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A Good Way to Write a Haiku Poem


The haiku is still popular today, thriving across languages, continents and cultures even though the form was created over 800 years ago. These brief poems first arose in 13th-century Japan as opening stanzas of much longer works. Within 300 years, however, haiku had evolved into deceptively simple free-standing poems.

Form

Haiku have neither rhyme nor meter, but they do have a very strict syllable pattern. The first line of a haiku has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables and the third line has five syllables. This tight structure forces you to focus on specific word choice. You may find it easier to begin with a looser format, and edit the haiku down to the five-seven-five pattern.

Subject

It is a truism that haiku are about nature, but this view is simplistic. There is a kernel of nature in each poem, but the haiku tradition calls merely for the use of a “season word.” Thus you will need words that suggest weather, animals, plants or even mood to evoke the time of year; for example, mentioning daffodils suggests spring. "Season words” go to the heart of the haiku’s focus on a specific moment in time. To write your haiku, have a picture of such a moment in mind, because the poem is a verbal snapshot.

Diction

Because of the haiku’s observational focus, it uses present tense. This verb form heightens the immediacy of the poem’s approach. Its other words tend to be concrete, with adjectives and adverbs used sparingly; the poet’s intention is to recreate a moment, not reflect upon or elaborate on it. You do not, however, need to write complete sentences; phrases can actually add to the sense of immediacy that is crucial to a haiku.

Surprise

Most haiku contain an experience of surprise or sudden insight, sometimes called the “ku,” usually in the final line. Poet and scholar Jane Reichhold compares this experience to the Zen concept of “satori,” enlightenment. She enumerates many strategies to achieve such a moment, including contrast, riddling, juxtaposition and metaphor. If you have relied upon a “snapshot” as the poem’s kernel, focus on something surprising or enlightening about the experience of that captured moment in the last line, such as the splash of water in Matsuo Basho's famous frog haiku.

About the Author

Jennifer Spirko has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, starting at "The Knoxville Journal." She has written for "MetroPulse," "Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times" and "Some" monthly. She has taught writing at North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Spirko holds a Master of Arts from the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon, England.

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