Everyone knows about NaNoWriMo. Fewer know about NaHaiWriMo, National Haiku Writing Month – where the goal is to write a haiku every day. I’ve taken part for the last two years, with decidedly mixed results, and I’m jumping in again this year.
Hit the jump to learn more and how you can participate here at the Lounge!
Haiku seems simple, to quote the Haiku Society of America:
A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.
These are generally arranged in three lines of three, five, and three syllable each. So simple, and yet so hard… With so few words and syllables each one has to be chosen very carefully, not only for meaning but for rhythm as well. For some of the haiku I’ve written, my notes run several pages as I try and discard various words as I seek to find the one that conveys the shade of meaning I’m reaching for. Presuming I know what meaning I’m trying for, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes I’m searching for meaning as much as for a word.
About that 3-5-3 structure… Especially if you’re older, you may have learned the 5-7-5 format back in school. That structure came from a number of mistaken beliefs that arose back in the late 19th century when haiku was generally translated from the Japanese by scholars rather than poets. In the late 20th century scholar-poets began to look closer and discovered a number of key differences between the languages (most notably – English says more with fewer syllables) and the preference for English language haiku gradually shifted to 3-5-3. Syllable count is just form though, and poetry is about content, not form. Pretty much any short-long-short format will do so long as you keep to between 11 and 17 syllables.
Anyhow… I’m not going to get into the technical end of things too much, poetry is about feelings, not mechanics. I’ll put a list of further reading links down at the end and you can delve into those at your leisure. Mostly I want to talk about NaHaiWriMo and writing haiku and how you can take part. (And I hope you do! It can be frustrating to write, but it’s rewarding to discover a haiku.)
There’s a purist school of thought that haiku are supposed to be the result of a flash of insight or inspiration… But how many of us are so lucky to have those on a regular basis? I’m of the school that accepts that it’s OK to work from prompts or other sources. NaHaiWriMo is helpful in that respect that it provides a daily prompt year round. (The link leads to the Facebook page with February’s/NaHaiWriMo prompts, which works on the desktop but may not work on mobile devices. I can’t figure out how to reach the Notes page on any of mine.) You can also search out and follow NaHaiWriMo on Facebook. Or you can follow along on Twitter @NaHaiWriMo.
I’ve also been given permission by Michael Dylan Welch, proprietor of NaHaiWriMo.com and organizer of NaHaiWriMo to repost the prompts here.
- 1 HAIKU (write a serious haiku ABOUT haiku, which is hard to do well).
- 2 IS (write about existence itself, or the existence of something, but don’t use the word “is” in your poem).
(Note: This is a harder set of prompts than I’ve seen in years past… but prompts aren’t everything.)
The plan is I’ll put up a post each Wednesday with the past week’s prompts and (hopefully!) the haiku inspired by them. Feel free to add your own down in the comments.
(OK here’s the part where I post some of my poetry. I’m not the world’s greatest poet, but I do try.)
A couple of years back, the daily prompts Nervously and Nakedly eventually lead me to this haiku… (The prompts occurred near the anniversary of my proposing to my then-girlfriend now-wife.)
heart bared – hoping
Since it’s not about nature or the seasons, it’s technically a senryu rather than a haiku. (See the Haiku Society of America’s definition of senryu.) A lot of English haiku are actually senryu, mostly because of the cultural history of English poetry.
But it does illustrate an important principle… The prompts are just ideas, starting points, signs saying “trailhead here”. An even odder example:
dust, ancient cobwebs
I bet you’d never guess the prompt here was Ladders… In the Navy (which I spent ten years in), “ladder” means “stairway”, and so that’s where my mind went. This is also a rare example of a poem that leapt to mind almost fully formed. In the end, all I did was swap the first and last lines.
I posted the haiku to a haiku group on Facebook, and someone posted an alternative version with a sense of “time’s arrow” and after I worked with that idea for a while… I came up with an alternate version of my own:
ancient dust settles
This is actually something that Japanese haiku poets practice – tensaku (to revise or edit), collaboratively working from each others poetry.
And inspiration can come from entirely unexpected directions….
When Leonard Nimoy passed away, many of my friends on Facebook posted pictures of themselves giving the Vulcan salute… which prompted the haiku above. But somehow, I couldn’t leave it at that and eventually I hit on the idea of creating a haiga – a haiku juxtaposed with a related image. If you’re a Star Trek nerd like I am, you’ll probably recognize the inspiration – Spock’s death scene at the end of Star Trek : The Wrath of Khan (and it also ties into his final encounter with Dr McCoy). References and multiple levels of meaning often feature in haiku.
OK, enough about me, let’s wrap this up with some references and links to introductory material that might help you get started – I hope to see some of your haiku next week!
- The process of composing your own haiku – a one page series of short lessons at the Shiki Internet Salon
- Ten tips on writing haiku by Michael Dylan Welch at Haiku World
- A basic series of lessons on writing haiku by Jane Rheingold at AHA Poetry.
- Some more advanced material, also at AHA Poetry.
Jane’s books and writings were my introduction to writing Haiku.
- Essays and advanced material on haiku by Michael Dylan Welch at Graceguts.
Michael’s stuff can be dense going, but it’s very much worth it if you’re serious.