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New to Haiku: An Introduction to Two-Line Haiku

Poet and haiku archivist Charles Trumbull maintains an English-language haiku database that currently stands at about 544,000 poems, which he estimates is roughly half of all haiku published in English. Two-line haiku make up only around 1.6% of the total, and many of these are verses in linked forms, such as renga and tan-renga.

Why don’t we see more two-line haiku in English? Why do we default to a three-line form?

In his 2006 book, How to Haiku, Jim Kacian writes:

“While two-line haiku are relatively rare in classical Japanese practice, many examples, especially from translation, may be found in English to justify this choice. An early and important collection of translated classical haiku by Asataro Miyamora in 1932 employed the two-line form. It was also the form of choice by such early important personages in the haiku world as Lafcadio Hearn and Harold Stewart.”

But he goes on to say:

“(H)aiku is most often the juxtaposition of two elements, and on the surface the two-line form might seem ideally suited to the haiku. What it loses, however, is the sudden shift, the ‘surprise’ element which English haiku may have in their third line. They also lose the asymmetry inherent in the Japanese original where the five on [a Japanese sound unit similar to, but shorter than, a syllable in English] of the first line is poised against 7 and 5 on in the second phrase, or else 5-7 posited against the final 5 . . .”

In How to Haiku’s section on haiku form, Kacian writes:

“We may consider the three-line, short-long-short form to be standard in English. One recent study suggests that over 90% of all haiku published in English in the last three decades has appeared in this format, and there is no evidence to suggest that this is changing.”

So, why would a poet choose to write a haiku in two lines instead of three?

Economy of space & immediacy of image

In Lee Gurga’s book with Charles Trumbull, Haiku: A Poet’s Guide, the authors include a section on concrete haiku, poems in which the placement of the words on the page is crucial to the haiku’s meaning. Gurga writes:

“In the poem below, ‘september’ functions as a season word [or kigo]. In addition, poet Carolyn Hall has used the cutting of the word in the line to convey the feeling of how the month of September 2001 was interrupted for all of us. The remainder of the word in the second line presents us with the smoldering ‘ember’ of the twin towers.”


Carolyn Hall
Mariposa 5, 2001

Hall’s poem is highly effective as a two-line haiku. The natural and familiar break of “september” on line one is used to maximum advantage to lull the reader into the unexpected line two. Without the dash, there is no poem, so a monoku would not have worked here. And there is no need for a third line — the horror of that day is fully contained between L1 and L2.

Longer pauses between lines

Sometimes, longer pauses are needed to create an aha! moment. Two-line haiku allow you to create these pauses by having a “missing” second or third line, allowing for more “breathing room” in the poem.

Here’s a haiku of mine:

binary star—
the cat’s eyes

Julie Bloss Kelsey
Second Place, 15th International “Kusamakura” Competition, 2010

Although this is a two-line poem, I’ve always thought of it as a three-line haiku with a blank second line. There must be time for the reader to peer into the dark, think they see a binary star, realize the absurdity, and recognize a cat.

Consider this haiku by Pris Campbell:

chocolate kisses
always there when I need you

Pris Campbell
The Pan Haiku Review, 2023

This poem is effectively missing a third line. There’s a pause after the poem, a delayed aha! moment, during which the reader realizes the emptiness implied by the words — the poet is eating chocolate kisses alone.

No good alternatives

Sometimes, presenting the haiku in another way — perhaps a monoku or three-line haiku — would weaken the poem.

In the example of Campbell’s haiku above, you could end line two after “there” to create a third line, but this wouldn’t be as effective, nor add anything to the poem.

“I’ve rarely written a two-line. As you already said, to break [her poem above] into three just wouldn’t work. If changed at all, it could possibly work as one-line but it needs the pause after kisses to bring out the thought . . . where could this be going?” — Pris Campbell

Allow for longer (and shorter) line lengths

In his essay, “Writing Haiku: The Two-Line Form,” David Grayson presents some of the pitfalls to be aware of when composing two-line haiku:

“The differences inherent in the two-line haiku add up: varying rhythms, restrained pivoting and cutting, less room for a seasonal element, and less opportunity for lineation. When combining these factors, it’s apparent that the two-line form is unique and sometimes unforgiving. Even if a two-liner is successful in working with these constraints, that success may still feel very different from the haiku that readers are familiar with and expect.”

He then goes on to describe circumstances in which one might prefer to write haiku in two lines: to magnify the impact of line one against line two (an effect which Grayson refers to as proximity), to sharply focus the poem by fading out the background, to compose shorter lines (think of Hall’s poem above), or to compose haiku with longer lines.

The following poem, from Pamela A. Babusci, is an example of the latter:

leaves blanket the graves of strangers
i have forgotten spring’s radiance

Pamela A. Babusci
Frogpond, 1996

“i wrote in a two-line form because i felt it flowed better; that the reader could naturally pause between the two juxtaposed images and feel/see the imagery.” — Pamela A. Babusci

Superior enjambment

In “Duostich: Navigating Unicorns,” Alan Summers shares his thoughts and correspondence with Michael Lindenhofer regarding two-line (duostich) haiku. Lindenhofer wrote Summers to say (in part):

“I have been studying some of your 2-line haiku quite a while to get a feel for the line breaks. Really, it’s not so easy . . .

They basically consist of two components, each claiming its own line. A third line would be too much of a good thing. And welding them together into a single line would not help either, because the seam would stand out too clearly. In the real one-liners, the basic components are so neatly put together that the seams are barely visible. Sometimes one shimmers here, sometimes there.”

I love Lindenhofer’s description of the “seams” in haiku. Perhaps the cut in a two-line haiku holds the key to this elusive form?

Summers observes:

“Three line haiku are often constrained by a Western notion of enjambment and what a haiku is, and what it should look like on the ‘page’.”

He then explains his reasons for using a two-line form for several poems, including this one:

winter’s end
a wardrobe slaps closed

Alan Summers
tinywords issue 21.1, March 2021
Presentation: Haiku North America 2021 Conference: ‘Schrödinger’s MA and the segue axis,’ by Alan Summers

Do I force it into a tercet:

winter’s end
a wardrobe slaps

winter’s end
a wardrobe
slaps closed

The first tercet version almost works but feels it’s a three statement construct:

1. winter’s end
2. a wardrobe slaps
3. closed

I don’t get the inclusiveness of the atmosphere that I wish to be generated. Let’s see if a ‘monoku’ works better:

winter’s end a wardrobe slaps closed

It’s a little bit better although it does feel crude and almost shouting that the end of the winter season is ‘a wardrobe slapped closed’ as if it’s a blunt force trauma simile or metaphor instead of a more gently immersed figure of speech in one reading and not disrupting the simple last seasonal guest or employee or manager etc. . . doing house management and closing the vacation venue for the season.

A wardrobe could slap an end to the winter season but again, the duostich seems to have the superior enjambment or coupled power of the (two) lines in parallel and relationship.

Summers’ words seem in conflict with Grayson’s assertions. Are haiku restrained or freed by the pivot and cut of two lines? Clearly, we need to write more two-line haiku to sort this out!



Grayson, David. “Writing Haiku: The Two-Line Form,” in Frogpond 38.3, Autumn 2015.

Gurga, Lee with Charles Trumbull. Haiku: A Poet’s Guide (Madison, Wisconsin: Modern Haiku Press, 2003).

Kacian, Jim. How to Haiku (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2006)

Summers, Alan. “Duostich: Navigating Unicorns,” in The Pan-Haiku Review, Issue One, Spring 2023.


Haiku Column, a Facebook group devoted to 2-line haiku.


Have you written two-line haiku? Why did you choose to use this form? Do you have strong feelings on enjambment? Let us know in the comments!

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.


My thanks to Pamela A. Babusci, Rowan Beckett, Susan Burch, Pris Campbell, Kat Lehmann, Marietta McGregor, Alan Summers, and Charlie Trumbull for their kind help with this article. Any errors are mine.

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 print poetry collection, Grasping the Fading Light: A Journey Through PTSD, won the 2021 Women’s International Haiku Contest from Sable Books. Her ebook of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Moth Orchid Press (formerly Title IX Press). Her most recent collection, After Curfew, is available from Cuttlefish Books. Connect with her on Instagram @julieblosskelsey.

This Post Has 20 Comments

    1. Many thanks Mariani,
      It’s great that Julie created this feature on two lines haiku!

      I still remember this was the Brisbane Metro that I’d take once a week for a writers’ workshop or meeting as there was nothing in my area in Queensland farmland.

      disembodied voices, darkness, light
      express train jolts

      Alan Summers
      Point Judith Light (1994 & 1995) ed. Patrick Frank

      Duostich: Navigating Unicorns by Alan Summers

      I said:
      What better way than to end on David Grayson’s final words back in 2015:

      “If poets do produce more two-liners, they may discover new strengths of the form and overcome some of its constraints. As it stands, haiku poets will benefit if they consider the two-line format as a viable option when composing their work.” — David Grayson

      I quoted David Grayson a number of times, and gave a link to his article:

      Writing Haiku: The Two-Line Form by David Grayson
      Frogpond 38.3 • Autumn 2015

      We were/are on the same page! 🙂


    1. Dear Marius Alexandru,

      Ah warlock, great use of the word in a different context! Indeed the human race feels ‘hellbent’ on war as too many are uneasy about peace, seen as equally threatening or bizarrely even more threatening. Go figure!



      Alan Summers

      a last nail in the make-
      shifting coffin

      Alan Summers

      1. thank you, Alan Summers
        “Warlocks are often featured in fantasy novels. They can use their powers to:
        Create spells
        Cast curses on enemies
        Summon supernatural spirits and creatures”

        I know that “hellbent” is a better word and thank you for your advice.

  1. Another strength of two line haiku is the call and response and the thread of restrain that runs through them.


    Pan Haiku Review issue 1 (Spring 2023)


    returning him to the earth
    the mountains inherit our loss 



    reading between his lines
                  my thoughts porcupine

    Kala Ramesh


    not hysteria 
    first true leaves

    Kat Lehmann


    toy hospital
    lonely songs fix the cry box

    Alan Summers


    The couplet, as we write in English within renga or renku linked verse, calls out for a a response, almost begging for even just one more line, but not from the writer. We are crying out for the reader to response, with deep reading and connection, adding at least one more line, their line, so that there dozens, hundreds, even thousands of unknown third lines added to those 2-line haiku we write.


  2. Interesting! I actually wrote two two-liners today! Thanks Julie and all those you consulted.

  3. Wonderful article and timely for me as I just had my third duostich accepted for publication. I owe Alan Summers a lot for introducing me to the form. I still have so much more to learn and experiment with on my haiku journey.

    1. Dear Eavonka,
      That’s wonderful!

      I feel exploring the number of lines that we can attempt for haiku also moves us away from risk of repeating ourselves, and that obstacle of accidental formula templates.

      May you richly continue! 🙂


  4. Between this column and re:Virals I always learn so much about the poetry form I have chosen to embrace.
    It’s like classes of science and English. One dissects the haiku and how and why it works and the other discusses the literary detail and meaning in minute detail. Glad we have these classes and this was extremely enlightening.

  5. There is an Italian haiku journal which contains two-liners as the norm.
    I cannot recall its name.

  6. This was an interesting use of the dash (M—dash) in this case, although the treatment of two lines makes it feel like moonlight broken up at the same:


    cold moon—
                        light the gravel road home

    Beverly Acuff Momoi
    The Pan Haiku Review issue 1 (Spring 2023)


    It makes the next line more interesting, is it moonlight, car lights, truck lights, personal torches (battery or flame) that is the ‘light’ that is “the gravel road home’.

    We have a seasonal reference of ‘cold moon in Winter, and the poem isn’t confined to visual imagery only, with that strongly inferred crunch-crunch-crunch of the gravel that is the road home.

    As a monostich what would we have?

    cold moonlight the gravel road home


    cold moon light the gravel road home

    Again, it feels diminished, lessened, without that neat duostich turn.

    Attention to ‘lines’ can pay dividends, whether a single line, two lines, three lines, four etc…
    Here the author made a choice that might have easily been overlooked by someone else, thinking of just a monostich.


  7. Two line haiku seems to be very simple and yet it really needs the right words in the right place. A kigo with a kireji helps which juxtaposes the lines. Good spacing between the words either close or far does enhance the haiku.
    I wrote – not yet published

    orange leaves
    his autumn folds

    autumn twilight . . .
    mother puts on her japamala

    A well concrete image does the trick. But it needs to be precise and perfect.

    1. Or without explicitly naming the season:

      apple blossom
      its tune buff-tailed bumblebee

      Alan Summers
      A Wales Haiku Journal twitter prompt response
      (April 2023)

      The buff-tailed bumblebee is a giant signifier of Spring in countries including the UK:

      So that even though apple blossom is April through to June (Spring to Summer) the dominant seasonal reference is the bumble for Spring.

  8. This is a wonderful, well written article and I’m pleased to be a part, especially in the company of Alan Summers, one of the top writers in all sorts of short forms. I’ve posted this link on my page in facebook as well as in two of the active haiku groups there and had thanks for offering this information about the two-line form to learn more from. Very helpful and interesting. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Pris!

      I feel that just like haiku in general (a modern genre in many ways, and not just because it found its feet just before WWII, with the New Rising Haiku movement in Japan, anti-war, and tortured because of that) is suitable for grappling major changes in society. I have a student, very new to haiku, who is doing just that in the most horrific series of murder since Ukraine was allowed to be invaded). We need more writers like the New Rising Movement, and the Croatian war haiku (not pro-war) poets. But also as a record of life that is on another turning point, yet again, not just obvious war, but the venality that is destroying ordinary lives in so-called peace-time countries.

      A call and response two line haiku is certainly as worthy as 1-line, and 3-line, and 4-line haiku.

      Pris, I feel you have ever more to give on a daily basis, I always look forward to what you will write next!


  9. Quoting Pris Campbell’s other duostich in The Pan Haiku Review, as it’s also a useful example.


    beach wedding 
    bouquet tossed to the loudest dolphin

    Pris Campbell


    Yes, of course it could be said that there is a monostich there.



    beach wedding bouquet tossed to the loudest dolphin


    Though that cuts out the marvellous white and negative space potential.


    As a tercet?




    beach wedding
    bouquet tossed
    to the loudest dolphin



    bouquet tossed
    to the loudest dolphin
    beach wedding

    No, gotta be a duostich, I just do not see any drama or tension, just a fun even quirky thing to do. I assume they are actual dolphins as it’s a beach wedding though of course it could be a reflection on one or more individuals clamouring for the bouquet, perhaps overly vocal. Reader-chosen-nuances are drastically reduced within the monostich and tercet variations. The deliberate awkwardness of the grammar/syntax of the second line (duostich) suggests an equally awkward moment about the throwing of the bouquet. Was it a wedding with no known friends or family, just two witnesses grabbed locally. Were there dolphins or wishfully imagined dolphins.

    beach wedding
    bouquet tossed to the loudest dolphin


    beach wedding PAUSE
    BLANK LINE aka negative space
    bouquet tossed to the loudest dolphin


    It’s also oddly better and stronger without an indefinite article:

    beach wedding SMALLER PAUSE
    a bouquet tossed to the loudest dolphin


    That abruptness of a lack of the grammatical article (a, the) starting off the last line (second line) builds on the pause that commenced with the first line of ‘beach wedding’.

    Yes, ‘a’ would work but again closes down the store of negative and white space. Of course some beach weddings are quiet affairs (for various reasons) and some are very busy.

    For a reader not knowing the background of the poem’s protagonists and ‘beachside’ audience (wedding couple, humans, location) the palpable pause, famous in any wedding (real life, movies, other media) could be present by a number of people who are absent (parents, siblings etc…). I read that even though this was a beautiful ceremony, c’mon, there were dolphins 🙂 there might have been actual tension, especially when you get to throw the wedding bouquet, another iconic moment in real life and in the movies, and there’s no one to throw it at! 🙂

    I wondered if one or more people had objections (back home), and aired them by not being physically present, at the beach resort, and of course objections are not always legally binding as in the past.

    The History Behind “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace”,considered%20their%20duty%20to%20object.


    Any writing is about the lines, whether a single line or more, or many. Line breaks occur for different reasons, for example a novel or short story or police witness statement, or even prose poems only break when they hit the far margin. Long(er) poems rarely delve or dive into the far margin, and use pre-margin breaks for dramatic reasons. A 1-line haiku, or other monostich, is rarely long enough, although we’ve witnessed a few that touch the shade of the far margin’s valley, if in a print journal! 🙂

    The duostich brings wonderful challenges, if those challenges are not avoided. I’ve seen far too many tercets where the ‘third’ line is tucked into first or second line position, denying the relationship of a creative couplet.

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