How to read a haiku poem

A haiku poem is an ancient Japanese form of poetry that grew in popularity between the 9th and 12th centuries. The short poem form asks poets to write three lines using a five-syllable, seven-syllable, five-syllable structure. Haiku poems are usually about nature: the sounds, textures, experiences, moods and rhythms of still life or life in motion. Reading a haiku poem begins with letting each word resonate with images and meaning.

Read the whole poem once through. Do not think about meaning, rhythm, nature, symbolism or anything else. Read the words for the words themselves. For example, read the ancient haiku by master poet, Basho all the way through: "An old pond/

a frog jumps in/ Sound of water." Read the poem at least three or four times before moving to the next step.

Return to the first line and read it slowly. Visualise the line. For instance, what do you see when you read the phrase "an old pond"? Imagine muddy water, algae, lilly-pads, a bright shine on the still water. Try to see the pond Basho saw 300 years ago.

Move to the next line and practice the same visualisation exercise. Add smell, sound, touch and taste, if applicable, to the sensory landscape. Hear the sound of a bright green bullfrog leaping and splashing into the water with the line "a frog jumps in."

Absorb meaning from every word. Whatever the poem's content, whether its nature or an urban scene, concentrate on each word after you have read the poem. Consider the various of meanings and ways you can interpret the word. Read the poem back using the various new meanings, feelings or sensations. Explore the poem with new eyes.

Write one. One of the best ways to learn how to read a haiku poem is to try to write one yourself. Create a short poem above a scene in nature using the 5-7-5 syllable structure. The master poet Masaoka Shiki told his followers they only needed to look carefully at one scene in nature to produce more than 20 haiku, according to David McMurray with the Shiki Team in Japan.

  • Do not think you understand a haiku fully after one reading.
  • Know a bad haiku when you see one. If it leaves you cold and seeing nothing but words on a page, it is not a haiku.
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