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New to Haiku: For Beginners

[The following beginner’s introduction to haiku was written by Sarah Welch, a teen poet living in Washington state. Our thanks from The Haiku Foundation Education committee for her permission to reprint this essay here.]

What Is Haiku?

Haiku is a short poem from Japan. In English, they’re usually in three lines, with no titles or rhyme. You don’t have to count syllables in English. Instead, you can write a haiku by using your five senses, with a reference to the season, and in two parts. Here’s a famous haiku from Japan, by the poet Issa:

snow melting . . .
the village is flooded
with children!

Five Senses

Your five senses are sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. In a haiku, you want to show readers what you were sensing at a moment when something happens to you. See if you can include one or two lines about at least one of your senses in your haiku.

snowy night —
a sip of cocoa
burns my tongue

Seasonal Reference

In Japanese haiku, a season word is called a kigo. It’s a word that refers to the time of year, the way snow tells us it’s winter or how flowers represent spring. Use just one seasonal reference in your haiku.

white-hot sun —
the cat’s meow
from the shaded balcony

Two Parts

Japanese haiku are divided into two parts by a kireji, or cutting word. We don’t have cutting words in English, but we can still give our haiku two parts. The two parts help you think about the connection between one part and the other, and this helps you participate in the poem.

breezy morning —
a Yorkie puppy
catching cherry petals

Write Your Own Haiku!

Now it’s your turn! After you read some of the haiku on this website, can you write a haiku for each of your five senses? Don’t forget to have two parts and a season word in each poem. Have fun!

 

Sarah Welch
Haiku poet Sarah Welch

Sarah Welch lives with her parents and brother in Sammamish, Washington. She is part of the class of 2024 at International Community School, where she is active with drama, the authors’ society, and the Green Team environmental club. She loves riding horses and volunteers to help younger kids learn horseback riding. In 2019 she was a “Haikyū or Haiku?” cosplayer and panelist at Sakura-Con in Seattle. She has won Sakura Awards in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational and also placed three times in the Haiku Poets of Northern California rengay contest. Sarah was ten years old when she wrote “New to Haiku: For Beginners,” which also appeared, in a slightly different form, as the introduction to Christine L. Villa’s puppy haiku story, Will You Still Love Me (Purple Cotton Candy Arts, 2019).

Julie Bloss Kelsey

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 book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Do haiku poems have more than two essential elements?

    Pasque flowers fade –
    by dreaming of the past,
    I find the future.

    Is something more required, perhaps an allusion to something other than the actual words?

    Suppose the poem is rewritten.

    Pasque flowers fade –
    by dreaming of the future,
    I find the past.

    It is possible that one of these poems is true, and the other is false. It might be that both poems are false.

    Hugh Bygott

  2. Well-written introduction to haiku basics — am certain it will produce much experimentation. My interpretation of class of 2024 is that Sarah is a freshman this year. I’m especially happy to read she is a member of the Green Club; I believe they can change our world for the better. They do so here in Northern California.

  3. A well explained lesson on writing haiku, I was also puzzled by the mention of 2024, maybe scifiku is Sarah’s favourite form

  4. Wonderfully succinct article! It’s no mean feat to distill information about haiku, despite the poetic genre being distilled itself.

    Great to see this from the next wave of haiku writers and commentators.

    I’m fascinated by the poet who is in the class of 2024 at International Community School. If that’s true, and Sarah Welch is from the future, we need all the help we can get stuck in this mismanaged past/present!

    warm regards,
    Alan

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