how to write a haiku

How to Write a Haiku

Even the most amateur poet can tell you how to write a haiku. The Japanese poetic form’s short, simple style invites poets from around the world to put pen to paper. However, the nuances of this most popular form of Japanese poetry are often lost on foreign audiences. While it’s certainly a valid argument that poetry is malleable, fans of the form should know how to write a haiku properly.

The haiku is a three-part poem, consisting of two conflicting images connected by a “cutting” word – Japanese: kireji – and following a 5-7-5 meter. The lines do not rhyme. Traditional haiku* reference the season in which they are written through the use of signal words or phrases – Japanese: kigo – but the implications may be lost on Western readers.

As an example, let’s look at Bashō’s “Old Pond”:

old pond

a frog leaps in

water’s sound

Here, the poet juxtaposes the image of a still pond with the sound of activity. The jumping frog is his kigo: a sign of spring. It’s also his kireji, because it connects the old pond with its happily disturbed countenance.

Many concessions have been made to accommodate English-language haiku poets, so feel free to take full advantage of them. You should use kigo that will accurately represent the distinct seasons where they live. I have heard it suggested that English haiku be written in a 3-5-3 meter, which may restrict poets’ word choice in a similar way to that of Japanese scribes.

But there are some rules that should never be broken. In the really bad haiku I wrote last year, I didn’t use a kigo at all:

Freezing and sickly

Yet still Obligation calls

Here, have a haiku.

Yes, you could argue that “freezing and sickly” is a trigger phrase for cold and flu season, but I wrote that poem in August. If there are any bad poetry contests, be sure to nominate me for an award. Remember: don’t leave out your kigo, kids, because doing so is the mark of an amateur.

Amateur or not, you shouldn’t be discouraged if you have trouble writing haiku. This is a very subtle form of poetry, which makes it deceptively simple. When it comes to writing poetry, expressing yourself is more important than perfection.

* Japanese nouns do not have separate singular and plural forms.

Do you write poetry? Let’s talk about your favorite forms in the comments!

Image credit: Takeshi .M/Flickr