. How to Write Haiku What Makes a Good Haiku? by Margaret Coats The required 5-7-5 syllable form alone does not make a haiku. A good haiku ⦁ presents an observation of nature, or of human activities in nature ⦁ uses present tense (“goes” or “going,” not “went” or “has gone”) ⦁ has a seasonal word or image, known in Japanese as a “kigo” ⦁ has two parts or two images or two aspects ⦁ offers an intriguing insight that arises from interaction of the two parts Below are examples of good haiku, chosen from runners-up and other entries last year. They fulfill ALL the above haiku requirements, but are grouped to allow for easy discussion of one requirement at a time, in the paragraph that follows each group. Information and advice about the seasonal requirement, including a link to a kigo list, with an analysis of last year’s winner, can be found HERE. A more detailed article on haiku by G.M.H. Thompson is HERE. . The 17 Syllables in English These first four haiku show how poets writing in English can naturalize the required Japanese syllabic form by using features of English poetry, including rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration. These things are neither required nor specially favored in this competition. However, they add beauty to the poem and demonstrate the poet’s skill with language. . Dark branches stripped bare cold and sad, quite unaware stirrings down below ―Linette Eloff . Snow falls through the night Dressing farm and field in white— Dazzling dawn in sight! ―Martin Rizley . one lone(ly) mallard ignored by his own echo quacks again, hoping ―James Ripley . Curious concert— crickets croon to a cornfield of indifferent ears ―Martin Elster . Linette Eloff captures late winter in three lines appropriately rhymed and metered. The third line, with the same number of syllables as the first, has more word accents or stresses. It thus has more of the deep “stirrings” it mentions—and it breaks away from the “bare”/ “unaware” rhyme and tone of the other lines. Contrast Martin Rizley’s winter haiku, which exhibits regular English rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration in all three lines. These suit the exuberant tone of his poem. James Ripley uses another tactic. His parentheses in the word “lone(ly)” emphasize the meaning he can add to his first line with the required fifth syllable. The quacking mallard is both “lone” (solitary) and “lonely” (forlorn). Martin Elster makes every syllable count, accompanying his farm concert with both alliteration from the noisy crickets, and a pun on the indifferent ears of corn in the audience. . Artistry of the Present Tense . end of the summer— the calm surface of a lake absorbs the twilight. ―Marek Kozubek . Looming laden clouds Blanket Bombay’s bustling streets And storms paint the sky ―Stuti Sinha . taste of morning tea the delicate ray of sun through an icicle ―Daniela Misso . The group above shows varied artistry employing the required present tense. Marek Kozubek uses a single present tense verb (“absorbs”) to describe minimal action, but it manages to fill his noiseless scene with light and color. Stuti Sinha’s poem brims with action: present tense verbs “blanket” and “paint,” present participles “looming” and “bustling,” along with the past participle “laden,” acceptable in haiku because used as an adjective. These combine to build up a picture of increasingly wild weather over a busy city. In Daniela Misso’s haiku, there are no verbs at all. Present tense is presumed in the action of a human observer who notices the sunlit icicle while sipping tea. . The Two-Part Haiku . black skyscrapers scratch at something beyond the gray as white flakes drift down ―Spencer Green . As winter draws near Fabulous floral worlds bloom The solace of books ―Mia P Solomonides . Wisteria blooms Along a sidewalk café Coffee in the air ―Ravi Kivan . watermelon patch I let the weathered scarecrow try on my straw hat ―Darrell Lindsey . Like new fallen snow Seabirds rest then I approach White riot of flight ―Mike Bryant . A haiku should have two parts or two images or two aspects. The two things contrast or combine creatively to produce the poem’s overall effect. Spencer Green’s skyscrapers do not wait passively for snow, but actively scratch it out of the gray sky. Mia Solomonides teases readers with a flagrantly impossible winter scene—then explains that it exists in the books one can comfortably read indoors on a cold day. Ravi Kivan makes clever use of the related words “café” (a place) and “coffee” (a beverage served in such a place) to appeal to the two senses of sight and taste. In all three poems, Part One is the first two lines, and Part Two the final line. This is usual among haiku, but not universal. Darrell Lindsey sets the scene in his first line, then enters and alters it in the remaining two lines. Mike Bryant’s poem is a very unusual haiku that divides exactly in the middle, where the quiet scene moves to action. His ninth syllable, the word “then,” is something like a Japanese kireji or “cutting word,” but such words have functions in Japanese that are unfamiliar in the English language. Poets writing in English shouldn’t save a syllable to slice lines, but simply make sure that each haiku has two elements that can interact in an interesting way. . The Intriguing Insight How can haiku demand an original insight in every poem? Remember, first of all, that this most difficult requirement is simply a special perception from the poet’s own carefully observed scene. . Boughs froth with new blooms when the monsoon rain sweeps through trees toss their bouquets ―Rachel Nel . How short is freedom gained by the cherry blossom released from the branch ―Germain Droogenbroodt . Falling August stars The sky is full of beauty So many wishes ―Vita . All three of these poems view something beautiful falling. Rachel Nel sees monsoon rain sweeping frothy blooms from boughs; she thinks of a bride tossing her bouquet to others as the wedding celebration ends. Good thought—and no more is needed. The poem is done, and the poet doesn’t have to picture anyone catching soggy flowers. The more philosophical Germain Droogenbroodt reflects on the distance between branch and ground when a cherry blossom falls. To him, this brings thoughts of short-lived freedom. Again, enough insight for an excellent haiku, expressed in terms of the bloom being released from the prison of the branch. Vita sees stars fall during summer meteor showers. The additional light and motion brighten and beautify the already starry sky—and the observer gains hope for many wishes fulfilled, in accord with the proverb, “to wish upon a falling star.” . Quality Alone Cannot Qualify . What is a Haiku? Beautiful words . . . not many Alas! Not these words ―Norma Pain . This clever poem in haiku form is good and true and beautiful, but it is not a haiku. If you don’t know why not, please read over the Examples and Explanation again. Looking forward to your haiku! . . Margaret Coats lives in California. She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University. She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.