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Learning How to Write Haiku: Some Great Links

Updated on October 22, 2015
A haiga (haiku + graphic) of mine
A haiga (haiku + graphic) of mine

Who is This Hub For?

If you want to write silly haiku, like the immortal "haiku error messages" then this hub is not for you. You already know what you want to do . . . have fun!

If you are an avid reader of haiku journals such as Simply Haiku and are interested in the finer points of writing traditional nature haiku (or more experimental "ku" as in Roadrunner, which ran until 2013, or Bones), then you may enjoy my hubs on kigo (season words) and juxtaposition in haiku, which link to sources on more advanced technique and theory in haiku.

If you are fairly new to the art and are interested in writing haiku that are brief, vivid, poems about nature, often in its intersection with human nature, read on.

Source

How I Got Started

I started on Twitter in November of 2009, and, as I liked poetry, I began to search for and write haiku and other short-form poetry.

At the time, I thought that all haiku had to have five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. I also was aware that traditional haiku were nature poetry, written simply and without metaphor, and I had a vague idea they were connected to Zen Buddhism.

I could have used this hub, "How to Write Haiku: Moving beyond 5/7/5" which lays out one excellent set of rules for haiku in English. Instead, I searched the web, and eventually found good sites, as well as lots of obscure and downright bad ones.

Seventeen Syllables?

As soon as I started to do some research I found I was wrong about the first point, and partly wrong about the others.

The idea that haiku must be 5/7/5—still taught in schools and considered "common knowledge"—is purely and simply wrong. Japanese haiku are written with seventeen "on," which do not correspond all that closely to English syllables, and are definitely shorter. Wikipedia covers this in its haiku article, and this great hub, Haiku: Structure and Spirit does too, as well as containing a number of fine example of traditional Japanese and modern haiku.

Haiku poets who spoke European languages could have decided on a set number of syllables for "traditional" English and other Western haiku. Instead, they usually recommend a short-long-short structure, with seventeen syllables or fewer, often around 10-14, but sometimes only 5 or 6, as in my haiga (and one can still write great haiku in 5-7-5 as we see from chef-de-jour's hub "Haiku: The Perfect Form for Capturing Nature").

The Zen Connection and Lack of Metaphor

Haiku are not necessarily connected to Zen Buddhism. Many traditional Japanese haiku poets were Buddhist practitioners, including Issa, my favorite. In addition, the Zen practice of observation and acceptance of the world is related to the mind-set necessary for conceiving of good nature haiku, as we see in this beautiful hub by drabsurd.
Nevertheless, the Japanese Shinto faith is also related to the haiku aesthetic, and haiku poets today—or haijin if you like the Japanese word—can be influenced by different faiths.
I know of Christian and neo-pagan haijin as well as agnostic and Buddhist-influenced ones.

As for the "rule" that haiku lack metaphor, that too is a misconception. Haiku do not contain simile, comparisons with "like" or "as," but implicit or indirect metaphor often makes a poem special. This past winter I wrote:

Bamboo leaves
hang from bushes in the yard
taking down the tree

I think the implicit metaphor of bamboo leaves as ornaments or tinsel makes this little poem more interesting.

So, Who Writes Haiku?

The four-minute video below is from a Haiku Society of America meeting, Northwest division. In it, Michael Dylan Welch (whom I link to below) seems have led a workshop in writing or editing, and all the poets read one haiku.

Some of them are romantic, some serious, some funny; you will also find that some are really great, some less so. It's fun to decide which haiku work the best, and which poets read the best.

As you can see, haiku poets are pretty much ordinary people, although not perhaps the youngest, richest and most fashionable you will find.

Michael Dylan Welch Workshop

And Now the Links

First of all, my sources for all of these: Matt Morden's Morden Haiku site (now closed to the public) which had a separate column of links for beginners, as well as other excellent links for advanced writing advice, haiku journals, and haiku blogs. I recommend his excellent essay, "Why Haiku Matters" in which he writes that everyone, from the novice to the expert, writes haiku for love, because writing haiku will bring you nothing in the way of money or fame, only joy and friendship.

My favorite for its beautiful examples, good advice, and laugh-out-loud humor in a small package is a slide show called "Practical Haiku" by Dylan Tweney. He clearly put a lot of love into his presentation, and I suspect you'll want to share it with others as I am sharing with you.

“The Haiku Moment and Beyond” by Ray Rasmussen is a longer, more thoughtful piece, and a good choice to read next. Rasmussen, a photographer, compares writing good a haiku to composing a good picture: simple but not nearly as easy as it looks! Both arts also change how you look at the world. This essay, like Tweney's slide show, also has good examples:

ashes my burnt hut
but wonderful the cherry
blooming on my hill

~ Hokushi

After this, you will probably want more practical advice. Check out three great sources from Michael Dylan Welch, “Becoming a Haiku Poet,” “Ten Tips for Writing Haiku,” and "How Do You Write Haiku." As you can see from the haiku below, this is a haijin well-qualified to give advice!

meteor shower . . .
a gentle wave
wets our sandals

~ Michael Dylan Welch

Another link worth reading is Jim Kacian's "How to Write Haiku" which is less about technique and more about the practice . . . the practice of awareness, observation, note taking, and finally writing and editing. For him, "real goal . . . is not to write haiku, but to see more clearly, be in touch more deeply with where you live"—and yet he is one of the best haiku poets out there.

Finally, if you start poking around on the internet, you are going to run into a lot of Japanese words, often unexplained. I suggest this glossary by Tom Brinck, web professional and haiku fan.

To get a sense of what is available on the internet -- and what is possible for your writing -- check out my hub Some Great Haiku Blogs. All but one of the writers I showcase has been writing haiku for less than five years, and all of them have read widely and thoughtfully as well as simply writing regularly. If you want to read published haiku, head over to Five Poetry Ebooks: Free Haiku to Download .

Last but not least, I have my own advice on writing good haiku . . . only it's called How to Write Bad Haiku because sometimes it's easier—and funnier—to explain what not to do than what to do.

Two Helpful Books

You can see the generosity and kindness of much of the haiku world on Amazon. The Haiku Handbook is a well-loved classic, now in a twenty-fifth anniversary edition.

Nevertheless, the late William Higginson, co-author of The Haiku Handbook, wrote the best possible review of the newer Haiku: A Poet's Guide by Lee Gurga. He writes, "Unlike other books on haiku which make your head spin with lists and rules . . . this one helps beginners get off the ground and soon reach the point where they can evaluate their own work."

Haiku: The Art of The Short Poem -- Official Trailer

Haiku as a Way of Life


Many of the poets interviewed in the trailer for the film and book to the the right, emphasize that haiku becomes a way of living and perceiving the world, as much as a kind of poem.

Watch the video to hear how poet Sonia Sanchez talks about how she walked into the old Eighth Street bookstore, pulled down a volume of Japanese haiku, and found herself.

The DVD, with an accompanying 98-page book containing commentary and all the haiku spoken in the film, and ed. by Tazuo Yamaguchi and Randy Brooks, is available on Amazon.


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    • KrisL profile image
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      KrisL 3 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks so much. I think you'll find some good info. for your writing.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 3 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and interesting. Thanks for the information. Nice hub. Passing this on.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 3 years ago from S. Florida

      Thank you so much, Vicki: I'm glad to meet you today. It took me a while to get up to speed with haiku after I started in 2009 -- maybe 1-2 years to consistently write ones I still think are good today -- but I enjoyed the heck out of writing them from the start!

    • profile image

      Vickiw 3 years ago

      I was hesitant about following you to be honest, because I felt my writing style was not even close to yours, and I tend to follow only people who have the same writing interests as I do. But your Hub is really interesting, and very well written. I am even wondering if I could incorporate a haiku into some of my Hubs! Thanks for this, and your follow.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks Techicated. I hope you can follow up the links and start having some fun.

      By the way, just after you read the hub I added another video . . . from a haiku workshop lead by Michael Dylan Welch.

    • Techicated profile image

      Kathryn Kutny 4 years ago from New York State

      I enjoy writing poetry so I will have to learn Haiku. Sounds very interesting. I love anything that has to do with art and writing. That is wonderful you do Haiku as a hobby. Have a nice day!

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, agvulpes.

      Yes, Twitter is the perfect place for haiku. Good haiku are generally more like snapshots than a stories, and perhaps like tiny video clips playing in the theater of the reader's imagination.

      Here are two OK recent haiku of mine to illustrate:

      Snapshot:

      November twilight

      a full ring around

      the half moon

      Video clip:

      The old man

      looks up from eating ice cream

      a scrap of rainbow

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 4 years ago from Australia

      I have only just recently discovered Haiku and find it a fascinating way of writing poetry. If I am correct you have to express a story in three lines?

      Twitter would appear a perfect place for your poetry.

      Thanks for your succinct explanation of Haiku :)

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, Lana.

      Don't write yourself off as "unpoetic" until you explore haiku. Keen observation of the unique moment counts for more than fancy poetic language -- which in fact usually messes up the simplicity of the form.

    • lanablackmoor profile image

      lanablackmoor 4 years ago from New England

      I really had no idea haiku was so versatile. I was also unaware of what varied religious connections the form has. Thanks for a truly interesting and enlightening read. I'm afraid I lack any talent for creating poetry of any kind, but it's certainly enjoyable to read and learn about.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks so much Audrey.

      I think this was the first of my own hubs I took the liberty of sharing with followers, but I had a some new ones who I thought might enjoy it.

      I'm glad you were one of them!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      Really well done article on the form--I enjoyed this and am sharing this!

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      From a poet of your talents, that's high praise.

      I'm still reading your animal poems hub -- want save commenting until I've read every one carefully and picked out my favorite lines.

      I've learned so much about haiku on-line, and I want to share the wealth.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thanks for this hub and I'll vote for it because it offers the reader such a choice for learning - the links are very useful, I can imagine a learner being enthralled by all the opportunities to absorb and create.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, Doc Sonic.

      Haiku are deceptively simple . . . it's easy to write one worth reading, and hard to write a great one, so the possibilities are endless.

      Also writing haiku helps a person observe and appreciate the world, more and more, which is always worth the ride!

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Haiku is beautiful poetry. This hub is full of great information - I may have to try my hand at writing some haiku. Thanks for the hub.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thank you, Gary. I'm working on another haiku hub today!

    • Emanate Presence profile image

      Gary R. Smith 4 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      Well done, Kris.

    • profile image

      Matt 4 years ago

      Thanks for the mention here Kris - I am planning some more Why Haiku Matters over coming weeks btw

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, Brett and Moonlake!

      My Mind's Eye, I appreciate your mention and comment. I've been writing for about 3 1/2 years now, after starting on Twitter. I found it very helpful for my writing to seek out experts' instructions and more "professional" webzines (not that anyone does this for a living!).

      There, I found some excellent poetry, and also a clear sense that there are many, many ways to write a good haiku.

      It sometimes seems to me the only thing good haiku have in common is the vivid way they capture a moment without sentimentality or general description --

      with only 3 shor lines, there just isn't room to make one of them "it was beautiful" ;-)

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      My Minds Eye53 5 years ago from Tennessee

      You are welcome for the mention. I have read other hubs on how to do Haiku and a couple came off kinda snobbish. I didn't feel I was being looked down on with your hub. Thank you for sharing it. Before I did my 30 Haiku's in 30 days I had only written 4 or 5 and I know I didn't do them correctly, but I learned. I also learned I enjoy writing them very much. They are probably the only type of poem I will write that doesn't rhyme.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Voted up. Good information. I don't know much about haiku and never had anything about it in school but have tried a few 5/7/5 on hubpages. Enjoyed reading your hub.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      An informative hub. They are tricky little things to write, but feel great to succeed at.

      Shared, up and useful!

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, Justin! I've read more Kerouac than Ginzberg. (Jack called them "pops")

      Speaking of which, I just found this very cool YouTube of Jack Kerouac reading his haiku http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJdxJ5llh5A

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      great hub. up and shared. I've always enjoyed the simplicity of haiku (I tend to be drawn to short poems anyway) and have done many haiku experiments here on the hub and elsewhere. Have you read any of the Haiku of ginsberg? up and shared and checking out simply haiku!

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

      Vanderleelie,

      sorry to be so long in replying. I'm glad you found that glossary useful. I could have used it when I was starting out.

    • Vanderleelie profile image

      Vanderleelie 5 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

      Very good explanation of guidelines for haiku. Isn't it amazing how much conflicting information is presented in discussion of this art form? I found the glossary by Tom Brinck to be informative and useful.

    • profile image

      Matt 5 years ago

      Thanks for the mention Kris - and I have more Why Haiku Matters posts on the way

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

      Sid, thanks so much.

      I look forward to reading your poetry.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Voted up and useful. A beginning - or intermediate - haijin (haiku poet, as I just learned) could spend several profitable hours reading this hub and the hubs and articles it links to, practice what we read, and come out a much better haiku poet.

      In fact, I think I'll do just that.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

      Lilleyth thank you for your comment. If you are just starting on haiku, my hub, the other one I link to, and the outside links will be perfect for you.

      Keri, thanks. Yes, anything we take time to learn about becomes a lot richer.

      Angelo, thank you, too. There are Japanese verse forms which are longer. The most common is called renga. It alternates two and three line stanzas, and is actually written by two or more people!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renga

    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Good explanation. I have seen hubs that are supposed to be haiku that run on and on. The authors seem to think that 3 line stanzas makes a haiku. Reading this implies they are wrong.

    • Keri Summers profile image

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      KrisL, congrats on the work you have put into haiku. It's so much more interesting and rewarding when you explore it thoroughly, isn't it?

    • Lilleyth profile image

      Suzanne Sheffield 5 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

      Excellent hub about a subject in which I have just taken a keen interest.

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