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Quicksilver Hg1: New to Haiku

For centuries now, Japanese haiku poets have been seeking out teachers to help them with their haiku composition. Since before Bashō’s time, groups have been founded around one poet/personality and their particular style of writing. Disciples and followers were created, and those poets followed their leader’s/master’s style and aesthetic beliefs concerning haiku, oftentimes passing those teachings and belief systems on to future poets and generations. In effect, lineages were, and have been, created. A web’s been formed. The tradition is still present in 21st century Japan. In addition, haiku in Japan, up until the beginning of the 20th century, was primarily a communal activity. For the most part, it still is.

This tradition is not the same in the west, or with English-language haiku. Beginner poets have certainly sought out advice from more experienced poets, especially editors and individuals whose work they’ve admired. But no tradition has been created wherein individuals become publicly acknowledged as “masters” who help students, or who judge and award points for their work. No disciples have been established in the English-haiku world, at least not to the point where they espouse the poetic beliefs of a single person. There are many reasons for this, and it would certainly be an interesting topic to research and explicate.

And so what does one do in the west if they are new to haiku? What did you do? How did you begin your journey? Most people, it seems fair to say, work things out individually, in solitude—through knowledge and ideas acquired from books and examples in collections, anthologies, and journals. For most enthusiasts and poets in the west, it is the Japanese “masters” of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries themselves, who have served as their own teachers and guides concerning aesthetics and stylings.

What does one do though when they want advice on their work—on what they have created—in order to improve? The answer to this question has multiple choices and has expanded over the years, especially to the cyber world.

Readers of troutswirl (The Haiku Foundation’s blog) now have the unique, exciting, and tricky opportunity to help a newcomer to the English haiku cosmos. Her name is Laura Sherman.

How can we, as a community, as opposed to an individual, help Laura on her journey? What advice can we provide? How can we guide her? Thankfully, troutswirl has a huge variety of voices in its midst, voices from many different points of view concerning haiku. While the focus is on Laura, and her evolution as a poet concentrating on haiku, it will, at the same time, in many ways, be focused on us as a community. And so, what can we learn about our own preferences and expectations concerning haiku? How do we present our views to Laura? How do we couch them? Hopefully, this process will not only be a learning experience for Laura but for troutswirl’s readership as well, if not a large population of the English-language haiku community.

Quicksilver, or mercury, has been used for centuries as a precipitant to create gold. The process is called amalgamation, and it isn’t easy or necessarily always safe. Hopefully, our collective experiences, knowledge, and wisdom (culled from successes as well as failures and mistakes) will act as a bridge and allow Laura’s work, over time, to go from quicksilver to gold.
With all experiments comes a bit of danger, angst, frustration, and confusion, but also, and almost always, bits and pieces of clarity, and ways through to knowledge and understanding. Learning is not always immediate.

How many of us would have been brave or bold enough to allow a community of readers they’ve never met before to “have at” our first attempts? It takes a tremendous amount of trust and openness to do so.

So, kudos to Laura for opening up her haiku evolution, experiences, thought processes, and influences to us and to the world. Let’s make it a worthwhile, if not golden, experience for her. One we can all learn from.

Scott Metz




New to Haiku
By Laura Sherman

I am new to the art of haiku and wish to explore this ancient art form. I am a freelance writer and chess coach, so the blend of syllable count and creativity really appeal to me. I am bold enough to give it a try, but I know that I have a lot to learn.

I went to the library and picked up a book and researched on the net, in an attempt to learn the basics. I quickly found that there are lots of different ideas about what makes a poem a haiku.

I began, as I imagine many do, with the common form of seventeen syllables, structured 5-7-5. I noticed that many poets later break from that, but was intrigued with the idea of working within that framework.

There’s only so much one can learn from a book. What I’d like to do here is to offer my experiences as a new writer of haiku, and hope to get some feedback from those more experienced than me. That’s why I’m reaching out to the members of The Haiku Foundation. I hope some of you will consider helping me on my journey.

From my brief study I know haiku traditionally should speak of seasons and that many involve nature. There seems to be a debate as to whether people should be included. Some feel people are a part of nature, but others feel they are an intrusion.

I also understand that there should be a break in the lines, so that there are two images. I see that this is done without punctuation, typically. That makes sense to me, as punctuation takes away from the simplicity of the art form. It adds complication where it isn’t needed.

I wanted to share a few of the first haiku I wrote and ask for your feedback:

slivers of lightning
shoot across the pitch black sky
lovers spotlighted

leaves of many hues 

pressed between worn white pages 

pared from parent’s limb

stems hang by a thread
dangling precariously
october puppets

I would love to know what works with these and what doesn’t. Both kinds of comment will help me improve.

Do these haiku communicate to you? Are there unnecessary words? Am I breaking any haiku rules? What am I missing?

Thank you in advance for your help!


Quicksilver is a column on troutswirl, the blog for The Haiku Foundation, devoted to showcasing the questions, ideas, and evolution of a beginner to the art of haiku, Laura Sherman. Each installment will feature some of Laura’s new work as well as her ideas and thought-processes concerning them. It is hoped that readers will respond with reactions, ideas, and advice on her work and provide feedback on how she might develop and improve her craft.

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    | Muy enérgica blogs , gustado que mucho . ¿Habrá una
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    Varios de ellos son moneda corriente con la ortografía cuestiones y encontrar muy molestos decirle la verdad obstante lo haré
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    Son muy convencer y voluntad | trabajo definitivamente sin duda.
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    ¿Alguna vez has pensado en considerada editorial
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    . | Hola! Sólo quería preguntar si alguna vez tiene alguna problemas con los piratas?
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    Creo que el administrador de este sitio web Página web hecho trabajando duro para sitio web ,
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    Muchas gracias | párrafo hecho agradable uno que ayuda
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    Por favor, alojarse nos informada como este. Gracias para compartir |.
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    Gracias | Su no es mi primera vez en una visita este sitio
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    | Gran blog Se hace el encargo tema o Ha descargarlo
    desde algún lugar? A tema como la suya con unas simples
    AJUSTES sería realmente hacer mi blog brillo . Por favor, hágamelo saber de
    dónde sacó su tema. | post ayuden internet usuarios construcción sitio
    web o incluso un blogs de principio a fin. | Sé que esto si fuera de tema
    pero Estoy buscando en iniciar mi propio blogs curiosa lo que
    todo se requiere necesaria para conseguir Planta? Estoy asumiendo que tener
    un blog como el tuyo costaría un ojo de la cara?
    No estoy muy Internet inteligente así que no estoy 100% seguro
    de cierta. Cualquier sugerencias o consejos serán bienvenidos.
    Muchas gracias | miembros de la familia todo el tiempo cada vez que dicen que estoy perdiendo matar mi tiempo aquí en web,
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    los días tales agradables artículos o reseñas |. el clavo
    con este relato, Realmente creer este sitio mucho más atención. Probablemente voy a estar de vuelta volver a leer más,
    gracias por la info |! Sé que esto Página web da
    ¿Alguna vez ha considerado pensamiento acerca incluyendo
    un poco más que sus artículos? Quiero decir, lo que usted dice es valiosa fundamental y todo.
    No obstante pensar si se ha añadido algunos grandes Fotos o clips de vídeo
    para dar sus mensajes más “pop “! Su contenido es excelente, pero con fotos
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  13. As we improve our own attitudes towards the miracle of existence our haiku also improve. The transparency required of our haiku words is really the transparency we cultivate in ourselves to correct entrancement by self. Conceit is a keyword here. Deceitful behavior will also infect our haiku and those that engage with it. This is why we think: “Get over yourself,” when we read ‘clever’ haiku and are glad when we read the occasional true one. Like a flower.

    — jp

  14. Laura said:

    “Wow, Peter! As usual your advice is incredibly helpful. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to put into words what I love about haiku, what drew me to it and what keeps me enthralled.”

    Sometimes it’s not easy to express why haiku captures our imagination the first time we come across it.

    Laura said:

    “There is a quality that brings me joy, makes me murmur “wow” under my breath when I read great haiku. There is an element of surprise and humor in the ones I especially love. When I read them, there is no other word to describe them, other than perfect!”

    A pretty good of expressing our first reactions. 😉

    Haiku continues to be an enjoyable experience and discipline throughout our life regardless of what age we first come across it.

    Laura said:

    “Your advice about not being concerned about acceptance is important. I try live my life that way, following my personal code of honor, rather than worrying about what others think is the “right” thing to do.”

    Never worry about what others think! 😉

    Once you have a body of work, which is a great experience in its own right, then consider submitting work to magazines.

    Never be put off by rejections. Read any notes they’ve given you, see if you can improve the work, and as soon as possible submit it to the next magazine. I have friends who have submitted up to twenty times, and then been accepted by one of the best poetry magazines in the land. So you never know. 😉

    Laura said:

    “However with haiku it seemed that there were rules. I wanted to try to understand them and show respect to the masters of the art.”

    Remember that the ‘masters’ are ongoing, before Basho and since Basho. There’s not been an unbroken line, even during the World Wars. Read good contemporary Japanese haiku in translation, and do not stop at Basho, or even Shiki.

    There’s a useful article by Jim Kacian in the 2009 Red Moon Anthology about how Shiki was just a blip in haiku development. Jim’s article is called “so:ba” and well worth getting the anthology just for that. There’s also an extremely useful article on Fay Aoyagi. If you can get her collections, do it! 😉

    Good luck on your journey with haiku, you’ll never regret it.

    all my best,


  15. Wow, Peter! As usual your advice is incredibly helpful. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to put into words what I love about haiku, what drew me to it and what keeps me enthralled. There is a quality that brings me joy, makes me murmur “wow” under my breath when I read great haiku. There is an element of surprise and humor in the ones I especially love. When I read them, there is no other word to describe them, other than perfect!

    Your advice about not being concerned about acceptance is important. I try live my life that way, following my personal code of honor, rather than worrying about what others think is the “right” thing to do.

    However with haiku it seemed that there were rules. I wanted to try to understand them and show respect to the masters of the art.

  16. Laura, I wonder if there was some quality or cluster of qualities present in your first experience of haiku which drew you to the genre, and made you hungry for it? Perhaps that will be difficult or even impossible to name, which does not mean anything is missing in your experience.

    In another thread, I spoke about the sense of glimpsing something wild in the momentary clearing of a forest, or something like that. That’s what I think I look for: the presence of something wild, which though only glimpsed and soon gone, vivifies the environment with its spirit and ongoing, invisible presence.

    I believe if you can grasp, or only sense, what that quality is for you, you are likely to be informed and upheld by it and not need to be concerned about acceptance. Easily said, of course.

    I realize, to be truthful, that I’m writing this because I need to hear it; however, because it feels right, I have the boldness to set it down here.

    But please let me know if I’ve missed the mark for you.

  17. Amos, thank you for your breakdown. There is a lot of helpful advice here for me in your posting. You have helped me put a lot of pieces together. I decided to break free from the 5-7-5 and work on sharing the simple experience.

    I also appreciate your analysis of Sandra’s edit. It helped me to understand the editing process a bit better. She definitely succeeded to present my message beautifully, without all the cumbersome, descriptive words.

    Paul, Originally, when I started on this path, I thought that a seasonal word was open to interpretation. Then after studying about kigo, I saw that it wasn’t, but now it appears that my initial analysis would be accepted by some, but not others.

    I promise not to write a haiku about autumn rain.

    I appreciate your sharing with me your revision. I love “windless heat”.

  18. Laura, some definitions of kigo can be found at Gabi’s excellent website, and in the URLs I posted here, early on. A kigo, well-employed in a haiku, elicits in a word or a few words a complex of things. A sort of shorthand that a given culture of readers/listeners will understand even with just the stimulus alone. July 4th is a man-made kigo in the US. Fourth of July. What does just its mention bring to your mind? Perhaps 8 to 10 things?

    What I was getting at, obliquely, was discussion elsewhere in THF’s blog about even the possibility of haiku being written in other cultures than Japan. Adopting the word “kigo” and even “haiku” shows a certain intent to follow at least some of the Japanese philosophy. The differences are cultural, and they are substantial. Yet the seasons are evident in the US and Europe, and New Zealand and Australia. Admittedly the North American history, written by Europeans, dates to only the beginning of the 17th C. Yet the Pilgrims landed near Cape Cod in 1620 to find agriculture well established. They learned to plant a fish head or lobster with each kernel of seed corn. The Native Peoples understood the season in what is now Massachusetts much the same as Thoreau later did, and recorded in his books. The seasons were of great import in Europe, back to times before written language, the same as in Japan. Japan was “primitive” once too; just older than we in N. America. Stonehenge was, after all, a great big calendar. If the seasonal rhythms of rice and other crops dominated the culture in early Japan, so too for a farmer in Alabama growing tobacco, cotton, and corn (not to mention rice in Louisiana and Texas).

    Urban and suburban peoples in the USA are pretty removed from “The Land.” There are kids in New York City that have never seen the Atlantic Ocean; some in Los Angeles that have never been to a Pacific beach. Yet, they have seen snow and the leaves fall in NY, and felt the Santa Anna winds in California.

    I firmly believe that writers of haiku, some at least, understand and feel nature’s rhythms. Yesterday by car on a dirt road, I saw a wild hen turkey followed by a line of very small chicks. They melted into the roadside foliage. Kigo? You bet. Not in a Japanese classic saijiki as turkeys are a new world bird. Here in northern New England I consider it a spring image, regardless of the calendar. In Georgia, the wild turkeys probably hatched weeks or a month ago. This week I saw a female merganser (diving, fish-eating duck) with half a dozen babies paddling madly after her to keep up. Since I know the brood is usually much larger, probably mink, snapping turtles, or hawks have been hunting the ducklings. Of course, the mink and hawks will have young to feed… more kigo. As Gabi points out, there are kigo of people and many of “nature” absent people. Or a mixture. The corn, planted by a _farmer_ near here, in large fields with endless rows is now about 3 to 4 inches high. The brown of the dirt still dominates the view. Haiku and kigo subjects all. Tall corn, tasseling corn, and ultimately me eating corn on the cob! Ahh, the coolness of the ear picked in early morning still wet with autumn dew? (or late summer). I cannot write “Japanese kigo” but I surely can evince a complex of reactions with but a few words: first mosquito; opening day (baseball); twin fawns; queen ants flying; Labor Day; Election Day; trout stream; mushroom ring; first dogwood; first snow, etc. Not all of these are in Japanese collections of kigo (saijiki) … some are, certainly. Kigo can be local, and kigo can be utilized as more than a “weather report.” The latter phrase is used as a pejorative about ELH that is nature-centered. It is a fun game to play, after a few adult beverages, to write/speak two lines and append “autumn rain.” # the machine gun/ ran out of ammunition/ autumn rain # a blue walrus/ laughs at the KGB/ autumn rain # and so forth. Sure, English speaking writers can write some awful haiku, and can ignorantly abuse kigo. A glance at THF’s Montage The Book (largest single volume of anthologized haiku in English) or the 6,000 or so haiku in the Heron’s Nest Archives, on line, will reveal quite a lot of subtlety if one reads English well.

    [some excerpts from an essay of mine published in several
    places (3 or so)…you can include kigo where I wrote”haiku”]


    “What is haiku? What is it not? One approach by some
    Japanese and some Westerners is that haiku exists only in the Japanese language. Haiku is indeed a product of Japanese literature, descending from the much older literary form renga. Reductio ad absurdum, well yes, haiku may be only in and of the Japanese language. But then it would follow that Ibsen, Moliere, Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams are not dramatists; surely this form of art can only be achieved in old
    Greek as perfected by Sophocles, Euripides, et al.” . . .

    “Just as a French band can play the jazz developed in the US, and an orchestra in China can play Austria’s Mozart or a Viennese waltz, so too may I understand and at least attempt to write haiku.” . . .

    I add (not in original essay):
    After Phidias in Ancient Greece how could marble be sculpted in Italy by Michaelangelo? Henry Moore, England, worked in marble but also bronze. Could anything be said that was fresh in bronze after Rodin of France?

    Laura, kigo (and kire and ma being discussed elsewhere in Troutswirl) is something to be studied as essential craft and philosophy as we write haiku in English. Not all successful haiku use a kigo. Many are not in the Japanese lexicon. In the conservative schools of Japanese haiku: no kigo? not haiku. Is senryu — but that is another subject. Subtle and specific kigo may be more successful that naming a season or a month — unless it is essential. Try for something other than _autumn_ rain.

    In closing to this ramble, one such I felt I had to use was published as:

    August heat
    an alligator nose
    in the coot’s wake

    I later revised for a contest:

    windless heat
    an alligator nose
    in the coot’s wake

    – Paul (MacNeil)

  19. Dear Paul,

    I love your poems. They are very good examples of how to include people. I love the one about your daughter. Can you tell me more about the seasonal word/topic debate? With your second poem, there is an implied season, but is there a word too?

    I love the poem by Peggy Willis Lyles. It is so vivid! Wow!

  20. In my humble opinion, the poet/observer is present in all haiku. When I need to make a self-reference as a necessary part of the haiku — I do. As Gabi and Sandra say (others of course), humans may be the subject of haiku and may share poem space with “naturey” topics. Human animals are part of the world, too. Those having Japanese will be better able to comment, but the Classic Japanese poets did not often use the first person, because it is rare in Japanese in many circumstances. Some translators infer it (1st person) –Ueda in one Basho book had about 16% with personal pronoun or possessive in his English.

    From my entry in THF’s Registry:

    paddle at rest
    beads of water slide
    from the loon’s bill

    another stair
    the weight of my daughter’s
    college bags

    It is MY paddle, and it is I who is that close to the loon. I did not need to say so.

    That it is MY daughter is very important. Incidentally, each of these has kigo (or season word/topic as the debate rages on …).

    And this from her THF Registry page with kigo, human and “nature” subjects, and first person, by Peggy Willis Lyles:

    Mother’s scarf
    slides from my shoulder
    wild violets

    [PM notes: a classic ELH haiku, this, worthy of much study. Read it aloud for its music. I find nothing of “gendai” or “senryu” about it. I nominate my friend Mrs. Lyles as an ELH Master. I do not think I am alone, although she will surely shush me.]

    1. Sorry for the confusion – I was referring to the title of the Jack Stamm contest anthology, called “the dipped oar”, nothing to do with the poem Laura has linked to.

  21. Sioux was responding to the original point I wondered about in the above article (whether it is acceptable to write about people).

    Sandra, I loved the poem about the oar and realized through that one could be subtle about how you include people.

    However, isn’t it true that whether to include people or not still an active debate amongst haiku experts?

    Gabi, as always you have excellent articles to help me sort through this!

    Also, while I am at it, I might as well ask about another question I have: As I learn what a traditional seasonal word is, I have noticed that some English Language Haiku do not include one. Why is that?

  22. There are many Japanese kigo of the category HUMANITY and then OBSERVANCES, which cover the changes of the season in the daily life of people.
    They include food and drink, the home, festivals and rituals and many activities like farming, fishing and hunting during all seasons and much more.
    And Japanese haiku can be funny too, and humorous, and about human nature …

    You can check it out from here


  23. “To limit a haiku to nature and not include people sounds like someone introduced an arbitrary [rule?]”.

    Don’t know what you’ve been reading Sioux but there is no ban on writing about people in haiku. In fact, in the anthology from the Jack Stamm Haiku Contest (just out and named “the dipped oar”), the introduction reads in part:

    “The human element [in haiku], Janice [M Bostok] says, seems to be developing into the English language [poems] very naturally and becoming part of our gift to the form in English. In the past many haiku were so centered on ‘nature’ that they were becoming sterile without the human element which is part of the overall plan of our environment – remembering that in haiku ‘human nature’ is supposed to be aligned to the larger picture of ‘nature’. It is the person who is enlightened by the sudden perception that lets the human be part of the natural environment.”

    In short, people in haiku okay.

    Perhaps you’re wading through the haiku-senryu thing. In haiku humour is supposed to elicit something like a smile, in senryu a belly laugh. Haiku are about nature (of which people are a part), senryu about human nature.

    Many writers no longer bother making a distinction between the two.

  24. To limit a haiku to nature and not include people sounds like someone introduced an arbitrary. Of course, the form of haiku is a arbitrary as well with a set number of syllables per line. One can choose to fit within the artificial rule or make a new one. And the other syllable counts are newly created arbitrary rules. The importance here is that you are writing poetry, and yours are quite beautiful. Keep writing.


  25. Not sure, beautifulisness (goodness). We can all regale Laura with good advice and useful websites until the cows come home.

    But I believe the ball is now in her court (to add another metaphor) and she needs to reveal either edits she is trying on the poems already posted, or a “next step” haiku.

    Her volunteer mentors can’t do much more at this juncture without knowing where she’s at – that’s my view, anyway.

    1. Hi, Sandra!

      Yes, you’re right! I hope that you and all the other mentors know how much I appreciate all the great advice and help.

      The next step is for me to digest everything and to come up with the next article for the Quicksilver series. I believe the correct balance of reading haiku, studying the theory and writing (and of course editing as I go along) will help me improve.

      I have been writing a few and studying quite a bit. It is like a whole new world has opened up for me and I am grateful.

      I have also received personal emails from people (too shy to post here), saying that they are interested in trying their hand at haiku now. So your words of encouragement and wisdom are reaching far and wide. Thank you!


    Shooting My Poetry Mouth Off by Richard Krawiec :


    “Yes, TRANSPARENCY is all important in haiku ethos. To contrive to Rococo the words is to opacity the vision, contained in a haiku, with ego. Matsuo Bashō likened this to seeing river sand through clear flowing water. Haiku are not music scores – they are open windows with a view. The diorama presented by a plainly scribbled haiku contains everything we will ever need in order to contemplate the original brief enlightenment. This error of embellishment is one of the reasons why Western haiku is decadent. It may be it was never anything else. So, Richard, your first ku is far superior, as an example of true haiku, than your redacted version.”

    — jp

  27. Hi Laura! So here’s a little more to push you down your yellow brick road.

    “… I have a moment to feel a hokku feeling and write about it…” -Yone Noguchi, “Again on Hokku,” “from his book “Through the Torii.”

    Here, Noguchi best captures that nature and development of haiku, or “hokku,” as but a moment felt as shared with nature.

    In considering your haiku, I believe Sandra’s prescribed edit does both haiku and your initial poem justice:

    autumn leaves
    in the family Bible –
    paper to paper

    Like autumn’s tree, your haiku (Sandra’s edit) is now stripped of descriptive foliage to reveal both images and the experience.

    Many of us western poets and haiku-ist love words. This is an effect of our cultural and literary tradition. We love employing them colorfully and, as you also attested, simply love words for their sound as it can roll from the page in our ear to satisfy evoking a sensation and our intellect. As opposed to the traditional Japanese haiku, (5-7-5, duo image, kigo, etc.) I feel that these words remove us poets from directly expressing a direct experience and, in turn, loses that haiku moment- that natural message or understanding of “nothing special” as would otherwise be simply transferred like in Sandra’s example.

    I regard Haiku more than a poetic construct with rules and kigo, but as one’s moments shared in commune with Nature. Some western haiku can lose the understanding and philosophy of this “meaning in nature” [Noguchi] as our civilization 1) “discovered” this Japanese art form in the early 1900s absent from a tradition and culture that handed down to the haiku student a historic lineage and pedagogic practice of its development and literary effects of its Masters; and 2) our cities developed and we sequestered ourselves further and further way from experiencing life’s natural influences and events and the attendant feelings they may evoke in emotions or revelation.

    See Noguchi’s “A Proposal to American Poets”

    Lastly, Syllable17’s comment on June 1 I found helpful in presenting a solid foundation

    +show don’t tell
    +transparent words vs descriptive words
    +seasonal reference as kigo
    +suggestive imagery

    upon which a haiku poet can find themselves closer to a life practice, immersed in a method of living to be receptive to interpreting our emotional relationship to our surroundings as haiku.

    When life inspires notice the space between breaths- exhale the haiku.

  28. Laura, many people have proposed methods or checklists for editing haiku. Check out this link to read an article from Frogpond (1999) presenting various checklists:

    You can also read my own checklist at this link:

    Also at the above link are links to additional haiku checklists that I think are worth reading (there are surely more).

    I would also like to echo Richard Krawiec’s thoughts in Indeed, some haiku are just images. They may even be excellent images. But that may not be enough for poetry. As I say often at workshops, haiku may start with images, but they shouldn’t end there. It takes something more to make each poem into art — something implied or left out that can be intuitively figured out, often created by the space (“ma”) between the poem’s two carefully juxtaposed parts. But, and here’s the kicker, getting one’s poem from images or description to that moment of transcendence isn’t something that you can work on using a checklist. You have to feel it. There’s craft . . . and then there’s magic.


  29. Gabi, I adore your haiku. Thank you for sharing it along with all the excellent articles.

    John and Chris, I really appreciate the links you provided. They are perfect!

    Simon, As always, your words of encouragement are appreciated!

    I have been writing in my little black notebook. I was very inspired at the beach this weekend (I often go there with my children). It felt as if all you were with me, behind me, encouraging me on. Thank you!

  30. Keep at it Laura, you are inspiring many of us to keep at our goal of becoming authors and writing something of worth.

    as ever, Simon

  31. ” What fascinates me here is how hard it is to edit a haiku without completely changing its meaning. Your haiku is very different from mine. ”

    Well, yes, even the change of one word can change a haiku’s meaning, but Sandra’s demonstrations were to be taken as such, demonstrations which you might work with, since you’d asked. This is the usual practice when work-shopping one’s poems.

    What do you think the meaning of your haiku is, in either version?

    1st draft –

    hued leaves selected
    pressed within ancient pages
    born from mother’s limb

    2nd draft –

    leaves of many hues 

    pressed between worn white pages 

    pared from parent’s limb

    My guess is that your meaning in both drafts is that both the pressed leaves and the pages have their source in trees. Does this approximate your meaning:

    dead leaves which are pressed
    and dead pages they’re pressed by
    come from living trees


    I’ve kept the 5-7-5 syllable form, but changed the language. Is anything of importance lost? If so, what is it that’s been lost? Is anything gained? What might that be?

    I’m not offering this as an acceptable example of a haiku, just as a step along the way to haiku, if reflected upon.

    1. Hi, Lorin!

      I admit that I am a little perplexed about how to edit a haiku. My initial thought was to simply write new ones, but I thought I'd try out editing.

      The basic problem I think is that there is too much meaning in this haiku to be viable. For that reason, I don't think I can edit it. No matter what I do, it will still not work because it violates that basic principle.

      You have captured the essence of what I was trying to communicate.

      I didn't mean any disrespect of Sandra's suggestion, but simply was observing how different the poem became with the adjustments. I do think editing might be a little advanced for me at this stage.

      My second draft was an attempt to simply tighten up the needless words and make it more poetic, taking the previous comments into account. However I agree that "hue" is probably not a good haiku word. I think "worn" might be better than "ancient", but honestly it all got a little muddled.

      I love the idea of workshopping! I'm new to that though.

      1. Laura,

        Sometimes we can learn a lot by pressing, pressing (sorry) to revise, even though success seems remote. On the other hand, your instinct to start all new haiku might be worth heeding. The elusive concept or image that's been so much on your mind will often emerge again, a rewrite of sorts.

        Hey look…a thread!

        1. Mark, I think that is what I like best about the notebook concept. I can try out various ideas in different ways. It seems that sometimes it is easier to edit a poem than others and your take on this helps me. Thanks!

  32. Laura – so many great comments/advice. My two cents: keep having fun with it. There are many haiku that are not accepted by editors or even multiple editors but they linger in our own hearts.

    Paul Macneil’s comments prompted me to ask this: has anyone or any editor or publisher ever considered putting together a book of haiku to include the poem as originally conceived/scribbled to the finished haiku? So many of my haiku start out completely different from the published poem that I’ve often considered how much fun it would be to read the metamorphosis of our favorite poems by well-known and favorite haijin. Do other poets keep records of this. I used to save more notes than I do now but would love to read and share these changes (some dramatic) for the practical purpose of learning/teaching and for some good laughs. Are there any books out there on this that I am missing?

    Good luck Laura – enjoy this wonderful and fleeting period of beginner’s mind.

    1. What an excellent idea for a book! The articles posted here, which go through an author's editing process with examples, are incredibly helpful.

  33. PS- it also strikes me as a good example of ‘nothing special / something new’

  34. As an artist – to me – the idea is to see what is there…(perhaps what John refers to as not making it new)… As you attempt this you realize more and more just how difficult it is to really “SEE” that pot before you. I came to realize that the more complexity the more difficult it is to see the pot. Striving to get to the essence of the pot…and what resonance that has with life, or your inner being, or any number of things that leads you to the resonance of understanding what words can not say.

  35. Wow, that would be tremendous! To watch the progression of a haiku through the editing process, through the eyes of an experienced artist, would be incredibly helpful. I realize that this is a lot to ask though.

    (Paul, I didn’t mean to ask you to share a poem that you are working on getting published. I had in mind an example, just as you have suggested. I see that I wasn’t very clear on that and I apologize.)

  36. I am traveling now, working from a little netbook when WiFi cooperates.

    The exact haiku? No. It may not be ready for “prime time” and I hope to send it to Journals as reformed. So? Many editors are readers here and I would jeopardize the little poem’s acceptability as previously shared — this is a public List.

    But I will add more about some of that type of thing when I get to Maine and get settled in. Perhaps I then or someone else now could show a sketch of a haiku that was later published and show some of the thinking to get to a better, shorter version?

  37. Paul, I second Adam’s request, although I realize that puts you on the spot a bit.

    I have always loved the sculptor’s metaphor. I never considered applying that to writing and am grateful you pointed that out to me. It is something that I can use on a daily basis.

  38. Maybe you could show it to us, Paul? In the spirit of this quicksilver? Might be an inspiration to some of us who are new.

  39. Patricia continues on wonderfully from from the advice of John S. and others. I have watched John, many times, find something that might be haiku he can make of it … His little notebook is omnipresent. I add: to sketch, fledge out in words what draws you to put pen to paper. THEN, after something is on the page (that will not disappear) perform the chiseling. Not my original comment, but be like Michaelangelo with a block of marble. Just cut away all that isn’t _La Pieta_. Simple, ey? As has been said, it isn’t easy to make it look so easy. But, John often has his poem pretty close in the first scribblings. For a lot of us, the sketch will or won’t lead to success, and sometimes after quite a period of time. Let them brew in your notebook. A few days ago I started again on a haiku that I had shopped to several Journal editors, 6-7 years ago, but with no result. I am hopeful, but … ?
    – Paul MacNeil

  40. Patricia, It is all a balance, isn’t it? Read many haiku, write many haiku, get some feedback, look around, take many walks, read many haiku, write many haiku and so on.

    The inner critic can be a silencer if you’re not careful. I see many would-be writers get caught up in a never ending cycle of editing, where they never really put words onto paper.

    I think it is important (as many of you have suggested) to write and write. The flow of words out from your mind onto a page is crucial for the process. Some may work, some may not, but I hope to improve through the process.

    I have my little black notebook by my side now and I plan to read and re-read all your advice. Thank you to all who contributed and helped me on this amazing adventure!

  41. Hi Laura–There are very few people who would be willing, as a beginner, to put their artist work out into the world and ask for help. And there are even fewer who, having asked and having gotten feedback, would know what to do with it. Often times there are conflicting comments and sorting through the flow of information is difficult when you have not yet developed your own “critic.” Everyone has an internal critic. That voice in your head that says “yes, this is the word I want” or “no, that’s too boring” or “”yuck–this stinks!” So training you critic is an important aspect of writing. My Chinese brush painting teacher (he’s 94 and still painting) says there’s this advice the masters give to young painters: You must walk 10,000 miles, write 10,000 poems, and paint 10,000 paintings; only then will you have developed the character to be a painter. I think of writing haiku in this way–it is a journey. We who love it are all on the haiku path. Some of us are farther along than others, but we are all glad to share our experience. So my advice at this stage is to look for advice that is helpful in pointing the way and read, read, read 10,000 haiku and write, write, write 10,000 more. In your reading be sure to include the masters from Japan. You will have to read them in translation and this has it’s hazards unless, of course, you read Japanese. As to your writing, I would reconfirm John Stevenson’s advice when he says “One way in which a haiku can be an effective poem (there are many) is to stimulate the senses first – by presenting an utterly clear sense image; things that the reader will instantly imagine seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and/or tasting. Simplicity and directness can be helpful in this regard.” His advise implies that you will go out into the world (this is where you will begin walking the 10,000 miles that will feed your soul) and keenly observe and write truly what you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. In this way your words will enter your readers through the body, not the mind, and in this way you will reach their hearts.

  42. Terri,

    Thank you very much. Your posting helps me in many ways! I am fortunate to live in the woods and the beach, so I can take many walks and just observe and write and write.

  43. Hi Laura:

    I am relatively new to haiku myself and only recently have found some publication success. Let me share with you what has helped me (and I still have much to learn!).

    Read haiku-yes-but also, write, write, write, even if you are not sure you are doing it “right.” You may have one line or image you can use later, even if it is not a full haiku at the moment. I edit and re-edit my haiku many times.

    Find other haikuists–like you have done here! I have found so many haiku friends on facebook and they have inspired me to keep writing. Also, try to find people locally who write haiku. I just recently found one man in the area who writes haiku and we had our first meeting. The next meeting we hope to have a couple more interested poets. Together we read and discuss our haiku. Many of my haiku have come to life by someone else suggesting a word change or omission.

    Keep a notebook with you and get outside. I write from memory too, but nothing helps the creative flow like a walk on the woods, the beach, the mountains, or even around the block.

    I hope this helps you. I am excited for you as you start your adventure! “October puppets” is certainly a keeper!

  44. Hi Laura :

    “SHOW don’t tell” – this is the mantra of haiku – the guiding light.

    Words of a haiku should be as transparent ‘as sand seen through a clear stream’ (Bashō). The picture (diorama) is the goal of a haiku – not the sculptural quality of language.

    Seasonal reference (kigo) positions a haiku in the matrix of regional natural history and cultural time. This brings many useful circumstantial resonances to a haiku subject.

    Haiku is like a seed which contains a flower. The flower grows in the readers mind from the small seed. Less becomes more.

    These are the important foundations of haiku. Other formal considerations are instinctive and can be learned through daily practice and study.

    With these simple tools we can sharpen our haiku wings and learn to fly . . .

    on the wire
    a swallow sharpens
    it’s wings

    (why the apostrophe beak?)

    — jp
    (a related item here :

  45. Sandra, Thank you for your insights! I agree with you that I was trying to say too much with the pressed leaves haiku. However I thought it might be interesting to try to edit it anyway, see where it landed.

    What fascinates me here is how hard it is to edit a haiku without completely changing its meaning. Your haiku is very different from mine. To me adding in the word “Bible”, for instance, changes the focus to people and their family. Interesting though, that family bibles often have family trees in them, so there is an added nuance you’ve created.

    One thing that struck me as I considered how to edit a haiku, is that it is a bit like trying to shave a shaving of soap. It would be very easy to lose the haiku completely.

    This is an area that I think would be best to let pass through me, as John recommends.

    Mark, Ah, I love that you wrote in and appreciate your advice. Yours has always been my basic philosophy of writing – a writer should write and write. Good to know that it applies here.

  46. Laura,

    Your courage and willingness to immerse yourself here is inspiring. As is your good humor. So much good advice! Hard to let is “pass through you” as John Sevenson (always something special about the seventh) recommends.

    I’m reluctant to add my voice to the deluge, but I’m worried for you. Don’t be careful. Write many haiku, don’t worry if they are good or bad (you might not choose to share them with us), and don’t set out to write a good one. Go your own way.

  47. hued leaves selected
    pressed within ancient pages
    born from mother’s limb

    You could try something like:

    autumn leaves
    in the family Bible –
    paper to paper

    Please note that this is a suggestion only. There will be as many alternatives as there are snowflakes 🙂 In effect, we’re all trying to pin down a butterfly … and the people who write in 5-7-5 will have helpful advice on that aspect too, I’m sure.

    hued leaves selected
    pressed within ancient pages
    born from mother’s limb

    Yes, for me this is too wordy, and it also suffers from the writer telling the reader that there’s a relationship between autumn leaves, pages of paper and a tree. Showing not telling is one of the most difficult of the haiku “guidelines” to achieve.

    “Hued” isn’t, for me, a haiku word – generally speaking, haiku use everyday language. And “ancient” is a word that’s used a lot (too often in my opinion) and has lost a lot of its imapct as a result. Anyway, what’s ancient in terms of pages? 50 years, 100 years, 500 years? Better to anchor the poem, if you can, hence my suggestion of “family Bible”, which has the connotation of both being an old book that contains ancient words, if you like.

    “autumn leaves” acts as your season word; the em dash at the end of the second line gives you a cut … and so we are proceeding along traditional haiku lines, albeit in “free form”.

    I don’t think the L3 I’ve offered is particularly good, but it has an echo from the Bible and brings your two kinds of paper together.

    Your L3 is “poetic”, again something that haiku generally isn’t (odd, isn’t it – a poem that is so decidedly “unpoetic”, but it seems to work). The very best haiku contain layers of meaning, but essentially they should be able to be taken at face value.

    So a mother’s limb would be an arm or a leg and anyway, we’re not born from a limb. If you mean (and I know you do, I’m just making the point) a branch, then you should say branch.

    between the pages
    of the family Bible –
    last autumn’s leaves

    marking Ecclesiastes –
    autumn leaves from
    thirty years ago

    marking Ecclesiastes –
    autumn leaves from the year
    granny left home

    etc, etc.

    Hope this is helpful. As I say, others will probably do better at this than I.

  48. Dear Sandra,

    I am very happy to give editing a try. Certainly I am looking at these poems differently now.

    I took a stab at editing the second one a few pages ago. Would you consider giving me advice based on that? Is this an improvement? (I recognize that I was trying to say too much with the haiku, but it will be a good exercise to edit it)

    hued leaves selected
    pressed within ancient pages
    born from mother’s limb

    Your feedback on this will help me learn and then I can tackle the others.

    I am sticking with the 5-7-5 format here. I could also abandon that…

  49. um…a short intermission for an advertisement. 😉

    ‘Notes From the Gean’, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (our 5th issue) is now online:

    Those who aren’t yet familiar with ‘Gean’ might like to browse the haiku and other sections?

    ‘Gean’ is open for submissions for Vol. 2, Issue 2 (the September issue) until the 30th of June. Please send your submissions to the relevant section editor.

  50. hey, Sandra… now and then a haiku ‘occurs’ in its best form (as I see it) first off, out of the blue, to me, too. These feel like real gifts! But I have to say that it’s not the usual case with me, either. 😉 I get something approximate down, then I get the niggles from time to time and I return to try to translate the perception better into words.

    I think that what’s important is getting enough of an approximation down when the haiku occurs… notes, an odd line even.

    Revision, ‘editing’, is part of the craft.

  51. Hey Lorin, quite possibly. The old “do as I say not as I do” approach.

    I was very interested to hear Jan Bostok say at the HPR conference last year that she very rarely edits – the poems “come” complete, as it were.

    I’ve edited as paid employment for decades so it’s second nature to rethink what I’ve written. Occasionally I do get one that’s “finished” (in my eyes, anyway) and that’s always exciting, but it’s by no means the rule for me.

  52. Hi Sandra, I wonder if Basho has been misunderstood about that ‘instantaneous composition’ idea? It has been shown that Basho revised his haiku, often several times, and over quite a period of time, sometimes.

  53. ” As a comparison, these poems by Lorraine Ellis Hare and Anita Virgil make the same use of color and contrast that “the red wheelbarrow” does …” Chris

    Yes, these are haiku, not poems such as wheelbarrow which might possibly form a bridge to haiku for newcomers. The difference between these haiku and WCW’s poem might be good to look at now, since we seem to have side-tracked.

    An extract from another (even more blatant ‘teaching’ or ‘poet expressing his poetics’ poem)…early Charles Olsen, this time, and clearly discursive rather than associative/intuitive:

    and their registration

    Words, form
    but the extension of

    Style, est verbum

    The word
    is image, and the reverend reverse is

    is verse

    – extracted from ABCs, from ‘The Distances’, Charles Olsen

    ‘The word is image’, in haiku as it is in other poems, is it not?

    Laura, apologies for my part in the side-tracking. I don’t want to be misinterpreted. I feel that there are poems which we are familiar with before we discover haiku which are useful in different ways to our finding our way in haiku when we are new, that’s all.

    A couple of others I’ve found useful, in their very different ways, are Wallace Stevens’ ‘The Snow Man’ and ’13 Ways of looking at a Blackbird’, as well as Pound’s ‘almost haiku’, ‘At a Station of the Metro’.

  54. Haiku, like all poetic artforms has its own dynamic dance sequence, it is always being redefined and retouched as many an artist does when they dip into their palette… Thanks Laura for sharing this great link!

  55. Hi Laura,

    I wonder if it’s coming to the point where it now might be useful for you to present a redraft of at least one of the poems you presented, in light of some of the things you have read here?

    The many erudite people who populate this site (and I hasten to add that I do not consider myself one of those) will be able then to offer advice on what the next step might be.

    Speaking for myself, the drafting process of poems is sometimes one that never ends, or never ends satisfactorily – I find that it’s only sometimes that I write a haiku as Basho advised (with one blow of the axe, I’m paraphrasing here). Generally, I edit.

    It’s quite good to put aside the poems for a period, even a day can be helpful, and come back to try and read them with “fresh” eyes.

    Saying them out loud can be helpful – if your tongue stumbles over a word then probably the eye will falter too.

    Here’s a link to an article on editing haiku by Lee Gurga:

    I look forward to seeing your edits at some stage and reading the advice your receive. I’m learning things too.

  56. I know you didn’t regard ‘wheelbarrow’ as a haiku, Chris…my sole intention in saying ‘it is not a haiku’ was to make it clear that I, myself, didn’t see it as a haiku, just in case anybody interpreted what I said in that (to me unlikely, but not impossible in this kind of communication) way.

  57. “I see ‘the red wheelbarrow’ as being wholly about the interdependence of perception and perceived in poetry, which is what makes it ‘word-based’ …” Chris

    Yes, the poem is ‘about’ something, about ‘what it all depends on’. ‘It all’ being what will be brought to life by the reader, who, given a couple of carefully selected images, will not need to be told about the whole barnyard. It is clearly pedantic, a ‘teaching poem’, WCW using the poem as a means of expressing his poetics, but a delightful poem nonetheless, demonstrating what it intends to claim or teach.

  58. Dear Peter and Chris,

    I love listening in on your discussion, like a dragonfly on the wall. I believe learning is a layered experience. I will read and re-read your postings many times as I travel this path.

    I love the concept of really seeing one color when it is presented in a small quantity, surrounded by another. Very vivid, with many life parallels.

    Chris L and Moki, I am so glad that you stopped in and I hope to hear your voices again and again here.

    Marty, I am holding off on all the many forms of poetry for now, but am intrigued by them all. I enjoyed visiting your site. Your Tanka poems are beautiful. I look forward to hearing you haiku!

  59. I enjoyed what you have created and hope to see more in the future. Hope you also consider Tanka. Yes, you’ll as do I need to learn more of the rules for Haiku. We will both learn with every poem we write.

  60. Great work Laura! I don’t know a lot about haiku so when you invited me to check it out, I wasn’t sure what I would be able to say about it. But wow, it’s amazing how much you can communicate with just a few syllables. I’m very intrigued by the artform now and love the 3 you posted above. Well done!

  61. Peter,

    I was looking for “not seeing” to post but didn’t see it. I would place it in the middle of perceiver-perceived (word-based-image based) continuum, where it’s in good company with lots of ELH.

    Yes, I hope Laura will forgive us, or ignore us, for this tangent if it’s more confusing than helpful.

  62. My last post was written as Chris posted his last post, so, just to be clear, I’m processing his thoughts in my process.

  63. Chris, this also by AV:

    not seeing
    the room is white
    until that red apple

    seems almost to have been extracted from “so much depends”. It kind of says: “so much of how I experience this white room depends upon a red apple”. Initially, I wrote “red” as “read”.

    It has swallowed the commentary a little, but not entirely, I think. Is it telling us about the perceiver, or the perceived? More the former, I’d say.

    (Hope this thread, or my contributions, has not slipped its mooring overmuch. (Or over little).

  64. My last post was written before seeing Peter’s so it’s not a comment on his. I’m just making observations, and processing my own thoughts in the process.

  65. As a comparison, these poems by Lorraine Ellis Hare and Anita Virgil make the same use of color and contrast that “the red wheelbarrow” does in describing the images:

    Until it alights
    on a white daisy—just another
    blue dragonfly

    red flipped out
    chicken lung
    in a cold white sink

    But the relationship of these writers to their scene is different from Williams’ (even if you don’t buy my interpretation of his poem). They are closer to being mere observers (the second being furthest of the two towards ‘image based’ on the continuum as I see it).

  66. Hi Laura, my son has been exposed to Haiku in school and loves it. I especially like the first one. I immediately captured the image in my mind of the lovers in the dark.

  67. I think some of the discussion here could easily go under Philip Rowland’s thread over at Positions. That said…

    so much depends

    a red wheel

    glazed with rain

    beside the white

    This poem has been much cited and discussed in re: haiku, so I may not be saying anything new here. Anyway, as always, I’m not professing, I’m just thinking out loud. But I should issue a COMPLICATION ALERT! at the outset for those who roll their eyes when I or others get going on this stuff.

    One can imagine that WCW wrote this poem without the “commentary” that begins it, then chickened out, so to speak. Just don’t know. I would say that Pound’s

    The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
    Petals on a wet, black bough.

    also begins with commentary, if “the apparition of” is taken to mean “I suddenly saw”.

    Williams’ poem starts us squarely in the realm of thought, of idea, and language: “so much depends”-
    meaning that whatever comes next is literally going to “hang from” that. And yet the vividness of the images takes us away from this dependency at the same time, so one is left feeling that description and described are bound together, or at least co-emergent; perception and perceived, yes. I think the poem wants to fall, as rain falls, through a series of perceptions (dependent on words) and I would say it wants to fall right out of (not depend upon) language were it not for the ambiguous word “beside” which can mean “next to” and “other than”.

    It would be a rare haiku that would use a word like “depends” or “requires” or “maybe”.

    Even so, if one of the elements of haiku is leaving an opening for the reader to enter and catch her own breath, then the phrase “so much depends/upon” moves somewhat away from mere commentary, and into the realm of haiku.

    I think it is a good thing that, if what I imagined above is true, after chickening *in* Williams chickened *out*, and added his thought. The poem itself, in its entirety, is an image: of a man beholding something vivid and feeling, in a place language won’t go, something he suspects others may feel as well.

  68. PS- In addition to Williams’ opening statement, it’s also the lengths he goes to in highlighting the role of the poet’s perception: the *red* wheelbarrow *glazed* with rainwater *beside the white* chickens. And his use of couplets further emphasizes “depends upon.”

  69. I would assume the are many bridges between these different philosophies of haiku and poetry.

    I find the wheelbarrow fascinating when you consider it in this context. Lorin, I see your point about the poet selecting the images for us to view.

    What I love especially about haiku is that little burst of joy you get when you read one that really sings to you. It goes beyond communication and hits you deep within, on a very intimate level.

    Peter, going back to your original question on my goals, if I could achieve that moment for just one person with just one haiku, I would be overjoyed.

    I think though that it is impossible analyze what creates that effect within the reader. Perhaps the element of surprise must be involved (coupled with a familiar setting).

  70. The poet doesn’t give an opinion or lead us into an opinion about the images. -Lorin

    Lorin, to clarify (or else muddy things further), the first couplet “so much depends upon” is what makes the poem a commentary by Williams, not only on the images, but on the role of poetry I would say. So it’s as much about him as poet as it is about the common images he’s describing. Nothing wrong with that, of course. His observation is what makes the poem. It’s just not the approach usually taken by ELH.

  71. I hope no one thought I was saying Williams’ famous poem is an ELH, though it does make a good ‘bridge’ to haiku, as you say, Lorin.

    I see ‘the red wheelbarrow’ as being wholly about the interdependence of perception and perceived in poetry, which is what makes it ‘word-based’ despite its being influenced by Imagism. But I agree that it would be nice if the terminology was more intuitive and less confusing, since the issue is neither about words or images as such, but the relationship of the writer to the poem.

  72. Yes, Chris, I do think the answer to ‘making it new’ is in the perceiving, and then of course, the task of finding the right words, the words that least get in the way, to show that perceiving. Perception, rather than thought or imagination or fantasy.

    I also have found that some poems I already knew before I stumbled onto haiku, poems in English that are not haiku, have helped me form a bridge to haiku.

    Though I tried to follow the ‘word-based/ image-based’ distinction on ‘Sailing’, I’m afraid it is still unclear to me. When at last I thought I understood, I distinguished between two ku, one which seemed to me to be ‘word-based’ by the criteria suggested, but that ku was quickly declared to be definitely ‘image-based’. So I guess the concept is too difficult for me.

    However WCW’s ‘wheelbarrow’ poem (and it is not a haiku) is ‘based’, it shows two clear and precise images: a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain-water ‘beside’ the white chickens. It uses plain language. The poet doesn’t give an opinion or lead us into an opinion about the images. The chickens and the wheelbarrow are not ‘like’ anything else. What is ‘special’ about the things in these images? Nothing, except something that can’t be overlooked: they have been *selected* by the poet (as we select, from the many things which surround us, which will become images in our haiku) In that important sense, these things…white chickens, red, rain-glazed wheelbarrow…are special.

    What is it that depends on our selection of images? In haiku, where we rely on the reader to infer so much, perhaps the greater part of the mood and meaning of our haiku.

  73. My own response is that it’s what’s “keenly perceived” that ‘makes it new,’ which is also what Lorin is saying. The WCW poem she cites falls on the ‘word-based’ side of the continuum (given the first line and the structural choices) whereas I see most haiku being on the ‘image-based’ side of the continuum.

  74. Does ‘nothing special’ versus ‘make it new’ parallel ‘image-based’ versus ‘word-based’ from the 11th Sailing discussion I wonder, or is it getting at something else?

  75. “Maybe a more pointed question is: can “nothing special” and “make it new” converge, or be in dialog with each other?” – Peter

    😉 I do hope you’re not in the middle of writing a post right now, Peter.

    I’m looking forward to John’s response. Meanwhile, can’t resist posting:

    “so much depends”

    so much depends

    a red wheel

    glazed with rain

    beside the white

    William Carlos Williams

    So, Laura, the gist of my response is that ‘nothing special’ and ‘make it new’ did come together and arguably changed the direction of poetry-in-English in this much-anthologised American poem that I’m guessing you’d be familiar with, from school even.

    Though ‘nothing special’ (you can google) is a concept/experience often conveyed in Zen teachings (eg, to paraphrase an old Zen saying: Before enlightenment: washing the dishes, picking up the kids. After enlightenment: washing dishes, picking up the kids) it pertains to the ordinary thing as we perceive it, as it is, before we fantasise or make theories about it.

    What would’ve been special about a wheelbarrow in a farmyard in WCW’s time? Or rain, or chickens? Nothing special! Especially, I imagine, to the farm wife.

    But WCW’s call to poets was not ‘make it special’ (give the thing an interesting history, use the word vermillion in preference to red, find a clever simile that hasn’t been used before etc) but to ‘make it new’. How do we, as poets, make something new without interfering with its ordinariness, its dailiness even? How can just a leaf dangling from a tree or pressed in a book be made new, without being made special, without being changed from what it is?

    What might be the ‘so much’ in WCW’s poem that depends on the precise but ordinary images which follow and their interrelationships?

    All relevant to writing haiku, imo.

  76. I never knew there were so many different forms of haiku, so many different philosophies.

    Peter, to answer your question, I enjoy simplicity. I have always enjoyed finding something special in “nothing special”.

    I love that haiku is simple and free of clutter. In all my writing projects I prefer to communicate with simple language, so that everyone can understand. I work hard to avoid excluding others.

    Reading this discussion and answering your question, I believe I answered mine. I was trying to say too much in “pressed leaves” for a haiku.

    John, your explanation of the rose bud is one that I will keep with me every time I write haiku. Thank you!

  77. on 5/7/5: if the haiku writer has been reading English poetry for some time, it’s likely that the iambic pentameter is a default “sound” poetry makes. The best free verse in English plays against those expectations, creating new tensions within the line and at the end of the line. That’s why there IS a “reason” behind 5/7/5, though it has nothing to do with Japanese. 5/7/5 helps the writer carve out sounds from the English language that both echo and stand free of traditional verse. Pretty neat, though of course that result depends on the poet/reader having an ear “trained” on traditional English versification.

  78. My last post written without knowledge of John’s beginning “one of the skills…” Would people please stop posting when I’m in the middle of writing my posts?

  79. John, your post brings something up that I have rather loosely pondered for some time. It comes from your saying:

    “The world seems miraculous and unlikely to me and any effort on my part to “add meaning” feels more or less like gilding the lily. This goes well with a haiku approach of ‘nothing special.’”

    I think there may be some who do not think of haiku as part of a literary stream, or even, in the broad sense, as literature. (This ties in with the discussion under Positions right now, but I don’t mean to divert). I think, for some, there may be a sharp divergence between an approach of “nothing special” and what might be called a “literary approach”.

    “Nothing special” might be characterized as not needing any gilding, as you say, or not needing to restlessly search for excitement or novelty. It likely uses plain speech, and common occurrences and things, rejoicing when they are experienced, esp. in the light of the miraculous nature of the world, and having words partake of that. A haiku approach of “nothing special” then, might be finding the best words, probably simplest, to hold, and convey, that experience. I think this is a widely held view of how to best approach haiku. (You probably would not use the word “best”).

    A “literary” approach, as I’m conceiving it, (and mostly to make a clear contrast) may have “make it new” at its heart, which could be one impulse behind gendai haiku. It may seek or welcome unusual states or occurrences in order to bring in unusual words, strange beasts, syntactic shenanigans. It may seek to distance itself from any spiritual (Zen or other) affiliation, but still consider itself an exploration of consciousness.

    I’m certainly not saying that these approaches are mutually exclusive. But I wonder if you think of “nothing special” as part of a literary stream, and as literature. (The question of what literature is, and why people come up with manifestoes, movements and schools dizzies me in itself, but never mind).

    Maybe a more pointed question is: can “nothing special” and “make it new” converge, or be in dialog with each other?

    I think I know, more or less, where you are with this; still, I’m curious about how you look at it.

    This would probably make a good Sailing, but it’s come up, and I do think it is pertinent to Laura’s explorations, as it is to mine.

    By the way, John, your name is misspelled on these posts. Or have you made it new?

  80. One of the skills that seems good for the writer of ELH to develop is a sense of balance between telling too much and telling too little. There needs to be enough said to engage a reader and to avoid a “so what” reaction but enough unsaid to leave the reader room to be a full creative partner in the unfolding of the poem. My image of offering an ELH is that it’s like giving someone a rose bud, the scent and flowering of which will play out over the course of a week or more to come. I know it will happen but the experience will be theirs.

    The sharing here reminds me that various poets approach their work in different ways. Some might start with an idea that they want to express. Some might start with the rhythm or melody of words. Some might have a mold that they fill with pudding or molten steel.

    While I don’t have a single method, my most frequent experience of writing ELH goes like this: In the course of my day I’ll think “that’s something.” This might be inspired by an object, a play of light, a few words from a conversation. Your example of looking at clouds has been the beginning of several pieces. If I can then say what that “something” seems to be – a
    metaphor for shifting perceptions, emblematic of man’s inhumanity to man, etc. – I feel that I may have material for something other than a haiku. But if that sense of “something more” endures without quickly resolving itself into particular ideas or statements, that feels like raw material for ELH.

  81. Yeah, Laura, we’re not just participants on this blog, we’re also smartypants.

  82. It is comforting to know that my internal debate is shared by others. I love the concept of the ghosts of words not written. It creates a new world for me.

    Peter, your words are so rich with wisdom and imagery. I think art should not be pushed in general. Haiku should flow without effort. It is what I strive to achieve.

    Sandra, thank you for sharing this poem. This haiku uses such few words to describe so much. It is a great illustration. The sites you reference are incredible as well. It is very helpful to read commentaries.

    In my particular poem I wanted to hint at the humor that both the leaves and the pages come from the same source. It was a thought I had only when I sat down to write haiku and it tickled me.

    Philip, I never considered that one discovers the “moment” when one writes, but it is very true. That is in fact the very essence of writing haiku, isn’t it?

    Looking over my poem now with fresh eyes, Sandra, I see what you mean. It is laden with words, isn’t it? Here is another way that I could communicate my thought:

    hued leaves selected
    pressed within ancient pages
    born from mother’s limb

    John, there seems to me to be a fine line between haiku with meaning and simple observation. I’m curious, is my haiku bleeding too far over into “meaning”?

    I love the parallel parking poem. I see how that format adds another dimension to the piece.

  83. I believe (though I don’t expect others to believe) that what is most profound is also most ordinary. The world seems miraculous and unlikely to me and any effort on my part to “add meaning” feels more or less like gilding the lily. This goes well with a haiku approach of “nothing special.” To communicate with so few words, it seems helpful to present images of things that are already commonly experienced. Hence, my pleasure in the use of kigo: the moon, snow, fireflies, cherry blossoms . . .
    Of course, with haiku and ELH now being written all over the world, the kigo must now be seen in many instances as common to some locations and not others. And one makes choices regarding the deep resonance of the “local” and the wider communication through whatever seems more “universal.”

    Regarding 5-7-5, it seems to me that a poet is better off being less doctrinaire. I’ve written in 5-7-5 when that has seemed effective and some of my favorite ELH and senryu are by Robert Major, who used that format. The tension, for me, has come from the other direction – when people have said one can only write ELH in 5-7-5. Clearly, Laura, you have not taken that approach and have left yourself free to decide what works best for you. There will be good reasons, some already expressed here, for going one way or the other on this question of form.

    Here is a senryu in 5-7-5:

    trying to fit in
    time for my son to practice
    parallel parking

    It seemed to me that meeting the three line / 5-7-5 format requirements worked well here with the subject matter and the themes within the poem; using the implication that “there’s one right way to do it.”

  84. That’s what I meant Philip, sorry if it wasn’t clear.

    I meant the emphasis to be on “honestly” not “recreating”. And “recreating” was meant to convey the process of writing, that state of re-experience and “drilling” to the core of what it is one wants to convey.

  85. Just to second Peter’s point about not being too dismissive of 5-7-5. It has served many poets well, not because they’re forcing words to fit the form but because it can come naturally after a while, and sound just as good as shorter forms of
    haiku. (To avoid padding out poems with inessential words is surely sound advice for poets writing in any form.)

    I would also like to question, or just qualify, the idea of “recreating the moment” in a haiku. Doesn’t the poet discover the “moment” as much, or precisely, in the writing?

  86. I have a somewhat different take on 5/7/5. I am sometimes surprised how often something I write follows that particular structure. It is not my intention, but it happens. Long ago it seems, something in the soil of my imagination received that seed and enjoyed feeling its roots roots descend, the stem rise and leaves spread… I did not and do not push the sunlight, water, fertilizer or Mozart. Rather, I let it happen. It doesn’t matter that Japanese ku are generally shorter in duration than most 5/7/5 poems. And for me, it may be that poems which have fewer syllables are nonetheless haunted by the ghost of those unwritten. It’s fun to look at it that way anyway.

    But perhaps that is not a common experience, and it is true that a lot of filler gets thrown into poems some writers feel need to adhere to 5/7/5. Maybe the point is to discover for oneself what kind of seed or seeds one’s imagination richly longs for, and to let them grow as they will. Well, maybe a little Mozart—or Eno ambience—can’t hurt.

  87. Hello Laura,

    To echo others offering advice, forget about 5-7-5 and just write what you see/hear/touch/taste/smell and develop something from that.

    The “problem” with 5-7-5 for most people is that it forces one to use extra words to make up the syllable count and so many poems written in that form (though by no means all) seem too wordy.

    Compare your

    leaves of many hues 

    pressed between worn white pages 

    pared from parent’s limb

    with Jerry Kilbride’s


    Of course, I have deliberately chosen a poem that is quite “sparse” to illustrate the point.

    Try stripping out all adjectives and adverbs from what you have written; try recreating your moment “honestly” and without artifice; really think about what you have written, what the words mean and the order you have put them in.

    Opening yourself up to the world (and it sounds like you’re doing that already), really looking at things is a pleasurable side effect of haiku.

    That, and all the nice people you’ll meet in the haiku community.

    I’ve always found it quite helpful to read commentaries on haiku by experienced writers and editors. The Heron’s Nest features a commentary on a “best of” for each quarterly edition.

    And in this article by Martin Lucas you will find commentaries on several haiku taken from his book ” stepping stones” that are quite illuminating:

    Good luck!

  88. l’fish: I love it! Beautifully said. 🙂

    Chris: OK, to explain to others, Chris is an old high school buddy and these were two of our favorite English teachers. Thanks for stopping in!

    Bruce: I look forward to hearing more about your personal haiku adventure!

  89. I am inspired to learn more about what Haiku is after reading ” New to Haiku” . I love the coherence in the ideas and wealth of expression. The words are so few but have such great impact.

  90. Laura,

    Invoke Betty Lou,
    Or Better Yet Mr. Clough.
    Best of luck to you.


  91. “The trick is to not make the same mistakes again

    Yes, but to make even better mistakes

  92. Dear John, Wow, that’s an amazing number of poems to have in print. Thank you for sharing two of your poems. They are perfect! Both evoke such emotion and are experiences we can all relate to. I would love to explore senyu as well.

    Dear Tom, That is one of the very special things about this experience for me. Typically you don’t know how the haiku is received. I’m realizing that it is important to develop a skill of reading your own haiku through another’s eyes.

    Dear Merrill, Thank you for your kind welcome. Yes, John’s advice was perfectly positioned at the front of the comments. I am so glad he pointed that out to me. It immediately helped! Yes, I can see how one would learn a lot from a rejected piece. I always tell my chess students that they will learn a lot from their losses. The trick is to not make the same mistakes again.

  93. I love John’s comment about “let it pass through you”… I found the best teachers were my very good reader/editors. Nothing spoke volumes to me like a rejected haiku. The search it leads you on is priceless. I don’t know that anyone ever “learns” haiku… to me it’s a process of finding your own voice. I certainly welcome you to haiku and to this forum…

  94. hi Laura, I get the situation you were thinking of. It may raise questions about just what the observer is doing out there in such weather! You know from the response to your haiku the way reader’s create the images in their minds!

  95. Laura,

    I have about 1,500 ELH and senryu in print at this point and my mind spins really fast when I’m asked to pick one. Also, I’m instinctively reluctant to claim anything for an individual poem. But you are being very brave here so I will try to match your courage.

    someone must be first
    to turn away–
    moon viewing

    and a senyu that takes some of the same tone:

    voices coming
    from the next apartment
    used to be us

  96. Dear Laura,

    I am enjoying your imagery.

    My first advice would be to give up the idea of writing a 5/7/5 poem, and write. Just totally forget counting the number of syllables.

    Have a wonderful holiday!


  97. Dear John,

    I am moved that others, more experienced haiku writers, might be able to join me on this journey. It is also a bit of a relief!

    I love your description of that moment that needs no words. For me it is a moment without time, too. Haiku allows you to capture that moment, without time, for eternity. Thinking about it, it is rather like snapping a photograph, preserving it forever. Except with a haiku you can capture more depth. Also I’m learning you should leave room for the reader’s interpretation.

    The moment that I had like that, which I wrote about, was a cloud formation in the sky. I remember looking up and seeing the most amazing sight. Florida clouds can be very dramatic, but in the 16 years that I have lived here, I had never anything quite like this.

    I had just gotten into haiku and decided to try to preserve that snapshot:

    white waves in the sky
    sweeps across the blue canvas
    teases of summer

    I wonder if this communicates properly to others. That is the biggest question on my mind with my haiku. Do I communicate?

    One thing that is interesting (that I just realized now) is that it helps me to remember the exact image that I saw that day.

    I would love to have others share their poems here too. John, if it isn’t too bold of me to ask (forgive me if it is), would you consider sharing one of your poems that illustrates the concept you mention here?

  98. Laura,

    I’ve been catching up. Was away from my computer since the initial postings.

    It strikes me that you and I might share one particular aspect of this journey (as do others). I had been writing and publishing my poems for many years before encountering haiku and it seems that much of what worked very well with other kinds of poems proved counter productive for haiku.

    I continue to want to communicate and to move readers but have to go about it very differently in haiku, with a much lighter hand.

    While there has been a bit of dispute about how to define haiku and English-language haiku, I find that I periodically hit upon descriptive ideas that are helpful for a year or two. Most recently I’ve been thinking about how haiku often embody deep emotion expressed indirectly – like a moment when a companion and I are simultaneously witnessing something that silences us because we know nothing needs to be said about it and further words would only detract from the moment. This kind of sharing of experience seems like (one example of) something that might inspire an effective haiku.

    Also, at the practical level, that was great advice about keeping a notebook handy. I have one in my pocket at all times and I have hand-held dictaphones in my car and by my bed. Capture is half the battle. Haiku material seems to have something of the quality of dreams. If one remembers it immediately, it can be “re-entered” but a very short gap can put it out of reach.

  99. Dear Gabi,

    I don’t believe there are any seasonal puppets. My idea was to call the dangling leaf a puppet, to convey the image of its erratic movement. It struck me that it was an October puppet, so I named it. 🙂

  100. Dear Gabi,

    Yes, that is a good point! I would love to learn more about the Japanese culture.

    I will work on learning more about kigo. Thank you so much!

  101. autumn puppets …

    This seems like contrasting them to .. for example .. spring puppets, winter puppets.
    Do these exist in your culture ?

    We have spring flowers and summer flowers which are distinctly different, so the words do not feel strange.

    puppets in autumn … that is a different matter, then autumn is the kigo.


  102. Dear Laura,
    for me, the word “puppet” does not hint at summer. It is a non-seasonal topic (as far as I know).
    Topics (cultural keywords without a special season atached to them) can be used together with kigo.

    By the way, maybe this will help you:
    If you look at kigo as the “vocabulary” of the new haiku language you are about to learn, as with any new language, it will take some time to master it properly.
    Japanese haiku students take some years and then a few more to study new kigo … it is part of the joy of writing haiku here in Japan.
    Kigo are seasonal cultural keywords, carrying the “soul”, the essence of Japanese haiku. So by learning about them I hope you will also learn bit by bit more about Japanese culture.

    (I was drawn to kigo more than 20 years ago, on my way to learning the language, because of this deep cultural background).
    Kigo are NOT the weather report or the biology textbook, as some say … they are much much differnt, much much more …

    But before I go on and on, let me stop. :o)

  103. Gabi,

    Wow, there is a lot to learn about the seasonal words. For someone new to this art form, it would be overwhelming to learn all these words and meanings. I’m guessing the key is to try not to create a conflict and be consistent.

    Thank you for quoting me this passage. It is very interesting!

    BTW, I checked out “puppets” in your database and see that it isn’t a seasonal word. However it did seem to create a conflict of sorts in my poem. Is it because it hints at summer without actually being a seasonal word?

  104. Adelaide,

    Thank you for your wise words. Every aspect that you have described speaks of fun. That is important!

    I need to get a notebook! What a great idea.

    I need to make a decision on the form. You are right in your assessment that I am looking for discipline from the structure. However I have seen there is freedom when there are no walls.

  105. May I quote Bill Higginson about kigo
    (in an entry about wind chimes):

    The rationale behind season words is tradition, not personal or local experience.

    It makes sense to add certain items to a season word list according to local custom, such as holidays, unique cultural features, and particular weather phenomena or creature-behaviors unique to a specific region, provided they are included at times when poets have in fact noticed them and writen about them. But this is not always the case for phenomena of more or less universal experience.

    Wind chimes (note: two words) have been around a lot longer than air conditioners, and will probably outlast the latter by several millennia.

    In the haiku tradition, which is a fairly well-established tradition of some 5-700 years, wind chimes have long been associated with summer. And while I do not need to deny modern experience such as those confined to city or uncommonly hot climates being aware of outdoor surroundings mainly in spring and autumn, the fact is that wind chimes are associated not with the high winds of spring, but with the pleasant breezes of summer, bringing a bit of cooling relief.
    Thus, their deeply summerish meaning is underscored. The very essence of wind chimes is the coolness we feel in that breeze.

    A haiku on the subject of wind chimes must almost of necessity bring out a sense of coolness, whether a breeze is mentioned or not (and the word “cool” need not, indeed, should not be mentioned, but suggested).

    There are phenomena that span more than one season, in which case, like frogs and moon, there are special times of the year when our consciousness of them peaks, so they represent those seasons (spring and autumn, respectively).

    Or, like “butterfly”, the simple word by itself is assigned to one season (spring), and there are other, amplified phrases that designate the same or similar phenomenon in other seasons, viz. “summer butterfly”, “autumn butterfly”, “freezing butterfly” (winter).

    Thus, any phenomenon can be fit into any season, if the writer has the need to make it so. But not so with any season word!

    (There are also words that designate more than one phenomenon, and are not well handled in some Japanese saijiki and dictionaries only confuse the matter, such as _kagerou_, which can mean “heat waves” or “shimmering heat” [spring] and “gossamer” or “floating strands of spider web” [autumn]. This is a very complex instance, and there are a few others similarly so.)

    And the even larger question:

    The overriding factor here is that, unless one is in a very distinctly different climatic zone than mid-temperate central Japan, on which the Japanese saijiki is nominally based, and the phenomenon in question is already recorded in a common Japanese saijiki, then *millions of poets* already relate to it that way.

    Why would anyone in a country with a handful of haiku poets think they should go off in some other direction?
    (Exceptions: tropics, such as Taiwan, Hawaii, Central America; South Asia; etc., where distinctly different seasons from those in the temperate zone prevail.)

    Ultimately, the majority of poets from a relatively consistent climatic zone worldwide should prevail. And there are more Japanese already there, in terms of the mid-temperate zone, with literally millions upon millions of haiku already in place based on a fairly consistent and useful understanding of the seasons (which many of them falsely maintain is “so unique to Japan”), why would anyone want to “push the river”?

    Thank you, Bill !


  106. Hi Laura,

    Welcome to the world of haiku! I admire your courage to face so many haijin, both new and practiced. I would have been intimidated (still am). I’ll keep my advice short: 1.Be observant of everything, be aware of all that comes to you through your senses; 2.Write without embellishment, write the experience just as it is objectively (of course, every word chosen is a subjective choice in the end, but that’s for another discussion); 3. as far as keeping to the 5/7/5 form, if the words come naturally, fine, but don’t feel you, even as a beginner, need to stick to that discipline. Perhaps, if you feel you need to discipline youself, keeping to a short/long/short form would be the better way until you feel more comfortable with haiku; 4. Lastly, have fun and keep a notebook handy.
    Best of luck.


  107. Alan,

    Thank you for these! This will be very helpful!!


    Thank you again for your offer of help with seasonal words. I will explore your database!

  108. Lorin,

    Thank you very much for writing! I have to admit that I was a little nervous when Scott let me know my article would appear this morning. I have to admit that I do enjoy that feeling though (it reminds me of the old tournament chess days).

    I agree that the last line of October Puppets is conclusive. I didn’t realize until today, with this amazing feedback, that I shouldn’t try to wrap up the story. I need to digest that a bit more, as it is a completely new concept to me. Thank you for helping me to see that.

    Another concept that is intriguing and new is that of the seasonal words. I read about them, but didn’t understand the concept completely. I will need to read up on that more. I can see that pairing “October” and “Puppets” is a tad controversial.

    I live in Florida, so my seasonal words will be very different than that of a New Englander. And I can see that every country, every area will have different ideas of what represents a season.

    The trick will be to communicate to everyone, regardless of their geographical location.

  109. Hi Laura,

    Bill’s book is excellent for giving kigo around the world, and even has a couple of my haiku when I was an “Australian haiku poet”! 😉

    Bill Higginson’s Haiku World:

    And Bill’s companion book:

    Gabi Greve has the excellent ongoing kigo database with internal search engines.

    World Kigo Database:

  110. Peter,

    I am very honored to have been given this opportunity to learn in this environment, with such amazing artists. I sincerely hope that I can live up to the title and produce a shaving of gold.

    Honestly, I truly love your haiku. I would like to read more. When I read yours I realized that haiku could have a touch of humor, which is a style I would love to develop into. First I must become more comfortable with the art form and understand the nuances better. One of my favorite poems is:

    mosquito she too
    insisting insisting she
    is is is is is

    Yes, I love sound. This one is the best one I’ve read illustrating that point. I love the playfulness and the cadence and well, just everything about it.

    It was a beautiful challenge to ask me for my favorite haiku. I am honored that you would invite me to share them. I would like to find more to read. The Haiku Foundation is an amazing resource and I love Montage.

    Most haiku that I read do not keep with the 5-7-5 structure. I started playing with deviating from that, but am not sure I want to quite yet. It is an internal debate.

    I welcome input from you and others. Should I keep with the 5-7-5 or branch off?

    Another favorite is Basho’s:

    a bee
    staggers out
    of the peony

    I love the image. Although the poem is about a bee, I can relate. And it perfectly communicates the feeling of the moment. I love how it is done with such few words.

    And I also love Jack Barry’s:

    looking up the name
    of the wildflower
    I just trampled

    Again this has that little touch of humor that I love. It is that moment that I think we have all experienced when you do something that you wished you hadn’t done. The moment that makes you blush just a little when you remember it.

    I know you asked for three poems, but I wanted to also include Ernest J. Berry’s:

    alpine lake
    a tiny fish
    shatters my face

    This one taught me a lot. I think it is brilliant. And it had a little game within it, a riddle of sorts, which intrigued me. It’s image is exact and perfect, but the description is layered.

    As to the level I wish to achieve, I know enough to know that I don’t know enough and would like to know more. I would be happy to continually improve and expand my ability, even if it is at a snail’s pace (who has a mountain’s path behind it).

    My goal is to communicate to others through the medium of haiku. I want to evoke emotion in others, bring them joy and brighten their day.

    It is a joy to hear you discuss my poems. When I wrote October Puppets, I wasn’t aware of the redundancy, but find it fascinating to hear the different viewpoints on it. I don’t want to “waste” words, but then again, sometimes it punches a point home.

    You definitely got the flavor of the poem and yes, the bounce was my intention. So maybe both words were needed to express that. Interesting!

    Thank you, Peter!

  111. Sherry,

    Thank you for stepping over from WON (Write On, Networkers! a writing group I started on Linkedin for all others reading this). I hope this column will encourage others new to haiku to write and write. Together we can all learn!

    I appreciate your honest feedback and thoughts on my haiku. That is exactly what I’m looking for. Thank you!

  112. Tom, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    I’m not sure if I’m cheating by discussing what image I had in mind, but here goes (forgive me if I’m breaking a rule):

    The image that I had in my mind here was a medium shot of a couple under a tree in a field. In the darkness you, the observer, couldn’t normally make them out, but with the flash of the lightening, they are spotlighted for a second or two. They aren’t aware that we’re here, watching. Definitely not guilt, but more the beauty of romance and well, yes, ecstasy.

    I think the key to any art form is communication. To me there is no point if I cannot get my meaning or message across. That’s why I am really excited about this Quicksilver project. I want to improve my ability to communicate an image, a concept, a moment in time, in this amazing form.

  113. Hi Laura,
    I admire your confidence or bravery. Though new to haiku, I suspect that you are not new to writing or sharing with an audience. I’ll be very interested to follow your haiku here, and everyone’s posts, knowing what an opportunity it is for us all to learn.

    Like others, I’m especially attracted to your ‘October puppets’ haiku. Because I know that ‘October’ is Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and Halloween in the USA, I associate the ‘stems’ with the stems of leaves which are about to fall. It being Autumn where I am, all I need to do is look out my kitchen window to see examples. These leaves are animated by any breeze, so can seem like puppets, and I do enjoy the comparison. Yet I have reservations. ‘October puppets’, in L3, seems to me like a conclusion or a summary: the leaves on the stems so precariously attached to trees are (or are like), in the author’s view, puppets. This is the conclusion I’m led to.

    Possibly the most challenging thing I’ve learnt in the process of writing haiku is to suggest, imply, rather than to guide the reader too directly to conclusions.

    Now I might be completely off-track, and there may be in your culture an actual tradition of puppet-shows in October! (There is a year-round tradition of puppet shows in Java, Indonesia, for example) In which case ignore my remarks about L3 seeming to tell the author’s viewpoint or conclusion.

    ” How can I learn more about which words speak of which seasons?”

    ah, indeed. 😉 If you were Japanese, writing Japanese haiku, all you would need to do would be to go out and buy a saijiki…a big dictionary of official Japanese season words. Even though you are not, some familiarity with the Japanese season words (kigo) and their deeply rooted ‘kigo culture’ is useful in writing EL haiku and indispensable for reading Japanese haiku. There are even ‘kigo’ lists for North America, should you want to google.

    Should you want to be authentic to your own experience of seasons in your region and your own culture, however, you won’t be able to rely on official season words. ‘Kigo’ is a can of worms in EL haiku. An Australian take on it may be found here:

  114. Hello Laura. Well, this is quite a gift from you, isn’t it? I mean, getting some of us to really think about haiku, and/or pretend we know something. Before I say much about your poems, and there is much in them to say much about, it might help me, anyway, if you would say a little more how you’re inclined. What is the slanted road that seems to have deposited you in this particular spot?

    I like that you like the strictures of form. Imagination says: “17 syllables? 5/7/5? Let me count the ways!” And I can infer from your love of chess that you enjoy a kind of royal call and response, a moment to moment awareness of changing (seasonal?) pattern on the board/world.

    There are many approaches, needs, hungers, hopeless attractions, games and other puzzlements that people bring to haiku, as to probably all art. Haiku has often been compared to photography, so I’ll use that comparison. For some, photography is mainly taking snapshots, capturing a moment to share with family and friends. Aim and click. For some, haiku is like that, and that’s fine, some good things can come of it. For others, photography requires a little learning—about the camera, about film or digital tech, etc, so as to bring some creativity to the process, some more personal involvement. For some, haiku is like that; also fine. And for some, photography is an art, requiring all the spontaneity and preparation of the other two “levels”, but also something more, and the whole thing is about learning what that something more is, and maybe never finding out.

    I don’t assume this is any kind of news to you, and I’m not saying you should decide or declare on this blog where you land in this spectrum. Maybe it’s just to present a kind of rhetorical question one keeps to oneself for a while or forever.

    Okay. What might help by way of showing inclination is if you would offer three poems by three different authors that have moved you, intrigued you, grabbed you. What can you say about them? Hope this doesn’t feel like an uncomfortable spot you’re being pushed onto.

    About your poems, it’s evident you love sound. Slivers/lovers in the first; the plentitude of “p” sounds in the second; hang/dangling, stem/thread and more in the third. While the alliteration in “leaves…” is a bit lip-breaking, I don’t mind the seemingly redundant “hang/dangling” of “stems” as much as some might… because it gives the puppets *bounce*. So my guess is that that was, consciously or not, your feeling, and it should be honored imo, even if you want to mix things up a bit to shift away from redundancy.

    I do think “stems…” is quite intriguing. I doubt if “October” was ever put together with “puppets” before. Much better than “puppies”, though they’re etym. linked.

    Well, I’ve indulged my love of words in your general direction. Forgive me.

  115. You are a brave one, indeed. I have never written Haiku and didn’t know what it was until you started discussing it in the WON arena (still am not sure I understand it fully, especially Japanese Haiku), but thought I’d give my initial take on the three, but only because you asked.

    The first one is nice and relatively tame; although, it might be out of character (maybe?) for lovers to be out “loving” with lightning going on around them, but it does sound dramatic now that I just wrote that. Maybe it’s the choice of words, I am not sure. Maybe “dance across the pitch black sky” or “dance across the midnight sky” would make it flow better. It’s a thought. The first two lines of the second one evoke emotion of a notable past (and I love it!), but the flow abruptly ends with the third line. Maybe “pared from past delights” might work — I don’t know you’re the award winning writer! The third one is stunning in that it creates an unmistakable, relatable, delightful and playful visual. I wouldn’t change a thing on that one.

  116. hi Laura! you’ve got a real feel for situation, and I think that’s key. For example,

    slivers of lightning
    shoot across the pitch black sky
    lovers spotlighted

    has a wild quality that really stays in the mind of the reader. Keep imagining the scene and I bet you can come up with a startling non-verbal image made from the overlap of the imagery from both parts. The phrase is solid but could be tightened up a bit (do you need “pitch”? etc); and the phrase is what seems so full of potential. Try more specific images: “my lover’s face”? Just keep throwing out images and see what happens in the situation you’ve set up. The “non-verbal” image that is produced in the gap between the phrase and the fragment will be what readers will think about: is this about “guilt” or “ecstasy” or — all of the above!
    What fun! THANK YOU!

  117. Alan,

    Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. Ah, see now I missed that “hangs” and “dangling” are a bit redundant. I appreciate that tip.

    Interesting that “puppets” is a summer reference. How can I learn more about which words speak of which seasons?

  118. Paul,

    Thank you so much! Wow, this is all amazing. I love the article. I will read that over and over. I really liked what A.C. Missias said about the ah-ha moment.

    Does ELH stands for English Language Haiku? (I googled it and that seemed to be the one that fit)

    Reading your advice I realized that if I am objective and simply show the scene that evoked emotion within me, I can share this moment with another, hopefully evoking that emotion within them. I guess that is why the poet strives to take himself out of the equation, so that the experience is shared untouched. It remains pure and eternal.

  119. I really liked this one:

    stems hang by a thread
    dangling precariously
    october puppets

    Although puppets is usually a Summer reference there are huge European fairs in October.

    I don’t think you need both “hangs” and “dangling” but I absolutely love “october puppets”.

    You already have a strong voice in your haiku and I will enjoy seeing you progress.

    Haiku is a lifelong challenge, and as much as we might feel we’d like to conquer it, I for one am glad it can’t. 😉

    all my very best,

    With Words

  120. Dear Laura,

    You have hit upon it yourself, directly:

    “… I am used to telling a story, writing to explain, etc. …”

    John S. has offered wonderful advice.

    As in all forms of Art, there is a dispersal along a continuum of haiku philosophy and practice in ELH. Here at THF, this is quite obvious, from very traditional to experimental (the new of “Gendai”). I suggest learning of ELH from the middle, or from the conservative side. Time to spread wings and fly off in other directions afterwards. Before speaking to your three poems’ words, I offer one general discussion, free on-line, from a fine haiku writer and haiku journal editor. I would say it is a middle-of-the-road view of haiku, brief history and definition. There are many others. Try this one to start:

    “Haiku is more than a form of poetry; it is a way of seeing the world. Each haiku captures a moment of experience; an instant when the ordinary suddenly reveals its inner nature and makes us take a second look at the event, at human nature, at life.”

    A.C. Missias

    It is a short article to click to . . .

    Very briefly to your point about memory — again, many points of view on this — certainly haiku poets write of memories. Even if you are out by a tree, your mention of it is subjective as all perception is. No such as “instantaneous” haiku. Many haikuists attempt to be free of the poet’s opinion or intellection, as much as possible. But all perception is through the filter of the poet/observer.

    At the risk of going on too long… one final philosophy by Professor Harold Henderson, 1965, “Haiku in English,” that speaks to your own revelation from what John wrote to you.

    ” . . . haiku may be regarded as a special way of conveying to the reader the emotions felt by the poet at some particular event.” … ” — that the emotion is conveyed not by stating or describing it, but by describing or clearly suggesting the circumstances that aroused it.” … “The main objective of all haiku techniques is to recreate the circumstances that aroused the poet’s emotion. By putting himself in the same circumstances the reader may experience the emotion directly.”

    welcome, – Paul (MacNeil)

  121. “Here is what I recommend to you at this stage:” –John S.

    A haiku writer for a decade now, I’m guessing there will never come a point where I don’t need reminding of the basics John articulated in his post.

  122. Dear Laura,

    I really like this haiku:

    stems hang by a thread
    dangling precariously
    october puppets

    Of course, like all our drafts, it can be edited, even Basho spent months to years editing some of his work.

    You wouldn’t need both “hang” and “dangling” but what a wonderful poem.

    “october puppets” is so evocative though many of us associate puppets as a Summer activity, especially in Britain.

    Although European fairs can be in October, so I think this is a good line.

    My With Words haiku overview has often been praised because it is so simply laid out, and a great introduction before venturing into the myriad other haiku sites:

    You have already developed a strong voice, and as haiku is a challenge for the whole of a haiku writer’s life, enjoy! 😉


  123. Gabi, I appreciate your sharing your article with me. Your challenge of taking on translating Japanese haiku is astounding. It seems like an impossible task.

    John, thank you for your in-depth advice. Your wisdom in suggesting that I allow all the advice I will get to pass through is excellent. I was concerned that I might get a bit overwhelmed, but I agree with your approach. It will help me.

    Reading your advice, I realized that I often write haiku sitting at my laptop. I am working off of memories. Once I wrote a few haiku based on cloud formations I had just seen. These were very powerful for me, because they were very much in the moment. Those haiku seemed very vivid to me for that reason. I should get out and walk in our woods and write.

    Interesting that haiku doesn’t have to wrap up completely. I didn’t know that. I need to give that more thought. I have to admit I am used to telling a story, writing to explain, etc. This is a new area for me.

    You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate it. I also appreciate your kind welcome!

  124. I am touched by not only the simplicity and beauty, but also what they allowed my mind to create. I’d say your venture into this arena, like Spring, has produced the first unfolded leaves which cocoon a remarkable surprise. Keep writing!

  125. Nice article.
    You describe what a haiku ‘should’ be like, very well.
    I always think , when you have a moment that you want to share, haiku is a wonderful way of doing so.
    thank you.

  126. All three of your haiku are lovely, but to me the last one has the delightful and surprising feeling of a miniature work of art (which is what a haiku really is.)

  127. Welcome, Laura! This is, indeed, a brave thing you are doing.

    I would start with a bit of advice about accepting advice: let it pass through you. However heavy the hand that offers it, whatever “authority” is behind it, let it go for now and give time time to work. I imagine this as a digestive process. However good something looks on the plate, there is only part of it that can be digested in such a way as to nourish one.

    This applies first and foremost to what follows.

    Here is what I recommend to you at this stage: One way in which a haiku can be an effective poem (there are many) is to stimulate the senses first – by presenting an utterly clear sense image; things that the reader will instantly imagine seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and/or tasting. Simplicity and directness can be helpful in this regard. And, secondly, I recommend that you stimulate intuition – a sense of larger significance. You will have to be attuned to your own intuition in order to do this. Only thirdly would I recommend stimulating thought. The reason for this is not that sensation and intuition are somehow superior to thought but that the rational mind, once engaged, tends to drown out further messages from the senses and intuition.

    So, a haiku that prominently tends to stimulate rational questions – who, what, where, when, why, how, etc. – will tend to lose the opportunity to capitalize on sense and intuition. A haiku is not a riddle and does not end with an answer. I think the best of them don’t end at all. A haiku has potential that far exceeds expressions of opinions or ideas.

    Once again, welcome! I look forward to following your haiku journey.

  128. “What am I missing?”

    Dear Laura, I wish you all the best with your new endeavor on the haiku path!

    Here is one of my answers to the quesion you asked, and a few more of the basic haiku theories and information about Japanese haiku.

    If you ever have a question about Japanese kigo (season words), let me know.

    World Kigo Database for the basics

    Gabi from Japan

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