Haikus are famous around the world for many reasons, one being that they’re always short and sweet and seemingly easy to write. While haikus may be short, they’re definitely not easy. They’re a very structured form of writing that packs a huge punch in very few words. Originally, haikus focused on senses and had a lot to do with nature and one’s surroundings. In more modern times, people have taken a lot of liberties with the purpose and form of haikus, leading to a growing and entertaining branch of poetry. Below is a guide on how to write haikus successfully for any topic and any occasion.
Understanding the Structure
Haikus are short poems from Japan that consist of only three lines. Each line then has a set amount of syllables allowed. After that, the effect you want to have and the message you want to send will dictate how you structure your words and punctuation. First, let’s start with the basic structure. The first and third lines have five syllables each, whereas the second line has seven. The following haiku is an example:
The water still flows
through the center of my soul
every time I cry.
There’s a lot going on here, but let’s first focus on the syllables. If you count the lines, each one has the appropriate amount of beats. Practice counting the beats in your lines on your fingers if you begin to get confused. Because of the restrictions, a lot of haikus will form this particular shape. If your haiku looks a little weird, check your syllables again. They may be off.
Deciding on the Form
Once you’ve mastered the syllables, next comes the harder part. This is the part that takes all the thought and planning when making and forming your haiku. First, contemplate the topic. Is it a funny topic, a sad subject—what mood do you want your haiku to portray? Once you’ve figured that out, you can decide whether or not your haiku will be three small sentences, one long sentence, or a combination. Depending on the amount of punctuation found in your poem, the reader will experience different things.
For example, a haiku comprised of three sentences will have a disjointed feel to it, with many pauses. This allows the writer to insert a funny line at the end, or change the direction of the mood for a shock. A haiku made up of one sentence will flow more fluidly, and feel like a river, rather than a horse gallop. Using commas and constant pauses will turn one whole sentence into a choppy haiku as well—this is also a great tool to keep in your arsenal. Regardless of what form you choose, you have to make sure it matches your intentions. If you want your poem to feel soft because it’s about love, you may not want to break it up into sentences.
If you look back at the haiku written above, it mentioned water flowing, and the long line of text without any punctuation mimics that feeling. There are a lot of “s” sounds, which is like water flowing down a stream. The hard “c” at the last word abruptly breaks the flow, emphasizing the final thought that this smooth, calm poem is actually about loss and sorrow. These are tiny details that show how complex a haiku can get in order to achieve the desired feel and effect.
Though the above may seem like a lot of steps to remember and follow, the most important thing to do is to practice. Remember that masters of poetry didn’t just come to it overnight. Give friends some poems, or write some in a notebook every night. Eventually you’ll develop an ear for the sounds and feelings you want. You’re on your way to creating gorgeous poems—let the spark of inspiration carry you and let your imagination run wild!