I provide copies of this checklist at most of the haiku workshops I give. First published online at the Haiku World site in 2003, and later published in Ouachita Life in the Autumn of 2013. See also my longer essays, The Practical Poet: Creating a Haiku Checklist and Lorraine Ellis Harr’s ISN’Ts of Haiku. Other useful checklists for writing haiku are available on the Literary Kicks site, by Joshua Gage; on Writinghood, by Myron Lysenko; and on Baymoon, by Ebba Story and Joan Zimmerman. For additional information on writing haiku, including its myths and realities, please read Becoming a Haiku Poet and Further Reading. Read a translation and discussion of this checklist in Russian, and Linda Naiman’s blog entry in which she shares the following list and poems she crafted after a haiku walk I led.
“I’m sure that writing isn’t a craft, that is, something for which you learn the skills and go on turning out. It must come from some deep impulse, deep inspiration. That can’t be taught, it can’t be what you use in teaching.” —Robert Lowell
“The first discipline is the realization that there is a discipline—that all art begins and ends with discipline, that any art is first and foremost a craft.” —Archibald MacLeish
“If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”
—D. T. Suzuki, in his introduction to Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery
For haiku inspiration, look closely at everything around you in nature, at home, at school, and at work. Write your haiku first, letting yourself be free and creative. Then ask the following questions about your haiku to help you improve them.
With practice, you won’t need to ask yourself these questions about your haiku. Japanese haiku master Bashō said to “learn the rules and then forget them.” What I believe he meant was that it’s good to internalize the rules (or targets, as I like to call them) so thoroughly that you no longer have to think about them, the way a chess grandmaster no longer thinks of making bad moves. Have fun with your haiku and enjoy noticing life more closely through your five senses!
Comments or questions? Please contact Michael Dylan Welch.