How-To Haiku

How-To Haiku 

By Jennifer St. Clair Bush

©2001, Jennifer St. Clair Bush 

Haiku is a form of verse that was first developed in Japan about 400 years ago.  At one time, Japanese Haiku festivals were held where one poet would reply to another, eventually ending up with 10,000 line poems. When I was in High School, my friend and I did something like this, but ours  lasted only six or seven pages, not 10,000 lines.  It was definitely interesting to find out about the historical basis! 

Haiku flourished throughout the centuries and became very popular around the world.  If you go to the library, you're likely to find plenty of books filled with Haiku poetry, but have you ever tried to write one of your own? 

Haiku poems are traditionally three lines with a total of seventeen syllables.  The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven, and the third line has five.  Sound easy?  One of the traditional rules of Haiku is that one of the lines must have a word that is identified with a particular season.  This is called a kigo.  In modern times this isn't always followed, but the Haiku we write for this exercise will follow that rule.   

In Haiku, try to avoid adverbs.  You want each line to form a picture in your mind--a picture of whatever you are trying to tell the reader.  The first line should set up the poem (just like the first page of a novel), the second should carry you forward and bring you to the end. 

Here's an example I wrote: 

In early morning
Rain falls across the city
Melting winter snow

What do you see in this poem?  Do you see the muddy dawn of an early spring morning, perhaps wetting down the world just in time for rush hour and the mad dash to get to the office?  Do you feel yourself lying in bed, listening to the rain patter on the bedroom window?  Have you ever been in this situation?  This poem only has eleven words, and yet it conveys the point  just as well as a longer lyrical poem describing the early morning rain. 

The easiest haiku to learn to write is usually  nature-based.  Imagine a budding flower or a squirrel in a tree, and use the 5,7,5 rule to describe what you see.  Post it here ( and share your haiku with the community members.   

Through the years Haiku rules have been stretched and skewed, but the 5,7,5 syllables have pretty much remained the same, though some people believe a 3,5,3 version is closer to the brevity and feel of the original Japanese form.  While searching for information for this article, I came across a random Haiku generator ( that will give you some interesting random Haiku and will show you how many variations you can achieve while writing them.  (Some of them are pretty bizarre!) 

There are many more sites online about how to write haiku.  Any search engine should come up with many choices.  If you wish to learn more about the history of Haiku, I would suggest this site: (, which has a fairly detailed article on the history of haiku.