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Quicksilver Hg2: One Step At A Time: Learning About Haiku

Quicksilver: the chronicles of a newcomer to the art of haiku



One Step At A Time: Learning About Haiku
By Laura Sherman

I had originally thought that syllable count was the driving force behind haiku, but after studying all the comments from my first article, I see that I was mistaken. Haiku is about poetry first.

I took the advice of my mentors from this amazing group of writers and started writing down my observations of the world around me. I purchased a little notebook and opened a new Word doc within each of my active computers, so that when a haiku thought hit me, I could write it down.

Writing down fragments of haiku, unedited ideas, really helped me. Some of these turned into haiku, while others wait for further inspiration.

Whenever I tackle a new subject, I’ve learned to take things one step at a time. John Stevenson said it best when he advised, “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.”

For me learning is often a layered experience, where various nuances hit home at different stages.

I decided to focus on the poetry and the essence of the moment I wanted to capture. I tried not to be too concerned with structure, seasonal words, etc. It isn’t that I ignored the many elements we discussed, but I decided to work first on finding my voice.

Here are two poems I wrote after I had absorbed all of your advice, read wonderful haiku from others and then went out into the world and observed, writing notes in my little black notebook:

abandoned ship—
giggling playground for many
hermit crabs

wispy white lines
form characters—
summer sky haiku

Had I not been thinking with haiku, I might have missed these moments.

Did I succeed in sharing these moments with you? I would love to hear your thoughts on them.

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.

This Post Has 47 Comments

  1. Thank you so much, Lorin and Gabi, for your discussion and links on “ambiguity” in haiku. It is so helpful to a beginner like me.

    I read the material you both suggested very carefully, to make sure I understood how and where ambiguity works, or doesn’t.

    In a nutshell, here is what I learned: The haiku poet who uses ambiguity must be a careful writer, for while, as Lorin says and Gabi’s sites indicate, there are pros and cons for the inclusion of ambiguity (riddle, pun, paradox, enigma, double-entendre, twits, for example), but its value has more to do with the excellence of the author, not for the use of it.

    As I understood it, using ambiguity suggests the author wants to speak on several levels. If it is not done with rigorous attention to BOTH the haiku’s essence and the audience, it might become a superficial contrivance, which, more likely than not, degrades the haiku and confuses the reader.

    Please let add that Lorin’s reference to William Empson’s “Seven Types of Ambiguity” is worth studying, for it showed me (an editor) the extraordinary range of ambiguous interpretations in a way I had never seen.

    Thanks again for your help,

  2. Hi Dafne,
    Sorry if I’ve caused you confusion. I hadn’t heard of the term ‘pivot word’ before (& though I’ve now read Gabi’s posts on her WKDB, I still find the term a tad obscure)

    I’m not sure why ‘unresolved ambiguity’ should be ambiguous, though. :-)

    For a simple exercise, consider when you come across words that you don’t know or words written in a language you don’t know, within the context of a sentence….or a ku, for instance, Sandra’s haiku which is featured on Troutswirl here at THF:

    waiting in the wharenui:
    my son’s mihi
    different to mine

    – Sandra Simpson

    If you don’t happen to speak Maori (like me), the meaning of this haiku is ambiguous. We might think,”Where are these two waiting and goodness me! just what is it that’s being compared here?” Part of the way this haiku works is the humour of our responses to this ambiguity, our attempts to make meaning, which will be misreadings if we don’t know the two Maori words. When we discover the meanings of the Maori words, the ambiguity is resolved and (I’ll lay odds ;-) ) our eyebrows can return to their normal position as we enter a ‘true’ reading of the haiku. Resolved ambiguity.

    In the haiku that Laura quoted as an example of ‘a pivot-word haiku’:

    rain hammers down
    on the unfinished building
    cranes perch

    I can see that ‘cranes’ is ambiguous in context, since the word might as easily denote the bird species as the industrial sort of crane. A dictionary can’t help me resolve the author’s intended meaning with this one, so as a reader, I’m left with both possibilities.
    Unresolved ambiguity.

    See Gabi’s post for explanation of ‘pivot words’ (and yes, Laura, I would imagine that we’d simply call them puns in English, so I don’t understand why the term ‘pivot words’ was coined. Maybe someone could clear this up for me.)

    As for the merits of ambiguity in haiku, consider that there are examples of intended (deliberate) ambiguity and unintended (which can be just plain confusing or hilarious) in all kinds of writing. Ambiguity can be used to good effect in haiku, as it can in other kinds of writing. There is no ‘rule’ for or against it. The very existence of the ‘gap’, caesura or ‘kire’ in haiku can often produce ambiguity, so it’s well that anyone writing haiku is aware of it.

    William Empson, an English literary critic, famously wrote his ‘Seven Types of Ambiguity’ back in the 1930s.

  3. Ah, Alan, thank you! I see. It’s pretty funny that in my other writing I pride myself in speaking plainly with simple vocabulary, but you’re correct that I can wax “poetic” with haiku. I have been curbing that impulse, but need to knock it out further.

    I get the concept of the field notes now. It will help me to achieve my goal!

    Hi, Lorin! Thank you for your insights. I think pivot-words are just puns, which might encourage me to be “clever” and avoid the purpose of speaking plainly. I like the pivot-line and now understand it much better!

    “You’ll begin to ‘trust the reader’, too, to take a more active part in reading, to infer meaning rather than just receive it.”

    Wow, you know, I guess I wasn’t really trusting the reader. I wanted everyone to make sure to get the meaning behind my haiku, so I hit them over the head with a two by four.

    When I started this project, one of my big questions was, do my haiku communicate? Do people get what I’m trying to say? That’s very important to me. I think people do, so I can back off a bit. I agree that field notes will help.

  4. Re: Lorin Ford’s July 21 response.

    As a beginning haiku student, I found Ms Ford’s piece very informative, except for one statement. She talked about “unresolved ambiguity” — and that was ambiguous in itself to me, because I wasn’t sure whether such additions did or did not make a good haiku. The ambiguities Ms. Ford mentioned were the “hammer” and “crane” in this haiku:

    rain hammers down
    on the unfinished building
    cranes perch

    Interestingly, in “2nd Position” of Juxtapositions, posted on June 8, the fourth paragraph suggests what haiku is and what it is not, and I could not find “ambiguity” in either list.

    Does anyone know of a discussion that focuses on the merits (or not) of ambiguity in haiku?


  5. Hi Laura, I’m not familiar with the term ‘pivot word’ & I haven’t read the article in your link, but there is a ‘pivot line’ (so-called) in the example ku you give:

    rain hammers down
    on the unfinished building
    cranes perch

    It is as simple as this. Ls 1 & 2 make sense together:
    ‘Rain hammers down on the unfinished building.’

    Ls 2 and 3 also make sense together:
    ‘On the unfinished building, cranes perch.’

    The middle line acts like a pivot (or like the kind of hinge that allows a door or other object to open both to the left and to the right)

    As for the nouns ‘crane(bird) /crane (lifting device/ crane) they are homonyms…words with the same spelling which have different meanings. I don’t see how these function as ‘pivots’ in the example you give, except in the sense that in the context of the rest of the ku there is an unresolved ambiguity…which crane? It could as easily be either. Without reading the article, I don’t know what the author intends, but ‘hammers down’ in itself is also ambiguous, at a stretch, since it would be possible to to approach something like thistle-down with a hammer and hammer it ;-) I suppose.

    “I also realize that I should not attempt to explain the first two lines with the last. There’s a difference between comparing and explaining. ”

    This is the major breakthrough, Laura.:-) Once this clicks, you’ve mastered the biggest hurdle. You’ll begin to ‘trust the reader’, too, to take a more active part in reading, to infer meaning rather than just receive it.

    Alan’s ‘field notes’ is a really useful practice to take up.

  6. Hi Laura,

    Regards examples of writing a straight prose account (not haibun) of an incident/experience.

    No examples to give, but everytime I ask someone to just write normally about an experience there is always good material for a haiku.

    If we dive straight into a haiku we often inadvertedly avoid the direct experience and approach it in an elliptical manner.

    Also the inversions often creep in. Occasionally an inversion can work and not sound like a “Tontoism”. But if it does sound too unnatural I often suggest to students that they repeat these lines in a supermarket and see what reaction they get. ;-)

    If it’s live interaction with a student (and not email etc…) I can pull on my “interview” techniques to grab some real nuggets of gold.

    It’s surprising how influenced we are by Victorianesque poetry and writing formats.

    So a simple written account, as close as possible as to a verbal account, works wonders.

    After all we don’t converse in “Victorianesquenese” [sic] unless we are followers of Bram Stoker. ;-)

  7. Dafne, I am always thrilled when others share that they too are learning. You know I wasn’t going for a pivot line, but just seeing if I could form a haiku with two images. However, through this creative process I see that I created a valid pivot line after all. However I need to take the dash out to make that work.

    seeking inspiration
    wispy white lines
    summer sky haiku

    I agree that the pivot words in Dick Whtye’s haiku aren’t as clear. It seems to me that pivot-words are simply puns. But as Sandra points out, they aren’t as common.

    Alan, Thanks for taking the time to write in! I will try your technique. Do you have an example that you can share? I’d love to see the stages of the process!

  8. Hi everyone!

    I’ve been pretty busy doing an intensive residency using ‘renga’ but just wanted to chip in briefly.

    I’ve found that whenever someone had need to provide a better or fresh draft, that simply going into a straight prose account really helped.

    Not so much an ‘exploded haiku’ but just using ‘fieldnotes’ which not only provides useful accurate observations, but applies another way into a penultimate draft, and one step away from a finished haiku.

    These fieldnotes prove useful whether for timestamping the draft, so a kigo or kidai can be located, but a rich source for a second haiku.

    I also use reminscence techniques so that the person starts to talk naturally, and most of that naturalness can then be incorporated into a haiku (or renku verse).

    Just a quick thought. ;-)

    all my very best,


  9. Laura — re: the pivot. I do think you are very close, if not there!

    On that same site, the next link down from George Marsh’s, at Elizabeth St. Jaqcues, I found this:

    “often a haiku has a pivotal point whereby line 2 unites with the first line as well as line 3. Yet, the “shift” remains distinct, therefore, dividing the haiku into two separate parts — this being most important in haiku.”

    So, in your haiku, you have indeed allowed the second [pivot] line to work for both the first and third lines, which are distinct (and the second line might tighter without “from”):

    seeking inspiration
    from wispy white lines –
    summer sky haiku

    and in the example you gave, same thing; the second [pivot] line works for both the first and the third lines (though I am still mulling over the “hammers down” and “cranes” as pivot words):

    rain hammers down
    on the unfinished building
    cranes perch

    I have learned so much from this discussion.

  10. Thank you, Sandra and Dafne!

    Wow, now I clearly see how this is a single image haiku. Thank you both for guiding me. Dafne, what a great article!

    Sandra, I researched it a bit more and see that it is hard to find examples of pivot-word haiku. Pivot-lines are far more common and I see that they flow better.

    Just to share, here’s one example of a pivot-word haiku that I found:

    rain hammers down
    on the unfinished building
    cranes perch

    by Dick Whyte ( I original saw a reference to pivot-words (puns really) in a newsletter by Gabi. I was intrigued by the concept, but see that I didn’t quite get the concept.

    Here he explains that “hammers down” and “cranes” are both pivot-words.

    I also see that my dash kind of destroyed that whole concept. :-)

    Sandra, your example of a pivot-line is amazing. It is so delicate.

    I also realize that I should not attempt to explain the first two lines with the last. There’s a difference between comparing and explaining. It still feels like a fine line to me, but I’m starting to get it.

    On the summer sky haiku, I thought of this:

    seeking inspiration
    from wispy white lines –
    summer sky haiku

    One image are clouds in the sky and the other is a page with written words. Or is it still too close? And is it too much about me?

    With each bit of advice you generously give me, I learn so much. Thank you!

  11. Thank you, Laura, for being so open and responsive.

    I needed to understand better Sandra’s comments on the “pivot,” and so I did some research. I found the following to be very helpful (and wonder if even I “got it” in my suggestion to your “summer sky haiku” — which, by the way, I did indeed understand your play on the “characters”).

    1. (there are many links for beginners).
    2. Scroll to the right and click on George Marsh’s “Intro to writing haiku”
    3. Click on the “Reference Section”
    4. Scroll down to the “Two Image Haiku”

  12. wispy white lines
    form characters —
    summer sky haiku

    Hmm, I don’t see that “characters” can be a pivot (and if it were able to act as a pivot, then it shouldn’t have a cut after it – the em dash effectively slices your pivot from the other half of the turn).

    Generally, pivots come in entire lines (L2) and act as a companion line for both L1 and L3, eg this haiku of mine,

    every morning
    starting all over
    day lillies

    I had read your previous explanation of why you wanted to write this haiku, but I repeat my advice that it is a single-idea haiku. L3 sums up L1 & L2, there is no progression.

    L3 shows us what L1 & L2 tell us.

    Hope this helps.

  13. Hi, Sandra and Dafne!

    I appreciate your thoughts and advice. I love what you both did with the summer sky haiku. You both took it in different directions and each haiku made me sigh with pleasure. Beautiful!

    Since this is a learning exercise, I thought I’d share my thoughts behind the haiku. My idea was to play on “characters”. Initially I was looking at the sky, thinking of haiku and searching for interesting shapes and characters. Maybe an elephant or a lion. Then I saw what looked to me to be a Japanese character and thought it was a haiku in the sky. That was my original line, but I turned it into summer sky haiku.

    So I thought that the word “character” would have two meanings and that a person might expect me to speak of a dolphin or other shape, but be surprised to discover it was the other kind of character. I had hoped to reach the ah-ha moment with that.

    I think it is called a pivot word? I’m very much still learning, so correct me if I’m wrong.

    Also, Dafne, I wanted to check if your comment on the hermit crab haiku was from the original or the workshopped one (we played around with it through this comment section):

    children giggle
    inside an abandoned boat –
    hermit crabs

    Does that work better or is it still too much of what I was thinking?

    Thank you all for your help!

  14. Yes, I agree with Sandra Simpson: “summer sky haiku” doesn’t need the other two lines. That image is picture perfect on its own, though I’m not sure Laura needs to search her
    memory to find an incident in her past to contrast it; that seems too contrived. Perhaps this, where she prolongs what she sees, just before both disappear.

    summer sky haiku—
    i copy the lines
    onto wet sand

  15. Hi Laura,

    wispy white lines
    form characters—
    summer sky haiku

    If I may make a brief comment on this one, it is that it’s a one-idea haiku.

    If we take “summer sky haiku” (a great line) alone, it kind of tells us readers everything we need to know, making the previous 5 words redundant.

    You’re telling us what happened and there is no flash of insight, no a-ha, no haiku moment, as it were. You could try to contrast and compare, the technique of juxtaposition, or you might like to turn L3 into L1 and see what happens.

    Remember to use your senses, what else was your mind/body recording at the time.

    Or, let your mind wander to a memory and work that into the poem.

    Yes, haiku are generally better if grounded in reality, but a reality from today may be better paired with a another reality, from childhood say.

    summer sky haiku –
    touching the clouds
    from my dad’s shoulders

    or something.

    Good luck!

  16. Thank you so much, Laura, for sharing your haiku with us, and letting us learn from your learning. I do have a comment on the crab haiku, and hope that my comment stimulates a discussion about abstractions/concepts vs. observations/experiences in haiku.

    Let me preface my comment with this:

    “Haiku should come from what you have experienced and not what you think…. Instead of presenting the idea of a thing, or using the concepts of what something means to us, the author simply presents the thing as it is. Seeing the world in a grain of sand is not in haiku territory. . . .Instead of using things to talk about ideas or fantasy or imagination, the writer just writes about the thing as it is.”
    –Reichhold, Jane Writing and Enjoying Haiku. A Hands-on Guide (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2002), 41, 42.

    The “thingness” of things, as she says, is, perhaps, just one way of writing haiku, but I like it very much, and as you said, you have started to observe and jot down what you see. With that in mind, it is the “giggling” that doesn’t seem to belong. To paraphrase from the quote above, seeing the crab giggling is “personalizing non-human things…presenting the thing as more than what it is.”

    Quite the opposite is true in the wonderful “wispy white lines” haiku. No personification here. You have written of the white lines as they are.

  17. Gabi, Thank you for the exercise. I will definitely try that out!

    Kris, Thank you for coming by to comment. I would love more input on this haiku too. I looked up at the sky and saw what looked like a Japanese character. I had been looking at the clouds, thinking haiku.

    Originally I was looking for a different kind of character (an elephant or dog, etc.), but when I saw that shape I got the piece, “haiku in the sky”. I turned that into “summer sky haiku” to give myself a seasonal word.

    My guess is that this is too abstract for haiku. Since I didn’t actually see a Japanese character, does that mean it doesn’t work?

  18. I’m more than a beginner, and far less than an expert, but since you’ve invited me to comment, Laura, I’ll jump in, probably over my head!

    That exercise suggested by Gabi is something I read about as I was starting haiku, and I’ve found it very helpful.

    Since everyone has commented on your “hermit crab” haiku, and excellent revision, I’ll say something about

    wispy white lines
    form characters—
    summer sky haiku

    I really love it. Some people might say it’s too close to a metaphor, but as you said so well, the playful experimental quality of haiku is more important than the rules.

    I do notice that it has a “kireji,” or cutting word, which in my simplistic way I think of as an implicit dash or colon.
    As well as that being a traditional requirement for haiku, almost every haiku that has struck me as really good has one.

    Just one thought: do you need white? For meaning no, for sound, maybe. I don’t know myself!

    Thanks for sharing this here and encouraging me to comment!

    (and, by the by, if you have any say in the new layout of the website, consider that it might be nice to have more than three commments visible at one time!)

  19. Hi Laura,
    you are lucky, it is raining hard outside and I have to sit here inside …
    Glad you got the giggles back!
    Now one piece of “homework”, if you feel up to it.
    Juggeling with words is a part of haiku that will be smoother with time … be patient.
    But one thing you can do with your little notebook:
    Make a section for each of your senses and capture the special moment when

    you see something
    you hear something
    you smell something
    you taste something
    you touch something

    and record it with plain simple words. These are the “seeds of haiku” (haiku no tane) that might later grow into something.

  20. Gabi, thank you very much for weighing in. I love the word “giggle” and agree that it works better here. Please don’t doubt your own ability. You are brilliant.

    I really like:

    children giggle
    inside an abandoned boat –
    hermit crabs

    Paul, thank you for your input and advice. The additional information about hermit crabs is fascinating! I had no idea. They sound like aquatic tomcats.

    Moki, I completely agree and was drawn to haiku for that reason. I’m glad you enjoyed my poems.

    Julia, I love having my little notebook with me. I tend to forget ideas otherwise. It can be hard to recapture them later.

    Colin, Thank you very much! I am really enjoying this project.

  21. I like Gabi’s reinfusion of your original “giggle.”

    Now, it is the kids who are giggling, not the crabs. Hermits crabs are mostly in-water crabs. They inhabit the tidal zone and can survive at water’s edge. They can be quite aggressive towards their own kind, even eating littler ones. But, they all are comical to kids. The kids’ amusement and explorations are what animates the haiku. You successfully leave all of that to the reader/listener’s imagination. – Paul (MacNeil)

  22. Thanks for continuing my education into haiku. The more I am learning, the better I understand and appreciate it. I am still so impressed with how much can be conveyed with just a few words. It seems like any haiku I have read in the past have not made sense to me. But with yours, I can actually see the pictures and I love it. Especially the first one, I could almost feel the water and see the all the little creatures running around in their playground. Well done, Laura.

  23. I feel my advise is not quite competent with reference to the English language, I wrote it only because Laura had asked me explicitly to comment here.
    I hope the native speakers will chime in and help us both !

  24. children climb
    inside an abandoned boat –
    hermit crabs

    Hi Laura,
    this version is much better for me. You might even bring the giggle back in here

    children giggle
    inside an abandoned boat –
    hermit crabs

    Now for Line 2, consider the difference of meaning AN versus THE and which is closer to your intention?

    Again for Line 2,
    as I am not a native speaker of English, could it be ? inside or ? in

    children giggle
    in an abandoned boat –
    hermit crabs

    . ?

  25. As a teacher for twenty years I love the way you’ve captured your own personal learning process with your blog. Noticeable improvement in your most recent efforts.

    Colin Taufer
    Delphi Academy of Florida

  26. Here is one idea for an edit on my hermit crab haiku:

    children climb
    inside an abandoned boat –
    hermit crabs

    This seems more true to me, but still holds the concept. I would love feedback on this. Am I closer?

  27. Laura
    I love the flow of your poems. Thank you for helping me understand the basics of Haiku. writing ideas down as you think of them is a great way to have the ideas simmer.

  28. Peter,

    You may push and prod me anywhere, anytime you wish. Consider me to be a pile of clay.

    I am in awe that you have edited your haiku for me here. It is incredibly instructive for me to be allowed to watch your process, hear you discuss your thoughts behind your poem.

    I admit that I have trouble letting go words (hence my difficulty with the editing process, but I will overcome this flaw). When I first read your edit I thought, “Oh no! I love the park bench!” But then, after I gave myself a moment, I realized that I would place the man outside and although he could be sitting on the ground, it would be logical for him to be on a bench.

    He could be on his porch swing at home (probably where my mind would have placed him had I not heard your first edition), but then again I guess that’s part of the idea, allow the reader to create their own image.

    I really wanted to include three or four of your haiku, but I edited myself from doing so. However, since you wrote, I thought I’d tell you that this is also one of my favorite haiku:

    motel mirror—
    I too am
    just passing through

    It sets my science fiction mind alive with all sorts of possibilities. I want to write a short story about what happens to the stranger’s image in the mirror, where he goes and what his life is like.

  29. I certainly appreciate Laura’s having selected one of my poems. I also appreciate, perhaps because of the context of this thread, the opportunity to see it in a new light, so to speak. I would change the poem, and i believe improve it. Here’s what I like better:

    summer moon
    a bald man
    reading Braille

    And here’s why: when I wrote it, maybe 15 years ago,
    it would seem I did not trust the reader to locate the scene as I wished it to be located. But I think the outsideness of things is evident without the park bench. A briefer brevity is not always a virtue, but in this case, the excision helps, I think, to open a dimension which was harder to limn earlier. (If less is more, than sometimes lesser is morer).

    I like the notion that the moon itself is a bald man, and that there are little bumps of light to be read, right to the edge of the universe. (Well yes, sometimes a bald man is just a bald man).

    As I said, I present this in the spirit of the thread, and use it as an example of ongoing exploration of the soul and craft of haiku and I hope Laura will not feel I have pushed her aside for my own purposes.

    (If you do, I want my $20 back!).

  30. Dear Lorin,

    Thank you for sharing so much with me. I love your story, your introduction to haiku.

    I need a little more time to figure out how to re-approach my hermit crab haiku, but I will attempt a revision soon. I am working on it, but haven’t quite gotten it yet.

    I love the exercise that you suggested and wanted to give you a few of my favorite poems:

    summer moon—
    on the park bench a bald man
    reading Braille

    – Peter Yovu

    Under my house
    an inchworm
    measuring the joists.

    – Kobayashi Issa

    looking up the name
    of the wildflower
    I just trampled

    – Jack Barry

    Colonel Mustard
    in the library . . .
    winter night

    – John Stevenson

    There are so many that I could choose, but these are four that have particularly stuck with me. They each have a touch a humor and when I read them I had that spark, that “aha moment” mentioned by A.C. Missias (referenced by Paul MacNeil within the comments of my last article). They make me smile every time I read them. I love their depth.

  31. Hi Laura,
    As others have said in various ways, don’t be concerned about ‘finding your voice’. But one thing which might be helpful is if you could find several haiku by others…say three to five, each by a different author, for a start… which appeal to you and then would share them here on a thread. You don’t *have* to know why they appeal to you or defend them in any way. The exercise, I think, would help you know what you’re wanting from haiku at this point in time as well as allow us, the readers of the ‘quicksilvers’, some insight into where you’re coming from.

    In the spirit of not asking of you anything I wouldn’t do myself, this is the first haiku that I was attracted to:

    sukuu te-no kurage-ya seimeisen fukaku

    picking up a jellyfish…
    my lifeline
    clear and deep

    – Dhugal Lindsay

    I did not know that the author was a marine biologist at the time, so I didn’t get that allusion. What I did get was a clear memory of, as a child, picking up moon jellies that were washing in to shore (moon jellies being the only ones safe to pick up…they don’t have stingers) Holding a moon jelly on the palm of my hand fascinated me. Here was a living sea animal which was completely transparent. I recalled studying the lines on the palm of my hand, with wonder, through its body. We were so different, jellyfish and I, yet we both had life, we both swam in the bay shallows. Just as the jellyfish would die out of water, I would die if I swam out too far and deep to return. …etc. you know how children spend hours poking around and discovering the world if they’re free to do so.

    So I felt that I’d like to explore haiku after this one because it took me back to a time when I was wholly involved in what I experienced in the world around me. I had grown tired of the kind of poems I heard around the ‘spoken word’ traps in my locality (they seemed to be mostly about the opinions and ‘true confessions’ of the ‘performers’) and haiku seemed to offer a freshness, an escape from what I had come to regard as ‘the poetry of rampant personality’.

    Others will have come to haiku in other ways and have other views..

    Adelaide has voiced the kind of concerns I have about your ‘hermit crabs’ haiku:

    abandoned ship—
    giggling playground for many
    hermit crabs

    One really positive thing I see in it is that there actually *is* a link between an abandoned boat and hermit crabs (just as there was a link between Dhugal Lindsay’s jellyfish and my lifeline). The abandoned boat, without the life of people, becomes just the ‘shell’ of a boat. The hermit crab moves into the ‘abandoned’ shells of certain shellfish, changing up to bigger one as it grows.

    To revise it, I suggest that you approach the boat and the hermit crab/s again without thinking about what they’re like (‘a playground’ etc) , but with a simple openness to what they are before your mind starts embroidering …eg in the boat’s case it is, as you have it, abandoned, empty of people who once used it.

    best wishes!

  32. Tidd, You are very kind. Thank you

    Rohit, What thoughtful words. I appreciate your support. Thank you!

    Jenni, Yes, I would like to work on learning rhythm too. Within the advice offered in the last article, mentors suggested that I read the haiku aloud. I have found that extremely helpful, but I know I have more to learn.

    Adelaide, I need to sort though your advice a bit more, but I see your points. Yes, it was a boat, not a ship (my brother the Captain would be disappointed in my forgetting the difference). And I am pleased that the concept I was trying to communicate came across! I could tell you exactly what my thought process was. Would that be appropriate in this forum? Then I could work out how to improve it without being too dry (which is my biggest concern).

    Merry, I am so glad that we can share this special art form together!

    George, I love your idea of “meeting a poet through their work”. That’s brilliant. Thank you for the link. I will study it many times over. I am working on all the points you mentioned, but must take one step at a time. Otherwise I can get very overwhelmed!

    Karen, Yes, John Stevenson is very wise. I must keep reminding myself of his advice. And I am striving to balance my education with all the points you mentioned.

    Michael, Thank you for so perfectly understanding the challenge ahead of me, and for encouraging me in my approach. I’m afraid I am already addicted!

    Gabi, I am so glad to have your voice here. I will strive to improve upon this haiku.

  33. abandoned ship—
    giggling playground for many
    hermit crabs

    Adelaide has given you some good concrete advise on how to deal with this one.
    It would be great to read your revision.


  34. John Stevenson’s advice is superb for all beginners — and even those who are a little beyond that. I know in my own experience that I simply wasn’t ready for some of the messages I heard or read early on. But there’s a gradual coalescing of understanding that takes place, and it’s worth trusting. The amount of advice and instruction about haiku out there, in print and online, is overwhelming (and sometimes contradictory), so I agree there’s great virtue in taking it slow, and doing your best at just a few basic goals. Continued good luck on the haiku path. And if you haven’t already figured it out, be forewarned that haiku can be deeply addictive!


  35. Hi Laura,

    I agree with George. You already have a voice and that is a GOOD thing. I agree with Adelaide too. Think about what she said. But don’t think too hard. Follow John Stevenson’s advice on advice.

    Read good haiku and good articles/books about haiku. I can’t recommend Fay Aoyagi’s site highly enough.

    Another good book is: Haiku, a Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga. And, of course, The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson.

    Read, study and write… but not necessarily in that order. ;)


  36. Hi Laura,

    I would say that you already have a voice. No one else can write as well about your thoughts and experiences. The human element in haiku is very important. To me, the most effective haiku connect natural images with human responses. I always enjoy meeting a poet through their work.

    I tell a fairy tale
    whose main character is me—
    a winter rose

    ~Kei Hayashi

    This comes from a wonderful set of essays by Fay Aoyagi on her Blue Willow Haiku World site:

    So I would say, study structure, season words, haiku techniques, the history of Japanese and World haiku, etc. so your voice can be heard as soon as possible.

    best wishes,

  37. I love that one of my best friends is writing haiku, a poetry form dear to my heart for the past 47 years. Thank you for sharing these brilliant photographs of thought.

  38. abandoned ship—
    giggling playground for many
    hermit crabs

    Dear Laura,

    Here’s what I see in the above haiku:
    A wrecked ship on the beach. More likely a boat, rather than a ship. Hermit crabs have taken to hiding in this boat. Your choice of words, however, gives a confused picture.

    giggling playground: a playground can’t giggle. Nor can the crabs. If you want to convey that children are playing on this boat and that they are the hermit crabs, then the wording needs to be different.

    What is it that you actually saw? Write down first the exact image, with no adjectives. Are children playing on the wreck? Did you see hermit crabs? Is it a ship or really just a boat. I was once told that a boat is a boat if it can be transported on a ship.

    You have a great subject here. You need to be clearer about what you want to convey.

    Hope this helps.

  39. Haiku is about vision – only this and nothing more. The mantra and primary injunction of haiku is to; “SHOW not tell”. What’s so difficult to understand about that? Well, with a typical Western mind-set, everything! This is why haiku is good for us Westerners – it releases the left brain from the dominion of right brain rituals of logic. It refreshes the grassroots of our souls. If syllable count helps to deliver the ‘ah ha moment’ – fine. BUT. Haiku is not a music sheet. Not a projection of personal vanity. This is why we say; “Punctuation is a distraction.” This is why we say; “Get over yourself.”

    — jp

  40. My experience of haiku is very limited, but I do think you’re right – that it’s the poetry that matters rather than the syllable count.

    For me though, someone with a more than significant case of OCD, the ‘feel’ of a balanced syllable count is not just important, but satisfying. I don’t necessarily need 5,7,5 – but I do like the first and last lines to be the same and the middle to be longer. But it’s the rhythm that matters overall, as with all poetry…

  41. Laura,

    I totally agree with you when you say learning is a layered experience. In my Haiku-writing experience, I have found it important to let an Haiku-idea marinate. Its important to be in that frame of mind continously. As Basho says, a Haiku should be “a thousand times on the tongue”.

    I also agree with the new approach you’ve taken to write Haiku. Haiku is not so much about season words or Kireji, but more about following the nature of Haiku itself – which is all about simplicity and subtlety. Haiku plays god with our minds the way God plays with our minds – inviting us to understand the irony in life’s most wonderful and painful moments and helping us learn to laugh at them.

    You have, in the most simple words, made me realize the difference between writing & understanding Haiku, and understanding & writing them.

    A wonderfully written article, Laura.

    Thank you.

    Rohit Nalluri.


  42. Those are true haiku in my book Laura! And proof that syllable count is trivial and unimportant. I think the expression of the ideas in those two would make any Japanese poet proud :-)

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