School of Haiku 

Jane Reichhold  



Lesson Twelve
Writing Haiku

If you are feeling overwhelmed by this mass of guidelines, rules and theories of haiku, it is time to take a pencil in hand to get started writing your own haiku. So you stare at the wall and the pristine paper and nothing comes to mind? Here is an easy method of attaching training wheels to your haiku mind.
            You simply start with a haiku someone else has written. Find one you really like, one that speaks to you, one that has an aspect you admire. Even if you already have written some haiku of your own, but admire a technique someone else is using, you can learn that method by trying this process. Or you can pick a haiku  you feel is not quite right and needs some correcting or editing. Everyone loves to revise someone else’s work! Go for it.
            Take a sheet of unlined paper and turn it sideways so it is wider than it is tall. At the left edge, near the top corner, write the first line of the haiku you have picked to work with in bold print. In the center of the left margin, write the second line. Near the bottom of the sheet, above the lower left-hand corner, write the third line.
            Now working one line at a time, see how many ways you can rewrite the information it contains by substituting other verbs and nouns. Write down whatever comes to your mind without thinking of whether your idea is good or not, relevant or not, fitting or not. Just let your inner self play with the words. If nothing happens, that is okay.
            Go to the next line of the original haiku. Have you ever seen or experienced something similar? Can you write about this in a better way? Here you give yourself the satisfaction of scratching the itch to change what others have written. Enjoy it! Indulge yourself.
            Sometime before the page is filled with the shine of your pencil, take a look at the last line of the original haiku. Does it fit with anything you have written? Or have you already found a better third line than this for one of your best ideas? Do you think that changing the last line of the original haiku could make it better? If so, write down the possibilities.
            Then on a clean sheet of paper write the haiku as you have written them, because out of these various steps you have your own haiku hiding somewhere on the page. Try out all the combinations. Take one of your suggestions for a third line and place it in the beginning of your new haiku. Pick a second line, from your many attempts, or if the idea comes to you, make up a new one.
            Listening to your inner self is the most vital thing you can do at this stage. The haiku is there, you have already written it. You simply have to listen to your own directions in order to put it together the way it was inside of you. Do take the time to write down all the possible combinations of lines – even if that loud-mouthed inner critic tries to tell you not to. Because you are not yet done with this haiku.
            Save these worksheets because days or months later, when you look at these again, I can almost guarantee you that some idea or phrase or image that is here, will be the starting point for another of your haiku. This exercise is too rich to waste.
            In studying the existing works of Bashô, one can see that before he wrote his now-famous “old pond” poem, he had used that last line – “the sound of water” in two other verses in the previous months. In both of these cases the phrase was used in its usual sense. But still, something in him must have told him that there was more to be found in the line. So do not give up.
            And think of trying this exercise again with another haiku. Anytime you are feeling blocked or want to write a haiku but have no moment of inspiration or ideas, this exercise will get your juices flowing. Exactly because haiku written in this manner do not come with the marvelous charge of inspiration, it is easier to test them, change them, rub out and polish them anew.
            The results of such an exercise are called by some persons – “desk haiku” because they are not written in response to a moment of inspiration. But it can be that working in this method you have recalled a moment of your past which has formed the basis for your new haiku. Then technically, your desk haiku no longer deserves that name because it is the result of a delayed moment of inspiration. Learn to split frog hairs. Defend yourself.



            While learning to write haiku it can be helpful to have a list so you can quickly check the new work for common errors. Until you make up your own list, this is the one I use for my work. Along with the points are included ways of making corrections.

  1. Can one clearly see or hear the two distinct parts? If not, check where to add a preposition.
  2. Does the haiku read like a sentence? By changing either the order of the words or the verb structure one can usually solve this problem.
  3. What is the shape of the haiku? If you are counting syllables, are you sure you have the right numbers in each of the lines?
  4. If the first or last line is the longest, could it fit better in the middle so the haiku has the shape you wish for it to have?
  5. Are there pronouns in it? Do I really need them or can they be written out?
  6. Are all the verbs in the present tense?
  7. How many gerunds or words ending in ‘ing’ have I used?
  8. Are there adverbs in the haiku? Do I really, really need them to convey the sense of the thought?
  9. Is there any word that could be removed without losing the sense of the verse?
  10. Is there any word that could have another word substituted for it? There are so many similar words that one needs to check to use the one and only one that makes the haiku. Wiggle every word.
  11. Poetry comes from exactitude. This means that instead of writing ‘tree’ the author tells whether the tree is an oak or a pine tree. Appreciate the additional information that comes from associations of certain names such as “oak” suggests strength and endurance, and “pine” can also mean “to yearn for or long for” and use these opportunities to enrich the haiku.
  12. Does the haiku work at more than one level? Is it at once describing a scene and also a state of mind or being or philosophy?
  13. Can others understand your poem? If you are not sure, this is the time to show your haiku to others – to see if they can understand it.
  14. Have you read this haiku somewhere else? Have you unconsciously taken someone else’s haiku for your own?
  15. Does the haiku ‘sing’ to you? Do you love repeating it to yourself? Does it totally delight you?
  16. If not, if something bothers you about it, go back to the moment of inspiration, when you were given the idea for the haiku, look around the scene to see if you have missed any vital details that need to be in your poem. Does the reworked poem still express your original feeling or idea?
  17. Should this idea be expressed in a haiku? Does it need more than one haiku to say it all? Should there be a series of haiku on the subject?
  18. Could the idea or inspiration be better expressed in a tanka or another genre of poetry?
  19. Can it be stated in other ways? Take the time to write up all the variations that you think of. Save and honor them all.

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