Issue 5: Haiku Week
"thin ice outside each car window / shatters clean"
Writing Modern Haiku in English
One of the reasons I began this newsletter was to slowly reintroduce myself back into the craft of poetry. While I consider myself a poet and a lover of poetry, I haven’t spent much time dedicated to practicing craft in the last six years since I earned my Creative Writing degree.
This week, I’m writing at least one haiku every day. I already have a word bank started thanks to friends suggesting words for me to use, which I’m incredibly grateful for (and if you’d like to contribute words in the future, watch my Instagram stories on Sundays).
As I sat to research the form to write this newsletter, I found plenty of modern discourse around haiku written in English. It differed from the three-line, five-seven-five syllabic form we’re often taught as children. The Haiku Society of America,1 offers this definition:
A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.
Japanese haiku and English haiku generally share seventeen or fewer “sounds” or syllables. The three lines are unrhymed, and contemporary haiku poets break convention often by varying line lengths or having just one line of verse. While Japanese haiku often requires particular words (a season word, kigo, and a “cutting word”, kireji), English haiku focuses more on creating clear images. So while there is less stress on syllabic rules, there are still conventions that hold true when writing haiku in English:
Must be a short poem of seventeen or fewer syllables & sounds.
Must create an image that links an experience with nature and universal human truths.
They are almost always untitled. Including an explanatory “preface” or statement is sometimes allowed.
They avoid using metaphors or similes.
They avoid subjectivity, ego, and the speaker/author’s own values and opinions; images should speak for themselves.
They can use punctuation or line breaks in lieu of using a “cutting word,” to add emphasis or pause.
So, I now have guidelines that will govern my poetry for this next week. Like all rules though, they can, and should, be broken and experimented with.
Before I take a stab at writing my own, I thought I’d include a few examples from the Autumn 2020 issue of Modern Haiku.2 These poems really capture the experience of living through the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as humanity’s continued relationship with nature while experiencing lockdown.
kingfisher blue rumors of a vaccine
we don't shake hands
the rear view mirror
—Caroline Giles Banks
this life after a hole in the cocoon
Reading through modern haiku gave me a better idea of how I would tackle this week of poetry writing. Today I was inspired by our icy weekend in Oregon, where we had at least six inches of snowfall in the city. This morning, Portland began to thaw— the sun returned overhead, breaking the storm clouds to melt the iced world outside our windows.
If you know me, I’m Southern California born and raised— so this experience is entirely new to me. This short series of haiku is about my first thaw.
frozen overnight, Toyota Camry melted with cement thin ice outside each car window shatters clean front yard tree fallen over from its iced branches each branch splits breaks, crackles apart in crystal fireworks frost power line pieces of horizon crash to the street below above snow shovelers, V formation geese in flight glint of sunshine on thawing dead violet six inches thick turned rain first lockdown thaw
I had too many observations from my morning walk to turn into only one haiku; since eight is my favorite number, it felt right to create eight haiku for this series. I hope it gave you a small glimpse into my day today.
Write your own haiku
While you certainly don’t have to write one haiku every day this week, why not write a haiku today? If you’re feeling stuck and without an image or topic, try a couple of these exercises for inspiration:
Take a walk like me, or find a way to sit and observe nature. Maybe it’s the tree in your backyard, the pond at your local park, or a crow that has landed into the street. Write down and record what you see, then choose two images to link together in your poem.
Make a list of sensory words based on each sense: sight, taste, sound, smell, touch. Think of specific sensations and images that stem from these words. Use this as your word bank to draw inspiration from.
Think of a moment in time that you don’t want to lose. Write down descriptive words of this moment, like how you felt, what you saw, and other sensory observations. Describe this moment as specific as possible in your haiku. Remember to be objective; the goal is to remove the ego and any personal views on the moment itself. As best practice, try not to include words like “I” or “my” and remove the speaker from the poem entirely.
For an extra challenge, try to write the least amount of haikus using the following word bank. This is the word bank I’ll be restricting myself to for this week’s series of haiku hive poems. All of these words were submitted by my followers on Instagram (thank you, I love you all and appreciate your participation so much!):
roots night crisp mist fae moss mold salt lark cold
You can reference my haiku definitions or check out any of the incredible resources at the bottom of this newsletter to learn more about haiku. There are many organizations that have expansive websites and digital collections of haiku, like the Haiku Foundation’s Digital Library.3
And like always, if you write a haiku this week, please share with me! I’d love to see what part of nature you decided to capture in verse.
About hive poems
Hive poems are poems I write weekly with the help of my friends on Instagram. Sometimes I restrict myself to word banks using nouns and verbs people submit to me, or I run a poll so that you can choose my poetic form of the week. Want to be a part of this madness? I’ll be posting call-outs for suggestions every Sunday in my Instagram stories.
If you’re interested in reading the rest of my haikus I’ll be writing daily, I’ll be posting them on both Instagram and Twitter. Come over there and let me know what you think!
I thought I’d share a couple snapshots from my morning walk to close off this newsletter. I hope wherever you are, you’re staying warm and happy this winter.
I frequently post stanzas on Instagram, as well as my thoughts on social justice, capitalism, and the literary world on Twitter. Let’s bee friends virtually and talk books, art, and how to properly dethaw a car…
The Haiku Society of America has annual contests and a journal that publishes exemplary contemporary haiku.