Sparks: Haiku Writing Exercise #3

Published in Pebbles 30:5, May 2018, pages 13–14. Originally written in March 2015, at the request of Pebbles editor Donna Fuchsluger. “Sparks” is the name of requested commentary appearing in Pebbles, a haiku journal published six times a year by the Haiku Special Interest Group of the American Mensa Society. See also exercise #1 and exercise #2.

Aim for Objectivity

In haiku, a key strategy is not to write about your emotions, but about what caused them. To do this, it helps to make your haiku objective rather than subjective, and to refrain from including judgments or analysis. By carefully presenting the thing itself, you empower readers to get the feelings that you felt. This opens the poem up and engages the reader, whereas if you state or your ideas or feelings, you close the poem down and do the reader’s work. In the first paragraph of The Haiku Handbook, William J. Higginson said that the purpose of haiku is to share them. And the point of sharing haiku is to convey emotion and feeling. But the best haiku withholds feeling so that it might be implied, and yet it creates emotion by presenting images in an objective fashion. For example, consider this poem of mine:

         first snow . . .
         the children’s hangers
         clatter in the closet

The poem reports facts. It’s the first snow of the year. And the observer hears the sound of hangers clattering in a closet. It’s not stated why the hangers are clattering, nor is any emotion stated. But we can easily figure out that children are rushing out to play in the snow, leaving their hangers clattering in the closet as they rush out the door. Thus we feel the emotion of enthusiasm, and a childlike joy in going out to enjoy the first snow. But the poem presents what caused the observer to notice these feelings, just the facts, also employing a careful juxtaposition of images. Try writing haiku in which you assiduously avoid any kind of judgment or analysis. And make this a habit for all of your haiku in the future too.