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.

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