How to haiku

For further educational reading, check out our title “Haiku For Lovers”

As I recently wrote in an article for Black Heart Magazine, despite what many people think they know about haiku, there is actually much more to the form than simply grouping words into three lines of five, seven and five syllables. In fact, this sort of “grade school” approach to haiku is just the sort of limited notion we are seeking to avoid with our cheeky haiku anthologies here at Buttontapper Press.

So what the hell are we looking for, and how do we differ from traditional concepts of haiku?

3 lines, 17 syllables… and more

As noted at HaikuWorld, “haiku are usually not 17 syllables long in English.” While three lines are standard, an individual poem’s total number of syllables can range from 10 to 17. Shorter is typically preferred – brevity being the soul of both wit and haiku – but writers should say what they need to without worrying too much about formatting.

Siding with the Haiku Society of America, we also look for short poems that “[use] imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience […] intuitively linked to the human condition.” Though the HSA’s definition relies on nature or seasonal references, we prefer to expand our notions of haiku to include both the natural and the “unnatural” – or human-created – world (particularly in reference to our Futuristic Haiku submissions). After all, in a world where most of us have very limited interactions with nature or our sense of what “nature” encompasses has grown, there are many more topics for consideration in modern society.

No matter what specific theme on which we seek to collect haiku, Buttontapper Press is always a fan of the following:

  1. Present tense writing about everyday events
  2. Stretching the imagination to create unique, fictional moments in time
  3. Capturing memories and personal experiences with unique language
  4. Emotional responses to events, rather than portrayal of the emotion itself
  5. Titles!

Yes, we thoroughly break with haiku tradition in requesting a title for each poem, though we are still open to the concept of borrowing that title from your poem’s first line.

Mistakes to avoid

What should you definitely NOT put in a haiku?

  1. End rhymes
  2. Vague descriptions
  3. Unnecessary words, like conjunctions (and, but, so, because, etc.)
  4. Obvious observations or clichés (“the sky so blue”)
  5. Peculiar line breaks

Of course, rules were made to be broken, so don’t let this be the be-all, end-all of your haiku creations! Ultimately, our test of a good haiku is in the “naturalness” of its portrayal. Unnecessary or missing words that make reading the poem aloud difficult should be avoided. Awkward line breaks, too, are problematic. We like to think of a good haiku as something that might translate well to a tweet on Twitter, or a short-and-sweet status update on Facebook.

In three lines, with a maximum of 17 syllables, just like your grade school teacher taught you.

Do you haiku? What’s your advice for writers exploring the form?