Hints for Writing Haiku

These guidelines were developed for schools, but can be used by anyone as an introduction to writing haiku .

A haiku is an untitled short poem that describes a special moment in nature.


What a haiku can be:

1.     Haiku are short poems. They are traditionally Japanese.

2.     Haiku should be about the world around you.

3.     Haiku often show how people interact with nature.

4.     Haiku are written to share the poet's experience of the natural world using the senses (see, hearing, smell, touch, sight, taste) to capture the poet's impressions and feelings.

5.     The poem should describe what the poet experiences, and, just like a painting, leave it to the reader to interpret.

6.     Haiku usually compare two images, set alongside each other, with each offering a perspective on the whole.

7.     Often haiku give an indication of the season (e.g. in summer) or might suggest the conditions (e.g. the chilly wind). However, this is not essential.

What are the technical requirements?

1.     Haiku usually has one break in the poem. This divides it into a short section (fragment) and a longer section (phrase). The short section may be either the first or the last line.

2.     An English language haiku has 17 or fewer syllables.

3.     Traditionally, in English language haiku the line length will be in the format of short-long-short. There can be any number of syllables on each of the lines. There are other  variants that use a single line, or even four lines or more.

4.     Haiku do not rhyme, or use similes.

5.     The poems use no capital letters except for proper nouns.

6.     Haiku do not need a title.

Haiku Hints, thanks to a particularly remarkable and knowledgeable Russian Blue cat, Diamond, from http://diamond-cat.blogspot.com.au, and his owner, Lynette Arden.

Hint 1: Haiku are really short poems.

In Japanese they are written in seventeen syllables. Japanese count these syllables in a different way than we count syllables in English.

For example, in Japanese “Good Afternoon” is “konnichi wa”.

If you count the syllables as we do in English you will have four syllables (kon ni chi wa). In Japanese, however, you will have five syllables (ko n ni chi wa)

This means that haiku poems, when written in English, often have less than seventeen syllables in order to get a poem as short as Japanese haiku.

Hint 2: English language haiku are usually written in three lines, in a pattern of short, long, short.

Japanese poems are usually (but not always) written in three sections of five, seven and five syllables. The haiku is traditionally written in one vertical line. Because of the differences between the two languages, English translations often make this into a three line horizontal poem.

In English, the syllables for each line do not need to be five-seven-five. They can be two, six, four. Or three, five, three.

So don’t worry too much about the number of syllables you have in each line. Concentrate instead on making it an interesting poem.

Hint 3: Haiku poems tend to be about things you can see, smell, taste, hear and touch.

They are more about these kind of things, than describing abstract ideas, or telling the reader how to think about something.

The haiku poet describes the world and lets the reader work out his or her own feelings and thoughts by interpreting the images in the poem. It is a bit like an artist producing a painting, and then letting the viewer interpret the painting for themselves.

Hint 4: Haiku is made up of two parts, a “fragment” and a “phrase”.

The Japanese use a special word, known as a “kireji”, that lets the reader know that there is a pause, and it divides the haiku into two parts. We don’t have words like this in English, so we write haiku so that one line is a single thought (“fragment”), and the other two lines will together tell us something else (“phrase”). So try to write your haiku in two parts, rather than one long sentence or three short sentences.

The fragment can be the first line, with the phrase being the other two lines. An example of this is the following haiku, written by Lynette Arden and published in Presence and then in Haiku Bindii Journeys:

king tide
the bay ripples
with jellyfish

Or you can have the fragment as the third line, with the phrase being the first two lines. The following haiku, written by Diamond and published by Lynette in Haiku Bindii Journeys, is an example of this:

two small crescents
in his eyes
May moon

Hint 5: Haiku in Japanese traditionally use a season word, known as a “kigo”.

The kigo shows what season the haiku is set in, for example winter or summer. The kigo may not directly mention the season, but instead describe an activity that happens in a particular season, like “blazing sun”, or “deep snow”, or “harvesting wheat”.

In English many haiku don’t use a season word, and might not even show a season at all. So you can please yourself!

Hint 6: Your haiku needs an “aha” moment.

This is where the reader says, “That’s true. That is what it is.”, or “Goodness me. I hadn’t thought of connecting those two things together.” Whatever the expression you use, it indicates surprise and delight in making a new discovery.

In the two haiku examples in Hint 4, the “aha” moment is in the last line. Take the king tide haiku. You see first of all a king tide, which is the name for an extra full tide on the east coast of Australia (and probably other places as well). This usually occurs around Christmas, so you could use that as a season word, if you were very keen and knowledgeable. Then you read the second line - the bay is rippling, not an unusual occurrence, the wind makes the water ripple, the incoming waves as the tide pushes up the beach also make the water ripple. But now we see the third line and 'aha' the bay is rippling with jellyfish. See their slow pulsation and the movement of their tentacles. What a surprise!

Hint 7: Let the reader do the work.

Don’t tell the reader what to think, just put the images before the reader and let her (or him) work out what to think. An example form Diamond, that Lynette published in her poetry book, Pause in the Conversation”, is:

quiet morning –
the cat inspects the blue
of the lizard’s tongue

Hint 8: Haiku don’t have a title, and they usually don’t contain punctuation or capital letters.

Haiku, unlike most other poems, do not have a title. Instead, they are referred to by their first line, along with the poet who wrote it.

Haiku only have capital letters when the word would normally have capital letters in English.

They also do not use much punctuation. Don’t bother to put a full stop at the end of the poem. Sometimes the haiku poet uses a dash or an ellipsis to separate the two parts of the poem, the fragment and the phrase, particularly when the meaning would not be clear otherwise. You can usually get away with no punctuation at all.

Hint 9: Most haiku are written in the present tense.

This makes the experience very vivid for the reader. Haiku are like little telegrams (if you want to use an old fashioned word) from the poet to the reader. Maybe they could also be thought of as twitter type poems.

Author: Lee Bentley,

Author: Haiku hints:  Lynette Arden


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