This week’s blog post comes courtesy of Karen Cambron who wanted to know how to write haiku poems. I actually happen to love writing haiku poetry because they are short yet powerful pieces of verse. This type of poetry packs a ton of meaning into a few short words. First let me explain what Haiku poetry is. The haiku is a Japanese verse in three lines. Line one has 5 syllables, line 2 has 7 syllables and line three has 5 syllables. Additionally, haiku is a mood poem and it doesn't use any metaphors or similes. A haiku uses just a few words to capture a moment and create a picture in the reader's mind. It is like a tiny window into a scene much larger than itself.
The following are typical of haiku:
A focus on nature.
A "season word" such as "snow" which tells the reader what time of year it is.
A division somewhere in the poem, which focuses first on one thing, than on another. The relationship between these two parts is sometimes surprising.
Instead of saying how a scene makes him or her feel, the poet shows the details that caused that emotion. If the sight of an empty winter sky made the poet feel lonely, describing that sky can give the same feeling to the reader.
Okay, now that all that is out of the way, let’s focus on how to actually write one.
Focus on nature
Many haikus are inspired by objects in the natural world, such as trees, rocks, mountains, and flowers. To get ideas for your poem, spend some time in nature and observe it so you can get ideas for the poem. If you live in a very urban environment where nature is scarce, try looking at nature photographs and art in books or online. Find a particular nature scene or object in nature like a tree or flower that inspires you.
Focus on a season or seasonal event.
Haikus can also be about a season, such as fall, spring, winter, or summer. You can also focus on a natural event that happens at a certain time of year, such as the blooming of the cherry blossom trees in your neighborhood or the changing color of the leaves. Seasonal haikus often focus on a specific detail about the season, naming the season in the poem. Writing about a season can be a fun way for you to describe a particular detail you love about that time of year.
Choose a person or object as your subject.
Haikus do not all have to be about nature or the seasons. You can also choose a particular person or object as inspiration for the poem. Maybe you want to write a funny haiku about your dog. Or perhaps you want to write a thoughtful haiku about your childhood toy. Try to only focus on one person or one object in the poem. Haikus are short and you may not have enough space in three lines to write every thought you have about the person or object.
Read examples of a haiku.
To get a better sense of the genre, read haikus that are well known and considered good examples of the form. You can find examples in books or online. Read haikus that are about nature and other subjects. You may read:
Haikus by the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho.
Haikus by the Japanese poet Yosa Buson.
Haikus by the Japanese poet Tagami Kikusha.
Haikus by American poet Richard Wright.
Follow the line and syllable structure of a haiku.
Haikus follow a strict form: three lines, with a 5-7-5 syllable structure. That means the first line will have five syllables, the second line will have seven syllables, and the last line will have five syllables. The poem will have a total of seventeen syllables. To count syllables in a word, place your hand under your chin. Then, say the word. Every time your chin touches your hand, this is one syllable. A haiku does not have to rhyme or follow a certain rhythm as long as it adheres to the syllable count.
Describe the subject with sensory detail.
Haikus are meant to give the reader a brief sense of the subject using the senses. Think about how your subject smells, feels, sounds, tastes, and looks. Describe the subject using your senses so it comes alive for your reader and feels powerful on the page. For example, you may write about the “musky scent of the pine needles” or the “bitter taste of the morning air.”
Use concrete images and descriptions.
Avoid abstract or vague descriptions. Instead, go for concrete images that are easy for the reader to visualize. Rather than using metaphor or simile, try describing the subject with details that are particular and unique. Avoid wordy descriptions or elaborate language. Try using simple language so you can stick to the syllable count required for a haiku. Do not use cliches, or phrases that have become so familiar they lose their meaning. Instead, go for images and descriptions that feel unique.
Write the poem in the present tense.
Give the haiku immediacy by using the present tense, rather than the past tense. Using the present tense can also make your lines simple and easy to follow.
End with a surprising last line.
A good haiku will have an ending line that is intriguing and leaves the reader hanging. It may leave the reader with a surprising last image or reflect on the previous two lines in a surprising way.
Once your haiku is complete, center the text on the page (as opposed to aligning it on the left side, like you would for an English paper). That’s the traditional way of presenting a haiku.
Well that's all I have for you this week. Thank you again to Karen Cambron for your question/post suggestion! If you are interested in reading more of my poetry or other book titles check out my Amazon page (link below). Additionally, if you enjoy poetry as much as I do, check out my Instagram and Twitter accounts where you will find examples of all styles of form and verse (links also below). Until next time...Happy Writing!