About Haiku

Learn about haiku here. You can also learn more about NaHaiWriMo and more about NaHaiWriMo on Facebook.

What is haiku?

A haiku is a short poem that creates the feeling of a moment of personal experience. In English, haiku is most often presented in three lines, and usually uses such techniques as a season word (kigo in Japanese), a two-part juxtapositional structure (equivalent to a kireji, or cutting word, in Japanese), and primarily objective sensory imagery. It is usually not a poem of judgment or analysis, but a poem that most often employs sensory images to convey or imply an emotional feeling. In Japanese, haiku is traditionally written in a rhythm of 5-7-5 sounds (not to be confused with syllables) in a single vertical line, with no title (also, please note that the word “haiku” is both singular and plural). Translating haiku into English presents many challenges, but most linguists, translators, poets, and scholars have said or demonstrated that about 10 to 14 syllables is equivalent to the seventeen sounds counted in Japanese haiku. Just as 100 yen does not equal 100 dollars, so too the sounds counted in Japanese haiku are not directly equivalent to syllables—for example, the word “haiku” itself counts as two syllables in English but three sounds in Japanese. Far more important than counting syllables (one of the reasons for the “No 5-7-5” NaHaiWriMo logo) is to focus on such targets as a two-part structure, seasonal reference, and immediate sensory imagery, avoiding most judgment and analysis. For more information on haiku, please read Why “No 5-7-5” on this website, and Becoming a Haiku Poet, Notes on Forms, and Further Reading on the graceguts.com website. For a taste of haiku, here’s a well-known one by Bashō, Japan’s most famous haiku master:


furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

old pond—

a frog jumps in

water’s sound

Isn’t haiku supposed to be 5-7-5 syllables? Why do you have a “No 5-7-5” logo?

Most of us have been taught that haiku in English requires seventeen syllables arranged in a pattern of 5-7-5. However, this is an urban myth, despite how widespread the belief is, and despite how haiku continues to be mistaught in schools, or taught superficially. To learn more about this urban myth, please read the Why “No 5-7-5”? page. Please note that NaHaiWriMo is not against 5-7-5 haiku (it is entirely possible to write good ones); rather, it’s against thinking that 5-7-5 is the only target for haiku in English. The purpose of the No 5-7-5 logo is to catch attention and to help inform people about misunderstandings of haiku in English. For additional information about haiku fundamentals, please read Becoming a Haiku Poet and Further Reading (both on the personal website of Michael Dylan Welch, who founded NaHaiWriMo). By the way, NaHaiWriMo welcomes senryu as well as haiku (senryu is just like haiku except that it focuses more on humour, satire, and the human condition, and does not require the juxtapositional structure or season word commonly used in haiku).

What are haiga and photo-haiga?

A haiga is traditionally an ink brush painting that integrates a haiku, done in calligraphy, into the image. Usually there is a leap between the poem and the painting, or a nonobvious connection (generally, the poem shouldn’t be a caption for the image, nor should the image be a mere illustration for the poem). A photo-haiga (also called shahai in Japanese) is the combination of a photograph or other image with a typeset haiku. Both haiga and photo-haiga are welcome on the NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook. When posting, please also consider typing in the poem, in case it might be hard to read in the image. For more about haiga, please read Linking and Leaping: A Haiga Primer.

Where can I get more information about haiku?

Please start by reading Why “No 5-7-5” on this site, and the Essays and Further Reading sections on graceguts.com (start with “Becoming a Haiku Poet”). Also consider joining the Haiku Society of America or other organizations listed on the Haiku Organizations page. I also recommend the Open Directory Haiku Portal. Watch out for pseudo-haiku!

What is the meaning of life?

Ah, I think you’ve come to the wrong website. On second thought, maybe not.

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