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The Craft of Writing Haiku

Started by Lynne Rees, December 06, 2010, 09:00:20 PM

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Lynne Rees

This follows on from my post on 'Is Haiku Poetry?' where I say that, for me, haiku can be poetry if it's consciously crafted.

So here are some of the things I think contemporary haiku poets can consciously consider when writing haiku, or rather when editing their haiku, as I believe that the work of creative mind (the first draft/free writing) and the work of critical mind (editing and revising) need to be kept separate.

the shape on the page
contemporary diction and syntax
concrete language
images chosen for illumination (idea) rather than decoration (prettiness)
line break
subtle use of metaphor
rhyme - sound and eye-rhyme

and, before we send it out into the world:
Is it saying something that's worth saying?
Does it avoid cliche?

What does anyone else think? Agree, disagree, anything else to add?

John Carley

Your advocacy of aspects of poetry as utterance (ergo - phonics) gets my vote Lynne. At a conceptual level I'd add: evocation over explication.

Best wishes, John


And musicality, as I believe that a sense of music brought words to the human race.  Or maybe it's a chicken and egg argument, but basically a poem and a haiku can benefit from musicality.

But what's music, or musicality, to one person, isn't to another person.

I feel haiku needs to be read out aloud during its editing process, that's one test.

snowbird a/k/a Merrill Ann Gonzales

Your concept regarding the avoidance of "cliche" has been exceedingly profitable to me in my writing as it begs you to go think on different levels and to follow something that's unique and hiding just beyond consciousness.   


For my first few years of haiku writing I wrote "craft haiku," or mechanical things that visually resembled haiku but that failed to tap into my interior self or anyone else's. After much time, I gradually began to think a haiku, meaning the haiku came out of me and then I polished or "crafted it." At this point the form was becoming internalized, becoming a vehicle leading to exploration rather than inhibiting it.

Some of these explorations surprised me.

I also noticed that haiku magazine editors had an uncanny ability to pick only those haiku in a submission that had the authentic quality of interior surprise. The rejected ones simply lacked that dimension and could not be saved by craft. They were just craft.

That is my experience with the craft of haiku.

A good haiku is like a sip of merlot wine. A book of fine haiku is the whole bottle.


Dreaming room, a tanka concept, can be applied to haiku imo.


snowbird a/k/a Merrill Ann Gonzales

Lynne, Do you choose your images or do they choose you?  I find that usually I'm not even thinking of haiku but my mind is on something entirely different, or on a drawing I'm doing etc.  when something else will catch my attention and draw me to it... These are the haiku that really seem to resonate with others too.   If I sit down to write haiku, it all comes out more or less like diary entries! of interest only to me.   
   Perhaps that is why I'm not as proficient as many others?  It is probably due to the fact that my life has other avenues of expression and importance that take me in other directions as well.   

colin stewart jones

i agree with you lynne

here is an article on how writers craft their haiku

col :)

bear us in mind for your work

Colin Stewart Jones
Notes from the Gean: monthly haiku journal


An interesting article, col.


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


I agree with everything Lynne wrote about the craft of haiku and the different mindset between creating and editing. Very succinct.


Interior surprise may be one of the most delightfull aspects of a haiku. I do not believe it is the most important. I do not like to compare poetry, yet I hold myself to a form that pleases me. The visual experience is the most pleasing to me. The more forms a poem fits, the more "bravo!"

if I write a haiku that told the time of day and the season, and the time of my life, .. and invited the reader to visualize a place and suprise them with a revelation about what they witnessed, ... then I would say it is my best.

if it also was 17 syables and had internal line rhyme,  I would enjoy it more.

On rules... I believe that any rule applied to english haiku is abitrary.
haiku is a modern english form that celabrates time, and place, and event.

I also believe haiku is about being.

Lynne Rees

Thanks everyone for all the comments and additions too.

Yes, that quality of surprise, as Robert Frost said, No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.

@ snowbird: I have written some extravagently cliched haiku since I started! When I look back at some I wince : ) But, that was, and still is, a learning process. Sometimes they can be hard to recognise, especially when I'm too close to what I'm saying, but usually time (putting the haiku away rather than sending it out immediately) tends to make me more objective. What about you?

Re images: Sometimes haiku do seem to just arrive - an image, and sometimes a statement, strikes me even though I'm not thinking haiku.

But... I have also deliberately sat down to write/practice writing haiku with an exercise and eventually 'made' a haiku from the process. So there was more of a search for images going on there. I see images as vehicles for ideas (on a simple level, a white dress suggests a different idea than a red dress), and I think they can be found if I really have something that's worth saying.

@ col: thanks for the link, col. I've bookmarked it to read later.


There are many times when I have sat down to write haiku because a mood drove me. The feeling I get when writing in such moments is like the feeling of prayer. Intense meditative focus, deeply felt, when the natural object being observed is also psychic projection. When this "mood" drives me it seems to be a desire for a repeat experience of such moments.

It is often said there is a "haiku moment"--some mystico-mythic essence of the haiku that is expressed and that we should capture as a matter of craft. I don't believe in such a craft entity. I just believe the concentrated focus of observation and psyche is so unique that we want to quantify it with a prescriptive rule or guideline.

Incidentally, I do not have comparable feelings when writing standard verse. There the concentration is more diffusely leaked into developed logical expression.


As some may know, I am a proponant of the qualification, "if it ain't Japanese, it ain't haiku", that is the case I want to present to this forum.

I feel strongly that there should be mention of two key components that follow haiku writing in Japan and should be adapted as key parts of the craft attempted outside of Japan: a qualified teacher "sensei/haijin" and crafting tools used in writing haiku (saijiki or haiku encyclopedia).

Most of the misconception in transporting haiku principles and practices outside of Japan have failed for the lack of these two key components.

May I suggest as part of this forum's persuit for "The Craft of Writing Haiku" consider exploring (if not embracing) these two key components.

Thank you.


Hello, chibi,

What is it they say, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear," or something like that?

I think one of the tremendous things about these fora (this one, Jane R's, etc) is that the discussions provide such a learning experience.  When I started writing haiku, I truly knew nothing -- I thought, as we were taught as children, that 5-7-5 and a seasonal nature image were the whole ball of wax.  Luckily, I soon encountered an experienced and well-regarded haijin who saw some potential in my lame attempts and opened a couple of doors for me.  Everything I've learned about haiku has been from recommended books and from discussions in the fora.  It may not be the exact equivalent of the Japanese system, but it did allow me to develop my craft to a publishable level within English-language haiku (which I know you do not consider haiku at all, but it's all we have).

All of which is to say, absent one's own sensei and an encyclopedic saijiki, we are truly fortunate to have these boards where we can learn from each other, some authoritative texts and anthologies and journals that can guide us along the way, and Gabi san's World Kigo Database (a labor of love if I ever saw one).  It may not be the Japanese way, but it will have to do, and IMHO will do nicely within ELH practice.

I'm not ignoring your second point, but since the discussion is ongoing in another thread here, I don't see the point of bringing it into this one.

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

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