Haiku Exercises

A haiku is a three-line poem that captures a single image or moment in time. The structure is based on syllables: five in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third. Originating in Japan during the seventh century, the haiku formed as a fusion between Buddhist values of simplicity and the cultural concept of wabi-sabi, or the elimination of all unnecessary elements to reveal the eternal and essential beneath them.

Syllable Practice

For many poets, writing a haiku can feel like solving a math problem. Practicing the format is a good way to learn strategies for making words fit. To practice the five-seven-five syllable guidelines, try filling in the blanks to complete this sample haiku. At this point, don't be concerned with finding the perfect images or words. Simply focus on practicing the haiku structure and choosing words with the right number of syllables:

_ in the _ __ a _ to __ Yearning for _ ___.


At the end of each day, Buddhist monks sit quietly and reflect on what happened. They ask themselves where they were challenged, what surprised them, what moments moved or inspired them, and what emotions defined the day's events. Each evening for a week, sit quietly and meditate about these questions, writing your thoughts in a journal. Then, choose an idea that resonates with you and write a haiku. Don't directly reference yourself or the specific event that happened that day. Instead, focus on capturing the emotion at the core of the experience.


Some people might think that haikus are for poets only, but writer Alistair Scott disagrees. He says they can help all writers with "close observation, clear thinking, and tight writing." For this exercise, venture outside and find an object -- a wilting flower, a dead leaf, an eroded rock -- that looks unusual. Sit down and study it, jotting down the details you notice. Repeat until you have seen the object from every vantage point. Finally, write a haiku about it using three of the phrases you noted.

Specific Language

In a poem of the haiku's length, every word counts. Otherwise, the simplicity of the image may not resonate with your readers. Take one of your haiku poems and read it three times. After you read it, close your eyes and imagine the picture the poem has painted in your mind. Focus on each individual word, asking yourself if you can make the image more concrete. For example, use a specific word for "flower" like "tulip" or evoke "spring" using words that illustrate the season.

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