Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I just discovered Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons a wonderful new children's book (an all-people's book) of haiku.

Here are my own haiku inspired by this find.
Watching the spring rain
bring life to the presumed dead--
tears watering growth.
Summer winds catch our breath
tossing us into the blazing  sun.
Light dispels darkness.
Falling like crisp leaves
we blanket the earth and ourselves
for the coming sleep.
Cold and white and soft
the earth has disappeared --hidden
under a hush of quiet.

Haiku celebrates nature
and the turning of seasons
and the turning of our lives
in short bursts of images
which shift and turn
causing us to rotate
the captured moment
around and over
displaying new angles
surprised by unexpected truths
gasping at recognition.


I love haiku.
I love a variety of short poetic forms.
But of them all, Haiku is my favorite.

I think because I talk so much, it is an exercise in both discipline and creativity for me to think small-- in short forms, in few words, in limiting structures.

In the traditional Japanese form, haiku was originally  hokku  and  did not appear as an independent form, but was an integrated verse or section of other traditional forms like Renga or Tanka or Haibun.

From the time of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), one of the most well-known Japanese poets, however the hokku form began to appear as stand-alone poems and  was renamed haiku by Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).


In Japanese, haiku is written in a vertical line.

In English, we write haiku in three lines with a suggested number of syllables for each -- five for the first and third, and seven for the second lines. The content of traditional haiku is usually nature and highlights a shift in perspective, focus or thinking.  The first two lines carry one idea with the shift usually occurring in the third line.

I believe the limits of the structure free us to be creative in ways we may not have considered otherwise.

When I teach and encourage haiku, we look at many models from both Japanese (translated) and English.  In translation, the Japanese haiku rarely fit the 5-7-5 restrictions, so it becomes easy to make my point--- dont' let the limits bind you like barbed-wire.

Read samples of  Basho's haiku translated by three different editors/translators.

Additional haiku written by Basho can be read here.

Read samples of  haiku by Masaoka Shiki here.

For more haiku you may want to visit the Haiku Poet's Hut.


I have been surprised and delighted to discover haiku in unlikely places.

  Richard Wright, author of Black Boy and Native Son, wrote numerous haiku in the last year of his life, which his family gathered and published after his death. Family members indicate he was never without his haiku notebook.

His short earthy everyday thoughts present a modern twist on this ancient Japanese from.  Several  are included below:

I am nobody
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.

 In a misty rain
 A butterfly is riding
 The tail of a cow.

With a twitching nose
A dog reads a telegram
On a wet tree trunk

 Likewise a recent volume by Sonia Sanchez, Morning Haiku, celebrates life, mourns beloved writers, artists and others, analyzes our life together  and experiments with this ancient form. She dedicates series of linked haiku to people remembered (such as drummer Max Roach, and singer Odetta), as well as events we still ponder, such as 9/11

These two verses below are excerpted from 21 Haiku, her series for Odetta

by politics
you dared to love

your music asked:
has your song a father
or a mother?


Finally, I think about our younger writers.  Children love haiku--both reading the short forms and trying their hand at writing it as well.

In addition to  Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons, I offer several excellent books that will delight student writers on the  first and second, tenth and twelfth readings-- and then serve as perfect mentor texts as they write their own small verses.


When a moment is big
or emotions uncontainable
haiku stretches to hold it all

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

 Look out your window.

 What do you see?

What captures your attention?

Write about a small moment you observe.

Reflect on an important event, person or situation in you life.
Compose a haiku or series of haiku to capture that moment.

Here are sample haiku that I wrote sitting on my deck last August and September.
They may spark your own ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment