Haiku in English

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A Haiku in English is a short poem which uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.[1] It is a development of the Japanese haiku poetic form in the English language.

Some of the more common practices in English include:

  • use of three lines of up to 17 syllables,[1] traditionally in "5–7–5" form.[a][2][3]
  • allusion to nature or the seasons.[4]
  • use of a caesura or kire represented by punctuation, space, a line-break, or a grammatical break[1] to compare two images implicitly.[5]

English haiku do not adhere to the strict syllable count found in Japanese haiku,[6] and the typical length of haiku appearing in the main English-language journals is 10–14 syllables.[7][8] Some haiku poets are concerned with their haiku being expressed in one breath[9][10][11] and the extent to which their haiku focus on "showing" as opposed to "telling",[12][13] i.e., describing rather than explaining. Haiku uses an economy of words to paint a multi-tiered painting, without "telling all".[14] As Matsuo Bashō put it, "The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of."[15]

Haiku movement in North America[edit]


During the Imagist period, a big number of mainstream poets, including Ezra Pound, wrote what they called hokku, usually in a five-six-four syllable pattern. Amy Lowell published several hokku in her book "What's O'Clock" (1925; winner of the Pulitzer Prize). Individualistic haiku-like verses by the innovative Buddhist poet and artist Paul Reps (1895–1990) appeared in print as early as 1939 (More Power to You—Poems everyone Can Make, Preview Publications, Montrose CA.). Inspired by R. H. Blyth's translations, other westerners including those of the Beat period, such as Jack Kerouac and Richard Wright, attempted original haiku in English.

Snow in my shoe
Sparrow's nest
Jack Kerouac (collected in Book of Haikus, Penguin Books, 2003)

The African-American novelist Richard Wright, in his final years, composed some 4,000 haiku, 817 of which are collected in the volume Haiku: This Other World. Wright hewed to a 5-7-5 syllabic structure for most of these verses.[16]

Whitecaps on the bay:
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.
Richard Wright (collected in Haiku: This Other World, Arcade Publishing, 1998)

An early anthology of American haiku, Borrowed Water (Tuttle: 1966) of work by the Los Altos, California Roundtable was compiled by Helen Stiles Chenoweth. The experimental work of Beat and minority haiku poets expanded the popularity of haiku in English. Despite claims that haiku has not had much impact on the literary scene, a number of mainstream poets, such as W. H. Auden, Richard Wilbur, James Merrill, Etheridge Knight, William Stafford, W. S. Merwin, John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Ruth Stone, Sonia Sanchez, Billy Collins, (as well as Seamus Heaney, Wendy Cope, and Paul Muldoon in Ireland and Britain) and others have tried their hand at haiku. Haiku has also proven very popular as a way of introducing students to poetry in elementary schools and as a hobby for numerous amateur writers.

In 1963 the journal American Haiku was founded in Platteville, Wisconsin, edited by the European-Americans James Bull and Donald Eulert. Among contributors to the first issue were poets James W. Hackett, O Mabson Southard (1911–2000), and Nick Virgilio. In the second issue of American Haiku Virgilio published his "lily" and "bass" haiku, which became models of brevity, breaking down the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic form, and pointing toward the leaner conception of haiku that would take hold in subsequent decades.

out of the water
out of itself
picking bugs
off the moon
Nick Virgilio (Selected Haiku, Burnt Lake Press/Black Moss Press, 1988)

American Haiku ended publication in 1968 and was succeeded by Modern Haiku in 1969, which remains an important English-language haiku journal. Other early journals included Haiku Highlights (founded 1965 by European-American writer Jean Calkins and later taken over by the European-American writer Lorraine Ellis Harr who changed the name to Dragonfly), Eric Amann's Haiku (founded 1967), and Haiku West (founded 1967).

The first English-language haiku society in America, founded in 1956, was the Writers' Roundtable of Los Altos, California, under the direction of Helen Stiles Chenoweth.[17] The Haiku Society of America was founded in 1968 and began publishing its journal Frogpond in 1978. Important resources for poets and scholars attempting to understand English-language haiku aesthetics and history include William J. Higginson's Haiku Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 1985) and Lee Gurga's Haiku: A Poet's Guide (Modern Haiku Press, 2003).

Significant contributors to American haiku include Hackett, Virgilio, Charles B. Dickson (1915–1991), Elizabeth Searle Lamb (1917–2005), Raymond Roseliep (1917–1983), Robert Spiess (1921–2002), John Wills (1921–1993), Anita Virgil (b. 1931), and Peggy Willis Lyles (1939–2010).

my "I-Thou"
Raymond Roseliep (Rabbit in the Moon, Alembic Press, 1983)
an aging willow--
its image unsteady
in the flowing stream
Robert Spiess (Red Moon Anthology, Red Moon Press, 1996)

Other major figures still active in the American haiku community include Lee Gurga, Christopher Herold, Gary Hotham, Jim Kacian, Michael McClintock, Marlene Mountain, Marian Olson, Alan Pizzarelli, Alexis Rotella, John Stevenson, George Swede, vincent tripi, Michael Dylan Welch, and Ruth Yarrow. Examples:

Just friends:
he watches my gauze dress
blowing on the line.
Alexis Rotella (After an Affair, Merging Media, 1984)
Little spider,
will you outlive
Cor van den Heuvel (Haiku Anthology, 34d ed. 1999)
meteor shower...
a gentle wave
wets our sandals
Michael Dylan Welch (HSA Newsletter XV:4, Autumn 2000)

Pioneering haiku poet Cor van den Heuvel has edited the standard Haiku Anthology (1st ed., 1974; 2nd ed., 1986; 3rd ed. 1999). Since its most recent edition, another generation of American haiku poets has come to prominence. Among the most widely published and honored of these poets are John Barlow, Cherie Hunter Day, Carolyn Hall, paul m., John Martone, Chad Lee Robinson, Billie Wilson, and Peter Yovu. Newer poets exemplify divergent tendencies, from self-effacing nature-oriented haiku (Allan Burns) to Zen themes perpetuating the concepts of Blyth and Hackett (Stanford M. Forrester), poignant haiku-senryū hybrids in the manner of Rotella and Swede (Roberta Beary), the use of subjective, surreal, and mythic elements (Fay Aoyagi), emergent social and political consciousness (John J. Dunphy), and genre-bending structural and linguistic experimentation as well as "found haiku" (Scott Metz).

The American Haiku Archives, the largest public archive of haiku-related material outside Japan, was founded in 1996. It is housed at the California State Library in Sacramento, California, and includes the official archives of the Haiku Society of America, along with significant donations from the libraries of Lorraine Ellis Harr, Jerry Kilbride, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Francine Porad, Jane Reichhold, and many others.

Publications in North America[edit]

The leading English-language haiku magazines published in the USA include Modern Haiku, Frogpond (published by the Haiku Society of America), Mayfly (founded by Randy and Shirley Brooks in 1986), Acorn (founded by A. C. Missias in 1998), bottle rockets (founded by Stanford M. Forrester), The Heron's Nest (founded by Christopher Herold in 1999, published online with a print annual); Brussels Sprout (edited from 1988 to 1995 by Francine Porad), Woodnotes (edited from 1989 to 1997 by Michael Dylan Welch), Hal Roth's Wind Chimes, Wisteria, moonset (edited from 2005 to 2009 by an'ya (Andja Petrović)), and tinywords (founded by Dylan F. Tweney in 2001).

Publications in other English-speaking countries[edit]

John Barlow's Snapshot Press is a notable UK-based publisher. In the UK, the British Haiku Society publishes Blithe Spirit, and the World Haiku Club publishes The World Haiku Review. Another leading haiku magazine in the UK is Presence (formerly Haiku Presence), which was edited for many years by Martin Lucas (1962-2014). In Ireland, twenty issues of Haiku Spirit edited by Jim Norton were published between 1995 and 2000. Shamrock, the online journal of the Irish Haiku Society edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky, currently publishes thematic issues on the haiku movements in various countries, as well as international haiku. In Australia, twenty issues of Yellow Moon, a literary magazine for writers of haiku and other verse, were published between 1997 and 2006 (issues 1-8 were edited by Patricia Kelsall; issues 9-20 by Beverley George). Nowadays Paper Wasp is published in Australia, while Kokako is published in New Zealand.

Variant forms[edit]

Although the vast majority of haiku published in English appear in three lines, a number of variants can be seen.

One line[edit]

The most common variation from the three-line standard is one line. It emerged from being more than an occasional exception during the late 1970s.[18] The one-liner was lent legitimacy by three people:[18]

  • Marlene Mountain was one of the first English-language haiku poets to regularly write haiku in a single horizontal line;
  • Hiroaki Sato translated Japanese haiku into one line in English;
  • Matsuo Allard wrote essays in its favor and published several magazines and chapbooks devoted to the form.

The single-line haiku usually contains much fewer than seventeen syllables. A caesura (pause) may be appropriate, dictated by sense or speech rhythm, and usually little or no punctuation.[19] It has been practiced by Marlene Mountain, John Wills, and Matsuo Allard, and has been used more recently by poets such as M. Kettner, Janice Bostok, Jim Kacian, Chris Gordon, Scott Metz, Dennis M. Garrison, Charles Trumbull, Stuart Quine,[citation needed] and many others.

pig and i spring rain
Marlene Mountain (Frogpond 2.3-4, 1979)
an icicle the moon drifting through it
Matsuo Allard (Bird Day Afternoon, High/Coo Press, 1978)

Mountain (formerly Wills) also writes collaborative one-line linked haiku and sequences.

One word[edit]

At its most minimal, haiku may occasionally consist of a single word:

Cor van den Heuvel (the window-washer's pail, 1963)
John Stevenson (Live Again, 2009)

Four or more lines[edit]

Haiku of four lines (sometimes known as haiqua)[20] or longer have been written, some of them "vertical haiku" with only a word or two per line. These poems mimic the vertical printed form of Japanese haiku.

she watches
satisfied after love
he lies
looking up at nothing
pw (Blithe Spirit 10:4, 2000)
leaf mold
Marlene Wills (the old tin roof, 1976)

The highly prolific poet John Martone (b. 1952) specializes in vertical haiku along the lines of the examples above.


Haiku have also appeared in circular form (sometimes known as cirku)[20] whereby the poem has no fixed start or end point.

Fixed form[edit]

In the "zip" form developed by John Carley, a haiku of 15 syllables is presented over two lines, each of which contains one internal caesura represented by a double space.[21][22]

                  buoyed up   on the rising tide
  a fleet of head boards   bang the wall
John Carley (Magma No 19, 2001)

A fixed-form 5-3-5 syllable (or 3-5-3 word) haiku is sometimes known as a lune.[23][24]

Notable poets[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Comprising 5 syllables on the first line, 7 on the second and 5 on the third


  1. ^ a b c Definition of haiku by the Haiku Society of America
  2. ^ "How to Write a Haiku Poem: Haiku Examples and Tips". Creative Writing Now. William Victor, S.L. Retrieved 2013-05-14. "Traditionally, haiku is written in three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line." 
  3. ^ "Send your name & message to Mars!". Going to Mars with MAVEN. University of Colorodo: Boulder. Retrieved 2013-05-14. "For the MAVEN contest, we are defining a haiku as a poem made of three lines; the first and last lines must have exactly five syllables each and the middle line must have exactly seven syllables." 
  4. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2009. "A Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, traditionally invoking an aspect of nature or the seasons." 
  5. ^ Haruo Shirane and Lawrence E. Marceau, "Early Modern Literature," in Early Modern Japan, Fall 2002, p27
  6. ^ Shirane, Haruo. Love in the Four Seasons, in Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Orientalia Pragensia XV, 2005, p135
  7. ^ Ross, Bruce; How to Haiku; Tuttle Publishing 2002 p.19 ISBN 0-8048-3232-3
  8. ^ Gurga, Lee; Haiku - A Poet's Guide; Modern Haiku Press 2003 p.16 ISBN 0-9741894-0-5
  9. ^ Spiess, Robert; Modern Haiku vol. XXXII No. 1 p. 57 "A haiku does not exceed a breath's length." ISSN 0026-7821
  10. ^ Reichhold, Jane; Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands-On Guide; Kodansha 2002 p.30 and p.75 ISBN 4-7700-2886-5
  11. ^ Gurga, 2003, p.2 and p.15
  12. ^ Reichhold, 2002 p.21
  13. ^ Gurga, 2003 p.105
  14. ^ Garrison, Denis M. Hidden River: Haiku. Modern English Tanka Press. p. iii. ISBN 978-0-615-13825-1. 
  15. ^ Yasuda. Kenneth. Haiku. Tuttle, 1957. p6
  16. ^ Richard Wright's haiku on Terebess Asia Online
  17. ^ Biography of Lorraine Ellis Harr on the Aha Poetry website
  18. ^ a b Van den Heuvel, Cor. The Haiku Anthology 2nd edition. Simon & Schuster 1986. ISBN 0671628372 p10
  19. ^ William J. Higginson. From One-line Poems to One-line Haiku
  20. ^ a b Gill, Stephen Henry et al., editors. Seasons of the Gods Hailstone Haiku Circle, Kansai, 2007. ISBN 978-4-9900822-3-9 p.2
  21. ^ Zip School on Carley's website
  22. ^ Zips in Magma No 19 - Winter 2001
  23. ^ The Lune: The English Language Haiku by Holly Bliss at GoArticles.com
  24. ^ Lipson, Greta B. Poetry Writing Handbook: Definitions, Examples, Lessons. Lorenz Educational Press, 1998. ISBN 9781573101080 p53

Further reading[edit]

  • Henderson, H. G. An Introduction to Haiku. Hokuseido Press, 1948.
  • Higginson, William J. and Harter, Penny. The Haiku Handbook, How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. Kodansha, 1989. ISBN 4-7700-1430-9.
  • Higginson, William J. Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac. Kodansha, 1996. ISBN 4-7700-2090-2.
  • Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs, from renga to haiku to English. Weatherhill, 1983. ISBN 0-8348-0176-0.
  • Suiter, John. Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen & Jack Kerouac in the Cascades. Counterpoint, 2002. ISBN 1-58243-148-5; ISBN 1-58243-294-5 (pbk).
  • Yasuda, Ken. Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Tuttle, 1957. ISBN 0-8048-1096-6.
  • Hirshfield, Jane. The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single, 2011)



Techniques and papers[edit]