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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Japanese Verse

birth and death                                                            
of a moment

captured moment
chosen words placed with care
small poem, bright light

Haiku, is a small, imagist poem written in the moment. The image drives the emotion and provides the inspiration for insight or enlightenment. It is said to be a poem in an utterance of a breath. I love this form and find myself responding to moments in the day with haiku-thoughts.

The haiku is a descendant of the hokku, which is the first stanza of the much longer communal poem, renga. The purpose of the hokku, usually written by the most prestigious poet in the renga gathering, was to record the time (season) and place (natural surroundings) of the gathering. When in the 13th and 14th centuries the hokku began to take shape as a stand alone poem, it naturally retained its original features.

It wasn't until the 20th century that the Japanese modernist poet Masaoka Shiki called the verse form haiku. His student Kyoshi is said to be the founder of the "traditional haiku" in which images from nature (usually tied to the seasons) are expressed. A second student Hekigodo felt the haiku should be broader and anything could be the subject without limiting the images to nature. This is often referred to as "modern haiku". So from the beginning there have been differences of opinion on the subject matter.

A "traditional haiku" is like an extension of Zen. The first unit describes a setting in nature, including the direct mention of a season (kigo) or its symbol, (kidai, ...cherry blossoms, geese and many others. In Japanese there are actually journals of kidai that are used by traditional poets.), the second unit expands the image often switching to a surprise or conflicting image and the third relates the human condition, relevant to the setting. Japanese uses no punctuation therefore each unit or image must rely on a strong word or phrase to naturally pause and switch the readers focus. This is known as the  kireji (cutting word,)  This is usually found in the second unit and is the pivot or cut where the first unit and the third unit could switch places in perfect balance.

The "modern haiku" draws images from life experiences and as with the traditional describes the images in 2 different observations, sometimes conflicting or surprising, then offers an insight from the images.

Haiku is measured by the syllable in English. I have addressed the differences in the Japanese language and English earlier in my introduction to Japanese poetry. In Japanese the measure of the line is the onji or sound symbol which is actually shorter than most English syllables. There is no exact duplication in English for the Japanese onji so we default to the less complicated, syllable. English translations of Japanese haiku cannot replicate the onji as syllable count and you will find that both Japanese translations and modern American haiku often do not adhere to the common assumption of 5-7-5 syllable or line count.

sinking into the rocks
a cricket's voice
              ----Basho (15th century)

Haiku takes place in the moment whether traditional or otherwise. A "haiku moment:: A moment when the mind stops and the heart moves." Margaret D McGee, Haiku - the sacred art. This is one of the most important defining features, in contrast to most poems that dwell in the mind of the poet, "haiku embodies a feeling experienced in a moment of time." Haiku is more than just the present, it is "a moment of awareness, insight, surprise or delight" How to Haiku by Bruce Ross , an ah ha! moment. This adds depth.

The elements of Haiku are:

  1. syllabic (17 syllables or less)
  2. an imagist poem (draws the emotion from the image). Concrete images are described. It is important in haiku to deemphasize the ego. The subject, not the poet is what focuses the haiku. "One of the most common characteristics of haiku,. . . . is silence." Bruce Ross. The words silence or stillness can be used in haiku, but it is the concrete image as described that makes the reader respond to the feeling of silence.
  3. written in the moment. The past can be referred to as long as it doesn't overpower the present.
  4. one of two forms "traditional" or "modern"
            "traditional" requires a season be named and images and emotions be drawn from of nature.
            "modern" can be images of relationship, personality, experience, etc
  5. often a tristich, commonly written in 3 lines. BUT, it can be written in 1 or 2 lines. (if not broken into 3 lines, the haiku should still follow the pattern of 3 units, 2 images that either conflict or expand resulting in insight.) The common break down of syllables:
    • L1 5 syllables describes image (traditional name season)
    • L2 7 syllables, adds conflicting image or expands first image
    • L3 5 syllables provide insight (the ah ha! moment) through a juxtaposed image.
  6. A description of a natural experience in language that " comes from simplicity, elegance and concentration of mind." Bruce Ross It is not merely a description but the expression of the feeling of the poet from the experience of the moment. Figurative speech, metaphor or simile is generally not used in the haiku, though it can and does appear.
  7. Not a drama nor a setting, there should be no manipulation on the part of the poet.
  8. Written with an epiphany or ending (satori), that should penetrate into the heart of the theme.
  9. It is sincere, uncontrived. When writing, the poet should attempt not to add -"ing" to the end of verbs to avoid artificial emphasis.
  10. Written in perfect balance. Repetition should be avoided since it throws off the balance the haiku. "There should be a perfect balance of images, ideas, phrasing, word choice and sound." Bruce Ross
  11. An untitled poem which is often numbered.
  12. evolutionary, the haiku has been changed by time and embraced by many cultures. The Brazilians even added rhyme

    A few of my own Ah-ha moments. ~~ Judi Van Gorder

    hard ground of winter...
    where late frost threatens to bite                        
    daffodils in bloom

    small stone smooth with time
    in laughing mountain creek bed                       
    I bathe with minnows

    flour and nuts
    sprinkled across kitchen floor
    sweet smell of cookies

    damp morning breeze
    floats off of the Pacific
    salt on my tongue

    wet dog splashes suds,
    tremors move from head to tail
    cat on sofa purrs


    rain slicked asphalt
    littered with fallen leaves
    frost crunches under foot


    • Abbreviated Haiku is written in either 2 lines with syllable count 7/2 or 3 lines with syllable count 3/5/3 or 2/3/2. This is sometimes called Miku.

                           creeper weeds
                           cover garden path
                           blistered hands
    • Brazilian Haiku is rhymed, either aaa or aba or abb

      Las Vegas contrite
      glows with perpetual light
      all day and all night

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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