Haiku Format How to write a Haiku Poem

Haiku Format: How to write a haiku in three steps

Learn to use the haiku format to write beautiful haiku poetry in three easy steps. Read five expert examples of haiku.

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The haiku format consists of three lines where the first line is five syllables, the second line is seven syllables, and the third is five syllables. Don’t be fooled by their small size, haiku packs a punch. A haiku poem, when done correctly, is one of the most impactful poems you can write. 

With that said, let’s talk about how to write an impactful Haiku poem and look at some examples of Haiku poems. I’ll also provide a section for you to practice creating your own Haiku poem! 

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Standard features of haiku format poetry

  • Traditional haiku poetry evokes nature as a primary theme. 
  • Haiku often represents a single moment in time. 
  • The first line establishes a setting or season. 
  • The third line might surprise the reader.
  • Haiku often uses juxtaposition by placing two subjects together that create contrast.  
  • Poems incorporate movements and sound.  
  • Haiku shows rather than tells. 

Kireji and Kigo words

Kireji is also known as “cutting words” There is not an exact English equivalent to a Kireji word. Kireji’s function is to ‘cut’ a haiku into two parts or break the reader’s stream of thought. You can use abrupt wording or punctuation to accomplish this in your poem. 

Kigo are Japanese words that represent seasons. They are also a requirement of most traditional haiku. In English, use sensory language and imagery to evoke a season in your poem. 

Read about another popular format – prose poetry- here!

How to write a Haiku format poem in three steps

How to write a Haiku poem in three steps

Before you start writing, you’ll want to gather some inspiration. Go to a quiet place outside or a spot where you feel comfortable, at peace. Take a pen or pencil and something to write on, but don’t write yet! Sit quietly for five or ten minutes, maybe longer. Notice the small things happening around you, the sounds of animals, or insects, any movement- a breeze in the leaves. 

When finished, grab your pen and paper and take a few notes of what you noticed. You can use these notes as inspiration for your poem. Remember, haiku often describes a singular moment in time. What moment stood out to you? 

Step 1: Line one 

Describe a setting. 

Traditional haiku often discusses nature and the seasons. These topics are an excellent place to start. Choose a season, a time of year, or a place that you want to describe. You only have five syllables, so you can’t explain every aspect of your setting. Choose one piece of imagery to evoke in your reader’s mind. 

Example:

I want to use winter as the setting for my haiku. To do that, I’ll describe a winter sky rather than the entire season. 

Gray mist drifts above

Practice


Step 2: Line two 

Describe a subject. 

Haiku format

What is the subject of your poem? Your topic can be anything that fits your setting. If your poem’s location is your bedroom, then your topic could be a phone, a bed, a desk, anything. There is a very well-known haiku in which the setting is a pond, and the subject is a frog. 

The second line has seven syllables, so this is an excellent place to set up a contrast or juxtaposition. Your first and third lines can be contrasting ideas, and this middle line is where you want to bridge the two. 

Think about Kireji- is there a cutting word, a graphical element, or punctuation you can add to break your poem’s flow? 

Example: 

The two ideas that I want to contrast in my haiku are winter and spring. I’m going to use the subject of my middle line to bridge these two ideas. So, I want to talk about the sun breaking through the winter clouds. In this centerline, sunshine will be my subject. 

I’m also using a long dash at the end of the line to break my poem’s flow and build anticipation for the conclusion. 

Amber rays part frozen skies—

Practice


Step 3: Line three

Describe an action

Give your poem a punchy ending with action. Bonus points if you can surprise your reader. You don’t have to have a shocking conclusion or a surprising contrast. Those things are just nice. 

If you can’t think of a contrast to end with, then follow the course of events you set up in your poem. So, if your middle line’s subject was a phone, then it can ring, and you can pick it up in the third line. These types of haiku are called a ‘slice of life,’ and they’re perfect. 

Example

In my haiku, I want to show the transition from winter to spring. To do this, I’m going to use the sun’s action, thawing ice, and flowing water. 

Frost snaps, rivers surge. 

Practice


Put all three lines together, and you’ve got a haiku poem. You may want to tinker with your final product. Try to subtract rather than add. Focus on your imagery. The point of a haiku poem is to describe a moment in time with simple language. Their simplicity is what makes haiku so powerful. 

Completed example: 

Gray mist drifts above.

Amber rays part frozen skies—

frost snaps, rivers surge. 

Haiku Examples

Learn how to write a poem in seven easy steps here!

That’s my amateur attempt at a haiku poem! And, regardless of its merit, I had fun writing it. However, to end things, let’s look at some expert examples of haiku poetry. 

haiku examples

[under the evening moon]

BY KOBAYASHI ISSA

TRANSLATED BY ROBERT HASS

Under the evening moon

the snail

      is stripped to the waist.

Useless! Useless!

BY JACK KEROUAC

Useless! Useless! 

—heavy rain driving

into the sea

[mosquito at my ear]

BY KOBAYASHI ISSA

TRANSLATED BY ROBERT HASS

Mosquito at my ear—

does he think

      I’m deaf?

Koi

BY JENNIFER WONG

Among heart-shaped leaves

the white fish gleams, red tail. 

Soft lotuses sleep.

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Poetry Infographic

Continue writing with this Haiku Writing Exercise!

Continued reading on the haiku format

Writing Cooperative- How to write a haiku

Poetry Foundation- Haiku (or hokku)

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