Starting a Haiku Journal

Haiku is about “seeing”—about paying attention to a moment in nature and capturing that moment, like a snapshot, on paper with words (before it disappears). Famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), said that to write haiku you need to have the eyes and heart of a child. Seeing the world one snapshot at a time will help you connect with nature and make your haiku stronger. Haiku is one of my favorite forms, but I’ve never had a journal dedicated to it until recently.

I prettied the cover up a bit with a vinyl sticker that I made on my Cricut machine. Or, you could decorate your journal with a collage of inspirational pictures ripped from magazines, a drawing, or even an introductory haiku. Have fun with it!

The first few pages of my notebook are filled with quotes and notes on haiku to refresh my memory and find inspiration at a glace.

Here’s a simplified version of MY notes (plus some links for further reading):

FORM:

  • Haiku should be written in three short lines. Traditional haiku has 17 Japanese syllables. American haiku often has three short lines without counting syllables. Writing 17 American syllables can (but not always) feel clunky or too long. This is the poets choice. In any case, the haiku, when read, should be a breath long.
  • In haiku we never use capital letters or periods. Commas and exclamation points are okay (use sparingly).
  • An em-dash gives a pause or break (called a cutting word). Great for a surprise or ah-ha moment.
  • Ellipsis can be used as a softer, more thoughtful cutting word
  • For more about the punctuation of haiku, check out this wonderful article on Graceguts.

THE REAL DEAL:

  • Try to write from real experience or memory, not your imagination or something you’ve researched (desk-ku).
  • Real experiences will enhance your haiku. Appreciate what is around you right now, in the moment.
  • Humor is okay, if you see something funny in nature, write about it.

IMAGE:

  • Sketch an image with your words. Be descriptive. For example, not “a tree” but instead “a bare aspen in the forest.”
  • Connect the main image to something else to show a relationship between the two images. (moon + water= shimmer).

SEASON WORDS:

  • In Japanese poetry, Kigo are words or phrases that are associated with a particular season. Your haiku should always refer to nature and reference a season or weather. If you write “snow” we know it is winter. For example: pumpkin=fall, cherry blossom or frog= spring.
  • Season words will be different depending on where you live.
  • Or, if you don’t want to be specific, you could use a word that could be any season like OCEAN.

FEELING:

  • Show what you feel through the image you sketched with words. Don’t explain or tell. If your subject is sad or afraid, don’t say so directly (sad dog), show through the image = “a lost pup in the rain”

KINDNESS:

  • Your haiku should always express compassion toward and love for nature.

AH!:

  • Your haiku should end in a way that surprises your reader without purposely shocking them. There are many surprises in nature, just write what you see. Patricia Donegan says it best in her book, Write Your Own Haiku for Kids, “If we see what is here and write about what is here, the haiku will take care of itself.”

To start your journal, you can print these notes and tape them inside, if you’d like. For more in-depth instruction on how to write a haiku, visit my poetry pop form page and haiku the happy stuff. You might also enjoy the Haiku Society of America and their Frogpond Journal.

NOTE: If you are writing a short, three line poem but it isn’t about nature or the seasons, you are not writing haiku in the traditional sense, you may be writing Snyru.

creative ways to fill your notebook

  1. HAIGA: Haiga is the centuries-old Japanese art form that combines traditional haiku and illustration. Draw or paint a picture in your haiku journal then write a haiku directly on the painting.
  2. PICTURE HAIKU: Find a photograph or scour magazines for pictures of nature and glue them into your haiku journal. Write a haiku to go with the picture. Or if the picture reminds you of another poet’s haiku, write that poem beneath it.
  3. TAKE YOUR JOURNAL ON THE ROAD: In 1689, famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho recorded his travels in a diary. Why not take your journal on your next trip? Record what you see each day and end your travel haiku series with a haiku that sums up your trip.
  4. RENGA (PASS IT AROUND): A renga is a linked poem that is written by a group of people. You start the renga with a 17 syllable haiku then pass your notebook to a friend, who adds the second stanza, a couplet (two lines) with 7 syllables per line. The third person writes a 17 syllable haiku, and the fourth writes a couplet. Rotate this (haiku/couplet) structure to the end. It’s like a daisy chain with words.
  5. HAIBUN (STORY HAIKU): Haiku is written about a moment in time but wouldn’t it be nice if, sometimes, we could explain or enhance the haiku with a story? Enter the Haibun! This form of poetry allows us to add a short prose poem before the haiku as a type of introduction or enhancement to the haiku. In your journal, describe, in prose (unrhymed but often lyrical), a memory you have or something you just experienced and end it with a haiku. With Haibun you get two poems for the price of one!

THANKS FOR POPPPING IN

I hope this post inspires you to start a haiku journal—a little gift for yourself. If you haven’t already, please Join the blog for your weekly pop of poetry. And if you are enjoying Poetry Pop, please share the love with the like and share buttons below.

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