I love writing haiku.
Contrary to what many people believe, it is much more than a short poem written in three lines of 5 - 7 - 5 syllables. In fact, many English language poets have moved away from this misinterpreted rule. Contemporary poets even write one-line haiku.
For me, however, the true essence of haiku has nothing to do with the syllable count, or how many lines it is comprised of. It is more about the intrinsically calming effect of the process.
Writing haiku urges the poet to slow down and shift their awareness to the present moment. It fosters an appreciation for nature and of simple everyday moments. While for the reader, a well-crafted haiku can linger in the heart and mind like the soothing warmth of a cup of tea.
It is poetry for the soul and can sketch joyous, funny, as well as melancholy moments, such as Bashõ's popular autumn dusk haiku:
on a bare branch
a crow has settled
Another wonderful thing about penning haiku is that it’s an ideal way to hone writing skills since strong word choice is essential when dealing with such a short form. There is no room to use two words if one will suffice.
I also find deep satisfaction in being able to sit down for an hour and end up with two, or maybe three or four completed poems. Now, some haiku take time to perfect, but sometimes they come through you like lightning bolts, so fast that you feel like they came through a direct, divine connection.
Those moments are wonderful.
The process of creating and submitting haiku is also short compared to most other forms of writing and is an excellent way to add a little balance and variety to your writing routine. It is also a perfect way to gain experience and confidence in the submission process.
So, why not try your hand at writing a haiku or two? There are many wonderful resources out there to get you started. And I’m sure once you do, you will be captivated by this wonderful form.
To learn more about writing haiku, I strongly recommend the following resources:
Jane Reichhold’s Bare Bones School of Haiku
Writing and Enjoying Haiku, by Jane Reichold
Essays by Michael Dylan Welch
You can also check out these online magazines for inspiration:
A Hundred Gourds
The Heron’s Nest
Or check out the #haiku or #3line hashtags on Twitter and join the fun!
by Jane Reichhold
for ages 11 and up
Haiku are little and seem easy to write. Because they are so small, even tiny errors can seem huge. You, as the writer, have only seconds in which to impress the reader, so you want to make the experience as specific and pleasurable as possible.
One of the most important actions a reader takes is picturing the haiku images in his or her mind. When your eyes read “old pond,” you, as a reader, are expected to do more than think about seeing two little words on the page. You are being asked to think of some old pond you have known or seen. Maybe it was a pond in a zoo, or out on a farm, or a secret one in the woods. But to read a haiku successfully, you have to go to the trouble of finding the best “old pond” image that is stored in your memory bank.
This action is vital to haiku and is the actual making of the haiku.
By using one image per line, as most poets do when writing haiku, it gives the reader an opportunity to pause and picture each mind image. This is because the reader's mind is forced to slow down before it swoops over to the beginning of the following line; however, if this is done too often, the haiku risks sounding choppy.
But long ago, the Japanese, who created haiku, discovered that poets could build haiku lines in a way that would encourage the reader to quickly shift his or her eyes to the following line to reach the next image.
Let us say I have written:
a child throws a stone
When you read that out loud, you can feel the drop in your voice at the end of each line. We often say the poem feels “choppy” – like waves in stormy weather. However, if I can connect two of those lines so they flow together, I can get rid of one of the choppy places. Just that small trick greatly improves and smoothes out the sound and feeling of the haiku.
When I look at the poem, I feel the best two lines to connect would be “the sea” and “a child throws a stone,” so I try:
a child throws a stone
at the sea
Do you see how simply adding ‘at‘ smoothes out the sound of the haiku? Sometimes we call this section of the haiku the “phrase” because it sounds just like a phrase should in English.
But now I have one more image I need to add “breaking waves.” This is called the “fragment” because it is only a fragment of a sentence.
I could write my haiku as:
the child throws a stone
at the sea
Now I have too much flow between the images so that it sounds and feels like a sentence. We do not want this in haiku. We are out for more excitement.
If I move the fragment to the top of the poem it will stand alone and feel like a good fragment.
a child throws a stone
at the sea
Can you feel how differently you read this version of the haiku? Can you see which line is the fragment? Which two lines form the phrase? Do you see what makes this haiku unexpected and funny?
It is unexpected because the first line gives the image and idea of waves breaking on the shore. When the reader reads this, I hope that he or she will imagine tall waves tumbling over each other. Then the reader is asked to see a child throwing a stone. When that image combines with the sense of the first line, one could wonder, “Is the child throwing stones to break waves?” However, when the last line is read, the reader understands that it is the sea breaking its own waves, and a child has become part of the sea by having a good time throwing stones.
And I hope you have a good time finding the haiku in your life!
Author and translator, with a special interest in haiku, tanka, and renga, Jane Reichhold was a three- time winner of the Haiku Society of America Merit Book Award. She has been a member of the Haiku Society of America, Haiku Poets of Northern California, Haiku Canada, Haiku International (Tokyo, Japan), German Haiku Society, and Poetry Society of Japan. For more haiku tips, check her website Aha! Poetry (www.ahapoetry.com).
**This article was previously published in the digital magazine Berry Blue Haiku.
**Download a pdf version of this article here .
For ages 1 - 4
Mandy poured sand into her bucket as a little bird flew past. She looked up and wondered what it would be like to fly. Her sister, Kayla, who was swinging nearby, smiled and slowed herself down. "Come on, Mandy," she said. "Do you want to go on the swing?"
Clutching her shovel, Mandy shook her head.
"There's nothing to be scared of," Kayla said. She hopped off and walked over to a small swing. "Look, this swing is made for little kids just like you."
Mandy looked at the swing. What if she fell? She shook her head again and buried her toes in the cool sand.
A little bird landed on the small swing and puffed out its chest. Mandy's eyes widened. She got to her feet. As she moved toward it, the bird stretched its neck, chirped and then fluttered away.
She watched the little bird as it soared to the sky.
"Do you want to try the swing now?" Kayla asked again.
Mandy looked at the swing and scrunched up her nose.
Kayla knelt beside her. "I won't push you too high. I promise."
Mandy clenched her fists and stared at the swing. In the trees above, the birds chirped her on. Mandy bit her bottom lip and nodded slowly.
"Great!" Kayla said. She picked Mandy up and seated her in the swing. "Are you ready?"
Mandy took a deep breath and nodded.
"Hold on tight," Kayla said.
Mandy leaned into the back of the swing seat, grabbed the ropes and closed her eyes. As the swing began to move back and forth, Mandy smiled.
"Do you want to go higher?" Kayla asked.
Mandy opened her eyes and nodded.
Back and forth she went, higher and higher, until she thought she could touch the sky.
A little bird flew by and Mandy laughed. Now she knew what it was like to fly, too!
Originally published in Stories For Children, August 2009.
Photo by carol_anne through Fotolia.com
For ages 3 - 6
Derrick knelt at the edge of the pond in his backyard. As he looked into the water, he could see dozens of tiny frogs swimming. Derrick stayed still until a frog swam close to him. Then he swooshed his net through the water.
"Gotcha!" Derrick shouted, grinning from ear to ear. He carefully placed the frog into a jar and hurried toward his house. He couldn’t wait to show his pet its new home.
When Derrick got to his room, he set the jar down and lifted the lid off the aquarium he and his daddy had set up earlier that day.
Derrick picked up the frog in his hand. It felt cold and slimy as it tried to wriggle away. Derrick lowered his cupped hands into the aquarium and set the frog free.
"I’m going to call you Iggy,” Derrick said to the frog. “I hope you like your new home."
Iggy jumped into the water and swam around. Then he climbed out and perched on a large leaf. For the longest time after that, Iggy didn’t move.
Derrick was certain that Iggy was just getting used to his new home. He’d be fine once he got all settled in.
A few days later, Derrick stood over the tank.
“What’s wrong, Iggy?” he asked. Iggy would not eat. All Iggy did was sit around and look sad. Derrick thought Iggy might be missing his friends, but Derrick knew that the tank wasn’t big enough for another frog.
Derrick plopped himself down on his bed and looked out his window. When Iggy was outside, he had a large pond to swim in, but now he was stuck in a tiny tank.
Derrick knew that if Iggy didn't start eating soon, he would get sick. There was only one thing he could do. Derrick scooped Iggy up, placed him in a jar and headed back to the pond.
As he knelt at the edge, a tear rolled down his cheek. He took a deep breath and slowly tipped the container. Iggy jumped into the water with a tiny plop and zoomed toward the middle of the pond.
“Goodbye, Iggy,” Derrick said. Even though he would miss Iggy, he knew that Iggy was happy to be home, and that made him smile.
Originally published in Our Little Friend, June 2006.
Photo by Vera Kuttelvaserova through Fotolia.com