The grandmother of micro-poetry, haiku captures the ephemeral spirit of a moment in only a few words.
This traditional Japanese form uses three important elements: Kiru – the juxtaposition of two images or ideas. Morae – syllables. Kigo – A reference to a season.
The most common form of haiku uses a 3-line structure with seventeen total syllables. It is written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Haiku emphasize simplicity, intensity and directness of expression.
Historically and across cultures, haiku focus on images from nature. Modern and romanized haiku have expanded into many themes.
Here’s an example of my passionate-themed haiku:
You there on my bed
Collared shirt open chest bare
Dreams follow me here
Haiku evolved from hokku, the first part of a collaborative poetic form renga, mid 15th century. By the late 19th century, it had been recognized as a solo form and renamed by Masaoka Shiki as haiku.
Famous Japanese Haiku Poets:
Although haiku written in English may lack the specific words associated with kiru (“cutting”) and kigo (words referencing seasons), English poets have continued to be fascinated with the form since the early 20th century.
The first haiku in American English was written by Ezra Pound in 1913.
In A Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough
Haiku in English, generally follow the 5/7/5 syllable structure. In addition, they need to have attributes that reflect the spirit of haiku. The British Haiku Society has qualified these attributes as follows:
Spirit — hyper aware selective objectivity
Presence — a single observation or occurrence
Accepted Writing Convention — Concrete images that create the emotional tension and atmosphere of haiku
Subject Matter — traditionally related to seasons; in the west haiku reference the natural year and other topics
Poetic Taste — brevity, directness, minimal punctuation
For more on these attributes and a wealth of words about haiku in English see:
I’ve been a fan of haiku for over 30 years. For me, the haiku structure is much like a jazz form. Knowing the form and the traditions gives birth to a wondrous playground of improvisation. Here is one of my music-themed haiku:
Cool jazz mountain lakes sublime
In my glass of scotch
Haiku represent the spirit and essence of poetry. They are a love story between the word and the moment. Whole books and websites are devoted to this minimalist form. Like with jazz, once bitten by the haiku bug, aficionados will most likely become fans for life.
A fabulous online exploration of haiku and English haiku writers can be found at:
The Haiku Society of America produces a serial journal titled, Frogpond, Journal of American Haiku. It publishes some of the best in contemporary English-language haiku, as well as essays and articles on these forms, and reviews of books. Frogpond also accepts submissions.
My favorite Haiku writer on Twitter: HaikuD2
For more of my own haiku, check out: Haiku