What Is Haiku?

First published on the author’s “Barking Mad” page on Facebook, 26 November 2018. See also “Barking Mad Questionnaire.”

by Corine Timmer

Haiku is a short form of poetry, usually in three lines. It captures a moment in time with few words. Despite its simple appearance a good haiku is sometimes complex. It should lead to a moment of insight. It should sweep us off our feet. In other words, the end result should be greater than the sum of its parts. This means that every word counts. The combination of words also counts. It’s like a puzzle. Nature (including human nature) and its seasonality plays an important role in this form of poetry. Traditional haiku contain a seasonal reference. They are also divided into two parts, creating a contrast or harmony. This structure adds to the effect. The best way to familiarize yourself with haiku is to read haiku. Enjoy! Here is an example by Michael Dylan Welch. It is a poem that swept me off my feet when I first read it.

        spring breeze—

        the pull of her hand

        as we near the pet store

Spring breeze is the seasonal reference in this haiku. It tells us that the days are getting warmer and longer. Birds are nesting. People are out and about. The cycle of life is starting over. The fact that it’s a breeze suggests the day is gentle. Two words that set the mood. In the second part of the poem I can picture an adult possibly a family member walking hand in hand with a little girl. I assume it’s a little girl because of the instant reaction of the pull of her hand as she sees the pet store. She doesn’t think, she reacts. Perhaps there is a puppy or kitten in the pet store? The little girl is in the spring of her life and has youthful energy. Her mood is in harmony with the mood of spring. The poet says a lot here that’s not written in the poem but we can picture it in our minds. This haiku is a good example of a poem in which the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. It gives us a warm feeling that lingers far beyond its words and the end of the poem.