The following are study and discussion questions for How to Haiku, by Jim Kacian (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2006).
The questions are organized according to the Table of Contents. They may be useful for students as they read assignments from the book. The questions are also designed to facilitate class discussions and small group activities. We hope they inspire further thoughts, questions, and poems.
In this first of three lesson plans, we offer questions and activities for the first four chapters from How to Haiku: Introduction, What is a Haiku?, Form, and Content.
1. What are some of the primary reasons for writing haiku?
2. Why does a poet work to place the reader directly at the scene of a poem?
3. Discuss this quote by Jim Kacian: “The poet’s reality is mapped onto the reader’s, like an overlay, and when there is a sufficient overlap, the experience is shared.”
4. Share or write in a notebook about a poem that spoke to you personally. This could be haiku, or another form of poetry. Then, perhaps at a later time, reflect upon the writer’s craft in an objective way.
What is a Haiku?
1. In general, what is the purpose of definitions?
2. Discuss this quote by the author: “All definitions are retrospective rather than predictive.”
3. Describe and discuss the definition of haiku offered in How To Haiku.
4. Share or write in a notebook about how your definitions of haiku may have changed over time. Was this change in light of new knowledge and/or through your experience as a reader and poet?
1. The chapter about Form begins with this statement: “Poetry, like music, unfolds over time” (Jim Kacian). Which forms of art are especially inspiring for you?
2. Discuss this quote by the author: “Form is the transparent scaffolding which supports the poem by which we transmit the moment.”
3. Compare and contrast the classical Japanese form of haiku and the different ways haiku are written in English.
4. The author concludes this chapter with a discussion about the organic nature of form. How might these thoughts inform your writing? Perhaps you have some poems in your notebooks that you wish to revise, and/or try some new ideas with new poems.
“ . . . no one form is best for all poems” (Jim Kacian).
1. What subjects are you drawn to as a writer? What are a few of your goals?
2. Discuss the role of season words, or kigo, in the classical haiku tradition. Compare and contrast kigo and the idea of keywords.
3. Why do we write haiku in the present tense?
4. Jim Kacian states: “It takes faith to let the images of our moment stand on their own, and to let the reader come to these images and intuit his own understanding.” Share or write in a notebook your reflections about this quote.
Preview of Lessons 2 and 3
Lesson 2 in this series of plans offers study and discussion questions for these chapters from How To Haiku: Technique, Language, How to Write Haiku.
Lesson 3 offers questions for these chapters: A (Very) Brief History of Haiku, Related Forms, Performance, Haiku: The World’s Longest Poem, and also the Glossary.
Kacian, Jim. How to Haiku (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2006).
For more haiku lesson plans, specific to age and grade levels, please visit The Haiku Foundation Education Resources. The work of several teachers, poets, and scholars is featured there.
We welcome your feedback and hope this lesson is useful.
Thank you to Jim Kacian for his work in publishing these three lessons.
— Ellen Grace Olinger