Everyone who passed through a grade 8 English class has written at least one haiku in their lives.  But just in case you were sick (or your parents had pulled you out of class for a family trip to Disney World), here is Haiku 101.

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form that is based on a 5-7-5 structure.  In Japanese it is 5-7-5 kana (phonetic letters) which is roughly equivalent to 5-7-5 syllables in English. There are some typical characteristics of a traditional haiku.

  1. Haiku usually has a focus on nature.
  2. Haiku usually includes a seasonal word to give the reader a clue as to time.
  3. Poets usually show how they feel about their subject matter rather than trying to describe their feelings.
  4. Haiku doesn’t generally use metaphor or similies.
  5. Haiku should have two juxtaposing ideas

Here are a few good examples of haiku:

morning glory!

the well bucket-entangled,

I ask for water

-Fukuda Chiyo-ni

(Note: this haiku does not seem to have the 5-7-5 structure.  That is only because it has been translated from Japanese into English)

Whitecaps on the bay:

A broken signboard banging

In the April wind.

-Richard Wright


An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.

-Matsuo Bashō


Some English language poets play with the 5-7-5 structure, keeping to the feeling and letting go of the form.

spring morning — 

a goose feather floats

in the quiet room

-Bruce Ross


sunset rays —

shadows of the mountains

beyond the horizons

-Paul MacNeil


And yet even other English language poets stretch the traditional feeling of the haiku as well.

his side of it

her side of  it

winter silence

-Lee Gurga


Hurricane Katrina Haiku


The submerged sign reads

Welcome to Elysian Fields

As bodies float bye.


Waiting for rescue

He drinks his own pale urine

As the copters pass


Draped in Old Glory

A corpse lies still beneath a

Super dome shadow.


How Shakespearean

In the wake of Katrina

Ophelia waits

-Derrick Weston Brown from the