Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Opinion: Essential Elements of Haiku

By pottygok on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 08:59 pm
I thought this list might help others improve their craft. These are the essential elements of haiku as advocated by The Heron's Nest (from editor Ferris Gilli):
    Concrete imagery
    Focus
    Conciseness (clarity, brevity)
    Effective juxtaposition
    Resonance
    Immediacy
    Natural syntax
    Common language
    Balance of humanity and nature
    Sense of mood
    Sense of season; kigo
    A clear caesura between the two parts of the haiku
    (A poem that consists of only a single, complete sentence usually fails as haiku.)


Every successful haiku poet keeps a mental list of things that should not be part of a haiku. This is my list of things to avoid:
    Poetics
    Personification
    Anthropomorphism
    Simile
    Direct metaphor
    Philosophical statements
    Abstractions
    The writer's interpretation of something
    The writer's explanation of something
    The writer's argumentation of something
    The writer's rationale of something

    Cause and effect:

    The cause of something in the haiku
    The effect of something in the haiku
    The writer's description of his or her emotions
    The writer's naming his or her emotions or naming anyone or anything else's emotions
    The writer's description of someone's psyche, soul, thoughts, aura, or any other abstract or philosophical thing
    The writer's opinion of something in the haiku
    The writer trying to "teach" the reader something


Here is a list of questions that you could ask yourself about each of your haiku before you consider it finished:
  1. Am I telling instead of showing my moment?
  2. Am I presenting abstract ideas instead of concrete images?
  3. Is this haiku so crowded with images that it could be distracting or confusing for readers?
  4. Is this a "snapshot" haiku?
  5. Does this haiku contain a dangling participle?
  6. Does the action I describe take more than a moment to observe?
  7. Is this verse an example of cause and effect?
  8. Is this an uncut poem?
  9. Is this verse written as a complete sentence, with no break between setting and main action?
  10. Have I left out articles or modifiers that are needed for clarity and smooth flow?


If you the answer is "yes" to any of the above questions, you can be sure that the haiku needs reworking.
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