black angelfish swims
floats by like death in his cloak
I thought I would use this post to explain a few things about haiku. You may have noticed most of these things, such as I never title my haiku. I do not do this because it is my style of writing, but because it is one of the many rules of haiku. Some people will tell you there are several rules that you must stick to, but as time goes on most teachers are relaxing the rules and telling you to write in the way that feels best to you, and that allows you to be true to the moment.
There are several different schools of thought out there, but the main rules that all poets seem to honor are: it needs to be 3 lines (even though the originals in ancient Japan were all written in 1 line) it needs to mention nature, and it needs to be brief (17 syllables or less). Haiku is about something that just happened or is happening. It is not about the past or future.
Here are some of the rules I am trying to stick to in my own personal writings.
- Write in three lines that are short, long, short without counting syllables.
- Make sure the haiku has a fragment and a phrase.
- Have some element of nature, and/or a kigo.
- Use verbs in the present tense.
- Avoid capital letters or punctuation.
- Always written in the present tense of here and now.
- Limited use (or non-use) of personal pronouns.
- Study and check on articles. Do you use too many the’s?
- Use only concrete images.
- write 17 syllables, or less, in one line (flush left).
- Use a caesura (cutting word) at the end of either the first or second line, but not at both. Never have all three lines make a complete or run-on sentence.
- Eliminating all the possible uses of gerunds (ing endings on wording).
- Save the “punch line” for the end line.
- Use only images from nature.
- Cut out prepositions (in – on – at – among – between) whenever possible; especially in the short 1/3 phrase.
The word haiku has no plural as there is no plural in the Japanese language. So you will never see “haikus”. If you see a word like haibun, it is not a different way of writing haiku, but a different type of poetry altogether. (look on the Definitions page to see the different kinds of poetry that are similar to haiku) I don’t put my name below my poems here on my blog, because everyone knows I am the author, but in ancient Japan, haiku were signed and senryu were not- one of the things that makes them different from one another.
Some people will tell you that your haiku is not good or not “true haiku” if you do not write it because of something you saw. If you create it from something that never happened, or never happened to you, its sometimes referred to as “desk haiku.” For the rest of the rules read my page What is Haiku?. If you would like to learn about haiku in depth check out a book like this at your local library or take these lessons found for free online at Bare Bones School of Haiku.
Making a habit of writing haiku is a way to practice awareness of the moment at hand. -Margaret D. McGee
Writing haiku offers the chance to honor, hold, and fully experience a fleeting moment that takes you out of your self. -Margaret D. McGee
Many haiku of quality combine unexpectedness with inevitability —that “shock of mild surprise” (Blyth), followed immediately by the felt-significance of “Of course, that’s just as it is.” -Robert Spiess
Feel the truth of old poems. -Basho
A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words. -Robert Frost, letter, 1916