What is haiku?

Haiku is a form of poetry that has a long tradition in its homeland of Japan and haiku is still a popular pursuit, whether as a hobby or more seriously, there today.

In English the poems generally appear as 3 lines, although single-line haiku are becoming more popular. Haiku are often described as “single-breath poems”, that is, a poem as long as a breath. The old syllable-counting exercise we were all taught in school is now generally considered to be an artificial construct, the result of a misunderstanding by early translators into English.

Haiku are poems of observation – of the natural world and our place in it. They depict a moment in time and invite the reader to share that moment of wonder. The very best poems use the seemingly mundane to illustrate a deeper truth and reward several readings. To reinforce the sense of cpaturing a moment they are almost always written in the present tense.

There are several recognised techniques used in haiku, one of the most common being the juxtaposition of 2 images (leaving the reader to make the link). Haiku usually contain a season word (kigo in Japanese) that often doesn’t directly name the season (for instance, buds = spring), have a “cut” (a pause created by punctuation), and avoid the use of adverbs and adjectives. Haiku should read natuirally, so use articles (“a” and “the”), and use everyday language.

Haiku poets write in the hope that the barrier of their words will “disappear” and are written so the reader may also share the moment and make it their own.

There are many good websites and blogs where novices may learn more about haiku … but there are also plenty of not-so-good places so please keep a critical faculty about you.

Haiku NewZ has a wealth of archived articles (see the left-hand menu) about all aspects of haiku written by some of the best poets and thinkers writing in English today. It’s also a regularly updated resource for information about competitions, journals, haiku events and useful websites. (I am the site editor so I would say that, wouldn’t I? Best to check it out for yourself.)

There is also a feature where poets choose their favourite haiku and comment on them. It’s always useful to read what good writers think about a good poem, kind of like unpicking a garment into its constituent pieces to see how it was put together.

The Bare Bones School of Haiku is a set of lessons developed by haiku doyenne Jane Reichhold that is free for personal use. Jane is also the author of a very useful article, Haiku Techniques.

The Haiku Foundation offers mentoring for beginners and those more advanced. Go to Forums under the Discussions tab (to see the Mentoring boards you will have to register). Note that the site is American-centric.

It also offers the Haiku Registry, which features poets from around the world and examples of their work (under Features, no need to register).

The Haiku Pathway in the small New Zealand town of Katikati is the only one of its kind outside Japan and has been visited by people from all around the world. In 2011 it completed the 10 Poems for 10 Years project, bringing the total number of haiku featured on the riverside walk to 42.

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