What’s a haiku? It’s a moment in time captured in three short lines of poetry. It’s the instant before a bird lands on the surface of a still pond. It’s the curl of wind that nudges a single leaf aside and lets a gleam of sunlight through. It’s the ribbon of cloud that crosses a full moon. Haikus give us a moment to pause and appreciate the beauty of the world around us.
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To use more exact language, a haiku is a poem that, when written in English, usually has three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. The subject of a haiku is often an instant in time with the first two lines setting up the moment and the last line giving some sort of a “twist” or a surprising way to view the moment. The haiku originated in Japan, where it was written as one continuous line with 17 characters.
Here at Brave Writer, we don’t support blindly counting syllables and cramming words into lines just for the sake of getting the form right—check out this blog post on Why I Hate Haiku. However, we love appreciating small moments, and we think that haikus can offer lots of fun reading materials and a challenge when writing.
Here are a few examples of haikus to whet our appetite.
By Matsuo Bashō
An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
By Kobayashi Issa
Winter seclusion -
Listening, that evening,
To the rain in the mountain.
By Matsuo Bashō
In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus -
A lovely sunset
Tips for Writing Haikus
If you’re interested in writing a haiku, you aren’t actually required to squeeze your poem into syllables! Here are some tips, and be sure to check out the resources below, too.
Imagine a moment: Start by observing the world and focus on a single moment. What does the world look like, smell like, or taste like at that instant? What is happening?
Think of strong words: Write down some words that you associate with that moment. Try counting the syllables and comparing the length of each one so you have an idea of where they might fit.
Write in lines: Using the words you thought of, connect them in lines. If you like the strictness of counting syllables, follow the 5-7-5 rule. Otherwise, write three lines that follow the form of short-long-short.
Pack a punch: As you revise your poem, think about ways you can concentrate the images you’re using. Is there one stronger, more vivid word that could take the place of two or three words in your draft? Play around with shortening each line until each word is the most powerful it can be.
Books on Haikus
One Leaf Rides the Wind, by Celeste Davidson Mannis
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons, by Jon J. Muth
The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons, by Sid Farrar
Black Swan/White Crow, by J. Patrick Lewis
Least Things: Poems about Small Natures, by Jane Yolen
Today and Today, by Kobayashi Issa
Guyku, by Bob Raczka
Wabi Sabi, by Mark Reibstein
The Cuckoo's Haiku: and Other Birding Poems, by Michael J. Rosen
Resources on Reading and Writing Haikus
Lesson plans on haikus and Japanese culture from Scholastic
Such a fun article on writing haikus for kids by award-winning writer Betsy Snyder
This series of definitions and background about the haiku form from the Haiku Society of America
This post on animal haiku books from Miss Rumphius Effect (so many haiku books to choose from!)