Haiku in English

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A haiku in English is a very short poem in the English language, following to a greater or lesser extent the form and style of the Japanese haiku. A typical haiku is a three-line observation about a fleeting moment involving nature.

The first haiku written in English date from the early 20th century,[citation needed] influenced by English translations of traditional Japanese haiku, and the form has grown in popularity ever since.[citation needed] Many well-known English-language poets have written some haiku, though—perhaps because of their brevity—they are not often considered an important part of their work[by whom?]. Haiku has also proven popular in English-language schools as a way to encourage the appreciation and writing of poetry.[citation needed]

Typical characteristics[edit]

"Haiku" is a term sometimes loosely applied to any short, impressionistic poem, but there are certain characteristics that are commonly associated with the genre:

  • a focus on some aspect of nature or the seasons[1][2]
  • division into two asymmetrical sections, usually with a cut at the end of the first or second section, creating a juxtaposition of two subjects–e.g. something large and something small, something natural and something human-made, two unexpectedly similar things, etc.
  • a contemplative or wistful tone and an impressionistic brevity[3][4][5]
  • elliptical "telegram style" syntax and no superfluous words
  • imagery predominates over ideas and statements, so that meaning is typically suggestive, requiring reader participation
  • avoidance of metaphor and similes
  • non-rhyming lines

Some additional traits are especially associated with English-language haiku (as opposed to Japanese-language haiku):

  • a three-line format with 17 syllables arranged in a 5–7–5 pattern;[2][a][6][7][8] or about 10 to 14 syllables,[9][10] which more nearly approximates the duration of a Japanese haiku[11] with the second line usually the longest. Some poets want their haiku to be expressed in one breath[12][13][14]
  • little or no punctuation or capitalization, except that cuts are sometimes marked with dashes or ellipses and proper nouns are usually capitalized

Haiku movement in North America[edit]


Arguably, the first successful haiku in English was "In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound, published in 1913, even though, excluding the title, it is only two lines long.[15] During the Imagist period, a number of mainstream poets, including 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 Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Richard Wright and James W. Hackett, wrote original haiku in English.

Snow in my shoe
Sparrow's nest

— Jack Kerouac, collected in Book of Haikus, 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, 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.

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, 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.

Variant forms[edit]

Although the vast majority of haiku published in English are three lines long, variants also occur.

One line (monoku)[edit]

The most common variation from the three-line standard is one line, sometimes called a monoku. It emerged from being more than an occasional exception during the late 1970s.[18] The one-line form, based on an analogy with the one-line vertical column in which Japanese haiku are often printed, was lent legitimacy principally by three people:[18]

  • Marlene Mountain was one of the first English-language haiku poets to write haiku regularly 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, in addition to practicing it himself

The single-line haiku usually contains fewer than seventeen syllables. A caesura (pause) may be appropriate, dictated by sense or speech rhythm, and usually little or no punctuation.[19] This form was used by John Wills and, more recently, has been practiced by poets such as M. Kettner, Janice Bostok, Jim Kacian, Chris Gordon, Scott Metz, Stuart Quine, John Barlow, and many others.

an icicle the moon drifting through it
Matsuo Allard (Bird Day Afternoon, High/Coo Press, 1978)
pig and i spring rain
Marlene Mountain (Frogpond 2.3-4, 1979)
the thyme-scented morning lizard's tongue flicking out
Martin Lucas (Presence 39, 2009)
i hope i'm right where the river ice ends
Jim Kacian (Frogpond 35.2, 2012)

As the last two examples, in particular, illustrate, the one-line form can create a variety of ambiguities, involving the perceived placement of cuts and the grammatical status of individual words, allowing for multiple readings of the same haiku.

One word[edit]

At its most minimal, a single word may occasionally be claimed to be a haiku:

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

The first was printed alone on an otherwise blank page and arguably only "works" in that context. The second example is an allusion to the first and also depends on its placement at the center of a haiku collection.

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 contemporary poet John Martone has written a vast number of vertical haiku.


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]

Publications in North America[edit]

The leading English-language haiku journals published in the U.S. 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), and Tinywords (founded by Dylan F. Tweney in 2001). Some significant defunct publications include 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, and Moonset (edited from 2005 to 2009 by an'ya (Andja Petrović)). The largest publisher of haiku books in North America is Jim Kacian's Red Moon Press. Other notable American publishers of haiku books include Press Here, Bottle Rockets Press, Brooks Books, and Turtle Light Press.

Publications in other English-speaking countries[edit]

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. Two other online English-language haiku journals founded outside North America are A Hundred Gourds and Chrysanthemum. John Barlow's Snapshot Press is a notable UK-based publisher of haiku books.

Some notable English-language haiku poets[edit]

(Note: These are haiku poets with Wikipedia pages. A number of important haiku poets do not currently have such pages.)

See also[edit]


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


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ a b Definition of haiku by the Haiku Society of America
  3. ^ Garrison, Denis M. Hidden River: Haiku. Modern English Tanka Press. p. iii. ISBN 978-0-615-13825-1. 
  4. ^ Reichhold, 2002 p.21
  5. ^ Gurga, 2003 p.105
  6. ^ "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. 
  7. ^ "Send your name & message to Mars!". Going to Mars with MAVEN. University of Colorado: 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. 
  8. ^ Shirane, Haruo. Love in the Four Seasons, in Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Orientalia Pragensia XV, 2005, p135
  9. ^ Ross, Bruce; How to Haiku; Tuttle Publishing 2002 p.19 ISBN 0-8048-3232-3
  10. ^ Gurga, Lee; Haiku - A Poet's Guide; Modern Haiku Press 2003 p.16 ISBN 0-9741894-0-5
  11. ^ Higginson, William J., The Haiku Handbook, McGraw-Hill, 1985, pp. 101-102 ISBN 0-07-028786-4.
  12. ^ Spiess, Robert; Modern Haiku vol. XXXII No. 1 p. 57 "A haiku does not exceed a breath's length." ISSN 0026-7821
  13. ^ Reichhold, Jane; Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands-On Guide; Kodansha 2002 p.30 and p.75 ISBN 4-7700-2886-5
  14. ^ Gurga, 2003, p.2 and p.15
  15. ^ Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, eds. Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns, W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 2013
  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]

  • The Haiku Society of America. A Haiku Path. Haiku Society of America, Inc., 1994.
  • Henderson, Harold G. An Introduction to Haiku. Hokuseido Press, 1948.
  • Henderson, Harold G. Haiku in English. Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1967.
  • 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.
  • Hirshfield, Jane. The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single, 2011)
  • 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, Kenneth. Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Tuttle, 1957. ISBN 0-8048-1096-6.


  • Global Haiku. Eds. George Swede and Randy Brooks. IRON Press, 2000.
  • Haiku 21. Eds. Lee Gurga and Scott Metz. Modern Haiku Press, 2011.
  • The Haiku Anthology. Ed. Cor van den Heuvel. Anchor Books, 1974
  • The Haiku Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Cor van den Heuvel. Simon & Schuster, 1986.
  • The Haiku Anthology. 3rd ed. Ed. Cor van den Heuvel. W.W. Norton, 1999.
  • Haiku in English. Eds. Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns. W.W. Norton, 2013.
  • Haiku Moment. Ed. Bruce Ross. Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1993.
  • The San Francisco Haiku Anthology. Eds. Jerry Ball, Garry Gay, and Tom Tico. Smythe-Waithe Press, 1992.
  • The Unswept Path. Eds. John Brandi and Dennis Maloney. White Pine Press, 2005.
  • Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku. Ed. Allan Burns. Snapshot Press, 2013.



Techniques and papers[edit]