Learning How to Write Haiku: Some Great Links
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.
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.
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:
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
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.