So let's look at what we've got here. I guess the first thing you noticed is that they're short - two or three lines only. There are not many words in those lines either. And you didn't hear rhymes, did you?

Beyond their physical form, these poems obviously have something else in common. It is something to do with the subject matter and the direct method of presentation. If we had time to discuss it we could refine that thought until we had something like this.

The poems speak

  • about experience from the senses
  • directly and with intensity
  • about observation of nature

They seek to construct a clear and significant image in our minds or perhaps to juxtapose or contrast two such images. Usually it is an image from nature or from daily life.

Perhaps though, to say that the poem 'constructs' the image in our mind is a bad way of saying it. Really the poem is reminding us of something we've already seen, heard or felt. That's how they manage to conjure up so complex an image with so few words. Of course this isn't going to work very well if the reader of the poem doesn't share that kind of experience with the poem's composer.

But we should follow up the idea of images. Let me ask you a question. What is an image? Here are some of the things that question is likely to make you think of.

  • pictures in your thoughts
  • smells, tastes, feels that you remember
  • memories
  • imagination

That last one once triggered William J. Higginson, my favourite writer on haiku, to construct a mnemonic.


He saw that word as 'I' in a country of images. My understanding of that phrase is see my imagination as a vast set of images that my mind has been collecting all the years of my life and that the central and exciting part is me as its owner and interpreter.

If we now understand enough about 'image', then perhaps it's time for the next question. Where do these images come from? I'd love to hear your answers; but since I can't, I can only guess what you'd eventually come up with after some more thought.

William Higginson thinks that you'll likely organize the possibilities in this way:

  • the senses - the here and now: vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell
  • the memory - images stored in the mind from personal experiences, stories heard, books read, movies seen etc.
  • fantasy - things invented in the mind by combining senses and memory

Enough theory! Time for an exercise. This is your task. Think of an image - a familiar one. Now write it down in just a few words, say three or four. Look at what you've written for a moment or two and then think of a second image that resonates with the first - that 'draws sparks off it', as William Higginson would say.

If you're having a bit of difficulty getting started let me give you some examples of first images. Don't just think about this! Grab a pencil and do it! Ø

a dripping icicle
sidewalk crack growing grass
ice-cream trickles on your chin
wet squelching shoes
hair hiding an eye
car seat too hot to sit on

Be wild! Be lateral! Let's take the icicle. For matching images how about an upturned mouth? a sparrow splashing in a puddle? a bloody dagger? a sizzling griddle?

See if you now have some good poems. You probably have a several that you are pleased to have written.

William Higginson [in the book "The Haiku Handbook", Kodansha International 1989] suggests a variant of that exercise used by the poet Ron Padgett to teach haiku-writing to youngsters. Write two lines about nature and then add a third that doesn't seem at first to have anything with the first two. You're looking for 'a detonation'.

Your poems aren't haiku yet; but they're probably reasonably close. Ø


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