Reflections and Suggestions

December 2012


James W. Hackett

In the 1950s and 60s it hardly seemed possible that haiku poetry would enjoy its current worldwide popularity. Those of us who pioneered the writing of haiku poetry in English were dedicated to acquiring knowledge of the genre, honing our skills, and developing useful and enlightening guidelines for ourselves and others. In the decades since then, countless groups, editors, and individuals have expressed their ideas about what haiku in English should be.

After many years of attempts to develop a practical form and worthy criteria for writing haiku in English, the 266 poems submitted to the World Haiku Review show little or no consensus about what constitutes a 'haiku poem' in English. Now, an aesthetic anarchy seems to prevail, for in many of the poems, important values of content, form, style, and spirit differ wildly. (Standards of form are virtually nonexistent, varying from 8 to 18 syllables.) I believe the inchoate state of haiku today is very detrimental, not only to haiku's status and image, but to its spirit. The term 'haiku' has become a 'catch all' category for any brief word play produced by human (or electronic) means.

My first books, Haiku Poetry, Volumes I-IV, published in 1968, included some carefully considered suggestions for creating haiku poems in English. These have proved of value to many poets. And after almost half a century these suggestions still remain fundamental to my poetry, and to my mind and spirit. Following is an update of these suggestions for WHC's worldwide community. I encourage readers to decide for themselves which of these suggestions might prove helpful in their own writing:


By James W. Hackett

C 1968 Revision C 2002

1. NOW is the touchstone of the haiku experience, so remain centered in this eternal present of life.

2. Remember that Greater Nature -- not human nature -- is the province of haiku.

3. Contemplate natural objects closely: unseen wonders (and dramas) will reveal themselves.

4. Carry a notebook to jot down subtle haiku moments, for these intuitive experiences may be easily forgotten.

5. Spiritually interpenetrate and empathize with nature. Become One with 'things,' for ultimately, "That art Thou."

6. Reflect upon your notes of nature in solitude and silence. Allow these recollected feelings be the basis of your haiku poem.

7. Write about Nature just as it is. Haiku are neither word games nor puzzles. Basho brought haiku poetry back to life and nature; let us emulate his noble mission.

8. Choose every word very carefully. Use words that best suggest the moment of haiku experience you wish to share.

9. Use verbs in present tense, and singular subjects whenever possible.

10. To add aesthetic dimension, choose modifying words that vivify, including those that suggest the season, location, or time of day.

11. A haiku poem can be more than a verbal snapshot. Avoid such "So what?" haiku by suggesting your emotional reaction during the haiku moment

12. Use common language in a syntax natural to English! Don't attempt 'minimalistic' copies of Japanese usage. Haiku composed in English must seem 'natural' and uncontrived.

13. Write in three lines using approximately 17 syllables. (Forego the traditional Japanese line arrangement of 5-7-5 syllables, as this practice can invite contrivance in English.)

14. Read each verse aloud to make sure it sounds natural. (Avoid end rhyme.) Make use of articles and punctuation common to English.

15. Remember that lifefulness, not beauty, is the essence of haiku.

16. Never use obscure allusions: true haiku are intuitive and direct, not abstract, symbolic, or intellectual. Include humor, but omit mere wit.

17. Avoid poeticism. The haiku poem should be direct, sensuous, and metaphysically 'real.'

18. Work on each poem until it suggests exactly what you want others to see and feel. Remain true to your initial experience and the feelings elicited.

19. Remember that haiku is 'a finger pointing at the moon,' and if the hand is bejeweled, we no longer see that to which it points.

20. Honor your senses with awareness, and your Spirit with zazen or other centering meditation. The 'haiku mind' should be reflective as a clear mountain pond: reflective not of thought, but of the moon and every flight beyond ...

Note : this article was first published in the World Haiku Review, March 2002, Vol 2-1.