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Haiku in English

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A haiku in English is an English-language poem written in a form or style inspired by Japanese haiku. Like their Japanese counterpart, haiku in English are typically short poems and often reference the seasons, but the degree to which haiku in English implement specific elements of Japanese haiku, such as the arranging of 17 phonetic units (either syllables or the Japanese on) in a 5–7–5 pattern, varies greatly.

Typical characteristics[edit]

The label "haiku" is sometimes applied to any short, impressionistic poem, but there are certain characteristics that are commonly associated with the genre:

  • a focus on nature or the seasons[1][2]
  • a division into two asymmetrical sections that juxtaposes two subjects (e.g. something natural and something human-made, two unexpectedly similar things, etc.)
  • a contemplative or wistful tone and an impressionistic brevity[3][4][5]
  • no superfluous words, but avoiding a "telegram style" syntax
  • an emphasis on imagery over exposition
  • avoidance of metaphor and similes
  • non-rhyming lines
  • brevity, with some haiku meant to be expressed in a single breath[6][7][8]

Length and structure[edit]

Many Japanese haiku are structured around the number of phonetic units known as on, with a three-phrase format in which 17 on are distributed in a 5–7–5 pattern (5 on in the first phrase, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third).[2] This has prompted an idea that English-language haiku should adopt a similar structure in which syllables are arranged across three lines in a 5–7–5 structure. Linguists, however, note two on often form a single syllable and that a 17-on phrase is, on average, about 12 syllables.[2][9] Consequently, many contemporary English-language haiku poets work in forms of 10 to 14 syllables.[10][11][12]


Britain and Australia[edit]

In Britain, the editors of The Academy announced the first known English-language haikai contest on April 8, 1899, shortly after the publication of William George Aston's History of Japanese Literature.[13] The contest, number 27 of the magazine's ongoing series, drew dozens of entries,[14] and the prize was awarded to R. M. Hansard:

The west wind whispered,
And touched the eyelids of spring:
Her eyes, Primroses.

The Academy contest inspired other experimentation with the format. Bertram Dobell published more than a dozen haikai in a 1901 verse collection, and in 1903 a group of Cambridge poets, citing Dobell as precedent, published their haikai series, "The Water Party."[15] The Academy's influence was felt as far away as Australia, where editor Alfred Stephens was inspired to conduct a similar contest in the pages of The Bulletin. The prize for this (possibly first Australian) haiku contest went to Robert Crawford.[16]

American writers[edit]

In the United States, Yone Noguchi published "A Proposal to American Poets," in The Reader Magazine in February 1904, giving a brief outline of his own English hokku efforts and ending with the exhortation, "Pray, you try Japanese Hokku, my American poets! You say far too much, I should say."[17]

Ezra Pound's influential haiku-influenced poem, "In a Station of the Metro", published in 1913, has been widely regarded[by whom?] as a watershed moment in the establishment of English-language haiku as a literary form.[18]

During the Imagist period, a number of mainstream poets, including Amy Lowell, Richard Aldington, and Lewis Grandison Alexander, published what were generally called hokku. Their efforts were actively encouraged by Noguchi, who published his own volume of English-language Japanese Hokkus in 1920.[19]

Postwar revival[edit]

In the Beat period, original haiku were composed by Diane di Prima, Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Richard Wright and James W. Hackett. Wright composed some 4,000 haiku (mostly with 5-7-5 syllabic structure).[20]

Whitecaps on the bay:
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.

— Richard Wright, collected in Haiku: This Other World, 1998

The first English-language haiku group in America, founded in 1956, was the Writers' Roundtable of Los Altos, California, under the direction of Helen Stiles Chenoweth.[21] The Haiku Society of America was founded in 1968 and began publishing its journal Frogpond in 1978.

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, and Nick Virgilio. In the second issue of American Haiku Virgilio published his "lily" and "bass" haiku, which became models of brevity, breaking the conventional 5-7-5 syllabic form, and pointing toward the leaner conception of haiku that would take hold in subsequent decades.[citation needed]

American Haiku ended publication in 1968 and was succeeded by Modern Haiku in 1969. Other early publications include Chenoweth's 1966 anthology Borrowed Water, featuring the work by the Los Altos Writers' Roundtable, and journals Haiku Highlights, founded 1965 by European-American writer Jean Calkins and later taken over by Lorraine Ellis Harr; Eric Amann's Haiku, founded 1967; and Leroy Kanterman's Haiku West founded 1967.

The first Haiku North America conference was held at Las Positas College in Livermore, California, in 1991, and has been held on alternating years since then. The American Haiku Archives, the largest public archive of haiku-related material outside Japan, was founded in 1996.[citation needed] It is housed at the California State Library in Sacramento, California, and includes the official archives of the Haiku Society of America.

Significant contributors to American haiku have included Lee Gurga, Jim Kacian, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Raymond Roseliep, Marlene Mountain, Alan Pizzarelli, Alexis Rotella, George Swede, and Michael Dylan Welch.

Variant forms[edit]

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

One line[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.[22] 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:[22]

  • 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.

The single-line haiku usually contains fewer than seventeen syllables.[citation needed] A caesura (pause) may be appropriate, dictated by sense or speech rhythm (following the Japanese tradition of a break, marked by the Kireji[23]), and usually little or no punctuation.[24] 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, Eve Luckring, 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

The one-line form can create a variety of ambiguities allowing for multiple readings of the same haiku. A variation of the format breaks the line at the caesura or pause.[25]

One word[edit]

A single word may occasionally be claimed to be a haiku:


— Cor van den Heuvel, the window-washer's pail, 1963[26] (printed alone on an otherwise blank page)

Four or more lines[edit]

Haiku of four lines (sometimes known as haiqua)[27] or longer have been written, some of them "vertical haiku" with only a word or two per line, mimicking the vertical printed form of Japanese haiku.

leaf mold

— Marlene Wills, the old tin roof, 1976


Haiku have also appeared in circular form (sometimes known as cirku)[27] 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.[28][29]

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.[30][31]

Publications in North America[edit]

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), 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)). Other notable American publishers of haiku books include Press Here, Bottle Rockets Press, Brooks Books, Turtle Light Press, and Jim Kacian's Red Moon Press.

Publications in other English-speaking countries[edit]

In the United Kingdom, publications of Haiku include Presence (formerly Haiku Presence), which was edited for many years by Martin Lucas and is now edited by Ian Storr, and Blithe Spirit, published by the British Haiku Society and named in honor of Reginald Horace Blyth. In Ireland, twenty issues of Haiku Spirit edited by Jim Norton were published between 1995 and 2000, and Shamrock, an online journal edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky, published international haiku in English from 2007 to 2022.[32] 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, Kokako[33] in New Zealand and Chrysanthemum (bilingual German/English) in Germany and Austria. Two other online English-language haiku journals founded outside North America, A Hundred Gourds and Notes from the Gean, are now defunct. John Barlow's Snapshot Press is a UK-based publisher of haiku books. The World Haiku Club publishes The World Haiku Review, The Living Haiku Anthology, The Living Senryu Anthology, Under the Basho, Failed Haiku, and Wales Haiku Journal, Michael Dylan Welch's Graceguts.

Notable English-language haiku poets[edit]

See also[edit]



  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 c "Official Definitions of Haiku and Related Terms". Haiku Society of America. Archived from the original on 27 May 2015.
  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. ^ Spiess, Robert; Modern Haiku vol. XXXII No. 1 p. 57 "A haiku does not exceed a breath's length." ISSN 0026-7821
  7. ^ Reichhold, Jane; Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands-On Guide; Kodansha 2002 p.30 and p.75 ISBN 4-7700-2886-5
  8. ^ Gurga, 2003, p.2 and p.15
  9. ^ Shirane, Haruo. Love in the Four Seasons, in Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Orientalia Pragensia XV, 2005, p135
  10. ^ Ross, Bruce; How to Haiku; Tuttle Publishing 2002 p.19 ISBN 0-8048-3232-3
  11. ^ Gurga, Lee; Haiku - A Poet's Guide; Modern Haiku Press 2003 p.16 ISBN 0-9741894-0-5
  12. ^ Higginson, William J., The Haiku Handbook, McGraw-Hill, 1985, pp. 101-102 ISBN 0-07-028786-4.
  13. ^ "Academy and Literature".
  14. ^ "Academy and Literature".
  15. ^ "The Water Party," Cambridge Review (1903), xiii.
  16. ^ Tessa Wooldridge, "Haiku in the Bulletin, 1899," Australian Haiku Society, July 7, 2008 [1]
  17. ^ Yone Noguchi, "A Proposal to American Poets," The Reader Magazine 3:3 (Feb. 1904): 248.[2]
  18. ^ Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, eds. Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns, W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 2013
  19. ^ Yone Noguchi, Japanese Hokkus (Boston: Four Seas, 1920).
  20. ^ Richard Wright's haiku on Terebess Asia Online
  21. ^ Biography of Lorraine Ellis Harr on the Aha Poetry website
  22. ^ a b Van den Heuvel, Cor. The Haiku Anthology 2nd edition. Simon & Schuster 1986. ISBN 0671628372 p10
  23. ^ Higginson, William, 'From One-line Poems to Haiku' Haiku Clinic #3, Simply Haiku.com
  24. ^ William J. Higginson. From One-line Poems to One-line Haiku
  25. ^ "BROKEN MONOKU- haiku in one broken line". MONOKU. 31 December 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  26. ^ "The window-washer's pail". 1963.
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ Zip School on Carley's website
  29. ^ Zips in Magma No 19 - Winter 2001
  30. ^ The Lune: The English Language Haiku by Holly Bliss at GoArticles.com
  31. ^ Lipson, Greta B. Poetry Writing Handbook: Definitions, Examples, Lessons. Lorenz Educational Press, 1998. ISBN 9781573101080 p53
  32. ^ Kudryavitsky, Anatoly. "Haiku from Ireland and the rest of the world". Shamrock. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  33. ^ "Publications". 26 November 2016.

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)
  • Rosenstock, Gabriel. Haiku Enlightenment. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1443833790
  • Rosenstock, Gabriel. Haiku: the Gentle Art of Disappearing. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-1443811330
  • 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]

External links[edit]