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Haiku: A Short Introduction – An Old Pond Comic by Jessica Tremblay

Are you brand-new to haiku? Want to write one but you have no idea where to even begin? Welcome to New to Haiku! This blog post is for you.

Today, New to Haiku is pleased to welcome Jessica Tremblay, creator and illustrator of Old Pond Comics. Old Pond Comics is a cartoon featuring the adventures of two frogs in a pond: Master Kawazu and his young apprentice Kaeru who wants to learn haiku. The title of the cartoon is inspired by a famous poem by Matsuo Basho:

The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.

After meeting haiku poet Basho, “Kawazu The Frog” becomes “Master Kawazu” and opens a haiku school right there in the pond. Jessica – with help from her amphibian friends – has put together this lesson to help people write their very first haiku. You can download the original .pdf copy of this handout – complete with comics – on her website.

What is a haiku?

A haiku is a short poem that describes, in only three lines, “what is happening in this place at this time” (Basho). It contains a word related to the season, and uses two images to give the reader a sense of wonder or aha! moment.

Most traditional Japanese haiku were written in 17 on (sound units), but when you write a haiku in English you don’t have to count syllables. Instead, try to write your haiku following a “short-long-short” pattern (meaning: the first line is short, the second line is longer, and the third line is short). Example:

toy store
a client returns
a boomerang

  • Jessica Tremblay

Short

Haiku is often called “one breath poetry” because the poem is so short that it can be said in one breath.

Brevity is an essential element of haiku. Avoid unnecessary words (adjectives, adverbs). Make every word count. Some people say ten words are often enough to write a haiku.

Be specific. “A flower” is nice, but if you write “a red tulip”, people will see the image better.

Season word (kigo)

Most haiku will contain a word indicating the season. This “season word” in a haiku is called a kigo.

This doesn’t mean you have to name the season as in “autumn evening” or “summer rain”. Certain words naturally refer to a particular season.

For example, the word “pumpkin” implies the haiku is taking place in autumn, “cherry blossoms” means it’s spring.

Don’t use more than one kigo per haiku! One is enough.

Two images

A good haiku features two images. In English, sometimes the pause between the two images is marked by a dash or an ellipsis. . . But most of the time, there is a natural pause at the end of the line so you don’t need to add any punctuation.

When choosing your two images, the more frequently used techniques are: comparison, contrast, association.

The juxtaposition of two images is the key to creating an element of surprise, the aha! moment that triggers emotions in the reader. A good haiku helps us see the world in a different view.

Go for a haiku walk

Haiku poets always carry a small notebook in their pocket when they go on a ginko (a walk done in search of inspiration to write a haiku.)

During a ginko walk, observe what is happening around you. Use all your senses. Write down everything that you see, hear, touch, taste, smell. Anything that catches your attention.

Sometimes, a haiku will come to you already finished, in three lines, with two images. Sometimes, you’ll have a list of images, but no haiku yet. When you re-read these notes after your walk, maybe you’ll find a second image to complete the haiku.

Let’s write a haiku

  1. Go on a walk and write everything you see.
  2. When you come home, draw three lines on a piece of paper: a short line, a longer line, and another short line.
  3. On the first line write “I saw”.
  4. On the next two lines, write down one thing you saw on your walk.
  5. Now, erase the first line and replace it with another image. (Try to use the techniques of comparison, contrast, or association, so your two images create an aha! moment.) If you’re stuck, simply write where and when the poem is taking place. Example: “afternoon walk”
  6. Your haiku is done!

Recap

Take a walk to the park. Observe the nature around you. What is happening now? Is there a dog running in the park? What color is he? What is he doing? Is he barking? Why? What do you see, taste, hear, feel, smell? Write it down.

Remember: A haiku is a short poem that describes, in only three lines, “what is happening in this place at this time” (Basho).

Six basic rules of haiku

  1. Keep it short
  2. Write in the present tense.
  3. Follow a “short-long-short” pattern
  4. Use your senses.
  5. Juxtapose two images.
  6. Include a season word.

To learn more about haiku through comics, visit Old Pond Comics by Jessica Tremblay.

In 2007, Jessica Tremblay created Old Pond Comics to share her love of haiku.  The cartoons were published in haiku journals in Canada, United States, France, and Japan. She was the official cartoonist-in-residence at Haiku North America, Seabeck Haiku Getaway, Haiku Canada, and Haiku Hot Springs. www.oldpondcomics.com 

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy for more information.

Julie Bloss Kelsey

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I have been a fan of comic strips since early childhood. Blondie & Dagwood, L’I Abner & Daisy Mae, Dick Tracy, and more.
    Much later in life (circa 1970s) I discovered haiku. I have been a haijin from that point on.
    Imagine my delight upon discovering ‘Old Pond Comics’ and reliving those early years through haiku!

  2. What an absolute delight!

    I’ve loved Jessica Tremblay’s Old Pond Comics right from the start!

    They are funny, accessible, and say a helluva lot in a good way with “over-explaining”. They always make me smile and feel better about the world too! 🙂

    Alan Summers
    founder, Call of the Page

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