How to Write Haiku: Moving Beyond 5-7-5
A haiku poem is so short, is must be easy, right? I mean, a poet just needs to write a poem that has three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count, right? WRONG! Both misconceptions are so rooted in American haiku that it is difficult to find information about haiku that does not contain this misinformation.
First of all, let’s address the syllable count. Haiku does not need to follow a 5-7-5 format. It is better to think of haiku as having a maximum syllable count of 17 syllables. The idea of haiku is to concisely express a moment in time.
If haiku does not need to have a 5-7-5 syllable count, does that mean that there are no strict rules for writing haiku? Actually, there are a few rules that are often ignored by people teaching others to write haiku.
-express only a single moment in nature
-contain at least one seasonal word
-avoid value judgment or interpretation of the scene
When writing haiku, it might be helpful to imagine taking a snapshot of a nature scene. This description of a single moment in time is a crucial rule of haiku. When describing the scene, the poet should avoid any form of value judgment such as using words like best, tallest, beautiful, etc. The idea is to present the scene and allow the readers to draw their own conclusions. Therefore, the poet should not dictate a philosophical meaning to the scene in the haiku. Present the scene and allow the readers to find their own meaning in it.
Haiku must contain a season word. This word can be the name of a season or a word that alludes to the season. It could be an animal, flower, or fruit that is associated with the season. The season word can be an element of weather that is common in the season such as ice, snow, rain, thunder, etc.
Avoiding anthropomorphism is important. In a haiku, do not depict emotions or human attributes to an animal. The idea of haiku is to describe the scene as it is, not with human interpretations of what is happening underneath the surface. Therefore, saying an animal is pensive, fearful, or anything other than what is on the surface is destroying the integrity of the form.
Haiku often describes the moment there is a shift in action, focus, or perspective. This dramatic shift gives the reader the feeling that the moment captured is a philosophical one. This shift should have meaning to the poet, though the poet needs to resist the urge to express their interpretation.
Writing a good haiku is not as easy as one would think. It takes clear, concise language, practice, and attention to these rules. Even though writing haiku can be frustrating at times because one must resist the urges to include value judgments or interpretations of the scene, it can be a very rewarding experience.
Please visit my other article for more information: Haiku Rules
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