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Sunday, December 3, 2023

How to Write Haiku

he most basic definition of haiku is a three line poem where the 1st and 3rd lines are 5 syllables and the 2nd line is 7 syllables. Traditionally, haiku are about nature and usually use seasonal or weather words.

If you really want to get your teeth into haiku, however, you need to go deeper. The subject is not merely nature, but nature combined or juxtaposed with human nature.

When written in Japanese, the lines are made up of 5, 7, and 5 kana. One Japanese kana (usually a hiragana or katakana) is one Japanese syllable, but does not always equal one English syllable. For example, the hiragana ん (katakana ン) is the “n” sound which is a single syllable in Japanese but not in English.

The plural of haiku is haiku. Like sheep or deer. There is no such word as “haikus.”

English haiku are written in three lines of 17 syllables or less. This means you don’t have to follow the 5/7/5 pattern, though it’s best to start there and only break the rules once you’ve got a handle on the form.

A haiku is not usually all one sentence — rather, it is two parts. The easiest way to structure haiku for a beginner is to describe the setting in the first line, then the subject and action in the second and third lines. One line is usually a fragment — often the first line — while the other two lines are one phrase.

Birds among the leaves —
I want to take a pic but
I forgot my phone

Written in present tense, haiku is meant to be “in the moment,” taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary. Poetic devices like metaphor, simile, etc are not used. Haiku is meant to be simple. Capitalization is not necessary, and punctuation is minimal or not there at all as haiku are meant to feel open, almost unfinished. The poetry in haiku is created by juxtaposing the two parts to create resonance.

Show; don’t tell. Haiku that merely describe a scene without creating any emotional resonance will be boring.

People all around
I just want to be alone
I am so tired

The above example tells you how I feel, but likely makes your eyes glaze over as you wonder, “What’s the point?” Also, I used three separate fragments which creates a choppy read rather than the open breathy feel you want.

Lost in the shadows
I cannot find my way out
Of the pressing crowd

This second example is by no means perfect, but much better than the previous one. It breathes and there is tension in the lines.

Juxtaposition can help create more powerful haiku. This means that you place two things next to each other that either contrast with each other, or have commonalities that aren’t apparent at first glance.

Snow falling softly
Covers all the dirt and wrong
I am cold

The above example tries to juxtapose the symbolic purity of snow with the literal cold of winter. Again, it’s not perfect (and you may have noticed I am trying out different syllable counts), but I think it illustrates juxtaposition. Another example could be juxtaposing an image with an emotion. Play around with it and see what you can come up with.

However, juxtaposition is not necessary. You can simply create a “slice of life” haiku if you wish, but remember to make it interesting. Of course, what is interesting to one person may not be to another, so write what you like to read. Make it interesting to you. You are your first and most important audience.

Haiku are not easy to write, but with practice, you can learn to create something wonderful out of the ordinary. And I think that’s beautiful.

SOURCES: Shadow Poetry, Creative Writing Now

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