnel, but of course it is the sun’s reflection.

  4. Interesting post. A haiku, like most poetry forms, is an intent to trascend the boundaries of language. What do you try to evoke in the reader’s mind? What veil is lifted, what inherent manifestation of nature is observed and described for the reader in order to find a deeper connection to his own essence and sentient subjectivity? Does your haiku push the limits of what is communicable?

    empty schoolyard
    fighting over few bread crumbs
    sparrows and pigeons

    Thank you for your great input.

    1. Thanks, Tomás. Transcending typical language is at the heart of my love of poetry. It’s an interesting exercise to explore a new (to the writer) poetic form… Venture too far away from a poetic form and It’s becomes free verse (which I also love). It’s an interesting concept, really…Surpassing language within form constraints.

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