Writing Haiku

It’s a true craftsmanship, writing haiku, and should not be approached in any other way. Because of the craftsmanship mastering the craft of haiku writing can only be done by doing it. Practice, practice. And while writing finding sounds and rhythm and finding for yourself the rules for writing haiku. Finding the rules by studying other haiku too. That is traditionally the way to go, for a reason.

For years on and off I have studied haiku of well known masters like Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki, later haiku poets honouring their ancestors heritage. Sometimes very obviously by almost copying a haiku and giving it their own twist, but mainly by first mastering the craft -for it is a craft- themselves and observing a certain set of rules about haiku they find while practicing.
While studying I’ve written haiku. Not as many as I would like, but it must amount to over four hundred all in all by now. Of which I think only some forty to sixty are ‘nice’ especially the most recent ones.

Through this studying and writing I came to a set of rules for myself. All of which I apply to my haiku with some forbearance.

These are the rules for a good haiku, I found for myself:

  1. There is the amount of syllables, yes. Five-seven-five syllables in each haiku. This is the best known rule and many people think this is all that matters. Surprise, it doesn’t. A micro poem is not automatically a haiku if it is comprised of seventeen syllables. There is more to it.
  2. Nature for example. All classical haiku revolve around an event in nature. Haiku revere nature. It is what they are all about and nothing else. Nature should be so prominent in your haiku that the reader should not have to guess what time of year it is. Many classical haiku collections have four chapters: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each of these seasons has its own characteristics, which you observe in nature and use as the fabric for your haiku.
  3. You can only make it that obvious through action. Something has to happen. There is no observer in a haiku, just actors. Whether it is the plants, wind, rain, sun, butterflies or you, it acts, here, now. Either something happens in the world of phenomena or you come to a sudden insight or realisation because of what you observe -thought is action too in the Oriental world-. Make the reader observe pure action. But not random action.
  4. There should be a story. A haiku has three parts that are connected as a story, not as one continuous sentence. Observe rules for good story writing. Create a tension curve. Develop. The focus of the action should be in the third part. Surprise your reader with what surprised you so that you set out to write the haiku in the first place.
  5. Because it is all about action in nature happening right here and now, the writing should be very natural. Stay away from art. A haiku should ‘write itself’ and ‘read itself’. It must be like a child could have written it. This means, amongst other things, maintain present tense, use no rhymes, alliterations and the like. If not too disturbing, leave out the determiners. Try to use no capitalization and punctuation. But do take care to maintain a natural flow within each of the three lines and between the lines too.

The events and cycles in nature reflect the sentiments of man in a haiku, and the natural rhythm of development and growth, abundance, recline and turning inward to contemplate. That is why good haiku are touching and moving and intriguing. That is why seventeen syllables can be very meaningful to someone.

The final art is to master the craftsmanship of writing haiku to such a level that your reader knows his heart is the paper on which the haiku is written. He has been there and is pleased and relieved to remember again.


About Jikai

Living a life of blessed less where my feet support my walk and my hands create my story. View all posts by Jikai

One response to “Writing Haiku

  • Thomas Ross

    Barbara, this is an interesting post and a great guide for anyone thinking of composing haiku- or for anyone who seeks to read haiku with a clearer understanding of its nature and its beauty.

    In my blog writing, I have adopted a “rule” of no more than 300 words. I like the discipline and the editing away of the excess words, like pruning a bush. I try to make each word really count. Haiku, it seems to me, is the paradigm of this form of expression.

    I am glad that we connected.


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