Haiku Workshop


Originally a hokku was the opening stanza of an orthodox collaborative linked poem, or renga which were usually one hundred verses in length. By the time of Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694), the hokku had begun to appear as an independent poem. In the late 19th century, Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902) renamed the standalone hokku to haiku. The latter term is now generally applied retrospectively to all hokku appearing independently of renga. The word "haiku" is both singular and plural.

Haiku - Structure

The haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three qualities:

1. The juxtaposition of two images or ideas; the first 2 lines usually form an idea (sometimes known as ‘the phrase). The 3rd line (often known as ‘the fragment’ or ‘the cut’) provides the contrast. The word on which the cut pivots is called the Kireji, it is often preceded by a punctuation mark or a dash (-).

2. Traditional haiku consist of 17 sound units known as ‘on’ or ‘morae’, this is loosely (and incorrectly) interpreted in English as 17 syllables 5, 7 and 5 ‘on’ respectively.

3. Traditional haiku include a ‘kigo’ word, a word providing a seasonal reference.

Modern Japanese haiku are increasingly unlikely to follow the tradition of 17 on or to take nature as their subject, but the use of juxtaposition continues to be honoured in both traditional and modern haiku.

In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line while in English they usually appear as three lines.

The best known haiku is probably ‘Old Pond’ written by Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

A translation of which is:

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

And here are three of my own to prove lesser mortals can do it too;


Fields of pink petals,
Flutter in the Afghan breeze,
Junkie dies in street.


Caterpillar eats,
Chrysalis hardens on twig
Beauty flies aloft.


Waves pound rocky shore,
White spume flies high in the sky,
Fish and chips on wall.

Haiku - Basic Rules

1. Haiku do not have to rhyme,

2. Haiku have 3 lines.

3. The lines have 5, 7 and 5 syllables (for the purist these 17 sound units or on).

4. They should contain a word that represents a season. (the Kigo word)

5. The first 2 lines lay out a theme, often referred to as ‘the phrase’, this should aim to create an image in the readers mind.

6. The last line delivers something akin to a punch line and is called ‘the fragment’ and creates a contrast or more rarely a comparison with the phrase. The idea is to create a leap or intuitive realization between the two. The word the cut pivots on is called the Kireji.

Haiku – Types

Haiku can be written using a number of differing techniques, here are some ideas;

Comparison;  Showing how two different things are similar or share similar aspects.

Contrast;  All one has to do is to contrast images.

Association;  How different things relate or come together.

Riddles;  The 'trick' is to state the riddle in as puzzling terms as possible.

Sense-switching​;​  E.g. Hearing something one sees or switch between seeing and tasting.

Narrowing Focus;  E.g. World – Field – Flower.

Metaphor;  There is that ironclad rule that one does not use metaphor in haiku, but….

Simile;  Use Simile if you are smart enough to simply drop the "as" and "like".

The Sketch;  The poetic principle is "to depict as is".​

Double entendre;  Saying one thing and meaning something else​

Puns;  These are very popular in Japanese haiku

Word-plays;  We have so many words with multiple meaning, play with them.

Verb /Noun Exchange;  In English we have many words which function as both verbs and nouns.​

Humour;  This is the dangerous stuff. Choose your terms carefully.

Above as Below;  Heaven as Earth

Haiku – Top Tips

1. Haiku are based on the five senses. They are about things you can experience, not your interpretation or analysis of those things. It is good to rely on sensory description, and to use mostly objective rather than subjective words. For instance, instead of saying it's summer; focus on the warm sunlight or heavy air.

2. The haiku doesn't have to be serious. It can be funny,

3. When reading haiku, don't read them like you would other poems. Keep an open mind when reading them and try to feel what the writer was trying to get across.

4. Keep a notebook with you when you are out and about so that you can record the things you see.

5. Spend time reading other peoples haiku.

Haiku – A Proposed Technique

1. Write down what you see and the feelings things evoke when you go outside or when you go for a walk in the woods.

2. Try to find two of the items/feelings on the list that create a striking impression when connected. These will become the Phrase and the fragment.

3. Create a list of season words. (A table like this can be useful if you plan on writing a lot of Haiku.)

ShowersIce CreamGolden LeavesGales
BabyCricketHarvestOld Age

4. Next write the idea out in ‘long hand’ and then, once the product looks good shrink it to 5-7-5.

5. Read your haiku and analyze it. Can it be improved?

6. Practice. Like any other art, haiku takes practice. Basho said that each haiku should be a thousand times on the tongue.

Useful Tools

The Following website allows you to enter the lines in the box and on the click of a button it tells you how many syllables there are and stops the need for all that counting;



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