The Process of Composing Your Own HAIKU

There are many different ways to go about writing HAIKU. You can listen to classic works, read detailed instructions or just jot down three short lines. The master Masaoka Shiki told his disciples that they had only to look carefully at one scene in nature to be able to produce over 20 HAIKU. Shiki wrote tens of thousands over his short lifetime of 36 years. Many are excellent and as vibrant and full of meaning today as when they were written. Following are two processes you can use to compose your first HAIKU, or to write your best HAIKU. The first suggests the study of Japanese HAIKU before you try International HAIKU and the second suggests that the appreciation of nature and your own imagination is enough.

A Lesson Plan to introduce HAIKU

International HAIKU

First, let's read some interesting HAIKU written by poets around the world. There are many to choose from. During the past twenty years HAIKU has gained popularity in Canada, America, France and India. In this lesson the word for international HAIKU is in capitals whereas Haiku written in Japanese is in lower case.

STEP 1) Interesting HAIKU:

After the storm
A boy wiping the sky
From the tables
- Darko Plazanin
Sambo, Yugoslavia
Ehime Prefecture first prize
1990 National Cultural Festival

Second, let's read the poetry of Japanese masters that developed Haiku. Basho wrote his famous haiku over 300 years ago, Buson came later and Santoka, only 50 years ago.

STEP 2) Haiku Masters: Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, Santoka...

An old pond
a frog jumps in
Sound of water
- Matsuo Basho
over 300 years ago
(the poem that is most often recited in Japan often meets with puzzlement by non-Japanese trying to grasp its deeper meaning.)

The sea at springtime.
All day it rises and falls,
yes, rises and falls.
- Buson
(as you read this poem aloud do you feel the rise and fall of the waves ? )

Going deeper
And deeper still
Green Mountains
- Santoka
(the rolling hills of Shikoku just outside of Matsuyama are as captivating to the eye today as they were to this hermit who lived in Matsuyama and lived off donations from his admirers)

Next, following this process of first understanding Japanese Haiku, please follow the standard rules of HAIKU. Write three short lines. Edit all superfluous words. Pare the lines down to their verb and noun roots. Question whether the adjectives and adverbs are necessary. Do you need every article? Insert one season word into the poem to direct the reader to a certain time. The word can be simply "autumn" as in:

Looking for the moon
In a lonely autumn sky
- mountain castle lights,

or the "green" in Santoka's green Mountains above.

A cutting word is the break in a line such as the hyphen before the word mountain that occurred when the poet saw a mountain castle rather than the moon in the sky. other English poems use `behold` or `stop` to convey this moment. Keep the poem simple; try not to distract the reader with simile, metaphor or rhyme, unless it is necessary to convey the image you see. The 5-7-5 syllable rules of Haiku written in Japanese are not as widely accepted by writers of HAIKU in other languages.

STEP 3) Rules:

To spur your imagination, make a chart of season words that you may want to incorporate into your HAIKU. Fill in a chart with 4 sections, one for each season. Try and write 40 words. What do you like or dislike about the seasons? Shiki listed thousands of season words.

STEP 4) Season Words:

sunflowers, ice cream,
autumn moon,
icicles, snow,

Write as many season words in the following chart as you can.


STEP 5) Now, try your own HAIKU

On a fall Sunday
I was reading a comic book
Until it fell
- Akio Kaneko

A thin dog barks
at an empty house
red camelias gall
- Ryo Imagawa

There are a lot of
lights, voices and music sounds
at the summer festival
- Gen Fukuyama

One day of early spring
A snowman melts
I drink it

The rainy season
Sparrows taking shelter
- Kenjiro HIgashi

In summer one day
When the sun shone very brightly
His eyes were golden
- Morishige Nobusato

At midnight Night, in winter
Seating myself on a chair
I awoke at sunrise
- H. Nose

The shadow of a rabbit
Is shining under the moon
- H. Nose

Under the full moon
I saw it
In a cat's eye
- H. Nose

Jump into the sea
Summer is a long way
Go there at once
- Akio Kaneko

With a radiant wind
A bird sings a song of fresh grass
You're just a little bird
- H. Nose

Here is another way to start composing. Some international poets believe it is not necessary to study Japanese HAIKU before writing in English or other languages. Foreign cultures have a meaning all their own that is brought out in short poems that are not necessarily written in standard Japanese style. For example the American Haiku Society only requires that the poem be short and refer to nature. A rigid 5-7-5 syllabic structure, season words and cutting words are not necessary. Let's read some HAIKU that are free style:




Majestic antlers
rising from the lily pond
-glint from a rifle

Chewing water cress
in the middle of a hunter's scope
big brown eye

After the storm
A boy wiping the sky
From the tables
- Darko Plazanin
Sambo, Yugoslavia

Small fish
Swim between my legs
The summer sea

Now it's your turn to write. You will be surprised how much you can express with just a few nouns and verbs. For years you have been studying grammar and words in High School. Now communicate your feelings, tell an interesting story, by speaking just a few lines. Imagination is an interesting word to consider. Separate the word into 3 parts: imag/i/nation

images, usually two of them make for good HAIKU
I. The HAIKU could relate to your personal experience . What did you see today that you would like to share?
Country or Nature is often referred to in HAIKU

Now let's follow a process to turn your images and nature scene into a HAIKU.

(1) Fill in the chart with nature or season words.

Use a newspaper for ideas. Start with sports (for example American football is played in the fall. When is basketball played?) Next, write in names of food , flowers and weather. What feelings do these words inspire in you ? What will an American or European think about the words you want to share ? Organize the words as you feel comfortable with : by season,by geography, animals etc.

(2) Now you write three lines.

Keep them short . Line one and two should be different images. Use line 3 to bring the 2 images together. Would your HAIKU , written in English, be clearer if it were written in just one line ? Let's discuss this point.

(3) Canadians use a 5-7-5 syllable pattern and refer to the seasons.

Americans keep all 3 lines very short. Some experiment with just 1 line. HAIKU is the shortest poem in the world. HAIKU poets in India refer to 5 seasons. What do you think is the fifth?

(4) If you like...

try to use a cutting word such as 'stop' , or punctuation such as the hyphen:
Railroad crossing bells
stop a mid-summer's day
from rushing on by

I'm late, running
Perfume of wisteria -
Rushing on again

(5) Analyse your HAIKU.

What will others on Internet think? If the HAIKU were Hokku, or the start of a set of linked verses what would the next few lines be? Ask other Internet users to write a 2-line answer . Refine your HAIKU to leave the international reader with a lasting impression of your image built on just a few nouns and verbs. You don't need to use adjectives. Please share your Haiku.

have returned
the farmer's pond

The loon
Left me chuckling
In the mist

The pond's
one fragrant lotus
held dear

Sipping coffee
On the veranda
Sunday's paper

The teacher surveys
Thick fallen snow
Thousand test papers

David McMurray