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New to Haiku: Books for Beginners – Patricia Donegan

[As noted by Michael Dylan Welch in the comments below, Patricia’s Donegan’s book as described here was reprinted in 2018 as Write Your Own Haiku: For Kids. Our thanks to Michael for providing this information. — Julie]


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:

Photo haiku by Julie Bloss Kelsey.

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!

Portrait of Dr. Randy M. Brooks by his daughter, Jessica Sebok


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.


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 3 Comments

  1. It should be pointed out that Tuttle reprinted Donegan’s 2003 book in 2017 with a new title, “Write Your Own Haiku: For Kids.” The only substantive changes are the title and cover design (the original book contained a few sometimes glaring typos that were not corrected). If readers look for the 2003 book, they can rest assured that the 2017 book with the new title is actually the same book. And yes, I would say it’s the best book about haiku out there for children.

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for this update. I’ve edited the post to reflect this information. Amazon and Tuttle’s website have the reprint date as 2018, though, so that’s what I went with. Thanks for much for the help!

  2. It’s certainly interesting that as a previous novice (and what a lovely time, to be a real beginner) that many books including primers that we’d expect to make things easy, can take years to grasp.

    I’m proud that Karen Hoy, of Call of the Page, created a course, which we are repeating again,

    Introducing… Haiku
    “This course is designed to be gentle enough for complete beginners (at haiku, or at creative writing), but at the same time stimulating enough to introduce haiku as a new form to those who are already writing poetry or prose. It can also be used as a “warm-up” to our intermediate course. It’s also a “back to what we first loved about haiku” for writers who would enjoy a reset. A highly pleasurable course to run, and we trust, take part in!”

    I myself have learnt so much from this course, even after nearly 30 years. It just goes to show we can all learn, and learn to make important things even more “accessible” too.

    Alan Summers
    lead mentor, Call of the Page
    Founding Editor, Blo͞o Outlier Journal

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