How to Effortlessly Write a Haiku
Poetry has been a tool for expressing human emotion for as long as we have had written language. Through poetry, we can share our joy, explore our sadness, exult in our love, and present our innermost thoughts to the world. Poetry exposes us and challenges us, which is why it is not surprising that grade school students seem to dread instruction on the topic.
Because there are numerous forms and formats, styles and types, poetry is difficult to teach. Many teachers seem to begin with shorter forms so that students can produce results that can be easily shared and graded. Often, shorter forms of poetry have specific structural elements that can be taught and assessed. These factors contribute to the large number of curricula which focus on one of the most popular and distinctive forms of poetry: the haiku.
What is a Haiku?
Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry dating back centuries. The modern format was popularized in Japan in the late 1800s before spreading throughout the world in the 20th Century. In English, a haiku consists of a specific format of seventeen syllables arranged into three lines of text following a pattern of five syllables, seven syllable, and five syllables. Additionally, Haiku traditionally refer to the seasons or natural elements. While many advocates of haiku in the 21st Century chose to find other ways to adapt the original Japanese format into the English language, schools tend to follow the more widely understood format just described.
Since haiku are not expected to rhyme, unlike many poetry formats that originate in Western Europe, such as sonnets or limericks, it is believed that haiku can be an easier format to learn and master. This assumption, however, does not take into account that modern school children have for less exposure to poetry and far more exposure to prose writing in day to day life through children’s books, chapter books, modern literature, non-fiction writing, television, and movies. Overall, students are often not comfortable with poetry, even though they tend to encounter it more often than they realize though song lyrics.
To write a haiku effortlessly, you have to let go of your fear of poetry in general and the form in specific. Interestingly, the seemingly rigid 5-7-5 format can be a help to you. Structure inspires creativity. Since haiku are traditionally about nature, begin with what you can see.
On a typical day looking outside your window, you might observe a tree which you have seen a thousand times in a new light. What interests you about that tree? What do you see? Write it down. Once you get the first inspiration onto the page, replace, upgrade, and rearrange your words until they click into the structure.
Cool gentle breeze flows
Green branches sway calmingly
Hawk soars overhead
Haiku don’t need to be perfect, especially when you first begin. Since they are relatively short and deceptively simple, you can often write several in a row, once you get started. Keep looking out of your window into the world. A drive in the autumn in New England, especially from the passenger seat can be an excellent vantage point for inspiration.
Autumn leaves revealed
Shocking golds, sharp oranges,
And seductive reds
Green leaves turn bright red
Branches bursting with cool flame
Soft breeze shakes bare limbs
Haiku typically are written from natural inspirations, however, sometimes you might find yourself inspired by something or someone who is not a tree or flower. A haiku which references topics outside of nature is called a senryu. Follow the same process and let you imagination go. You might find inspiration at work, for example.
Senryu Haiku Examples
Little math students
Working so hard to master
In Japanese tradition, senryu tend to be convey comedic situations or experiences. If you encounter an experience which you find frustrating or challenging, you might direct your feelings into a senryu that allows you to laugh at the situation. Perhaps receiving too much junk mail might inspire you to respond with more humor than crankiness.
I like the perfume
Inserts in magazines. They
Make the trash smell great
Regardless of where you find inspiration, the secret to effortlessly write haiku is to begin writing. Use these Haiku examples as a starting point and let yourself make mistakes. Feel free to craft and discard as many false starts and failed attempts as necessary. There are no right answers with haiku. Just putting them on the page, whether in ink or pencil in a journal or in a Word document on your computer, means you have been successful.