To make the three lines of a haiku 5, 7, and 5 syllables long is a merely superficial conformity to the Japanese original. What counts is the spirit.
~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
Shape and structure are often what first come to mind when we think of haiku — which is usually presented in three lines (sometimes in one or two lines) of typically less than 17 syllables. Poet Tom Clausen sees the structure as encouraging us to “express something meaningful in as few words as possible” and inviting us to “maintain a healthy focus and awareness” as we aim to express what is in the heart.
For those of you interested in the purest form of haiku, Tom Clausen offers the following:
The purists believe a haiku should always have a ‘season word’ and should be a short, one breath poem of less than 17 syllables. They are often of the opinion it should be present tense, direct, and not just a sentence….It should not be a statement of an opinion or a soap box to present an argument or a position. It is typically not a type of poetry that uses metaphor.
Today our invitation is to experiment with the basic shape and structure of haiku.
We invite you to close your eyes and take one or two slow, deep breaths. In this place of presence, feel that which is in your heart. You might consider a moment that felt particularly meaningful for you today. Spend some time feeling into this experience then experiment with capturing the moment in a one-breath, direct, present-tense expression. You might play with trying to write in a three-line format, striving to have less than 17 syllables. You might incorporate a season word. You might puzzle over the order and arrangement of your words and lines to arrive at what intuitively works best.
In the remaining days of the practice, we will suggest a specific focus for you to consider as you craft your haiku. For today and all days of the practice, we invite you to choose the degree to which it feels right for you to use the purist form. Checking off all the “criteria” is certainly not a requirement, and we encourage you to find flexibility within the discipline. As Br. David Steindl-Rast encouragingly says, “What counts is the spirit.”
After you have experimented with writing your haiku, we invite you to reflect on your experience in a notebook or in the reflection area below. If you’d like, you may also share your haiku!
Enjoy the full eight-day Exploring Haiku practice.