As a novice poet writing haiku in English, it can be difficult to find a guide to writing haiku that is written at a beginner level. Many schools introduce haiku as a poem of seventeen syllables in 3 lines and never delve any further; books on the subject tend to quickly introduce the reader to complex topics. For such a tiny poem, haiku certainly leads to long exposition!
Professor Randy M. Brooks, of Millikin University, compiled a list of haiku primers and described their various focuses in a 2018 essay in Modern Haiku, Issue 49.1 entitled Haiku How-to Books: Retrospective Reviews. Of these, Patricia Donegan’s Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 2003) stands out as the most basic and straightforward for a beginner. Written as a children’s book, this title has solid haiku writing advice for novice haiku poets of all ages. The rules she lays out might someday be bent or broken as you develop as a haiku poet, but they are an excellent starting point.
Dr. Brooks writes:
In the preface, Donegan explains that “This book’s purpose is to show you the way to write haiku, to teach you to take your ‘haiku eyes’ and put what you see and feel down on paper.” She explains that “Haiku is simply noticing, noting and recording moments that are happening around us all the time—moments that make us wake up and see and appreciate the world around us.”[Donegan] discusses seven keys to writing haiku:
1. Form: Your haiku should have three lines with or without a seventeen syllable count. It should be one breath long.
2. Image (a picture or sketch): Your haiku should have a descriptive image—for example, not ‘a flower,’ but instead ‘a purple iris in the sun.’
3. Kigo (Season Word): Your haiku should refer to nature and hint at the day’s season or weather.
4. Here and Now: You should write from real experience or memory, not imagination; record the present moment.
5. Feeling: Your haiku should not explain or tell, but instead show the feeling through your image.
6. Surprise: Your haiku should have an ‘ah!’ moment that wakes us up.
7. Compassion: Your haiku should express openheartedness toward nature.
Dr. Brooks concludes:
This subjective haiku poetics approach [in Donegan’s book] of noticing and writing about “the world around us” is a quantum leap beyond the usual 5-7-5 syllable-count approach so often taught in schools.
What do you think? What book or books would you recommend to a novice haiku poet? Let us know in the comments!
Randy Brooks teaches courses on haikai arts and book publishing at Millikin University. He and his wife, Shirley Brooks, are publishers of Brooks Books and co-editors of Mayfly haiku magazine. His most recent books include Walking the Fence: Selected Tanka and The Art of Reading and Writing Haiku: A Reader Response Approach, both published in 2019.