Do you Haiku? poetry tutorial

I love to read Haiku and have tried to create some… Here’s a quick tutorial if you’d like to have a try.

Since my house burned down

I now own a better view

of the rising moon

Mizuta Masahide

Mizuta Masahide (1657–1723) was a seventeenth-century (Edo period) Japanese poet and samurai who studied under Matsuo Bashō. Masahide practiced medicine in Zeze and led a group of poets who built the Mumyō Hut.

Haiku traditionally focuses on details of one’s environment that relate to the human condition. Creating a Haiku is like a meditation of sorts. It conveys an image or feeling without employing subjective judgment and analysis.

When you see or notice something that makes you want to say, “Look at that,” the experience may well be suitable for a haiku.

Japanese poets traditionally used haiku to capture and distill a fleeting natural image, such as a frog jumping into a pond, rain falling onto leaves, or a flower bending in the wind.

Many people go for walks just to find new inspiration for their poetry, known in Japan as ginkgo walks. Contemporary haiku may stray from nature as a subject. Urban environments, emotions, relationships and even humorous topics may be haiku subjects.

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A reference to the season or changing of the seasons, referred to in Japanese askigo, is an essential element of haiku. The reference may be obvious, as in using a word like “spring” or “autumn” to indicate the season, or it might be subtler. For example, mentioning wisteria, which flower during the summer, can subtly indicate the season. Note the kigo in this poem by Fukuda Chiyo-ni:

morning glory!

The well bucket-entangled,

I ask for water

In keeping with the idea that haiku should contain two juxtaposed ideas, shift the perspective on your chosen subject so that your poem has two parts.

For example, you could focus on the detail of an ant crawling on a log, then juxtapose that image with an expansive view of the whole forest, or the season the ant is currently inhabiting. The juxtaposition gives the poem a deeper metaphorical meaning than it would have if it were a simple, single-planed description. Take this poem by Richard Wright:

Whitecaps on the bay:

A broken signboard banging

In the April wind.

Haiku are comprised of details observed by the five senses. The poet witnesses an event and uses words to distill that experience so others may understand it in some way. Once you have chosen a subject for your haiku, think about what details you want to describe. Call the subject to mind and explore these questions:

  1. What did you notice about the subject?
  2. What colors, textures, and contrasts did you observe?
  3. How did the subject sound?
  4. What was the tenor and volume of the event that took place?
  5. Did it have a smell, or a taste?
  6. How can you accurately describe the way it felt?

Use the words of Haiku to show and share the picture – not to tell. Haiku are about moments of objective experience – not subjective interpretation or analysis of those events. Haiku have been called “unfinished” poetry because they require the readers to finish the poems in their own hearts.

Because of this, it’s important to show the readers something true about the moment’s existence, rather than telling or explaining to the readers what emotions it conjured in you.

Let the readers feel their own emotions in reaction to the images. Poets may understand the need to bare all, but the very universality of haiku ensures that your readers will get the message.

Final Tips

  • Use understated, subtle imagery. For instance, instead of saying it’s summer, focus on the slant of the sun or the heavy air.
  • Don’t use clichés. Lines that readers recognize, such as “dark, stormy night,” tend to lose their power over time.
  • Ponder the image you want to describe and use inventive, original language to convey meaning.
  • Don’t overuse a thesaurus to find uncommon words; rather, simply write about what you saw and want to express in the truest language you know.

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do’s and don’