ARTS: How to Haiku 3: writing haiku

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  • Kokuu
    Treeleaf Priest
    • Nov 2012
    • 6791

    ARTS: How to Haiku 3: writing haiku

    You Zen folk have a head start on this! Haiku often take images from nature and compare them to Buddhist concepts of impermanence and other notions. This is the case in Basho’s poem which reflects both the futility of war and the fact that once proud warriors grow old even if they do not fall in battle.

    There is an importance of observing tiny details in nature and life and combining what is happening to trees, plants and animals with what is going on in your own life. The reflection of inner and outer worlds is often what gives a haiku its power and poignancy.

    So, please, give it a try and write a few poems. Spend some time in silence, preferably in nature, if only your garden, and see what images come up. Note them down and see if they suggest a verse. You can also write from imagination but direct experience in the moment is great and fits with our Zen practice.
    I will try and comment on as many as I can. My one rule is NO 5-7-5. This is to get away from syllable counting.

    Here are a few more examples to give you an idea of what we are aiming at. The fragment and phrase should be clear in each:

    begging bowl
    a crack in the pavement
    grows dandelions

    -- Kokuu

    snow melt
    the village overflows
    with children

    -- Kobayashi Issa

    summer’s end
    the numbness

    -- Helen Buckingham

    my hut in spring
    there is nothing in it
    there is everything

    -- Sodō

    Bermuda triangle the mystery in your touch

    -- Tim Gardiner

    mountain pheasant
    treading on its tail
    spring’s setting sun

    -- Yosa Buson

    These are some of my other favourite poems from modern and traditional writers:

    Suggested reading
    Haiku techniques
    Fragment and phrase theory
    Zen and the Art of Haiku
    Writing and Enjoying Haiku (book)
    A Zen Wave by Robert Aitken (Rinzai Buddhist teacher Robert Aitken, who wrote The Mind of Clover that we use in precept study, looks at the haiku poetry of Matsuo Basho from a Zen perspective)

    You can find more books and articles on my haiku website.
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-24-2021, 02:36 AM.
  • Jakuden
    • Jun 2015
    • 6142

    Thank you Kokuu!! Wonderful teachings that make it sound doable. I'm looking forward to practicing and reading everyone else's efforts here.



    • Shokai
      Treeleaf Priest
      • Mar 2009
      • 6391


      gassho, Shokai

      仁道 生開 / Jindo Shokai

      "Open to life in a benevolent way"


      • Onkai
        Treeleaf Unsui
        • Aug 2015
        • 2895

        Summer rain outside
        Indoor cat
        Purring loudly

        美道 Bidou Beautiful Way
        恩海 Onkai Merciful/Kind Ocean

        I have a lot to learn; take anything I say that sounds like teaching with a grain of salt.


        • Ryumon
          • Apr 2007
          • 1706

          Here's a few I wrote last week; am I doing it right?

          shortening days
          crows pick at fallen grains of wheat
          thunderstorm surprises even birds

          fading light cooling air
          breeze blows scent of ripe cabbage
          lights go off in farmer’s house

          bees on the birdbath
          take respite
          from the heavy August swelter

          in the heat of summer
          even the river
          slows down

          tall pine tree
          casts shadows on twittering tits
          cooling hot summer sun



          Ryūmon (Kirk)


          I know nothing.


          • Kokuu
            Treeleaf Priest
            • Nov 2012
            • 6791

            Hi Kirk!

            Nice efforts! In general I would say that you are trying to fit too much in. Take 17 syllables as an upper maximum and try just to use two images rather than more.

            Then take out any excess words that are not required.

            This one is pretty close:

            in the heat of summer
            even the river
            slows down

            Two images that add to each other nicely! The river is slower as it is dry and also brings in that human element of being slower in the heat.

            My only improvement would be to shorten the first line, and maybe the third:

            summer heat
            even the river

            As an extra, you could even draw out the third line:

            summer heat
            even the river
            s l o w s

            Here are some great images, you just need to pick between them:

            shortening days
            crows pick at fallen grains of wheat
            thunderstorm surprises even birds


            shortening days
            the last grains of wheat
            crow by crow

            among the field stubble
            first clap of thunder

            These are not great haiku but just off the top of my head.

            If you read some contemporary haiku (these are from a recent issue of the British Haiku Society journal, Blithe Spirit), you will get a feel of how things are done:

            rooks cross the sky
            into evening

            picking up the tempo
            on her lemon yellow banjo
            winter rain

            looking at the house
            we didn't buy
            cold winter sun

            Stardust and many other journals are published online and free to read:



            • Getchi
              • May 2015
              • 612

              The waterfall here,
              has never ceased.
              Where do I begin?

              Nothing to do? Why not Sit?