KiwiCo: What is a haiku?
Iris: A haiku is a form of poetry that originated in Japan. In the 1900s, Western writers who were inspired by Japanese poetry started translating haiku into English and writing their own. There are many different ways to write a haiku, but the one that’s most familiar to modern English speakers is seventeen syllables long and is split into three lines, each with a specific number of syllables in each line.
First line: five syllables
Second line: seven syllables
Third line: five syllables
There’s also one more important thing to know — unlike a lot of poetry you might be familiar with, none of the lines in a haiku rhyme. Here’s one I wrote (about one of my favorite things to do at home — read and watch Harry Potter, of course):
Harry Potter Zoom Conversation (title)
She’s watching the films. (5 syllables)
For comfort, she says. Snitch wings (7 syllables)
beat inside my heart. (5 syllables)
KiwiCo: What are your recommended tips for writing a haiku?
Iris: Haiku poems are simple to get the hang of and also pretty quick to write. Even if you’ve never written a poem before in your life, fear not! A haiku is an easy place to start.
First, it’s important to understand how syllables work.A syllable makes one sound inside a word, kind of like a beat in music. For example, the word “write” makes only one sound, so it has one syllable. But the word “poetry” makes three sounds (“po-e-try”), so it has three syllables. In a haiku, you’re counting the syllables in each line.
Second, give your haiku a title.Since haiku are so short, you can think of the title as a “bonus space” to help you explain important information that you couldn’t fit in the poem. It might sound like cheating, but using the title to help the reader understand a poem is something that writers do all the time. In my haiku above, the title explains that I’m talking to my friend about Harry Potter on the video-chat platform Zoom. This saves me from having to explain that in the poem itself.
Third, remember that each line doesn’t have to be a complete sentence.In poetry, it’s okay to write in fragments. And it’s also okay for a sentence to be so long that it continues over onto the next line (in fact, poets even have a fancy word for this technique: “enjambment”).
Lastly, if you find writing while counting syllables really hard at first, don’t!Write out what you want to say like a regular sentence first (even if it’s way too long or too short), then edit it down or add onto it until you get the right number of syllables. The nice thing about writing is that, kind of like engineering and design, it’s not about getting it right the first time; it’s a process, and you can just keep tinkering with what you’ve written until it works.
Follow along as I write a haiku from start to finish!First Draft:
Spring walks six feet apart are great, but I have allergies. Achoo!
I got my idea down on paper. Yes! It’s 16 syllables, though (too short). Also, I don’t have any line breaks yet.
Socially Distanced Walk in Spring
From six feet apart,
we watch the pink blossoms spill.
Yay for allergies!
We have line breaks! Hooray! The lines are the right number of syllables now, too, and I figured out how to show instead of just tell the reader about the walks (by naming things you can see on a walk — like flowers). I also used the title to help explain stuff that didn’t fit in the poem: that this is a socially distanced walk happening in the spring.
KiwiCo: What can you do with your haiku when you’re done?
Iris: Lots of things! Once you know how to write a haiku, it’s nearly impossible to stop at just one.
1. Illustrate your haiku with a drawing! Or create a comic by drawing a panel for each line of your haiku.
2. Try writing haiku on slips of paper and leaving them in funny places around the house for your family to find. (Like a haiku in the empty cookie jar about how you’re sorry-not-sorry for finishing the last one. Or a haiku in the bathroom about stockpiling toilet paper.)
3. Write haiku on sticky notes and cover a whole wall in them!
4. Make a “poetree” (get it?) by writing haiku on streamers and attaching them to a tree. (Make sure you get permission first!)
5. How about a haiku tour of your neighborhood? Chalk haiku on the sidewalk in front of interesting landmarks all around the block — while staying a safe six feet away from other people, of course!
The possibilities are pretty well endless!
For a fun, kid-friendly haiku read, check out the picture book Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons By Jon J. Muth. And for even more poetry fun, try browsing the Poetry Foundation’s archive of poems for children for some great pieces to read aloud together — or a couple of the free writing prompts available through California Poets in the Schools’ Online Writing Workshop for Youth.