Learn more about haiku

Wait, I thought haiku was 5-7-5! Why don’t these poems count syllables? If you’re having these thoughts, here’s a bit more information. Haiku is indeed traditionally 5-7-5 in Japanese, but because of differences between Japanese and English, the sounds (not syllables) that they count in Japanese are significantly different from syllables in English. For example, the word “haiku” itself is two syllables in English but counts as three sounds in Japanese. It’s been said that if you write 17 syllables in English, it’s often enough for two haiku in Japanese. The common way most of us were taught haiku in school (that it’s just 5-7-5) also obscures more important targets, such as having what’s called a kigo or season word (some reference to the season) and a kireji or cutting word (in Japanese it’s a word in the poem that “cuts” the poem into two parts; in English this means the poem has two grammatically independent parts). In addition, most haiku use objective sensory images based in one’s five primary senses, thus avoiding most judgment and analysis. The targets are more challenging disciplines than counting syllables. But these targets are always a choice, and the most important thing is to enjoy your self-expression, and to capture a moment of personal experience. As Jack Kerouac once said, haiku should be as simple as porridge. And in The Haiku Handbook, William J. Higginson said that the purpose of haiku is to share them, so you’re invited to share your haiku here. For more information on haiku, consider attending an upcoming haiku workshop, or explore the following links.