Some Friendly Haiku Tips by Miriam Sagan

Haiku! A friend asked for some basics–a question about how many syllables there really are in haiku. I’m afraid I got a bit carried away. But why not, I love the form. So just let this feel fresh. How can we get into haiku mind–and quickly?

In Japanese, traditional character set up

Line 1: 5
Line 2: 7
Line 3: 5

This gets translated as 5-7-5 syllables, but obviously a Japanese character & an English syllable are not identical.

So, American haiku has morphed, for some writers into

5 syllables or less
7 or less
5 or less

Or, one-line (monoku) of 17 syllables or less. Haiku poets don’t agree, and like to quibble. Approaches vary from super conventional to loose. I like it all.

However, my feeling is, there are numerous ways to enter the realm of haiku spirit that go beyond the syllable count. For intimate connection with haiku, try:

1. Season word, or knowing the season. Seasons are summer, fall, winter, spring, and oddly enough “no season.” Japanese aesthetic being what it is, that no season isn’t just a negative—-it tells us the haiku is seasonless. Go local. In New Mexico, roasting chile for fall. Chimayo pilgrims for spring. It’s a wonderful exploration.

2. Natural vs. human world. Each haiku is in ONE. The mountain is natural. Footprints of hiking boots—Human.

3. Poverty & loneliness are haiku aesthetic. I consider these, for myself, to be non-materialism and solitude.

From my friend Elizabeth Lamb:

the first fall of snow
even quieter, inside
the small adobe

Early winter or late autumn
human world (within nature)
solitude and “poverty”—the house is small…

From Buson in pre-industrial Japan (but it could be New Mexico!)

Five cottages
out in the winter wind
what do those people do for a living

season: winter
human world
poverty & solitude—and compassion

Santa Fe poet Basia Miller did a cool imitation, and notes what she was following:

The yellow chrysanthemums
Lose their colour
In the light of the hand-lantern.

Buson (p. 1088)
Surprising effect observed

Even mourning-doves
Lose their voices
When the leaves tremble.

Both of these show how haiku can have a “turning word” or phrase—-more easily seen in Japanese. Let’s just say for now that the haiku divides in two—-in both above I see the split between lines 2 and 3, but haiku can also split between line 1 and 2.

Then, senryu has the same syllabic form, but is humorous. It is usually seasonless, human world, and the emotion is one that inspires a chuckle—-but it isn’t a joke, rather, an insight.

master Issa, translated by Dennis Maloney:
Where I’m from

Even the

flies bite.

Contemporary, from Ed Markowski:
midnight mass

i add a few casino chips

to the collection plate

All of the examples are drawn from the archive of Miriam’s Well. Don’t forget, this blog publishes haiku, tanka, haibun, etc. including previously published work.
What is your haiku for right now? (Looking for themes that aren’t overtly about pandemic). Send submissions to

12 thoughts on “Some Friendly Haiku Tips by Miriam Sagan

  1. thank you Miriam … i work at writing Haiku. this page stirs the urge to record an image in a moment.

    the street cleaner
    caught speeding
    on earth day

    white lilacs
    one the verge
    a breeze picks up

  2. Enjoyable tips!

    I do like the ‘broadchurch’ approach to haiku and have had lovely comments about this on Skype and Zoom events that I run with Karen Hoy as part of Call of the Page.

    It’s why also I had fun working on haiku with a 5-7-5 count of English-language syllables just a few years back, as I’d never done that before:

    I teach a wide approach to haiku, and as Call of the Page we also launched our first ever monoku workshop, and I’ll be presenting my article and brand new exercises for monoku to a West Coast USA haiku group this weekend! 🙂

    I love that haiku, itself, is so open, in its many facets of ‘genre’! 🙂

    warm regards,

  3. How perfectly delightful. And an excellent concise overview of the haiku form. Although it runs against the tradition, I title mine! Always room in the Poetry Inn for variations! 🙂 Thank you, Miriam.

  4. Pingback: Some Friendly Haiku Tips by Miriam Sagan - stopthefud - WP Supermag

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