approaching haiku

Haiku is commonly described as a nature poem in three lines with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second line, and 5 in the third line. This definition is at best old-fashioned and at worst erroneous.

The reality of haiku today is much more complicated. It is a powerful discipline that is ripe with the potential to engage with the world in new ways.

In my explorations of English language haiku, I have found the following approaches to be useful for substantive writing and the proper mindset:

  • use no titles (haiku are identified by their first line)
  • write in present tense
  • show, don’t tell
  • the 5-7-5 syllable structure has largely fallen out of fashion in favor of haiku with fewer than 17 syllables
  • use simple, everyday language
  • three lines is most common, but one, two, and four lines are also acceptable
  • avoid end rhymes
  • haiku experiences will arise from your surroundings, stay alert!
  • write directly, so that your readers can easily imagine themselves having the experience you’ve captured
  • let things be as they are, elaboration is unnecessary
  • don’t proselytize
  • present an experience for the reader to interpret
  • use a phrase and a fragment that juxtapose each other
  • see the universal connections in common, everyday experiences
  • name or imply a season
  • honor small, simple things
  • as much as possible, keep your ego out of it

For further exploration, visit The Haiku Foundation at:

The following online journals display a wide range of the expressions contemporary haiku is capable of:

For a lively audio exploration of haiku, listen to the Poetry Pea Podcast:

Published by Craig Kittner

The Adult Contests Director for the North Carolina Poetry Society, Craig is an award winning haikuist, published in several journals, including Frogpond, Acorn, bottle rockets, Modern Haiku, and Bones. He is fond of birds, cats, and rain . . . but rarely writes of cats.

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