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Part 1 of 4: Understand Haiku Structure

1 Know the sound structure of haiku. Japanese haiku traditionally consist of 17 on, or
sounds, divided into three phrases: 5 sounds, 7 sounds, and 5 sounds. English poets
interpreted on as syllables. Haiku poetry has evolved over time, and most poets no longer
adhere to this structure, in either Japanese or English; modern haiku may have more than 17
sounds or as few as one.
English syllables vary greatly in length, while Japanese on are uniformly short. For this
reason, a 17-syllable English poem can be much longer than a traditional 17-on Japanese
poem, straying from the concept that haiku are meant to distill an image using few sounds.
Although using 5-7-5 is no longer considered to be the rule for haiku in English, it is still often
taught that way to children in school.
When you're deciding how many sounds or syllables to use in your haiku, refer to the
Japanese idea that the haiku should be able to be expressed in one breath. In English, that
usually means the poem will be 10 to 14 syllables long. Take, for example, this haiku by
American novelist Jack Kerouac:
Snow in my shoe
Abandoned
Sparrow's nest

2 Use haiku to juxtapose two ideas. The Japanese word kiru, which means "cutting,"
expresses the notion that haiku should always contain two juxtaposed ideas. The two parts
are grammatically independent, and they are usually imagistically distinct as well.
Japanese haiku are commonly written on one straight line, with juxtaposed ideas separated
by a kireji, or cutting word, that helps define the ideas in relation to each other. The kireji
usually appears at the end of one of the sound phrases. There is no direct English translation
of the kireji, so it is often translated as a dash. Note the two separate ideas in this Japanese
haiku by Bash:
how cool the feeling of a wall against the feet siesta
English haiku are most often written as three lines. The juxtaposed ideas (of which there
should only be two) are "cut" by a line break, punctuation, or simply a space. This poem is by
American poet Lee Gurga:
fresh scent

The Labradors muzzle


Deeper into snow
In either case, the idea is to create a leap between the two parts, and to heighten the
meaning of the poem by bringing about what has been called an "internal comparison."
Creating this two-part structure effectively can be the hardest part of writing a haiku,
because it can be very difficult to avoid too obvious a connection between the two parts, yet
also avoid too great a distance between them.

Part 2 of 4: Choose a Haiku Subject


1 Distill a poignant experience. Haiku is traditionally focused on details of one's environment
that relate to the human condition. Think of a haiku as a meditation of sorts that conveys an
objective image or feeling without employing subjective judgment and analysis. When you
see or notice something that makes you want to say to others, "Look at that," the experience
may well be suitable for a haiku.
Japanese poets traditionally used haiku to capture and distill a fleeting natural image, such
as a frog jumping into a pond, rain falling onto leaves, or a flower bending in the wind. Many
people go for walks just to find new inspiration for their poetry, known in Japan as ginkgo
walks.
Contemporary haiku may stray from nature as a subject. Urban environments, emotions,
relationships and even humorous topics may be haiku subjects

2 Include a seasonal reference. A reference to the season or changing of the seasons,


referred to in Japanese as kigo, is an essential element of haiku. The reference may be
obvious, as in using a word like "spring" or "autumn" to indicate the season, or it might be
subtler. For example, mentioning wisteria, which flower during the summer, can subtly
indicate the season. Note the kigo in this poem by Fukuda Chiyo-ni:
morning glory!
The well bucket-entangled,
I ask for water

3 Create a subject shift. In keeping with the idea that haiku should contain two juxtaposed
ideas, shift the perspective on your chosen subject so that your poem has two parts. For
example, you could focus on the detail of an ant crawling on a log, then juxtapose that image
with an expansive view of the whole forest, or the season the ant is currently inhabiting. The
juxtaposition gives the poem a deeper metaphorical meaning than it would have if it were a
simple, single-planed description. Take this poem by Richard Wright:

Whitecaps on the bay:


A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.

Part 3 of 4: Use Sensory Language


1 Describe the details. Haiku are comprised of details observed by the five senses. The poet
witnesses an event and uses words to compress that experience so others may understand it
in some way. Once you have chosen a subject for your haiku, think about what details you
want to describe. Call the subject to mind and explore these questions:
What did you notice about the subject? What colors, textures, and contrasts did you
observe?
How did the subject sound? What was the tenor and volume of the event that took place?
Did it have a smell, or a taste? How can you accurately describe the way it felt?

2 Show, don't tell. Haiku are about moments of objective experience, not subjective
interpretation or analysis of those events. It's important to show the reader something true
about the moment's existence, rather than telling the reader what emotions it conjured in
you. Let the reader feel his or her own emotions in reaction to the image.
Use understated, subtle imagery. For instance, instead of saying it's summer, focus on the
slant of the sun or the heavy air.
Don't use cliches. Lines that readers recognize, such as "dark, stormy night," tend to lose
their power over time. Think through the image you want to describe and use inventive,
original language to convey meaning. This doesn't mean you should use a thesaurus to find
words that aren't commonly used; rather, simply write about what you saw and want to
express in the truest language you know

Part 4 of 4: Become a Haiku Writer


Be inspired. In the tradition of the great haiku poets, go outside for inspiration. Take a walk
and tune in to your surroundings. Which details in your environment speak to you? What
makes them stand out?
Carry a notebook to write down lines as they come to you. You never know when the sight
of a stone in a stream, a rat skipping over subway tracks, or a cap of clouds over hills in the
distance might inspire you to write a haiku.

Read other haiku writers. The beauty and simplicity of the haiku form has inspired
thousands of writers in many different languages. Reading other haiku can help spur your
own imagination into motion.

2 Practice. Like any other art, haiku takes practice. Bash, who is considered to be the
greatest haiku poet of all time, said that each haiku should be said a thousand times on the
tongue. Draft and redraft every poem until the meaning is perfectly expressed. Remember
that you don't have to adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable pattern, and that a true literary haiku
includes a kigo, a two-part juxtaposition structure, and primarily objective sensory imagery.

3 Communicate with other poets. For serious students of haiku, it is worthwhile to join
organizations such as the Haiku Society of America, Haiku Canada, the British Haiku Society,
or one of the many similar organizations elsewhere in the world. It is also worthwhile to
subscribe to leading haiku journals such as Modern Haiku and Frogpond to learn more about
the art form.