Sunday, September 15, 2013

about haiku

This is an essay about haiku. I hope.

image from

what i have learned about haiku

I started writing English haiku only recently, maybe about five or six years back when I started sending in stuff to the monthly shiki at I said stuff because what I wrote then, on retrospect, was not really haiku, maybe some words worked into 3 lines and seventeen syllables.

So after climbing a learning curve, read some really good haiku from some blogs, websites and books, and writing some myself ( I mean really write), I have come to see haiku in a different light. What was once I thought for kids and word-blocked writers (hey, what's so difficult about a three line poem?) was something not easy to fathom. It is like fencing in the dark.

This is what I have learned so far, about haiku in English:

A haiku in Japanese is usually written in 3 groups of syllables (5-7-5), 17 syllables in all. This is pretty rigid in Japanese. In English, it is not wrong to write in 17 syllables (following the rules), but usually, only 10 to 12 syllables are the norm.This is something to do with diphthongs, which I will not explain because it will get me into a tangle.

A haiku is about the present, thus it is always written in the present tense. It is concerned about a single happening.

Avoid metaphors and similes. Words like "as" or "like a" should not be used in haiku, because what you intend to say will be associated with something else.

I have learned something very basic about haiku from fellow bloggers and haiku maestros. One very good haiku writer told me these words : "Show, don't tell." Don't tell the reader what to feel. Tell the image instead, let the reader interpret and feel in his own imagination. Don't say, "how happy!" Show what is happy. This is the mantra that I repeat to myself when I start on a haiku.

There are not many words you can squeeze into a haiku. Thus there are some words that should be dropped. Most adjectives, adverbs, long bombastic words. No emotional words like "beautiful" and "horrible". Leave that to the reader. Avoid "I" since you don't need to show what you are feeling.

Haiku is about experiences. Do not overlook the seemingly small details. That said, it does not mean that an older person is a better haiku writer than say, a very young one. Children can write very good haiku too.

remember the 3 lines :

That's about all that I can think of at this moment. If you, dear reader, has anything to share, feel free to leave your comments..

As William J Higginson wrote in his very excellent book The Haiku Handbook, "the central act of haiku is letting an object or event touch us, and then sharing it with another."

Here are some examples from the masters:

on a bare branch
a crow has settled...

       autumn evening

- Basho (1644 - 1694)

sick on a journey -

dreams wander on
over dried up fields.

- Basho

by a winter river
forsaken, a dog's

- Masaoka Shiki (1867 - 1902)

in the toy pail
at low tide        floats
the still ferris wheel

- Cor van den Heuvel

And now, (not from a master), an urban haiku :

day moon at first light.

the street lamps
hesitate to switch off

- dsnake1

Shared on Poetry Pantry #167 at Poets United.

© cheong lee san ( dsnake1 ) 2013

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Blogger TALON said...

Haiku is so beautiful in its restraint. And yours sat beautifully with the masters.

15 September, 2013 23:45  
Blogger Brian Miller said...

nice. i like your urban capture that moment between night and day when even our machines are unsure...haiku is def an art...i have learned to appreciate them a little better the last couple years...

16 September, 2013 00:21  
Blogger Audrey Howitt aka Divalounger said...

This is such a great essay on Haiku--I love the Japanese language and its economy of words--and haiku are so difficult--and can be stunning--

16 September, 2013 00:48  
Blogger Mary said...

Really a very helpful essay. Yes, so often haiku LOOK easy, as they are so short; but perhaps due to the shortness, the writing of a good haiku is even harder. Thank you for this.

16 September, 2013 01:48  
Blogger Sherry Blue Sky said...

Fantastic post, kiddo. And I LOVE your haiku. Love the idea of the "day moon" at first light. Once, on the ocean, I saw the moon still in the sky at daybreak on one side of the boat and the sun rising in the sky on the other side. Spectacular.

16 September, 2013 05:26  
Anonymous Ravenblack said...

Informative, and thanks for sharing this. :) Good stuff to keep in mind the next time I attempt a haiku.

16 September, 2013 10:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only recently learned the difference between senryu and haiku:

people populate
senryu, whereas haiku
is all natural

I appreciate your observations and will endeavor to remember them. ~ M

16 September, 2013 13:45  
Blogger rallentanda said...

Thank you for this...interesting...I write haiku but it is not strictly in the spirit of haiku...maybe I should call it faux haiku!

16 September, 2013 21:47  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


awww, thank you!
"Haiku is so beautiful in its restraint" - now, that's a great way to describe haiku. :)


i loved that haiku too. it was submitted for a shiki kukai (haiku contest), but didn't get too many votes. :)


my daughter love the japanese language too.
yes, a good haiku can be difficult to write :)


looks can be deceiving. :)
there are only so many words you can pack into a haiku.


and did you write a haiku on that scene? :)


thanks! it's time you write one. :)


thank you! you're being humble. :)


faux haiku, that's a good one. :)

i think there are 2 schools of thought here : the "traditionist", who favours the original form, and the, well, "modernist" (that's my word) who does not believe in the rigidity of the form.

16 September, 2013 23:37  
Blogger ZQ said...

Thank you... that was enlightening. Well said and interesting.
As for your delightful haiku? A respectful bow to the disciple..."non-Master" :-)(-:

17 September, 2013 09:42  
Blogger ZQ said...

Oops, I failed to mention I copied it for reiteration in the event I forget.
If that is inappropriate... I will discard it after I print it and offer it in flames to celebrate our mutual attraction. (the esssay, and haiku that is :-) case you are blushing)

17 September, 2013 09:56  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

thank you, ZQ. (bows)

for a while you got me worried. :D

17 September, 2013 22:18  
Blogger Nissa Annakindt said...

This is exactly what I needed today as I had been looking through Poet's Markets and found a market for science fiction themed haiku (and similar forms), and I have written a Korean form called sijo I've only written one haiku-ish poem and that was an accident.

I was planning to look up information on haiku and here it is all laid out for me, thanks. And I really liked yours. Thanks for visiting my blog.

01 October, 2013 08:45  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

thanks, Nissa. i like sci-fi too, and i have some such themed haiku in my PC but i am not keen to post them yet.
sijo is a lovely form, but i have yet to complete one that is satisfactory. :)

01 October, 2013 21:59  

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