Monday, August 31, 2015

You,Too, Can Haiku--A Guest Post by Robyn Hood Black

     Greetings, writers! Many thanks to Sherri for inviting me to bring some haiku to the proverbial coffee table this morning. There's much to learn about this deceptively simple genre. I am very much still a student.


     Why haiku? First, its intrinsic value--I think reading and writing haiku make a person of any age more alive. Second, immersing yourself in these short form poems can sharpen your writing skills across other genres.

     What about the 5-7 5 format? Let's get this question out of the way first.  Strong haiku can be written in this format, but it's not an accurate reflection of Japanese haiku because Japanese words contain more syllable sounds than English words do. So, 17 syllables in English are usually too many for one haiku, and make a clunky, forced-sounded poem.

     So, what does constitute haiku? It's more than words that are counted on your fingers and written in a three line format. There is just so much packed into those small poems.


    Dr. David G. Lanoue, current Haiku Society of America president, and Issa scholar, has said a haiku is "a one-breath poem that discovers connection," Connection between juxtaposed images or ideas is often lacking in what passes for "haiku" in popular culture. 

     In a recent book, Lanoue describes a haiku as "an elliptical, succinct, imagistic poem that invites the reader to complete what is only suggested or hinted at on the page."

     How would you describe a good haiku poem?  A strong haiku is concise and offers two precise images, suggesting a connection between them. A successful haiku presents the reader or listener with a moment, an experience, but doesn't override the reader's response by naming the emotions involved. The unfolding of the second image seals the connection and opens the emotional potential of the poem.

     Can you give us an example?  Consider this poem by David G. Lanoue, which he kindly shared on my blog: 

a "lost Dog" sign
nailed deep
into the oak.

Copyright David G. Lanoue. All rights reserved. 
Frogpond, 27.2 (2004)

     First, note the word choices. Are any of them sentimental or sappy? Nope. Too highfalutin to understand? No. Are precise image/sensory details presented? Yes. If you have a dog, or have ever lost one, this haiku likely strikes a chord. Each reader will bring his or her own experiences and sensibilities to the reading.

     When I read this poem, that nail might as well be pounded into my heart, because that's where I would feel the loss of one of my beloved dogs. Also, notice how much stronger it is with the specific word "oak." It has a heavy, hearty sound, and when you say it, it slows you down. It's much better than the generic word "tree."

     What if the poem were constructed like this:

a "Lost dog sign
taped up
to the sign post.

     Hmm. Not much happening there.    

     Or, what if it said:

a "Lost Dog" sign
I sorely miss
my golden retriever.

Um, that one misses the haiku mark. As David has written it, though, I'm grabbed by the visual image of the "lost" sign--Oh, No! That's terrible!, I think to myself...and then pounded with the second image--a nail, or nails, driven with force into the hard oak tree. I hear a hammer, feel the rough bark, even sense the impact of that nail. 

     How about we want to write our own haiku? Great! First I'd suggest reading. A lot. When I first fell under the spell of haiku, I read hundreds and hundreds of poems to get a sense of what they are really about. Let them seep into your bones. The good news is there are many sources out there for you to dive into. You can start with the Haiku Society of America: and their journal Frogpond. Another resource  is The Haiku Foundation

     What haiku books are on your bookshelf:


    And, finally, some hints for getting haiku subjects, please. 

     Next time you go for a walk, take a notebook. Or, sit on your front stoop or in your back yard with paper and pen handy. Gather your senses. What catches your eye? What are you feeling? What smells surround you? Note the time of day, the season.

     For a traditional English-language haiku, you'll be gathering two parts--one will be two lines, and the other will be a single line. (It doesn't matter which comes first.) One of your two elements can be a seasonal reference--it might be as straightforward as "autumn afternoon" or more subtle, like "burning leaves."

     What does that smell evoke for you? Loss? Change? The trick is to employ another image which suggests that emotion. Perhaps you notice geese overhead. Maybe they are changing flight positions and that reminds you of a shift in a family situation. You might end up with a haiku like this:

burning leaves
a V of geese

     Do you have an assignment for us?  Take a deep breath and a walk, and see if you are inspired to write a haiku or two! You can post them in the comments section. 

     Robyn Hood Black writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction under Spanish moss in the South Carolina Low country. She's active in SCWBI Southern Breeze and in the Southeast Region of the Haiku Society of America. Her haiku have appeared in many contemporary journals including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, The Heron's Nest, Acorn, Chrysanthemum and One Hundred Gourds.


  1. Thanks for sharing your research. I like haiku and teaching students to write it.

    1. Thanks, Tina. Robyn gave us some good info to get us started. Haiku sounds like fun.

  2. This is a very wonderful post explaining what is missing in many haiku. It is much more than 5-7-5 syllables. I love hits of mat and wan tot use it of ra NF PB bio I am contemplating.TY Robyn and Sherri.

  3. Kathy, I think we writers would benefit from trying our hand at this. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I love Robert Hass's haiku translations. They're like opening a window onto an unexpected vista.

  5. Ooooh, I like that statement, Jilanne---opening a window onto an unexpected vista. Well said.

  6. Thank you, Sherri, for introducing me to Robyn Hood. Is it possible to list the titles of the books found on Robyn's bookshelf?

    Here's my attempt at haiku:

    a prairie garden
    growing fresh goodies galore
    - -it's time to harvest.

    ~By Suzy Leopold

  7. Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Sherri, and thanks to all for the comments. Suzy, I'd be happy to send you a list of some of the "standards" on my haiku shelf if you'd like to email me at robyn(AT) .

    1. Thank you, Robyn. I sent you a message via email.

  8. Awesome post! I love haiku, but this post just showed me I have buckets more to learn! :D

    1. Hey there, Erik! Thanks for commenting. You might check out my blog to find some great student-written haiku - Last Friday I posted some from fifth graders, but generally my "Student Haiku Poet of the Month" contributors from The Paideia School in Atlanta are in middle or high school. Happy writing!

  9. Dear Robyn, I feel fortunate to read your students' Haiku & yours at your blog. I've soaked up so much. And now this succinct article is a mighty fine explainer. Hoping to see your own book of RHB Haiku published eventually.


    green stalk reveals
    scratchy brown beneath
    it's cotton

    Happy Haiku school year to you!


    1. Happy Haiku school year to you, Jan! And I see I need to go read your post over here today... :0) thanks for be-bopping by!

  10. Thank you for the wonderful post about haiku, Robyn, and thank you for inviting Robyn to the GROG, Sherri. As Erik says, I have a lot to learn! I've written haiku, but many are not traditional, strong haiku. Quick question for you, Robyn -- are Japanese haiku titled? And, if so, does the title convey more information?

    1. Hi, Patricia! Thanks for jumping in. Great question. Haiku are not generally titled (the little poem has to do all the work by itself!). To refer to a specific poem, you can use the first line. For example, for my work-in-progress poem at the end of the post above, I would just say, 'In my "burning leaves" haiku, ...' etc.

    2. Thanks for the info, Robyn. So much to learn!

  11. Robyn, thanks for sharing your comments about the haiku. I read poetry and other books. I'd like to know where you read most of your haiku. Do you check the books out? Or do you buy some of the books.

    1. Hi, Patricia - thanks for your comments. I've bought new books and found many used ones online. You might find a few in the library. A great place to peruse quality haiku without cost is with the online journals, such as THE HERON'S NEST and A HUNDRED GOURDS. Many other journals have samples on their websites - FROGPOND, MODERN HAIKU and ACORN for example, among others.

  12. Wonderful, informative post, Robyn! Bookmarking.

  13. A very nice precise and succinct piece on haiku!

    warm regards,

    Alan, With Words