“The shape of haiku is in the blank spaces.”— Ellen Compton, author of Gathering Dusk
For such a small poem, you would expect there to be a simple definition for English-language haiku. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. The Haiku Foundation doesn’t endorse an official definition of haiku in English.
In the United States, most people learn about haiku in grade school. American children are taught that haiku is a Japanese poetry form written in three lines: 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second, and 5 syllables for the third. While this definition does provide a starting point for discussion, it is simplified and far from complete. There are other facets to haiku that are more important than syllable count.
Haiku scholars have attempted to define English-language haiku with varying levels of success. In his book, Haiku: A Poet’s Guide, poet and author Lee Gurga included these two definitions:
“(A) haiku is an up to a breath-length poem in which two, rarely three, objects in a now-moment of awareness are juxtaposed so that each enhances one’s appreciation of the other and together they evoke a felt depth, insight, or intuition of the suchness of things.” – Robert Spiess, notable haiku poet and editor
“Haiku: A poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. Usually a haiku in English is written in three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables.”– Haiku Society of America [from 1973-2004]
”A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.”– Haiku Society of America [from 2004-present]
One of the best ways to learn about haiku is to read it widely. Here at The Haiku Foundation, we have collected thousands of English-language haiku which are available to read:
- Discover award-winning haiku in the Touchstone Archive,
- View past monthly collections by topic in the Per Diem Archives,
- Read poems by published haiku poets in the Haiku Registry, or
- Jump over to the Omeka Digital Library and explore our online collection of books, chapbooks, and more.
We plan to explore different facets of the beginning poet’s haiku journey in a new series of blog posts entitled “New to Haiku.” If you have questions or topics that you would like to see us delve into for this feature, please let me know in the comments below or contact me directly. We are glad that you are here.
How do you define haiku? Tell us in the comments!
Julie Bloss Kelsey
THF Education Committee
“A haiku is created from two ingredients: an experience and an expression of that experience in words after it has passed through the poet’s heart.” — Lee Gurga, Haiku: A Poet’s Guide