Here, I will explain the basic rules for how to write haiku. I am going to make it as easy as possible for us all. Feel free to return to this space as often as you like if you need to be reminded of the guidelines.
Grab a pen and paper, or the luxury journal you’ve been housing in your desk drawer until the ideal moment arrives. This is going to be all about the moment.
Allow yourself a comfortable thirty minutes away from your chaotic day. Make sure you find a space where you won’t be distracted from your well-being task. You could be curled up on the sofa, sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of tea, or in a peaceful spot in the garden. It’s completely up to you!
Now, to begin…
A little history of haiku
Haiku is a short poetic form that originated in Japan in the seventeenth century. It was made famous by the Japanese masters of the practice: Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, Masaoka Shiki and Kobayashi Issa. Traditionally, haiku was inspired by nature and often spoke about the seasons. It is a beautiful blend of nature being observed in the present moment, and a subtle suggestion of a larger story.
The form allows us to capture a moment and place it within a snapshot of words. It achieves this by zooming in on concrete images and appealing to the senses. Haiku is humble, minimalistic and most importantly, authentic.
Traditionally, haiku was created as a three-line poem short enough to be read in a single breath. Haiku is therefore only seventeen moras (Japanese rhythmic units) in total. In English, we use syllables or “beats” as our measure of its rhythm and length:
- The first line has five syllables.
- The second line has seven syllables
- The third (and final line) has five syllables.
You can remember this as, “5, 7, 5.”
(Tip: tap your knee or count your fingers to check how many syllables you are using.)
Naturally, this structure doesn’t translate perfectly from the Japanese form, and many modern-day poets break away from this restriction. However, that doesn’t matter for us right now. The 5-7-5 structure benefits our writing for well-being purposes, where routine, pattern and rhythm are key.
The essence of haiku
Haiku is far from artificial. It tells a true story. Don’t think perfection; think realism. While you don’t have many words to hand, think, “What matters most about this moment?” Haiku generally contains a juxtaposition of two opposing ideas. The third and final line often provides a relationship between the three lines – sometimes, an unexpected one! Haiku sets a scene, opens up the possibility of a story and then returns to a place of stillness. This is what helps us feel grounded.
The basic guidelines for how to write haiku
First, read an example of my own:
Abandoned Eden, wildflowers swaying with grass, a blooming surprise.
Can you see how it focuses on a specific moment in time?
Now, let’s look a little closer …
wildflowers swaying with grass,
a blooming surprise.
The first line sets the scene.
The second line displays a more detailed image
The last line brings subtle closure to the moment, by uplifting it. It is a ‘surprise’ that has literally bloomed from an abandoned piece of landscape.
Can you visualise the snapshot?
Now, to write your own haiku, my weekly blog-posts (every Monday) will provide inspirational prompts alongside the haiku guidelines below:
Hints about writing haiku
- Capture a moment that moves you in everyday life.
- Include some of the senses i.e. touch, sound, smell, sight, taste.
- Use ordinary language.
- Tell a short story.
- Consider people, nature and objects, but also think beyond.
- Use concrete images.
- Write in present tense, e.g. “I am,”/ “This is,” / “being.”
- Don’t allow your ego to get involved in the meaning.
- Try not to use the pronoun “you.” It distances us from the scene.
- Don’t rhyme.
- No title is needed.
- Show us, don’t tell us.
Now, go ahead and catch a moment before it disappears! It’s actually a really healthy way to think about life: fishing for moments. Catch stars before night turns into day. Catch love before it turns into a missed opportunity. Catch yourself smiling before you find yourself searching for yesterday’s happiness.
Every Monday, my weekly post will give you an idea of where you can find your haiku. Feel free to post your wordy creations in the comments section accompanying each post. It is built especially for our haiku community!