Basics of Composing Haiku

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The Basics of Composing Haiku

Read the Basics of Composing Haiku
by Susumu Takiguchi, World Haiku Club

My Musings on the Essence of Haiku

Once a frog jumped into an old pond and there was a little sound ... that is all what Basho told us about this (not so special) moment

but thus, it is the basics of Japanese HAIKU.

It is very different from the concept of Poetry we have in the West (living in both cultures, I had to learn the hard way).
No unnecessary decoration, no special vocabulary, no forced juxtaposition, no poetic circumlocation, no heavyhanded philosopical implications.
Just three simple lines, telling us what happened there, right now ... and then some, of course!

To catch that special moment, when you are moved beyond words, and yet convey your awe in words. To say the un-sayable, to express the whole universe in a tiny ant ...

Let nature speak through you in her own language, do not impose yourself on nature with your poetic words.

My Archery Sensei used to say:
If you shoot from your own center (hara), you will hit the target in the center!

It is a great challenge to write my haiku in Japanese language, trying to forget all I learned in grammar school, de-programming the whole of my Western philosophical and logical mind, throw all the concepts out and
... and then jump in the pond of haiku !

For me, it is well worth the effort !



Gabi san, you have showed me the spirit of Haiku.

gabi gaeru haiku no ike e rikutsu nuki

Gabi frog
jump into haiku pond
without logic

Sakuo Nakamura
October 2006, Happy Haiku Forum, #3544


This is just a simple observation, or not?

after the rain -
clouds chasing clouds
in the autumn sky

For those not so familiar with the Japanese symbolism I am referring to, try to substitute

"thoughts" for "clouds" and
"mind" for "sky" .


quiet spring day -
the lake a mirror
but aaaa, the clouds !

To get to the Japanese meaning of this one, .. click HERE !


Takahama Kyoshi stressed the importance of scetching from nature (shasei and kachoo fuuei 花鳥諷詠), but behind any simple sketch there should be the real feeling of a human being, feeling that this person can not express otherwise because of social restraints, but he can clothe it in a haiku ...

My thoughts on SHASEI, scetching from nature


MA, 間 the Empty Space

Tosa Mitsuoki (1617 - 1691) wrote regarding the use of empty space in regards to painting:

"Do not fill up the whole picture with lines; also apply colors with a light touch. Some imperfection in design is desirable. You should not fill in more than one third of the background. Just as you would if you were writing poetry, take care to hold something back. The viewer, too, must bring something into it. If one includes some empty space along with an image, then the mind will fill it in."

MA is a most important something in Japanese art, and even in Japanese daily life, even nowadays. I once knew a foreighner, who could speak the language perfectly BUT could not insert the necessary MA when it is time to pause and give your partner a time to nodd and make his aizuchi, hmmm, aaaa remarks. Thus each of his dialogs was spoiled soon and ended in a monolog.


When your haiku is finished:
(some advise from my haiku sensei Michiko in Kamakura)

Ask yourself:
Did I do my best? Or can I do a bit better?
If this was my last haiku to write in this world, would I be proud to leave it as my legacy?
Can any reader, who has not experienced this situation with me, understand what I want to convey? Did I get the meaning right and expressed what I wanted to say clear enough?
Is it not toooo cryptic and ambiguous to be understood properly? (In case it is tooo cryptic, keep it in your private haiku diary for a later re-write.) My German way of thinking had to be re-programmed quite often.

so the facit here is:
Do not write with a special audience in mind,
but write in a way that any reader will understand what you are trying to say.

This leads to the next important point:

Do NOT ask yourself:
Will the reader say WHOW? or rather SO WHAT?
After all, you thought it worth to be a haiku and wrote it carefully in an understandable way. You know, the tastes of readers are manifold. Some like cats and others like dogs.
It is like the pebbles on a beach, some pick up this one and some another one.

I often get varying comments, one saying, what a dumb haiku, the next saying: How great a haiku!

Do NOT say to yourself:
I want to write a haiku to be published in "XYZ Haiku Magazin" or a haiku to win the XYZ contest!
Read my advise about NOT writing haiku to get good points ! (tentori haiku)

Different people of course give different advise on polishing a haiku:
Polishing a haiku after writing it down

In a different context, Noguchi Sensei says:

Quietening the heart, ridding yourself of anxiety, casting out categories of what pleases and displeases, of likes and dislikes, and not thinking in categories of "what is valuable" ..
These judgements cling to the very depth of your heart and prevent you from a full life experience.
The Way to a Whole Life

Judgement, duality, yin and yang and haiku



winter wind —
a cradlesong sung
in an ancient tongue

Billie Wilson

Haiku is a poetry not of the mind or invention, but of experience. When the subject of a haiku involves a major human emotion such as love, it is the writer’s challenge not to overwhelm the poem. Haiku writing is a way of seeing the world and expressing an insight in a manner as unadorned by the poet’s opinion as possible.

Death, grief, and love are certainly parts of life and as such are subjects for haiku. But what is love? The ancient Greeks used three words for love: eros, agape, and philia. Eros as love should be obvious. Agape was used by early Christians more specifically than “altruism” alone. The word came to mean love of God, or God’s love. In addition to “brotherly” love, Aristotle described philia as showing love by a parent. It is this most basic perhaps original bond among humans that Billie Wilson has indicated to the reader.

Paul MacNeil in
The Heron's Nest, Winter 2006


Suggested reading in our library

. Beyond the Haiku Moment : Haruo Shirane

The Haiku Habit, by Jeanne Emrich
in the WKD Library

Guidelines for editing your own haiku, by Lee Gurga
in the WKD Library

Haiku: A Poet's Guide , by Lee Gurga

Traditional Japanese Haiku School How to compose HAIKU
Susumu Takiguchi

The Development and Nature of Haiku in Japan
Susumu Takiguchi, WHR January 2010


Japanese haiku poets are usually a member of a local haiku club, they are proud of their sensei and write in the tradition of this school, with respect to the Asian poetry culture ... all the way back to China.
(The internet lately provides some changes ...)

In a non-Japanese environment the position of haiku seems different. It falls into a vacuum, since the general categories of Western poetry and lyric did not provide for such a short form. Most haiku poets do not have a personal teacher and use online workshops, where anyone can post an opinion ... and the poor poet has to decide which is qualified and which is not!

Since short is easy, anyone can write three lines of something, declare it HAIKU and here we are ... ! It suits the Western idea of individualism very well.
Sometimes I feel poets are parading their haiku dog, telling everyone "This is my cat."
If you have never seen a real cat (appreciated haiku in the Japanese language), you might tend to believe him / her.

Cross-cultural take-over comes at a prize.

October 2007

May 2012

Workshopping -
it is becoming more and more popular these days, now with facebook here to facilitate "socializing".

For a successful HAIKU workshop, the administrator should first and foremost state his/her definition of the genre, otherwise it is just another outlet for short poems of "anything goes".
There must also be a consideration for people who use English as a second or third language and are not native speakers (like myself, first language is German).
There are two steps:
first to improve on the mistaken English, vocabulary, grammar etc.
second improve on the haiku image.

If you want to help someone improve his/her haiku, there is one big premise for me (as taught by my Japanese sensei):
Step out of your own shoes and haiku agenda.
Step into the shoes of the author.

What does he want to convey?
What did he experience and is now trying to put into words?

As an editor of a haiku journal you are entitled to accept only poems that fit your own agenda to promote the magazine.
As a mentor in a workshop, you should forget about this (otherwise you would be promoting tentori).
You should help the author to improve on his conditions, not on yours.

MORE is here
. Polishing a haiku after writing it down .
..... Teacher's advise, tensaku 添削教室 , editing your own haiku


To be added as we go !

Read my Archives about Haiku Theory





Anonymous said...

By jumping
into the old pond-
a new bond is born

Rita Odeh

Gabi Greve said...

Thanks for jumping in my pond, Rita san !



Anonymous said...


"Haiku is the expression of a visionary moment in which the poet sees, in a flash of heightened awareness, a fundamental truth about the nature of things-in-themselves.

The haiku poet attempts to bring the reader to the same realization, not by telling her about it, but by objectively presenting the few essential objects or experiences which made this moment, and so bringing the reader to recreate the process in her own mind.

By withholding all judgment or comment on the material presented, the poet invites the reader to enter into the poem, experience it, and come to her own conclusion.

And so what is left unsaid becomes more important than what is said : the haiku poet provides only the barest brushstrokes necessary to arouse the reader's imagination to complete the whole picture."

Excerpted from:

Haiku in English
Barbara Unger
Stanford University Press

Anonymous said...


My "theory" of haiku is that of a binocular vision. You can see well enough with just one eye, yet only when you look at the scene with two eyes at the same time, each viewing it from a little bit different angle, the new dimension, invisible before, the dimension of depth opens up.

The greatest haiku are akin to the binocular vision, the juxtaposition is very subtle but creates a great difference in overall perception. They are the hardest to write.

The haiku that juxtapose the different senses, sight and smell, for example, or hearing and touch, are second best.

And the easiest to write, but rarely great, are the haiku that juxtapose the senses and the thoughts.

Ghost Cat

Anonymous said...

A haiku is the expression of a temporary enlightenment in which we see into the life of things.

—R.H. Blyth

Anonymous said...

Van Gogh about Japan

"When we study Japanese art, we see a man who is no doubt wise, philosophical and intelligent. And how does he spends his time?

Studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. Studying the political theories of Bismarck?
No. He studies a single blade of grass.

But this blade of grass leads him the draw plants of all kinds, then the seasons, the overall aspects of the landscape, then animals, and finally, the human figure. This is how he spends his life, and life is too short to do the whole. Come now, isn't it almost a true religion which these simple Japanese teach us, who live in nature as though they themselves were flowers?

And it seems to me that we cannot study Japanese art without becoming much gayer and happier, and we must return to nature despite our education and our work in a world of conventions."