On winter prairies,
Settlements look like islands
in vast seas of snow.
I like to teach haiku writing when I do workshops with young readers
because the form is simple and easy to master, and nobody has to worry
about writing a great haiku. All the poems are small and simple. If
you're interesting in writing your own haiku, follow along with me.
What is a Haiku?
A haiku is a short poem about nature. In
Japanese, the haiku has its own form. In European languages, we write
haiku in three lines, with five, seven and five syllables. If you look
at the examples above and count out the syllables, you'll see the
underlying haiku form. Some people
don't follow the five/seven/five form strictly, but I like to encourage
students to try to as much as possible. This limitation forces us to
think carefully about language, which is the whole point of writing
A haiku aims to catch a small moment in nature. Sometimes, poems are
about things that shock or disturb or bother us, but haiku is not the
form for this type of poetry. Haiku aim to create a sense of peace. The
are not included; the moment is allowed to speak for itself. We also
try not to use imagery in haiku. A cloud is not like an angel's wing,
it's just a cloud. In Japan, haiku are often based on "season
words." Certain words represent certain seasons. If you use snow in a
poem, for example, the reader will understand that it's set in winter.
In Japan, if the word "frog" is used in a haiku, the reader will
understand that the poem is set in spring. We don't have this idea in
the west, but the concept of season words is useful when writing haiku.
Another important concept is "the haiku moment." Sometimes, when
you're outside, something happens that catches your
attention. It might be as simple as the way the light shines through
the trees, or the way the wind blows the snow. It might be something
more special, the sight of the first robin in spring, or the first red
leaf in fall. These moments are what we try to capture in haiku, so
they can be called "haiku moments." Traditionally, the writing of haiku
poetry is related to Zen Buddhism. This religion encourages people to
live in the present moment, and to fully experience the world around
them. Haiku does the same thing. When we write haiku, we try to capture
a single moment exactly as it happened, without adding the kinds of
emotions and images that would distort or interpret the picture.
How to Write Haiku
Haiku are not difficult to write. Begin with the season you are now
living in. Go outside and take a look around. Pay attention to the way
the season makes you feel. The summer sun feels very different from the
winter wind. How can you tell what season this is? Engage all of your
senses. Are the sounds of fall different from the sounds of summer?
Does spring smell differently from winter? This kind of awareness
is important to the writing of haiku. If you have a chance to walk
every day, start to pay more attention to everything going on around
Make your own list of "season words" to go with the season you are in now. This will help you write your own haiku.
What you don’t have to do when you write haiku:
You don’t need to write complete sentences, as long as you make pictures with the words.
A haiku does not need a title.
You don’t need to tell what your feelings are. This isn’t important.
You don’t need to add modifiers, words that describe. If you
write “Winter wind,” you don’t need to add anything
about cold. Winter wind is always cold.
You don't need to use articles, words like "the" or "a" can be left out.
What you do want to do when you write haiku:
You want to create a picture of some small moment, connected to nature in some way.
You want to write your poem in three lines. If possible, the first and
last lines should have five syllables, and the second line should have
seven. You can break this rule when necessary, but see if
you can stick to the haiku form whenever possible.
To get started, here are some examples of haiku with missing
lines. You can start off by adding a final line to these haiku
templates, then go to the next level, where you write two lines to
complete the haiku. In the final section, I'll give you some ideas to
fill in to create your own original poem.
Spring Haiku Templates
No ice on the lake
Seagulls fly in cloudless sky
(write the last line).
Soap bubble flying
(write the last two lines)
Fall Haiku Templates
One yellow leaf falls
against summer-green trees
(write the last line)
The fall wind brought it
(write the last two lines)
Winter Haiku Templates
Sun goes down early
shadows short against the snow
(write the next last)
All day the snow falls
(write the next two lines)
Template for Any Season
Line one: Say what
Line two: Say where
Line three: Say when