Haiku Format; Characteristics of the Haiku

The haiku format generally consists of:

  • A two-part structure
  • This structure allows for two contrasting or complementary images to be presented together.

  • Objective, sensory imagery that paints a picture
  • Simple, striking imagery is used to spark the imagination. The haiku is usually free of complex literary devices because there is simply no room for them.

  • Seventeen syllables, organised into three lines
  • Haiku are sometimes written in seventeen syllables, organised into lines of five, seven and five. Or sometimes, three, five and three. The seventeen syllable form was introduced by early English language haiku poems who wanted to effectively approximate the rhythmic structure of the Japanese haiku in the English language. However, most modern haiku poets in the west ignore this structure as it can result in unnatural poems that have been somewhat disfigured in order to fit the strict structure. This 5,7,5 syllable rule has a tendency to act more as a constraint of the haiku structure than as an aid to poetic creation.

  • The inclusion of a kigo, or seasonal reference
  • The kigo is important for giving the haiku certain seasonal associations. The Japanese use certain words that hold seasonal significance to point this out. Many poems might use the same season word. This word however, doesn't necessarily point towards nature, it might refer to a certain human activity that takes place in a particular season.

The strict adherence to certain rules keeps the haiku concise and allows it to come alive.The simplicity of the haiku helps focus the readers attention on the one image it presents.

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