Who Knew Haiku…

… is so darn hard to craft?

I mean, a three line poem, taught in elementary schools everywhere – how hard is that? If you can count to seven, you can pump out reams of them, right?

Not so fast.

This week I’ve been reading and practicing haiku. After finishing this little gem of a book, filled with examples of extraordinary haiku and also examples of things that look like haiku but aren’t, I can confidently say that most of my attempts at haiku are… Well, if I was a southern lady talking about them I would have to say, “Bless their dear hearts”.

Por ejemplo, I wrote this little beauty a few years ago to a prompt which pictured an embroidered bird.

Beautiful flyer
Caged in bold-colored stitches
Yearns for sharp scissors

As you can see, I can certainly count to five, seven, and five. I have a surprising last line which, maybe, gives the reader pause to think more deeply about that bird. The idea of a bird caged in stitches and yearning for freedom – good, good. It’s a little something of a poem. But I don’t think it’s a haiku, at least not a good one.

Forget counting syllables. Have I created clear images? (Maybe) Have I created two clear images in conversation with each other? (No) Have I edited out every unnecessary modifier? (Oh, please. I see a modifier in every line.) I could go on. And on. So I try again.

toddlers at the playground
in identical attire
goslings scurry

This is a little closer. I have two images, one is clearly speaking of the natural world. I have suggested a season, goslings. I have a pivot line in the middle – “in identical attire” could refer to the toddlers or, humorously, the goslings. I have left room for the reader to piece the two images together and give them meaning. There’s something here. Is it good? Could it be published? Probably no and no.

With so many moving parts in such a short form, haiku is HARD. Yet, “haiku” is “taught” broadly and “known” universally. I wonder if its artistry and complexity are lost on most readers. It’s as if, in the western world, we’ve come to think a fine work of oil painting comes out of a paint-by-number box rather than the countless years of practice and failure it took for Renoir to create one piece.

I’m not knocking teachers of the world who use haiku in their classrooms. What could ever be wrong with introducing ways to use and play with words or learning about art and culture? Absolutely nothing. Please, continue. I hope teachers and word lovers everywhere will continue reading and writing haiku. I also hope they will use this deceptively difficult form as a way to go deeper into the power of words, the power of simplicity, and the importance of a single moment. Dive in to haiku, real haiku, and leave the craft store version for the beginners. May they enjoy it.

11 thoughts on “Who Knew Haiku…”

  1. I think you speak truth to every artist when you remind us to dig deep and keep practicing and honing our crafts (whether writing haiku, embroidering birds, or painting landscapes)!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed this post, Marilyn. Your point is well taken about deceptive simplicity and how the average person may assume haiku are easy to write. Writing short, whether poetry or prose, is more difficult. Condensation is tough!! Thanks so much for your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed your explanations and your “tries”, Marilyn. Yes, they are so complex in their so few words. I did haiku for an April a few years ago, enjoyed working at it, but maybe never reached what you have explained.

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    1. Linda, I have read enough of your work to feel confident your haiku poems were lovely. One of the things I love about this form is that it is accessible at any level and, ultimately, if it is meaningful for the writer, it will probably also speak to the reader and that’s enough.

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  4. I think haiku are one of the hardest forms to master. They require precision and incredibly thoughtful word choice. I enjoy the challenge, though I know many fall short.

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  5. I love the spirit of this post…how you dig in , learn, reflect, try again. I’ve always known there’s more to haiku than I’ve incorporated when writing them, but I’ve been hesitant to put my haiku up to the light of full scrutiny. I admire you for doing so and for teaching us along the way. You’ve inspired me to go back and re-examine some of my haiku efforts…maybe just privately for now though. lol

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  6. Marilyn, I love this post–the how and the what equally. I love getting a glimpse into past hubris (oh, haven’t we all been there, poetic and otherwise?!) and you made me laugh as well. Aren’t we kind of neighbors? Let’s get together some time! (Bethesda 20817)

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