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How to Write Haiku
So, maybe the thought of writing a traditional Haiku appeals to you, or maybe your teacher is forcing you to do this.
Either way, I’m here to make this as painless and enjoyable as possible. (Maybe even a little but fun)
The first thing you’ll need to know before you start to write a Haiku is that the topic has to be about something you have a lot of emotion or passion for.
Like any other poem, Haikus aren’t just a short little sentence about what something looks like. It’s not a motionless sign that reads “Look at me, I’m boring”. Creating a beautiful and flowing video out of the words you put down on paper isn’t too hard if you know where to look. Old diary entries, scrapbooks, even outside your window; all of these places can spark an idea inside you. If you find inspiration from something, run with it. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out, and you have to start over.
Another element a Haiku should have is this pesky little thing called a juxtaposing idea. Haiku typically contain one juxtaposing theme- two ideas that don’t typically go together, or leave the reader wondering. They create contrast and depth in Haiku. Some examples would be:
How fire and water move in the same way
How tears glimmer like the stars
How doors shut like dreams
Sometimes, Juxtaposing ideas are called Kigos. It’s a bit easier to say, and a lot cooler if you ask me.
As you can probably tell, not all Haiku are necessarily joyful or filled with meditative thought. In light of the trendy Contemporary style, Haiku can be about anything. Traditionally though, they are about nature or have some ties to a specific season.
Along with season, you can tie in feeling and incorporate some amazing connotations. Saying something such as “Summer left me here” instead of “Summer is over” gives off more sentiment. It makes your starting line a bit more somber and cryptic, as well as adding life and dimension to your Haiku.
One thing a lot of people feel the need to do when writing is to make comparisons. Similes and metaphor shouldn’t be used in Haiku writing. Although this type of imagery can be beautiful, Haiku are written to show everything the writer wants to share not compare it. Try to allude to things instead of saying “Like” or “as”. While it isn’t law, figurative language isn’t used much for this style of poetry.
You can add a message or hidden meaning to your Haiku by making famous allusions such as “greed” for Adam and Eve, or “Cleverity” for a fox. This can draw in readers who enjoy fables and teachings.
When you do happen to allude, or make a tie to something else other than your poem, you can create sentimental connections with your reader. You can share the same or similar moment despite having written something across the world. It makes being a writer so much more rewarding when they say “I could really relate to this” opposed to “I liked this”.
One thing you can do to spur the reader’s mind and give them a hint of nostalgia is to describe the scenery as best as you can.
I understand that you only have approximately 17 syllables to communicate your thoughts, but there is way; you can give them the five senses while only using three.
Seriously, you can.
You can say that “The warm hot air melts to rain” as your second line, and they will be able to feel the drops, smell the summer air and hear the rain pounding on their ceiling. You already have,
“Summer left me here
The warm hot air melts to rain”
In your third line, give them taste, or show them some fond memory you had as a child. I’ll let you think of the last stanza yourself, and if you come up with something amazing, I would love it if you shared it with me.
One of my personal favorite exercise for this kind of writing is picking your juxtaposing idea and writing five Haiku about it, all from the point of view of Taste, Touch/Texture, Sound, Sight, and Smell. Sometimes you will be able to pick your favorite, or even combine a few together and create a wonderful work of art. It can be fun, and with practice, can lead to inspiration for other Haiku, or even a story.
The last thing I’d like to tell you about is the structure. You’ve probably heard it a thousands times already, but the way Haiku are generally set up is like this
1st Line: 5 Syllables
2nd Line: 7 Syllables
3rd Line:5 Syllables
I’m not saying this is the best way, but what I am saying is that it’s the most common. Back when Haiku were called Hokku, or “starting verse” in Japanese, the sounds were counted, not syllables. When the Haiku were being translated, we assumed that sounds meant syllables, but in English, some syllables are a lot longer than others. It’s really up to you when deciding how long or how short to make your Haiku, but remember one thing if you are trying to make it sound just right; Haiku were meant to be able to be said in one breath. Your Haiku can turn out pretty cool if you try to do this, just don’t cheat and do breathing exercises first.
If you’re looking for inspiration but can’t seem to find any, try taking a Gingko walk. Bring a notebook and a pen with you while you search from something beautiful in nature. Maybe focus on sound, sight, or touch while you walk. Maybe even think of a specific event you want to recall.
Queen Anne, Maryland
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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