Haiku Writing

A Lesson for Beginners


You're here because you want to know something about Haiku. I'm writing this because I would like you to appreciate this special poetry and be able to write some yourself. With that understanding I'm going to unfold this the way I plan to present a first lesson in Haiku to several classes of Grade Seven students at my daughter's school.

Here we have the additional advantage that I can link in additional materials from the Internet as we go along. I'm going to make them rather unobtrustive so you can ignore them if you want [rather like footnotes]. When you see this symbol, Ø , know that it is a link somewhere. That one was a link to a page that has more information on the links I'm using.

And please, let me pause here to thank William J. Higginson for writing the book that has helped me get started writing haiku. Thanks so very much! And thanks also for providing the suggestions for teaching haiku on which I am basing these remarks. More about the book later!

Let's not get hidebound by rules right here at the start. I'm going to start by laying out some haiku examples. That way you'll be able to see how they are constructed. I've tried to use a wide variety - Japanese ones of many vintages, ones from around the world, contemporary English ones, and some I have written here in Calgary.

In the class I'll be reading them slowly and carefully. Beforehand I'll tell them the poems are very short - so short they'll miss a whole poem if they miss one word. So, let's read. Allow yourself any type of response. When you're done, follow the pointing hand to the next section.


the nail box:
every nail
is bent
            Ozaki Hôsai(1885-1926)
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water's sound
            Matsuo Bashô(1644-1694)
warm sun glinting,
of unexpected pools
Paul Brown
halfway up the stair--
white chrysanthemums
                   Elizabeth Searle Lamb
The river ripples
ice-drifted shores--
coyote glides by.
Paul Brown
Tender willow
almost gold, almost amber,
almost light . . .
            José Juan Tablada
willow leaves fallen
clear waters dried up stones
one place and another
            Yosa Buson (1716-1784)
morning glories he sells,
rough fellow
            Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826)
Cherry, apple, rose,
blossoms in countless colours--
each one of them pink.
Paul Brown
the misstruck nail
bent its neck
            Ozaki Hôsai(1885-1926)
rain cleared--
for a while the wild rose's
            Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959)
fresh-washed hair
everywhere I go
making trickles
            Hashimoto Takako (1899-1963)
Birds chatter
schoolyard kids too
busy cars.
Paul Brown
Chopped off heads fly up,
bodies sliced to tiny bits;
die dandelions!
Paul Brown
Old man sits reading;
two dogs, alert and friendly,
do all the begging.
Paul Brown
a pair of pigeons
in a mist of spring rain
shoulder to shoulder
            Anton Gerits
Days are long and hot;
every day when I come home
the grass is longer.
Paul Brown
dust on the toes
of my boots
            Penny Harter
crickets . . .
            Larry Wiggin
Sign says "no parking";
it wasn't there yesterday;
my favourite spot.
Paul Brown
Sudden harsh honking,
ten geese skim in and settle;
fast moving water.
Paul Brown
Billboards . . .
        in spring
            rain . . .
            Eric W. Amann
They laze in the shade
earning the zoo's room and board;
we pay, stand, swelter.
Paul Brown
Autumn twilight:
   the wreath on the door
      lifts in the wind
                        Nicholas Virgilio
Yellow autumn leaves
rustle as I briskly walk
through deserted lanes.
Paul Brown
Cold, dark and early
our breath fog shivers away,
water's sharp glitter.
Paul Brown
Snow falling
      on the empty parking-lot:
            Christmas Eve . . .
                                    Eric W. Amann
I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.
            Shuson Kato (b.1905)
The crow has flown away:
swaying in the evening sun,
a leafless tree.
            Soseki Natsume (1867-1916)
You rice-field maidens!
The only things not muddy
Are the songs you sing.
Wind howls
pine needles on the walk
outlined in snow.
Paul Brown
I want to sleep
Swat the flies
Softly, please
            Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)
first on the trail-
the pull of a spider's strand
across my face
Michael Dylan Welch
Temple lions
snow-mantled at the door;
still guardians.
Paul Brown
Bright back lane, downtown
warm-air vent, cart of treasures
an old grey man sleeps.
Paul Brown

Tender willow translated by Mark Cramer

a pair of pigeons translated by Wanda Reumer

The above and all Japanese poems in translation, except as noted below, from The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku, by William J. Higginson with Penny Harter, published by Kodansha International, 1989, copyright 1985 by William J. Higginson, by permission of William J. Higginson.

Poems by Kato Shuson, Natsume Soseki, Raizan, and Shiki, translators unknown.

Permission has been received or is being sought to quote these haiku.