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It's National Haiku Writing Month!

Once again, it is National Haiku Writing Month! Just like novelists and musicians who have months designated to inspire them: National Novel Writing Month and National Solo Album Month, so do haiku poets! I wonder why they are all in the winter?!

“Daily writing prompts are posted to this wall … You can follow the prompts if you wish or post off-prompt — doesn’t matter.” So it says on the Facebook page started by Michael Dylan Welch. I had fun doing it last year, and Michael had so much success with it that it kept going long past February!

The tag on Twitter is #nahaiwrimo.



This Post Has 36 Comments

  1. Yes, Nathan-san, but one must I feel learn and work for a very long time from the original form before emerging, or evolving in a natural, organic way. A haiku poet must carry the history of haiku (lightly) around in his/her head before arriving at their own new experience.


  2. Isn’t there such a thing as modern Haiku, which isn’t given to the “nature” theme? I like to write about nature, but I find the “Haiku form” is a great way to limit oneself to write what otherwise couldn’t be written. Call it what you want, but I’m all for “expansion” of the Haiku and experimenting. Being a purist doesn’t help those who wish to emerge. This is why it’s so hard to be a poet–people are staunch.

  3. I don’t understand how advocating for moving away from 5-7-5 in ELH is somehow anti-Japanese racism. Are three line ELH racist in nature since Japanese haiku are written in one vertical line and have no differentiation of lines? Are they racist because word order in English matters and it doesn’t in Japanese? “He eats pie” means something completely different from “Pie eats he.” So am I a racist by insisting that word order in ELH adhere to English language strictures of word order? Does that make me anti-Asian because I think ELH should follow the actual English language? Hell, are ELH racist by their very nature because they are not written in Japanese pictographs?

    The universally accepted symbol for “no” is not a swastika, no matter how many places you say it nor how loud you say it.

  4. Dimitar: As you know, your arguments were absolutely obliterated the last time you raised them. See here for a reminder: — in sum, every point you’ve made is untrue, and your conclusion is unreasonable.

    Your comparison of NaHaiWriMo to the Ku Klux Klan, and its symbol to a swastika, would be a despicable insult to the African Americans and Jews tortured and killed by those groups if it wasn’t so utterly laughable.

    The world is filled with enough real problems that manufacturing one like this is particularly pointless. I fine you sad, frankly.

  5. Dimitar, while it’s nice that you helped to support that little girl’s poem, I can think of no haiku journal that would publish a child’s poem — 5-7-5 or not — unless it was good enough to publish. You could have just as easily sent them a one-line haiku or a vertical haiku or any other form and they would have rejected it. That doesn’t mean the haiku community is anti-“5-7-5” or doesn’t want to help children.

    And you’re right — teaching children how to count syllables is a good method for helping them to learn and get used to the form, but too often they are taught ONLY that haiku should be 5-7-5 syllables and not much else (except maybe that it’s about nature). That notion sticks with them throughout life, which is how we get books like Homeowner Haiku, Zombie Haiku, and Haiku for the Single Girl — books that contain lots of stuff written in 5-7-5 format but barely any haiku.

  6. From the Facebook discussions, I am imparting part of debate. My answer to Maxene A. Alexander : “One of my favorites:

    Is as follows: I think basically poetic technics must be interpreted by poets – by one who uses them. Counting syllable is a method of writing poetry, so we need poets, not linguistic experts. Linguistic is not the same as poetry, those are two different fields. Imagine engineer working as a surgeon… The same way I see linguist creating theories in poetry. There is old Latin saying: “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam”. I think we always must remind this Latin saying when face “big theories” in poetry. Many American intellectuals are doing significant efforts to destroy 5-7-5 form. Why, I ask? They even do not know meaning of 5 and 7 syllables. Both rhythm came from classical Chinese poetry, from Tang dynasty. Do we need to destroy history of literature to make some intellectual happy? Ridiculous. So, yes, “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam!”

  7. PS. The most cynical manipulation of “anti-backhand movement” is that they ban 5-7-5 for “saving the children” of bad influences in teaching haiku. (sic!) In fact 5-7-5 techniques i.e. counting syllables, is the most simple and easiest way to teach children personal expression. It is much harder to teach children haiku by complicated intellectual concepts like “juxtaposition” etc. Counting syllables is something like a childish play – the most easiest way to say something important for any child.
    In 2011 I was taking part in a preparation of filming a documentary in NYC about a family of undocumented immigrants. A small daughter of an immigrant from Senegal, 8 year old Fofana Npenda was just learned about haiku in her school in Bronx. She showed me her first attempt in writing haiku. I wanted to support her first step in haiku and I’ve sent her poem to many of my (mostly American) friends dealing publicly with haiku. But, no one of them wanted to support the girl. No one of haiku poets wanted to publish her poem. The most often I heard: “it is only 5-7-5 but not haiku” (sic!). I only published the poem in my blog:
    That’s about it how much people from “anti-backhand movement” care for the children and about their “anti-dogmatic” spirit.

  8. As I already said, some people intentionally misinterpret 5-7-5 writing technique, making profit of misinterpretation. Invention of “hot water” that all languages has own qualities of syllables is old as literature. Of course languages are different but this fact does not prevent skillful poetic translation. Counting of syllables is poetic technique equal in all languages. Counting of syllables is not linguistic topic. It is a clear misinterpretation. I know from my poems (translated by Jim Kacian) that English 5-7-5 works similar as Serbian which, similar to Japanese, has no diphthongs and triphthongs (but I never herd that these are not syllables but “onji” or in Serbian word is “slog” – local name is not important, it is a syllable). Alfred H. Marks translation of 300 (!) Seishi Yamaguchi poems written in Japanese 5-7-5 into English 5-7-5 is another example. Without any problem in 300 poems! All Japanese words are noted and translated plus poetic translation in English 5-7-5. So, for the skillful poet the room is not the problem. Mediocre, poetasters and experts (not poets) intentionally speak different story damaging field of poetry. Planting the story of linguistic into poetry (fields of poetry and culture are not the same!) as the most important point of poetry is in fact huge manipulation. Saying that 5-7-5 is story of “tennis-court” (room) is pure manipulation too. Because 5-7-5 is poetic technique not linguistic question. I used example from tennis just to clearly divide linguistic topic from poetry: So, NaHaWriMo is clearly an “anti-beckhend movemend” which is falsely presented as “pro-court movement”. I want to stress again: 5-7-5 is not a “dogma” but common and simple writing technique. A lot of haiku which sum of syllables are not 17 are written in 5-7-5 technique! Some of them, written even by Basho (for example his “crow” haiku). So you do not necessary must have 17 syllables when you use the technique of counting in writing… Stop manipulating people by planting linguistic topics into poetry please!

  9. No, NaiHaiWriMo is not “anti-backhand.” As I’ve made clear in numerous places, without using a tennis metaphor, NaHaiWriMo is against thinking of 5-7-5 as the *only* target for haiku. In tennis terms, that’s not being “anti-backhand.” Rather, it might be anti “changing the dimensions of the court to 51 feet by 111 feet” (instead of 36 by 78 feet). Changing the court size is really what promoting just 5-7-5 for haiku really does in English, linguistically speaking, compared to Japanese. Let me ephasize that: promoting haiku in English as 5-7-5 syllables actually CHANGES haiku to something it isn’t in Japanese. That’s the fundamental problem, so to persist in promoting merely 5-7-5 strikes me as more disrespectful to Japanese haiku than respectful.

    Unfortunately, there is no direct equivalent for haiku in English for the size of the “tennis court” used in Japan. Furthermore, the widespread misteaching of haiku in English as just 5-7-5 syllables is like forgetting to tell players that they need to use a ball and racket, or how to score the game, where to serve from, and a host of other strategies and techniques (the metaphor will go only so far, mind you). What good is a patch of grass marked out with court dimensions with almost no other instructions on what it’s for? Sure, one *can* write good haiku in 5-7-5 in English (‘ve written some, and I like some of Richard Wright’s, among others), but those poems are not better simply for being 5-7-5 than those that aren’t (in English). More important, they typically have to LOSE content if they are translated into Japanese, because they are simply too long and contain too much content to fit into 17 sounds in Japanese. Just look at novels translated sentence by sentence from English to Japanese or vice versa. The sentences in English will nearly always have fewer syllables, and the Japanese will have more sounds. That’s just a fact of linguistic comparison.

    Ignoring the fundamental fact that syllables in English (and many other languages) do not match the sounds counted in Japanese haiku has produced generations of bad and clueless haiku in English. The fundamental reason for that failure is the misguided belief that 5-7-5 is essentially the *only* target for haiku in English. I hope I’m making a difference in educating people about other targets for haiku in English; the NaHaiWriMo logo is one way (not the only way) of doing that.

    In any event, I can understand that a person who writes 5-7-5 haiku (of whatever quality) might not like the NaHaiWriMo logo (they are free to do so), but on the other hand many people keep asking me to make a T-shirt of it. The logo has started many excellent conversations, and helped to free hundreds of people from thinking that 5-7-5 is the *only* thing that matters for haiku (in whatever language). Instead, they are writing poems that pay attention to season words and a two-part structure, poems that present implication and personal experience and objective sensory imagery — among many other techniques. (You can read example poems from NaHaiWriMo in a free online PDF book at Furthermore, the large and active community on the NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook is warm, encouraging, and inspiring (see comments about the page at

    It is because of my *respect* for traditional form in Japanese haiku that I urge those writing in English to consider the issues in a linguistic comparison of the two languages — similar to why 100 yen does not equal 100 dollars. My respect for traditional haiku in Japanese also includes an emphasis on techniques that are more important than mere form (the Japanese aren’t fooled into believing that a toilet instruction in 5-7-5 is a haiku, the way many uninformed Westerners are). No, NaHaiWriMo is not anti-backhand in the slightest.

    With best wishes to all,


  10. I do not disagree with any personal view. But we do not discuss personal positions. Let take for example sport like tennis to make things clear. You have different techniques of playing, like, for example “backhand” and “forehand”. For me it is not important personal propensity towards both techniques: some like better backhand, others like better forehand. Or some like both equally…Personal choice…
    But imagine an “anti-backhand movement”… (!?) Or imagine an expert who states that it is more American (or English, or Japanese, or Indian) to play forehand than backhand… (!?) Such things are ridiculous. That is our situation in haiku today. Because 5-7-5 is not a “dogma” but common and simple writing technique. A lot of haiku which sum of syllables are not 17 are written in 5-7-5 technique! Some of them, written even by Basho (for example his “crow” haiku). So you do not necessary must have 17 syllables when you use the technique of counting in writing… From your comments I can see that you have not basic knowledge about 5-7-5 technique and most of you discuss from prejudices or some of you does not know what he’s saying… What I am saying is that banning of technique of writing is ridiculous including supporting “knowledge”. All movement against 5-7-5 is completely nonsense. It is shame even to discuss such things. Simply a dead end.

  11. I always thought of haiku as a spiritual practice and each haiku as a kind of prayer. Hence any prescription that gets in the way of this practice I tend to avoid. I know this is a narrow view. But writing haiku for me goes well beyond literature and tradition. It is how I attempt to live each moment.


  12. Interesting exchange between Greg & Kame San. I personally think time will decide & times always decide the form & the content. If it was 5-7-5 (or whatever you call it in Japanese from 14th century onwards till now, then the 21st century will have it own form & themes.

    5-7-5 was the call of the times.

    I, for example already don’t use 5-7-5.

    & therefore, there is absolutely nothing racist about what Greg & company are doing.

  13. PS. Yeah, a small “secret” of poetic art is that in languages having diphthongs and triphthongs only stressed vowels are counted, while other vowels are so called “quite” – so bigger number of syllables is just an illusion. No differences in counting syllables among the languages. Higginson theory is a pure lie… (Or dilettantism). The lie (or dilettantism) rules so called ELH. People want to have “free” form without “fixed” form, what is ridiculous… Just annihilation of original form is anti-cultural. No one even know the meaning of 5 and 7 syllables coming from Chinese classical poetry.

  14. In the beginning of 80′ when I started writing haiku it was a cosmopolitan tool for mutual understanding – as finally all art must be and is. But since 1989 the separate haiku genre is created on the base of language: the ELH. It was done by quasi-scientific “onji” theory. Now, with NaHaWriMo we have an anti-5-7-5 movement.
    No one knows to explain why “onji” theory works only in English? Is it truth that English is so special that creates a separate genre? Is that superiority racial or historic? Is there diphthongs and triphthongs in Italian, Spanish… all other languages? Does it mean that English poets cannot write “Italian” sonnet too? Then, what do with Shakespeare? What to do with Richard Wright and James Kirkup? Etc.
    All this linguistic mess is created by people who are basically not poets and do not defend interests of poetry but they follow their particular interests. It is up to American poets to decide if they want to use haiku as a tool of racial police. Because, what is going on today for my feeling is out of tune and deeply anti-American and anti-democratical too. Earlier generations of American haiku poets will be ashamed with such movement.

  15. Dimitar, you are obviously someone who likes to argue for argument’s sake. I’m not claiming to be a haiku teacher — I wrote an article about haiku for people who might not otherwise be familiar with it, I’m not trying to teach a class on it. If you think you could write a better article, go ahead and do it. That’s the beauty of the Internet. But whether you could write a better article or not, that doesn’t change the fact that comparing the NaHaiWriMo logo to a swastika is just plain irresponsible. You can disagree with something without raising it to epic proportions.

    And since you like to talk about ignorance, you are apparently ignorant of how the 5-7-5 haiku came about in English. Maybe you should study up a little bit before starting a crusade.

  16. I just told people that it was national Haiku month and I thought I was lieing but Hey, i’m not!!! :D lol Lmbo :D

  17. Greg, people using swastika as own logo we usually consider Nazi, without asking them for opinion about Black, Jews etc. (asking Hitler on Jews would be really funny!) Those who use a Red Cross we consider usually medical workers. We do not go them for haiku but for medicine.
    Your ignorance about topic you PUBLICLY teach cannot be your PERSONAL thing, so you cannot accuse me for discussing your personal things.
    I see you must learn too what is public job, and what personal things. A lot of ignorance on your side but you seems proud for being ignorant, and you insist that you must teach around haiku… Very strange I must say. Never heard before for such virtues.

    I think you are lucky that there is no Haiku Guild because it will be very hard to get a teaching licenses ( and to take part in expert discussion) for one who do not know even that art (worthy of its name) is mainly personal not racial achievement.

    I only hope you are religious men because I can hardly help such situation.

  18. Dimitar,
    A wise man once told me, “discussants without an argument usually turn discussion to personal issues.” I’m not disputing your points about the differences between “Japanese haiku” and “haiku in Japan” — but I was writing a 500-word article to sum up haiku for those who are not familiar with it, not a full-length book where the complete history, details, and nuances of haiku could be delved into in depth.

    It’s understandable that when you first glance at the NaHaiWriMo logo, you might think they are promoting a prohibition on the 5-7-5 form. But if you even take a minute to glance over their website and read what they are about, you’ll quickly see that’s not true.

  19. Dear Greg,
    now, you plant many “meanings” that has nothing to do with logo you use. I already told to the group of advocates of NaHaWriMo at Facebook, that if truly your logo of prohibition is not real and it has other, positive meaning(s), then those meanings (“real”) are not harmonious with the logo. You have choice to change the logo according to your real meaning (if the meaning you suggested is not real) or to change your interpretation. Because in reasonable discussion it is very hard to defend the position “our logo is not what you see”. Because we all clearly see one meaning only: the prohibition. So, speaking from the position of your logo you are clearly an “anti-5-7-5 movement”.

    I also tried to learn more about You on internet. I was not able to see proofs for your significance in poetry, about your artistic range but I found that you already published a kind of your artistic instructions, what usually do important, significant poets. In an article “Art of Haiku” you impose many doubtful statements. For example, the third paragraph stars with “Japanese haiku had strict rules to follow.” This is an enormous simplification of “Japanese haiku” (I do not want to talk about terminology here but I would rather say “Haiku in Japan” then “Japanese haiku”. Art is more individual then racial, national etc…). In fact “Japanese haiku” is much more versatile them “American haiku” or “Western haiku” in general. There are many hundreds of thousands of “Japanese haiku”. And for your knowledge “free form haiku” is invented in Japan too. So your impose of “Japanese haiku” shows a kind of prejudices which one can understand as racial prejudices. That way I can see: from the level of your understanding of “Japanese haiku” your “anti-5-7-5 movement” is in fact racial movement. You speak in the name of nation and you use racial terminology. If you ask me for advice I will suggest you researching an old Latin saying: “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam”…

  20. Dimitar, you make some very good points about racism and genocide, but I disagree with you that they apply here. I do agree with you that NaHaiWriMo is certainly not promoting the 5-7-5 form or presenting it in a positive light. But they are not trying to eliminate it — simply to open people’s minds that 5-7-5 is not the only way to write haiku, since even many schoolteachers still teach that rule. The following quotes come directly from the NaHaiWriMo website:

    “…the point of the ‘no 5-7-5’ NaHaiWriMo logo is to emphasize that it’s a widespread misunderstanding to think of haiku merely as anything written in 5-7-5 syllables.”

    “…it’s an urban myth to think of English-language haiku merely in terms of 5-7-5 syllables…”

    “NaHaiWriMo is not really anti-5-7-5, but it’s hardly the only target for haiku, and in English you don’t need to aim at such a syllable pattern…”

  21. There was always a kind of tension between poets writing fixed forms (in sonnet, for example) and those poets writing free verses. But I never heard that free-verse poets wanted to destroy (eliminate, or whatever) sonnet. Or opposite. It was always freedom of choice, “licencia poetica” (existing from Latin time, as human right!). You write whatever you want and I will write what I want. An “anti-sonnet movement” is simply ridiculous, as well as this “anti-5-7-5 movement”. These guys usurped the term of American Nation for their negative campaign. Richard Wright must go again in exile in France, it seems.

  22. It is vital that we are not doctrinaire…but then I think, maybe the extremist create a tension and push at my cosmic weariness, and force me back into some gentle flowering
    that could not have existed in isolation. Still, I go my lonely way and try to find the words to say what each moment might be.

  23. Greg, we can unnecessarily elaborate details in this or that direction but it is easily visible, on very first look, that NaHaWriMo’s logo treats 5-7-5 form without respect – to say this in a very gentle way. This disrespect, or prohibition, or whatever it is, this “swastika” logo, is distributed by THF. Those are facts and we cannot discuss at this point.
    You know, the first phase in any practice of racism is a labeling. Because you cannot kill people just like that. You firstly must show them to audience and label as “bad”, “dirty” etc. Hitler did this labeling with yellow ribbon and Jewish star.
    You must have some propaganda which will prepare killing… I am sure you will agree that atmosphere created at NaHaWriMo around 5-7-5 with the prohibition label is not positive. The 5-7-5 is treated like a piece of shit that must be banned. Or like illegal Mexican immigrant that has no American papers, or what ever. The message is: “we do not need 5-7-5”.
    For my opinion such treatment of a form of art is anti-cultural, or barbarian. If you enjoy slighting the 5-7-5 you can do it but this sounds very ugly to me, and I do not believe that anyone has good reason for such primitive behavior. I am shocked that so many people, who call own-self poets (even “haiku poets”), enjoy such practice.
    I believe the final (expected) result must be waiver of universality of the 5-7-5 form, like “it is foreign, not ours…” and acting that ELH is a separate haiku genre. Like language is a genre (!). So, for my opinion, this is obvious result of cultural politics of domination through haiku… But it is a long story… :-) Thank you for your kind words about my poem in Rustic.

  24. Dimitar, I wasn’t turning the discussion to personal issues, I was merely complimenting you on one of your haiku — nothing to do with our debate. And I’m not saying NaHaiWriMo and THF are the same, I’m pointing out that the “cultural swastika” you mention isn’t intended to negatively affect 5-7-5 haiku — it’s trying to make the point that not all haiku need follow the traditional 5-7-5 format. NaHaiWriMo is about writing haiku, pure and simple, whether it’s a 5-7-5 haiku or a one-line haiku with 3 words.

  25. Greg, I never said that THF and NaHaWriMo are the same. I only said that THF supported negative campaign against 5-7-5 (created by PROHIBITION 5-7-5 logo). That is a pure fact because I got this “cultural swastika” in my inbox by thf-leaflet.

    Just to add: discussants without an argument usually turn discussion to personal issues. I just want to let you know that I write haiku in all possible ways: from one-liners, two-liners, free-form three-lines and 5-7-5. So, it is not about me. I am just sensitive about an anti-cultural behavior that take part in an multicultural field.

  26. Dimitar, I appreciate your point, but I don’t think the Haiku Foundation is sponsoring a campaign against 5-7-5 haiku. In fact, if you look at the guidelines for THF’s current HaikuNow! contest, there is a category specifically soliciting 5-7-5 haiku (the “traditional” category). The NaHaiWriMo logo featured above is trying to emphasize the point that haiku need not be confined to the 5-7-5 form, rather than saying that haiku CAN’T embody that form.

    On a different note, I enjoyed your “Young grasses” poem from “rustic.” Nice allusion and image.

  27. Greg, you now change the topic of our discussion. Let me remember you to my points:

    I am surprised that an international organization like THF supports NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN agains form of poetry (5-7-5). It is an anti-cultural movement with the smell of racism, like a Ku Klux Klan in poetry. Do not forget that Richard Wright and James Kirkup, a real poets and authors, among many important figures of literature, were writing haiku in 5-7-5. Shame of you.

    NaHaWriMo started:
    a month of haiku racism
    against: 5-7-5.
    – Dimitar Anakiev

    (taken from poetry magazine Ershok )

  28. Dimitar, NaHaiWriMo is not an exclusive poetic society; anyone can participate, and no one has to. Whether or not NaHaiWriMo prefers haiku to be in 5-7-5 format or not does not make it racist. There are plenty of haiku journals that accept poems in 5-7-5 format, just as there are plenty that prefer not to use this format. That is the choice of the editors of the magazine, and you as a haiku poet can choose where you wish to submit your poems. No one is forcing you to take part in National Haiku Writing Month — it’s an optional exercise in writing.

    Many literary journals that accept haiku will only consider haiku written in the 5-7-5 format… does that make them racist as well?

  29. Greg, you exactly confirmed the racist roots of “5-7-5 PROHIBITION” of NaHaWriMo. The reason that some poets write free or fix form is in freedom of choice not in differences between Japanese and English. Do you understand?

  30. Dimitar, I think you misunderstand me. The 5-7-5 rule is carried over from the Japanese haiku tradition, which uses a whole different syllable structure. No one is saying you CAN’T write haiku in 5-7-5 format, just that you don’t have to. There are plenty of good 5-7-5 poems that stand the test of time. I’m reading Richard Wright’s “Haiku: This Other World” right now, and there are several poems I’ve found already that stick out as excellent.

  31. Greg, you want to say that American constitution do not guarantees freedom of expression and you MUST write in 5-7-5? Do not kidding please… It is clearly racist movement even you want to be presented as a liberal movement: an old dream of all racists. You know every racist talk first about “values” not about hate…

  32. Dimitar,
    It’s not so much against the 5-7-5 form itself as it is against the rule that haiku in English HAS to be 5-7-5. Haiku is much more open and expressive than that, but good haiku that happen to have 5, 7, and 5 syllables certainly isn’t outlawed.

  33. NaHaWriMo started:
    a month of haiku racism
    against: 5-7-5.
    – Dimitar Anakiev

    (taken from poetry magazine Ershok )

  34. I am surprised that an international organization like THF supports NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN agains form of poetry (5-7-5). It is an anti-cultural movement with the smell of racism, like a Ku Klux Klan in poetry. Do not forget that Richard Wright and James Kirkup, a real poets and authors, among many important figures of literature, were writing haiku in 5-7-5. Shame of you.

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