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john k zimmerman

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My Poetics [#8]
by john k zimmerman   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2004

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More on haiku


--some further thoughts


The best way to learn to write haiku is to write haiku, preferably in bunches. I once challenged myself to write one hundred haiku in six months--I confess that while I wrote the hundred haiku it took me a year rather than six months. However, over the course of writing those one hundred haiku my work improved significantly.

If you want to learn to write haiku or if you want to improve writing of haiku I suggest that you set yourself a challenge: one hundred haiku written in a given length of time. The time frame should be realistic but not excessive. Six months is an excessive amount of time to write one hundred haiku: the danger is that you lose interest; I certainly got sidetracked in my quest for the hundred. One hundred haiku in three months is not unreasonable for a beginner.


There is a school of thought that holds that haiku can only be written in direct observation of nature. While I would not go that far I must admit that some of my best 'ku were written in response to observing nature. Haiku is a very visual form and it is this visual nature of haiku that requires grounding in the concrete experience of nature.


There are two forms that use the 5-7-5 format: haiku and senryu. To grossly oversimplify:

A haiku is by definition about nature.
A senryu is about human nature.

Other than subject matter the two forms are identical.

Among those writing in English this is this is a distinction that only a haiku purist could love. I suspect that most English language haiku are hybrids with certain aspects of Western poetry. Haiku after all is a Japanese form of poetry and one deeply embedded in the culture. There are, it seems to me, limits to how much of Japanese culture can be translated into English.


insightfully profound
insights profoundly stated
-- contrasting image

The above haiku was written very much tongue-in-cheek but also as a pattern for writing haiku. Patterns are useful of course only so far as they spark our thinking. The third line could also be a complementary image, or an entirely novel and off-the-wall association.

Another pattern that I've experimented with is the “big picture " pattern. To put the pattern in haiku form:

Middle ground

Each line effectively guides the reader’s attention from the horizon to the particular. For example:

grey sky horizon
waves lapping the lake shore
black pebbles and sand

While the example is heavy-handed perhaps it does make the point. I used a similar pattern to guide the reader through time:

rich deep garden soil
lush growth vegetative growth
ripe red tomatoes

There is no perfect formula for writing haiku. That's what makes them so challenging and so much fun. These patterns are offered as things to be played with to help shape and sharpen your haikuing. Play is the word. Haiku are fun.

Have fun.

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Reviewed by Katryn Dougherty 6/17/2004
excellent article on haiku, as a haiku-a-holic I think it hit the definition of haiku (Western) rather well.
Reviewed by Fr. Kurt Messick 6/3/2004
good information
Reviewed by Sandie Angel 4/12/2004
Great advice and very inspiring, John! I will try some Haiku's later.

~ Sandie Angel a.k.a. May Lu ~
Reviewed by Tinka Boukes 4/11/2004
Have to give this a try!!

But if I will make it.....that,s a different!!

I talk to much in the first!!

Love Tinka
Reviewed by Ed Matlack 4/11/2004
John, this I keep in my favorites for the day that I, like you, do start to get down and write haiku...that day has yet to present itself, but I am sure that one day...thanks for the lesson, it WILL come in handy...Peace thru Haiku, ED & Rufuz
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