If you like small surprises, then you will love haiku. A haiku is a short poem that captures a moment of wonder about the world around you. A haiku can make you exclaim, “Aha!”
People started writing haiku in Japan hundreds of years ago. These poems do not rhyme, and they do not have titles. The poems were once 17 syllables long but, nowadays, many poets don’t worry about counting syllables. Instead they focus on using a few simple words to show a single moment of wonder. Here’s a haiku I recently wrote:
I’d stumbled out of bed, rushing to get on a trail. The early sun cast a pink light onto pine trees and dewy wildflowers. So pretty! Halfway through the hike, I noticed my flopping laces — but that didn’t matter as I was moving slowly to enjoy so many natural sights.
Young people have a knack of noticing new or small things, and they tend to use plain language, so they make pretty good haiku poets. Sarah Welch is a youth poet from Washington who has won some haiku contests. Here’s a poem she wrote when she was ten years old:
In the first line, Sarah uses a “season phrase” to tell us that it’s summer. Notice how she paints a vivid scene in just nine words. How does this poem make you feel? Worried about the cat? Or relaxed because the cat is chillin’?
Haiku may have different meanings for different readers. Haiku help the reader experience one or more of the five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). Sarah wrote another poem that taps the senses of touch and taste:
This poem suggests different feelings in few words. At first, we recall the delight of a sweet cup of hot chocolate on a wintry night. And then—ouch! We are surprised by the scorch of hot liquid!
To craft a haiku, write down what you observe through your senses, then look for a moment that sticks out. Cut out words you don’t need. Add a season phrase if it fits.
Read lots of haiku, and these tiny poems will surely begin to flow from you. You might explore this wonderful picture book, “My First Book of Haiku Poems,” translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen and illustrated by Tracy Gallup (Tuttle, 2019).
Stacy Pendergrast, an education and instruction specialist at AETN, is also a seasoned haiku poet and teaching artist. She earned her Master of Education from Rutgers University and a Master of Fine Arts from Chatham University.