Tag Archives: Haikui

Haiku tip #6

Haiku tip #6

Recently I was contacted and asked “How can I call what I write haiku as I do not use 5-7-5” I hope that this posting helps explain why 5-7-5 is not a requirement of haiku.

If one wonders why 5-7-5 does not a haiku make. I turn to Lee Gurga who in his book “Haiku: A poet’s guide” explains it thusly.

“‘Japanese Syllables’ are not syllables at all in our sense of the word. Japanese syllables are uniformly short, differing considerably in length from syllables in English, so it might be better to think of them as ‘sounds’ rather than syllables… These Japanese sounds consist of a either s single vowel sound, a combination of a consonant followed by a vowel, or a single consonant.
These syllables are ALL (emphasis mine) about the same length as the syllable ‘be’ in English.”

As we know in English there are short words with one syllable such as “be” but then there are longer words too.

Gurga goes on to say “the average Japanese haiku contains only 5-6 words, while the average 17 syllable haiku in English has 12 or more.”

Gurga and other haiku editors suggest that if you want to count syllables then you must do it as the Japanese do. For example the word haiku is counted as ha-i-ku or 3 syllables not hai-ku as it is counted in English. A 17 syllable haiku in English usually comes across as wordy.

That said I like the “one breath” rule. Take a breath, say your haiku, if you can say it slowly in one breath then you have properly used brevity.

Furthermore the majority of literary haiku published in English today are not 5-7-5 (even in Geppo). In the second edition of Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (Touchstone, 1986), 88.2 percent of the poems are not 5-7-5. And in Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment (Tuttle, 1993), an even greater 96.5 percent of the poems are not 5-7-5. A similar dominance of non-5-7-5 poems prevails in most of the leading English-language haiku journals.

Which is all to say that, among published literary haiku today (and in recent decades), 5-7-5 haiku are vastly in the minority. But if the counting of syllables is important to conscientious “traditional” haiku poets, those poets should have a clear understanding of basic phonetics, and know how to identify syllables and count them correctly and that my dear reader will have to wait for another day.

Blyth, R.H: History of Haiku 1964
Gurga, Lee: Haiku: A Poets Guide Modern Haiku Press, 2003
Higginson, William: The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku McGraw-Hill, 1985
image from: https://www.facebook.com/pages/NaHaiWriMo/108107262587697

Haiku tip #5


Shiki’s advice to haiku masters.

1. Read all worth while books and think over their good and bad points.
2. Know all kinda of haiku but have your own style.
3. Gather new material directly. Do not take it from old haiku.
4. Know something about other literature.
5. Know at least something about all art.

From “An Introduction to Haiku” by Harold G. Henderson. 1958

Haiku tip #4


Shiki’s advice to intermediate haiku writers
1. Remember perspective. Large things are large, but small things are also large if seen close up.
2. Delicacy should be studied, but it cannot be applied to human affairs in seventeen syllables. It can be applied to natural objects.
3. Haiku are not logical proportions, and no process of reasoning should show on the surface.
4. Keep the words tight; put in nothing useless. 5. Cut down as much as possible on adverbs, verbs and “postpositions.”
6. Use real and imaginary pictures, but prefer real ones. Using imaginary pictures will give you both good and bad haiku, but the good ones will be rare.

From “An Introduction to Haiku” by Harold G. Henderson. 1958

Haiku tip #3


Shiki’s tips for beginning haiku writers

1. Be natural
2. Don’t bother about old rules of grammar and special points like spelling, kireji.
3. Read the old authors, remembering that in them you will find good and bad poems.
4. Notice that commonplace haiku are not direct, but artificially twisted out of shape.

5. Write to please yourself. If your writings do not please yourself, how can you expect them to please anybody else?

From “An Introduction to Haiku” by Harold G. Henderson. 1958