To answer that question, we can see what is published in various haiku magazines. I have found these instructions that come from the British Haiku Society:
A haiku should:
– be short enough to be read aloud in a single breath
– happen right now (avoid references to past or future tense)
– be written in the present tense
– contain two images that are separated by a break (kireji) and lead to an ”aha” experience in the reader
– appreciate small, everyday things
– be written in everyday words
– use concrete images (avoid abstract words such as ”justice, ”poverty” and ”discrimination ”)
– be written by a neutral observer
– avoid similes and metaphors
– avoid too many adjectives or adverbs
– contain a seasonal reference (kigo) where applicable
– no titles are required
When I started writing haiku, I thought it was about getting down three lines with first 5, second 7 and third 5 syllables and wrote like this:
(not any good example!)
frost’s glitter blanket
is laid over straws and twigs
winter awaits white
There are a lot of ”errors” in that verse, seen with haiku eyes. Right now I want to show what can happen if you stick to the syllable count: I had to add extra words ”straw” and ”twigs”, also one ”and” to get together seven syllables.
How can anybody be so crazy to think that haiku’s ”soul” lies in the syllable count? Well, that’s mainly because haiku was originally written in Japanese. It was when poets began to write in English that the problems arose. Japanese is a language that differs from English in many ways. Their words are divided into different sound units, ”mora”, or ”kana”, which are completely different from English syllables. Vowels can, for example, be of different lengths and a long vowel can be counted as two sound units where we only see one. English gets many more letters in a syllable than Japanese has in a sound unit.
The name haiku is coined by the Japanese poet Shiki (Masaoka Shiki, 1867–1902).
The designation is based on the words hokku (ku) and hai. Hokku was the introductory verse in a collaborative poem, so-called renga, which some poets devoted themselves to in the late 19th century. Shiki came to call it ”ku”.
”Hai” can stand for a variety of concepts, but in the context of poetry it often stands for ”simple”.
Haiku is thus roughly equal to: simple verse.
summer is coming
in the plant pot
but … it cannot be that simple, can it?
the moon is silent
lights up the night
A haiku aims at conveying an experience to the reader or audience. However, this experience is beyond adjectives and adverbs; it can only be experienced directly. The main thing the poet should offer is an observation, no explanation! (my translation of: ”show, do not tell”).
Of course, this requires a little more of the reader than we are used to. In the haiku above we must ask ourselves: Why does the poet choose to say that the moon is silent? No celestial body has a sound of its own, does it? And what’s so strange about it lighting up the night? And so you are invited to think further.
Here is one of my latest attempts:
summer evening -
cows and fish
meet by the lake
I can not say if there is a good example of a haiku, but this is how a reader writes:
"We have dairy cows and I'm sure this has happened, but I never really have
thought of it before. Simple, but still, what a picture! 🐄 🐟 👏 ❤ ❤ "
The cow and fish haiku summarizes much of what a haiku can contain:
1) a time description -summer evening -
2) a simple observation that still opens up for something new.
My observation is: I see every summer evening how the cows go in a long line down to the lake to drink. The new thing is: I have not thought about fish living in the lake.
Haiku is a kind of short poetry, which originated in Japan. It is the shortest description available of nature’s simple wonders. Haiku aims at describing observations in a short format. Through haiku you get to learn the art of limitation. Haiku is the art of knowing when to stop. I do not master it yet, so I continue.
I sincerely feel
that our world would be
healthier and happier
if everyone practiced haiku!
On May 12, 2021, my interest in haiku was born. Since then, nothing has been the same.
I want to celebrate that. This is a happy text about my new discoveries. But also a tribute to new friends I made.
A translation of my Swedish reflections on haiku
a beginner's reflections