Hallowed Haiku : Forum : What To Avoid Writing in Haiku

What To Avoid Writing in Haiku

12 Years Ago

Gathered from the article on shadowpoetry.com by Kathy Lippard Cobb, published haiku poet. 

1) Haiku is generally not written in one long run on sentence. It is generally written in two parts.

You have a fragment on the first or the last line, then you have the body of the haiku.


winter sun--
a cyclist pedals
against the wind

Copyright © 2000 Kathy Lippard Cobb, April 2001 Heron's Nest

or like this:

a cyclist pedals
against the wind--
winter sun

A good structure for beginning haiku poets is:

subject and action (on two lines)

2) Haiku is not written in the past, nor does it cover a long period of time.

It is in the moment. It is about taking ordinary moments, and making them extraordinary.

3) [[Avoid redundancy]] Haiku usually contains a season word (called kigo). It is not a requirement, but season words are a big part of haiku. However, it's best to avoid dual or conflicting kigo. Do not fill your haiku with them. Haiku is a short poem, and must contain some substance. It should not be just a weather report.

There are occasions once you are more experienced, that you may have two kigo in one haiku, however, one should clearly be the main kigo and not be redundant.

You only have dual kigo, if they enhance the haiku.

Example of dual kigo that are redundant:

Christmas Eve--
my daughter's note for Santa
under the cookies

Anyone knows that if the daughter left a note or cookies for Santa, that it must be Christmas Eve. So it would be better to use something else for line 1 - Christmas Eve is not needed.

4) Haiku is usually not written in three sentence fragments. There is usually one fragment and a phrase on the other two lines.

5) Haiku does not use metaphor, personification, simile, or many other poetic devices so popular in other forms of poetry. It is about the essence of a moment, stated simply.

6) The majority of haiku do not use capitalization and use minimal punctuation (though you may see a few who do this). Periods are not used, and the only thing capitalized are months or holidays. However, many do not capitalize anything. Periods close in the haiku, so are to be avoided. Haiku should left open ended, almost unfinished.

7) Avoid "so what" moments. These are haiku that are stated so simply that they're boring. I call this grocery list haiku.


winter afternoon--
I walk to the store
and back again

There is such a thing as stating things too simply. However, the poetics in haiku is not due to flowery language, it's using juxtaposition between the two parts to create resonance.

However, if not using juxtaposition, the haiku must contain something to capture the reader's interest, let the reader see what the author was seeing at the time, but through the reader's own eyes. Yes, you can do this. Things simply stated can still be interesting.

8) Avoid photo haiku -- haiku that are nothing more than snapshots, do not focus on a specific moment or image, and have no real resonance or action.


crowded pub--
cocktail glasses line
the corner of the bar

It's not only boring, but it's too common of an image. It is not focusing on one specific moment.

This is just an overall picture in a bar, it doesn't really say anything. It's just a "so what" moment that occurs in every bar in the world.

You can make this more interesting, by focusing on something specific or a specific person.


happy hour--
a redhead scrawls her name
in the window frost

Here I even worked in a season word, "frost." I focused on one person, not the entire bar.

9) Avoid cause and effect in haiku -- where something in one part of the haiku causes action in the second part.


heavy rain--
my shirt clings
to my body

It's not only boring, it's too obvious. You can have cause and effect, IF it's contained in one part of the haiku.


a leaf spirals
in the summer wind--
his good-bye letter

This kind of cause and effect is o.k., as it's contained in one part of the haiku. Then, you can add something else for the third line, such as I did here. I used a good-bye letter to juxtapose with the leaf. These are two very lonely images. You can add whatever you like in the third line. Don't tell the reader they should feel lonely, show it.

There ARE haiku that have cause and effect, where something in the first part of the haiku, causes action in the second half.

However, usually, there is another level of meaning present. It's not just simple cause and effect, as in my "heavy rain" example.

10) Show don't tell. This is confusing to many writers. It certainly was to me. We all know that the English language, or ANY language, TELLS. I have never heard of a "story shower."

However, what it means to show don't tell, is that instead of saying that you are sad, lonely, or that you love someone, try to show it.

Instead of telling your emotions, show it by using concrete imagery.

Example of telling:

the funeral over--
the house is so lonely
without him

Example of showing:

the funeral over--
his aftershave lingers
in our bedroom

This shows loneliness. However, the phrase "I'm lonely" is nowhere in this poem. This is just one of many examples of show don't tell.