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Where does your inspiration come from?

Started by G.R. LeBlanc, January 28, 2011, 05:30:23 AM

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G.R. LeBlanc

Hi everyone,

I was wondering where everyone's inspiration for haiku comes from? Do you write haiku purely from personal experiences, or do some of you also write haiku based on things you've seen on TV, movies, read in books, etc.?

Also, I'm curious, do you write haiku when they come to you, or do you sit down and purposely think of haiku to write? Do they come easily or do you have to work hard to craft them? And on average, how many haiku do each of you write in a week or a month?

Just thought it might be interesting to share this information.

Gisele :)


Hello, Gisele,

I am in my third year of writing at least one haiku every day.  I have not missed a day yet, no matter what kind of disaster was going on around me.  In 2009, I wrote 558 haiku, and last year, I wrote 535. 

I do not believe in "inspiration", because it's an excuse not to write: Oh, I don't feel inspired today, so I don't have to work at my craft.  What I do believe in is actively seeing out things that trigger the impulse to write, whether it's close observation of my surroundings (including photos, art, books, whatnot) or a thorough combing of memory, or once in a while an experience or feeling someone else has talked with me about.  All these are IMHO my "personal experiences".

I participate in several kukai and various themed competitions (as well as the haiku trains, full deck haiku, and ekphrastic haiku here at THF), so sometimes it does come down to making the great sifting and "purposely think[ing] of haiku to write".  I don't see anything wrong with that.  If the question is a slant way of invoking the dreaded "desk ku", yes, sometimes that is the case, but I believe that even then, the seeds of the haiku lie within us or the juxtaposed images would not have come.

Every haiku is different -- some spring up fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, and some take months of labor.  But when they're in final form and I look back at them, it's hard to tell which is which.

Just some thoughts.

"Nature inspires me. I am only a messenger."  ~Kitaro


I'd agree with what Cat says about haiku and this dreaded word "inspiration" because it can be misleading for newcomers to creative writing.

Of course we need a smidgen of inspiration, although I feel the word "catalyst" might be more accurate to use.  

re desk-ku, this has long been misunderstood.  Some early schools of thought back in the 1970s, and possibly even the 1960s, believed that any haiku not immediately written were desk-ku.  Also any haiku written at home couldn't be haiku regardless of the fact they may have been written about an experience.

Anyone seriously wanting to develop their creative writing skills has to spend time honing their craft, and honing individual pieces of writing, whether it's haiku, a short story, a novel, or a song.

There are some haiku I successfully write in less than a day, but others take a week or go into months, and sometimes a couple of years.

I prefer to write from direct experiences, out in the street or countryside, and don't like to fictionalise or part-fictionalise them.  

I find most creative writing, even non-fiction, tends to lean towards fiction, so I use haiku as the exception, and go for direct or indirect reporting and autobiographical poems.

I also teach haiku as a tool to a number of different types of writers, both creative writers and also professional report writers, so it needs to be grounded in actual real life situations for me.

I'm quite happy to read fictionalised haiku if the craft is there in the writing, but I love to follow a person's real experiences and journey through their life.


Gael Bage

Hi Gisele, Cat and Alan, interesting question,  for me, most come from an idling mind, those free moments... often in nature, but not always.. it's like they are gifts that stop by to say hello, an empty mind seems more receptive, then as you say a some come easy, others feel more elusive and winkling them out seems like drawing teeth... I must have a vacant mind, because I never seem to get writers block   ::)
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance
- Carl Sandburg



Hi, I'm new to this Forum thing. But I enjoy reading it.

Haiku for me has become a way of life. Some people meditate, some people go to church. I write haiku and other short poems. At the start of each day I try to sit still. A hybrid prayer-meditation-caffeine-induced trance. Being snowed-in helps, or maybe I'm coming down with something. I make excuses to put the world on hold. So I can sit awhile and feel the world wake up around me.

Am I inspired to write? I don't think so. It's just that a quiet mind does seem more receptive to that elusive haiku moment. Which, by the way, is rare. Usually something strikes me but let's not forget that haiku is a form of poetry. An act of creation that requires work to refine and edit. Hopefully, well. The thing is, I've written poems a long time. But haiku is different. There's a quality in the process of creating one and sometimes, yes it feels like I'm a reporter, just the facts please--that I find freeing. No heavy emotional poetry just a slowly somersaulting leaf in sunlight and somehow I feel young again. Like I can start over just like the seasons do. Each haiku is like that. A beginning.

A poet friend of mine once said: "Create the space in which the poem can happen." And how do you do that? I asked, a little frustrated with his tendency for the obscure. "One word at a time." Great, I said. Thanks.


                 "Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life"       --Donald Justice


Gael, I like your "idling mind" phrase.  After years of doodling senryu and haiku and other ditties, I have found that the ones I am most pleased with come without effort.  Perhaps something I observed just for a second while walking the dogs or driving the back roads to work, forms a haiku in my mind.  Sometimes it needs a little polishing and structuring, but many of them come to me when I am not trying so hard to write one.  My periods of writer's block invariably occur when I am trying too hard to write haiku.  The best ones come when I have nothing on my mind, but am receptive to the thoughts that come from everyday observations.
Exercises like Full deck are fun and great practice for the structuring part.  I need the "idling mind" to truly see what I observe.


The best time for writing poetry, for me, was in Queensland, because I was either working very hard on landcare projects as a volunteer, and arriving around 5am so I'd have a couple of hours to myself; or when I had the occasional day off and sat on the farmhouse verandah for five hours or more observing and writing.

Writers block might occur for me due to my background in other careers, so I see everything in a practical and logistical sense, and it can take over my creative side. ;-)

As a freelancer it's a rare privilege to have an idling mind, as I constantly have to look for income, and forever checking through magazines and daily bulletins I'm afraid, and writing proposals. ;-)

I do strongly feel as a professional I should be reading quality published work. Just as much as a poet outside the haikai world should read Milton and onwards into 21st Century poetry, so should a haiku poet (whether as a freelance or otherwise) be reading hokku by Basho right up to haiku being written in the 2000s.

As someone who is an editor and a judge I have the double or triple obligation to be as aware as possible of good haiku from Basho to 2011 of course! ;-)


Gael Bage

Hi Peter, welcome, and Will, its nice to hear some new voices  :)
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance
- Carl Sandburg

G.R. LeBlanc

Thank you, everyone, for chiming in! What a wonderful thread!

Cat: Wow! Over 500 haiku--that is amazing! And to think I was proud of the 145 I wrote last  :) You've inspired me to get into the habit of writing at least one a day.

And, Alan, I like the use of "catalyst" instead of "inspiration". That makes a lot of sense.

I'm glad to hear a few of you mention desk-haiku. I tend to be of the mind that dreams, thoughts, and images from the imagination are "real". I believe all reality begins with thought, so I'm not against desk-haiku at all, especially when it comes to haiku for (or written by) children because imagination to me is an inherent part of childhood. However, I would call these "fun-haiku" and I realize that many people would not consider them haiku at all.

In fact, one of the very first haiku I had accepted was a totally fabricated desk-haiku, before I even realized there was such a term. The image in my mind was so vivid that it felt very real to me. So I guess I don't believe there is anything wrong in experimenting with desk-haiku.  :)

And in the end, whether a haiku is fabricated, comes from memories, or personal experiences, it still has the power to resonate with others if it is well crafted. With all that said though, most of mine do come from things I've experienced or witnessed.


G.R. LeBlanc

Oh, also, Peter and Will, welcome aboard!

Gisele :)

Gael Bage

Gisele, I agree, we are part of nature and it is in our nature to imagine, so if they come from imagination, or if imagination adds to them its still all nature, inclusively so  ;)
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance
- Carl Sandburg


Hello again,

A fascinating thread!

We might do well in the context of this discussion to ask where imagination comes from; while scientifically it is believed to originate in the pineal gland, in the exact center of the brain (the "third eye", some call it), there has to be more to it than that.

Beyond being perhaps some kind of electrochemical reaction, doesn't it seem reasonable to think that imagination is rooted in experience -- fed by everything we've experienced through any of the five senses as well as through the intellect?  Does that not make what we create "real" at some level?  Or does only physical experience count?

Gisele, maybe that is one of the tests -- does the haiku, whatever its origin, feel "real" to the reader?  It may take more skill to make a "desk-ku" seem real, but if it does seem so, if it has what in fiction we call "verisimilitude", then it works, IMHO.

Gael, I love this:  "we are part of nature and it is in our nature to imagine."  Right on!

Peter, welcome to the forum.  I like what you said about the "quiet mind".

And Will, "idling mind" is also a great term, implying not only being still, but also the engine running, receptive to the adventure of writing and ready to start.

Alan, "catalyst" is a perfect word to replace "inspiration".  (I may steal that for my creative writing classes.  I often use the word "trigger", but I like "catalyst" better.)

Gisele, Alan, Gael, Will, and Peter, all your posts have been so interesting and thought-provoking.  Thank you, Gisele, for starting this thread.

"Nature inspires me. I am only a messenger."  ~Kitaro

Don Baird

This is a great thread with a tickling question - at least to the mind.  :)  I believe all haiku, in the end are desk haiku to some extent.  I don't dread the word or the action.  We all sit at a computer or with a notebook and hone these images down to the best ones we can create.  The "inspiration" may come from a moment of recognition of the importance of something  seen/witnessed/read (from real life to magazines and photos ... or even something heard).  But, in the end, the haiku is adjusted at the desk ... possibly for years to come.  I've revised haiku that had more than a couple of birthdays roll by  ...  :)  

I'm older now (63) and I draw on several areas for writing haiku:  experience (something I saw in the past and I'm now writing about it);  something I see/witness now;  a given such as the "Card Game";  and finally, fantasy ... such as the Train (being stimulated by the poem in its entirety as well as, by the preceding verse of which I play off of). Even then, however, I attempt to write a verse from an experience I've had that will relate to it.   (I'm not sure we can devoid ourselves from what we try to create.)

Interesting thread.  Thanks for posting it.



I write haiku because they're there to be written ...

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter


The inspiration is all around ... it's up to me to stop and look, to poke my tongue out (at a haiku poet's gathering, one writer was found during the ginko to be licking a tree!), touch things, listen ...

I don't analyse too hard where my poems come from. I write what I write. But I can say that memory plays a very strong part - and that's both my own memory and the memories of others. I love listening to people telling stories about their past (and, in fact, am sometimes paid to do so!), about places I've never been or times gone.

Sometimes I can be inspired by words in a book. I have recently finished reading (the translation of) a crime novel set in Iceland and found myself scribbling a haiku or two after having read a phrase or a description of the landscape. I recently watched a film adaptation of a book by this same author and one particular outdoor scene in that (nothing to do with the characters, you understand, but what was behind and all around them) immediately inspired a haiku. The difference-ness of the place may have had something to do with it.

I try and write something each evening, sitting in bed with an exercise book and a pen (five on the bedside table, but only one apparently works!). The first few will be about things that have happened during the day and what is happening outside my window now - rain, heat, etc.

Then my mind wanders and I let it go where i will. Sometimes it refuses to go any further. Oh well. Sometimes it rambles all over the place, through time, across the world. If nothing much is happening I go back through the book and find something that I like but which hasn't succeeded and have another go, or three or four.

"Genius is 1 pecent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration": Thomas Edison.

And ain't that the truth?

G.R. LeBlanc

Quote from: cat on January 28, 2011, 07:52:25 PMBeyond being perhaps some kind of electrochemical reaction, doesn't it seem reasonable to think that imagination is rooted in experience -- fed by everything we've experienced through any of the five senses as well as through the intellect?  Does that not make what we create "real" at some level?  Or does only physical experience count?

Gisele, maybe that is one of the tests -- does the haiku, whatever its origin, feel "real" to the reader?  It may take more skill to make a "desk-ku" seem real, but if it does seem so, if it has what in fiction we call "verisimilitude", then it works, IMHO.

Cat, I think it is quite reasonable to think that all imagination is rooted in experience of some sort. It truly is a fascinating subject. And I agree on what you said here about the "desk-ku" as well. :)

And Gael, I also agree that we are all part of nature and that it is in our nature to imagine. Unfortunately, once we become adults, many of us stop using our imagination. I think the world would be a much happier place if more people used their imagination and creativity as well. 

Sandra and Don, I also loved reading your posts!

This has been a great thread, everyone! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

And yes, I'm addicted to exclamation points and smileys.  ;)


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