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A Lot of Words About A Little Poem
An Introduction to Haiku Structures
Part 1


A haiku poem cannot be defined according to the number of syllables and lines it contains (nor by the number of syllables in each line). Although I do not wish to go into the reasons why at this point (I will save that for a later discussion) the form of modern English haiku, as Haruo Shirane writes, “is a short poem, usually written in one to three lines.” (in Gilbert, 2009)  At this point our definition sounds very vague. If the number of syllables and lines do not define a haiku poem, then what does? And if a haiku poem is simply a short one, two or three-line poem then what separates it from other forms of Western short-verse or, in the case of one-line haiku, a sentence?

Patricia Donegan writes, in agreement with the Western haiku community at large, that “syllable counting... is not the important thing for haiku in English. Haiku is an experience, not an act of counting syllables. The important thing is experiencing the 'haiku moment'.” (Donegan, 2003, p9) The term “haiku moment” was coined by Kenneth Yasuda, but the term itself is not important. Other writers call it the “aha moment,” the “haiku effect,” or the “spark” of the poem. Irrespective of what we call it, how can we begin to understand this esoteric sensation, and in turn, haiku poetry in general? Although there is no way to exactly define how a “haiku moment” is achieved, it is not nearly as mysterious as it sounds. There are, for instance, a number of common structural devices used by haiku poets, which may tell us something about how the “haiku moment” works.

In the following series of notes I will discuss three of these structural elements: juxtaposition, superimposition and repetition. Each of these techniques contributes to the “haiku-moment” in its own way. These are by no means the only structures which haiku poems take, but they are certainly three of the most common, both in classical Japanese and modern English haiku. By studying their effects I believe that beginners and accomplished poets alike can enter more deeply into the heart of haiku poetry and better understand the ever elusive “haiku moment.”

-Juxtaposition: Cut Words and Pivot Points-

Juxtaposition is one of the first techniques that the haiku poet must learn to use. What is juxtaposition? Juxtaposition is the combination of two disparate elements. This means that the poem is broken into two sections, each section containing a single image. It is from the collision of these two images that the meaning of the haiku arises. For instance, take the following well known examples (by Basho and Buson respectively);

summer grasses–
all that remains
of soldiers' dreams

spring rain–
not writing a thing
I become sad

In each poem two images are used which are juxtaposed together. The poem does not say everything, but expects the reader to work to reunite the pair, to find a way to connect the images. It is the discovery of a potential connection (and the joy which may come from performing this task) which contributes to the “haiku moment.” In this sense the “haiku moment” is not found within the words of the poem, but in the emptied space between the two images, in the gaps and fissures which exist in excess of the words (signified by the “cut”).

In Basho's poem, for example, we must reconnect the “summer grasses” with the “remains of soldier's dreams.” How can this be done? The most obvious reading is that the soldier's dead bodies, literally their “remains,” have decomposed into the ground and provided fertilization for the grasses which have grown. Hence, all that remains of the soldiers is summer grass. Deeper in the poem, we can also find a meta-critique of war. After all the efforts of the soldiers and their dreams of what war might achieve, all that remains is the summer grass. War is useless. Humans kill one another: the grass grows. Perhaps Basho is saying that human affairs are inconsequential in the face of natural cycles – that no matter what we do the summer grass will always grow again. As Jin'Ichi Konishi writes, “The warriors' dreams, juxtaposed with the image of the summer grasses, represent the futility of courageous men's endeavors... To use a Buddhist expression, what we have here is the idea of 'permanence' contrasted with 'impermanence'.” (in Ueda, 1995, p243) Similarly, Sam Hamill writes, “Basho's poem is... the greatest little anti-war poem ever written... Basho was following the path of Zen and as a Buddhist believed that killing people is wrong and that war leads only to suffering.” (Hamill, 2005)

In Buson's poem we have the image of “spring rain” juxtaposed with the poet's sadness at being unable to write. What connections can we find between the two images? Firstly, we have the downpour of rain – an abundance of water – contrasted with the “dry spell” of the poet. The poem is also set in spring, a season usually associated with birth and happiness, which is contrasted with the poet's inability to produce poetic “offspring.” Rain also signifies a day to be spent inside – a perfect day for writing. When it is raining I like to sit inside, wrapped in a blanket with the heater on, my notebook close at hand. Here Buson is given the perfect day to do some writing and much to his sadness he produces nothing. It is through these layered dialogues between the two images that the haiku poem creates meaning.

Note that in my translations I have used a “dash” to indicate the juxtaposition (I could have also used a colon, a semi-colon, or a double-dash, for instance). These punctuation-points are equivalent to what the Japanese call a “cutting word” (kireji). One of the most popular “cut words” in haiku is “ya.” The word "ya" has no semantic meaning, but serves to punctuate the poem, cutting it in two. For instance, looking at the original Japanese of Basho's poem you will see the cut-word “ya” directly after the first word “natsukusa” (which means “summer grasses”).

natsukusa ya
tsuwamonodomo ga
yume no ato

The cut-word “ya,” as Harold Henderson writes, “divides a haiku into two parts, and is usually followed by a description or comparison, sometimes by an illustration of the feeling evoked. There is always at least the suggestion of a kind of equation” (Henderson, p178). This “equation” provides two elements which must be “answered” or “reconnected” by the reader. Just as the equation “1 + 1” requires the reader to provide the answer “2,” a haiku poem provides us with two images juxtaposed (or “cut”) together which require us to do the work of reconnection. However, unlike a mathematical equation there is no one answer, no single reading in the poetic. There are only multiplicities.

By way of conclusion it is worth quoting Michael Dylan Welch here at length. He writes that, “By juxtaposing two elements or parts (with one of the elements spanning over two of the poem's three lines), the two parts create a spark of energy, like the gap in a spark plug. The two elements of a good haiku may seem unrelated at first glance, but if the reader lingers on them sufficiently, he or she may notice a reverberation. When you realize the connection between the two parts (sometimes called an "internal comparison"), you have a “spark” of realization, an “aha” moment. As a writer of haiku, it's your job to allow the poem to have that spark – and not to spell it out for the reader.” (Welch, 2003)

-Superimposition 1: Pivot Words-

There are two kinds of “pivots” in haiku, the “pivot-word” and the “pivot-line,” and each has a different function in the poem. However, though they may have a different function, their result is similar: they create a superimposition. Firstly I will discuss the pivot-word, before moving on to the pivot-line. It is worth pointing out that Laurence Stacey refers to juxtaposition as a “pivot-point,” in contrast to the terms pivot-word and pivot-line. (Stacey, 2009)

The pivot-word is sometimes called a “hanging word” (kake kotoba) and refers to words which are spelt the same, but which have more than one meaning (homonyms). Through the use of the pivot-word the poem is left “hanging” between two (or more) possible interpretations. (Greve, 2008) Examples of this are very hard to find in translations of Japanese poetry given that we do not have the same homonyms in English. As Sam Hamill writes, “Kake kotoba is difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to achieve in translating a poem from Japanese.” (Hamill, 2005)

As an example, the English word “bright” means both an intensity of light and a level of intelligence (the lamp is bright; the student is bright). In Japanese however the word “bright” (akai) means both an intensity of light and the colour red. This is made even more complicated in Japanese because a great many of their words have double, and sometimes triple meanings. As Kenneth Rexroth writes, “It should be borne in mind that the Japanese language is almost as rich in homonyms and ordinary double meanings as is Chinese.” (Rexroth, 1955, pXIV) In this sense the pivot-word is not a single word, but a superimposition of two (or more) words on top of each other, both of which are integral to the final meaning of the poem.

In order to look properly at the function of pivot-words in poetry we will need to briefly explore the history of the haiku poem. Haiku, as a term, did not come about until the 1890s. Before this there existed two related forms of poetry, known as haikai and hokku. It was Shiki who eventually combined the names haikai and hokku to create the modern word “haiku” (although they all share similar formal qualities). Haikai was usually played like a game with other poets. One poet would pose a problem, a kind of paradox (called the maeku) which the other poets would solve in haiku form (the tsukeku). As Donald Keene writes, “The more absurd or puzzling the content of the first [poet's] lines, the greater the achievement of the second [poet] if [they] managed to add two or three lines that, perhaps by a clever play on words, made sense of the whole.” (Keene, 1976, p11)

The word “haikai” means something like “humourous poem” and the solutions were often bawdy, crude or sexual in tone. (Gilbert & Rollingstone, 1995) Given that haikai are bawdy by nature, pivot-words are a common technique, particularly in the form of double-entendre and puns: “The pivot word shades into the pun, and some Japanese poems have so many puns that they may have two or more quite dissimilar meanings.” (Rexroth, pXVII) Take the following example, as translated by Donald Keene;

how uncouth it appears
this autumn evening

measured by hand
just six inches big
the moon appears

The leading lines represent the problem, the “maeku,” which must be solved. As Keene writes, “how can one add a tsukeku that justifies speaking of an autumn evening, traditionally a time of lonely beauty, as 'uncouth'?” Quoting Fukui Kyuzo, Keene goes on to explain that “it was considered biro [uncouth, crude] to thrust out one's hand six or more inches.” (Keene, p18) Thus, as the poet reached out to measure the autumn moon, he realises that he has, by accident, acted crudely. Along with this humourous element the poem also contains a philosophical meditation on perception: the moon, so large and full, appears to be just six inches big from the poet's perspective (a unity of big and small in the same image). However, the Japanese word for moon (tsuki) also means “to thrust.” This means that the poem can be read;

measured by hand
just six inches big
thrusting, it appears

By reading the second meaning of the pivot-word, the content of this poem now seems sexual: that which thrusts out is the poet's erect penis (implied, rather than stated). As Keene concludes, “The moon may have appeared to be six inches big, the surface meaning, but the humour of the tsukeku surely lay in the indecent overtones of the pun.” (p18)

This technique was also incorporated into hokku, although to a different effect. Rather than creating a pun, the pivot-word in hokku enables the poem to be read in two entirely different ways, producing two different poems. Rather than working through juxtaposition, the pivot-word creates a superimposition of two poems in a single verse. Take the following example from Shiki, translated by Janine Beichman (in Bowers, 1996, p76);

again and again
I ask how high
the snow is

In Japanese the first line reads “ikutabi mo.” 'Ikutabi' means “often” or “again” (among other related terms). 'Mo' also means a range of things including “again” and “also.” Hence, Beichman translates first line as “again and again” (incorporating an element of repetition, which will be discussed in further depth below). The second line reads “yuki no fusake o.” 'Yuki' means snow, and 'fusake' means “depth,” or “deep.” The particle 'no' is possessive and modifies the word snow, meaning that the “depth” belongs to the “snow” (the snow is deep). The third line reads “tazune keri.” 'Tazune' means “to ask” and can be translated as “I ask.”  'Keri' is a cut-word indicating a pause, as if the poet has put an empty space at the end of the poem. It was also originally used as a “verb-suffix indicating a past tense.” (Henderson, p176) In this case the final line may be modified to read “I asked.” I prefer the present tense. Hence the poem can be written literally as;

again and again
how deep is the snow
I ask (keri)

Interestingly, in English I am required to put “how” at the beginning of the second line in order to make grammatical sense. In the original Japanese the single word “tazune” takes care of the job that needs three words in English (how... I ask). However, the terms 'ikutabi' and 'tazuneru' are also pivot-words and suggest a second reading. If we break 'ikutabi' into 'iku' and 'tabi' it means “several socks” or “lots of socks” ('iku' means “several,” while 'tabi' is a kind of “sock”). The term 'tazuneru' also means “to visit” or “visiting.” This means that we might translate the poem as;

several pairs of socks–
out in the deep snow
visiting (keri)

Here we have two entirely different poems superimposed one on the other in the same space. Each is a connected moment in time. The poet asks “again and again” (and again and again...) how deep the snow is. Why do they ask? In order to determine the amount of socks they will need to wear to keep their feet warm as they go visiting in the snow. A pivot-word used correctly will allow for two (or more) poems to arise which suggest a movement between them. In a sense the pivot-word creates two “frames” of an animation which we, as readers, set in motion.

This example is obviously impossible to translate into a single English poem, as we do not have words with comparable double-meanings. Every language has its own set of pivot-words and I would encourage haiku poets of all languages to explore these terms and learn how to use them effectively. There are times in translation where it is possible to reproduce the effect of a pivot-word. These moments illustrate where languages have commonalities, where vastly different languages converge. However, this technique is seldom pursued by translators. As an example, take the following poem by Onitsura, as translated by Harold G. Henderson and Reginald H. Blyth, respectively;

a trout leaps high–
below him, in the river bottom
clouds flow by

a trout leaps
clouds are moving
in the bed of the stream

In both versions the poem is collapsed into a single reading – the trout leaps above a river, in which we can see the clouds flowing by. No other interpretation is possible. Both Henderson and Blyth have also included words which are not in the original poem. For instance, in Onitsura's version no mention is given of the “river” at all. In Onitsura's poem the river is implied, rather than stated. A literal translation of the poem reads something like;

tobu                ayu                 no
leaping            trout                's

soko                ni
bottom            on

kumo               yuku                nagare                kana
clouds              go                  flowing                -

To transform this into a “correct” English sentence we would say “on the bottom of the leaping trout” or “on the leaping trout’s bottom” rather than “leaping-trout-bottom-on” (note: the term “kana,” like “keri,” is a kind of cut-word which is untranslatable in English). Hence, a more literal translation of this poem might read;

on the bottom
of a trout who leaps
flowing clouds

In this version we find that the flowing clouds (in the river) are reflected on the silvery skin of the fish's underside. However, the term “ni” (in the second line), which I have translated as “on,” can also mean at, in, to and for (among other things). For this reason the first line could read “at the bottom of a leaping trout” (meaning something more like “underneath the leaping trout”). Using this version it is not the bottom of the trout which is referred to, but that which is underneath (at the bottom) the trout – i.e. the “river.” A third possible reading could be that the trout itself is “at the bottom” of the “flowing clouds.” In this version the term flowing is not used to refer to the river, but to the flowing movement of the clouds in the sky above the trout. For this reason I have translated the poem as;

a trout leaps
flowing clouds

In this version all three potential readings are possible; 1) a trout leaps (and is) underneath (below the) flowing clouds (in the sky); 2) the trout leaps (and) underneath (there are) flowing clouds (reflected in the river); 3) the trout leaps (and) underneath (on the trout's underside there are) flowing clouds (which are also reflected in the river). Each of these readings we may consider a “moment” in the “time” of the haiku poem. These three “moments” happen both successively and simultaneously. In succession: firstly the clouds flow above, secondly the clouds are reflected in the river, and thirdly the clouds are reflected on the trout's bottom. However, these events also happen simultaneously, in the sense that all three moments are happening at one and the same time. In this way there is a complex superimposition happening both successively and simultaneously which “animates” the three frames of the poem, and which creates a sense of movement, bringing the poem to life. I feel it is a great pity that more attention has not been given to sensitively translating these elements of haiku in the past.

As a final example, I would like to look at one of my own poems, which explores English examples of pivot-words;

rain hammers down
on the unfinished building
cranes perch

Here there are two pivot-words. Firstly the term “hammers down.” On the one hand this means simply that the rain “pours down” (hammers being a synonym for pours). However, in combination with the second line this could also mean that the builders working on the unfinished building have put their “hammers down” (because it has started raining). Here we have two moments again – the moment when the rain starts (to hammer down) and the moment when the construction workers put their hammers down (due to the rain). Leaping from one moment to the next the poem creates a sense of animation, of movement. In the final line the term “crane” is also ambiguous – does it refer to the bird, or the machine? Rather than having to decide absolutely, there is the potential for both versions to co-exist. Given that we have two variations of the first line (A and B) and two of the second line (C and D) we can combine them in a total of four combinations (AC, AD, BC and BD). These four versions of the poem can then be superimposed one on top of the other, creating multiple entry points into the haiku.

-Superimposition 2: Pivot Lines-

The pivot-line differs from the pivot-word. In the poem above there are not only two pivot-words, “hammers” and “crane,”  but also a pivot-line, “on the unfinished building.” This line is called a pivot-line because it “pivots” between the first and second line. The poem reads “rain hammers down on the unfinished building” and “on the unfinished building cranes perch.” In this sense the line “on the unfinished building” is doubled up and constitutes a superimposition – it is superimposed on itself. Here is another example by Laurence Stacey, which he used in a recent article on pivot-lines;

starry night
in the birdbath
a handful of coins

As Stacey writes, “In this poem, I have used the water “in the birdbath” both as a reflection of the starry night and a lens for the viewing of coins... Acting as opposite poles, the stars and coins also appear to mirror one another.” (Stacey, 2009) On the one hand there is a pivot-line, “in the birdbath” which hangs between line one and two. On the other hand there is a juxtaposition of the “starry sky” and the “handful of coins” shimmering in the water (each star bright and hot, the coins cool and wet). The stars and coins are superimposed, one on the other, and brought into relation through the pivot. Stacey calls the pivot-line a “spark image.” He writes that, “the spark-image refers to any middle image that seems to “travel” between the first and last line of the poem, without being concretely attached to either one.” (Stacey, 2009)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call these “floating lines” as they float between the first and third lines. (D&G, 2004, p289) Lee Gurga calls it a “swing-line.” As Gurga writes, “In contemporary English-language haiku this device [is] used to add dynamism to haiku images” creating an effect in which the “reader's attention swings back and forth between the first and third lines.” (Gurga, 2003, p78). Suffice to say, there are a number of terms associated with this technique. Gurga goes on to write that “Curiously, the use of a pivot was not a feature of traditional Japanese haiku.” (p79) In my own translations however I have found countless examples of “pivot-lines.” Below are four of my translations illustrating the varied use of this technique in classical Japanese hokku poetry (written by Buson, Chiyo, Shiki and Issa, respectively);

drizzling rain
running over the koto
a rat!

autumn wind
round the mountain
bells ring

evening moon
above the koto
plum blossoms fall

mountain village
within my soup
bright moon

This last example by Issa fascinates me, because I don't think I ever would have thought of it without the suggestion of the “floating line.” In a mountain village I imagine that crops are grown communally, that every villager puts something into the garden and helps tend to it. In this sense the mountain village is literally contained in Issa's bowl of soup (as the villager's hard work went toward growing the food used to make the soup). Secondly, while eating the soup Issa notices the moon reflected in the liquid. Hence, the mountain village (is) within the soup, and within the soup (is) the bright moon. Furthermore, a floating-line enables the poem to be juxtaposed in two different ways;

mountain village
within my soup–
bright moon

mountain village–
within my soup
bright moon

This allows for further “folds” in the poem, for other ways to enter the images. The term “fold” I use to designate the multiplicities contained in the haiku poem. Although a haiku poem might look like a simple three line statement which describes an instantaneous moment, a good haiku, in my opinion, always has multiple “folds.” To read a haiku we must “unfold” it.

-Repetition 1: Reiteration-

Finally I would like to briefly look at repetition in haiku poetry. Many haiku employ an element of repetition to suggest a kind of “endlessness.” In a sense we might think of this form of repetition as an example of Immanuel Kant's notion of the “sublime.” First, let us look at a few examples (by Izen, Baishitsu, Chris White and Catherine Mason, respectively);

plum blossoms
red circles red
circles red...

a camillia falls
a bird cries
another camillia falls

the beach–
grains and drops
and grains and...

snow on snow

These four poems all share a common element of repetition, which suggests that the poem continues on and on, without end. In a sense each poem unfolds toward a kind of infinity, the terms increasing exponentially. Baishitsu's poem, for instance, becomes what Deleuze and Guattari call a refrain;

a camillia falls
a bird cries
another camillia falls
a bird cries
another camillia falls
a bird cries
another camillia falls
a bird cries
another camillia falls...

In Chris White's poem, the same effect can be observed;

the beach–
grains and drops
and grains and
drops and grains
and drops and
grains and drops
and grains and
drops and grains
and drops and
grains and drops
and grains and
drops and grains
and drops and
grains and drops...

This piling up of terms produces, for me, a sense of magnitude, a sense of something immeasurable. This is Kant's sublime: an experience of boundlessness, of the infinite. To illustrate this Kant contrasts the beautiful with the sublime: beauty has boundaries, or limits, while the sublime does not. As Kant writes, “The beautiful in nature is a question of the form of the object, and this consists in limitation, whereas the sublime, is to be found in an object even devoid of form, so far as it immediately involves, or else by its presence provokes, a representation of limitlessness.” (in Nead, 1992, p26)

-Repetition 2: Revolution-

There is another form of repetition which is common in classical hokku. Rather than implying a “piling up” of terms, the second mode of repetition creates a sense of “revolution” or “oscillation” between two opposed perceptions. This form of repetition causes what Neitzsche might call an “eternal return.” Take the following examples;

regret, even if I pick
regret, even if I do not pick

clouded, when looking
cloudless, when not looking–
moon viewing

In each of these poems (the first by an unknown poet, the second by Chora) there is a paradox posed in the first two lines: a turning in two directions at once, a splitting in two of the poet's mind or sensibilities. In the first poem this split occurs between the picking, or not picking, of the violets. In the second poem the poet looks toward the clouds and then away, toward and away, caught in an endless refrain. The third line does not resolve this paradox, but forms the image around which the other two lines endlessly turn. Rather than resolution there is infinite revolution. These poems retain their ambiguity and instead of offering a moment of decision, they open upon indecision. In a sense this is a fourth kind of pivoting – a pirouette, if you will. Unlike superimposition there is no animation here, no movement. Instead the poet and reader are caught in a moment of stasis, of immobility: revolving door poem.

However, one could see a way in which the first poem is resolved, though I feel it would take several revolutions for this to become obvious. It is through writing the poem that the poet has released themselves from the revolving door. Rather than picking or not picking the violet, they pick it for the subject of a poem. The violet is then forever frozen in the poem: an endlessness which is static.


There are many writers, particularly in the West, who claim that “ambiguity” in haiku should be avoided. Marco Hudnik, for instance, writes that, “it is most essential for haiku to proceed from a concrete image, based on sensual impression. For example a frog, a clarinet, a crane (in the latter case it must be clear, of course, whether we mean a bird or a machine).” (Hudnik, 2004) Here it is clear that Hudnik sees the ambiguity of the pivot-word to be inappropriate in haiku. Hudnik's writing on haiku is very good, but on this point I must disagree, particularly since traditional haiku (and tanka, for that matter) are littered with words which have double, and sometimes triple meanings.

Similarly, Hasegawa Kai argues that the “pivot-line” makes the haiku “[un]clear in its image, it is vague and does not lead the reader straight to the image, but keeps [them] pondering which image the author wanted to show in the first place. This does not really give more aspects of interpretation [or] depth (yuugen) to the haiku, but is a confusing ambiguous aimai, because this haiku does not have a clear cut.” (Greve, 2008) What I find strange about this is that Kai seems to consider superimposition “ambiguous” while juxtaposition is “clear,” and for him this clarity is a defining feature of haiku. I however feel that juxtaposition is a technique developed to encourage a certain level of ambiguity. Between the two images which are juxtaposed together there is a “fissure” (or “gap”) which the reader must enter into in order to complete the poem. The poem has no absolute meaning: read for maximum ambiguity.

From the examples I have given above it should be clear that “ambiguity” is at the heart of the haiku-moment. Hamill argues that this links haiku with Zen practices and writes that pivots are a “powerful tool. Ambiguity and contradiction abound in Zen and Taoist teaching, and great poets make use of common tools.” (Hamill, 2005) Ambiguity also links haiku to a long lineage of Western and Eastern experimental art that uses ambiguity to produce layered texts which require the audience to unfold them, rather than take them at face value.

However, I feel the need to briefly point out that this kind of “ambiguity” is not the same as confusion. A confused poem which does not make sense is very different from a poem that employs pivots (or any other technique) to achieve an “ambiguity.” Take, for example, the following poem;

full moon–
the closest we've been
all year

This is not confusing to read. The two parts make perfect sense: there is a full moon and someone thinking, or saying, “the closest we've been all year.” It is an object juxtaposed with a statement, or feeling. I hope that it is aesthetically pleasing to read, which is certainly one of the aims of poetry. But there is ambiguity in the poem. What is “the closest we've been all year”? The moon? Or is it a friend, a lover? Or something else entirely? The poem is perfectly clear in terms of language, but it creates ambiguity through its structure. These structures are learnable. Finding the right images to pair together is not. This is something that requires practice (and a number of other things besides).

These are all points which I will return to at a later time. For now it is enough to say that a sense of balance between “ambiguity” and “clarity” is crucial to the writing, and reading, of haiku poetry. I would like to reiterate that the three structures I have outlined here (juxtaposition, superimposition and repetition) are not the only ones available to haiku poets. There are many, many different techniques which haiku poets use, some consciously, some intuitively. But these three are perhaps the most common structures and are particularly useful to the beginning poet. For the experienced haiku poet these devices may eventually become internalised, but no less important. I consider these three techniques to be the foundation of the “haiku moment.” They are not yet the house built, but they do provide a sturdy base on which to start construction.

[see below for the bibliography with links]

The full title of this work is "A Lot of Words About A Little Poem: An Introduction to Haiku Structures."

This is my first piece of haiku theory in a long time. Most of the ideas I have been talking about with Laurence Stacy for the past year or so. We are preparing to compile a book of theory and poems, and this is my first stab at getting something done for this. Please let me know of any typos, spelling errors, sentences that don't make sense (and so on). I have proof-read it but its long and I'm bound to miss things.

All translations of Japanese haiku by Dick Whyte, unless otherwise stated.

PLEASE LEAVE POEMS IN THE COMMENTS - I would love to see some haiku written on the spot!!

Thanks to Chris White [link] and Catherine Mason [link] for letting me use their poems. And thanks, of course, to Laurence for all the conversations and constant encouragement. Here are some links to his recent essays which discuss similar concepts...

Floating Line: [link]
Juxtaposition: [link]
Mono No Aware: [link]



Fabion Bowers, Haiku: An Anthology (Dover, 1996).

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Continuum, 2004).

Patricia Donegan, Haiku (Tuttle, 2003).

Richard Gilbert, “Haiku,” in Simply Haiku (Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 2009). Read it here: [link]

Richard Gilbert and Shinjuku Rollingstone, “The Distinct Brilliance of Zappai and the Need to Reconsider its HSA Definition,” in Simply Haiku (Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2005). Read it here: [link]

Gabi Greve, “The Pivot” (World Kigo Database, 2008). Read it here: [link]

Lee Gurga, Haiku: A Poet's Guide (Modern Haiku Press, 2003).

Sam Hamill, “Interview with Robert D. Wilson,” in Simply Haiku (Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 2005). Read it here: [link]

Marco Hudnik, My View on Haiku – After Twenty Years (Haiku Club of Solvenia, 2004). Read it here: [link]

Harold G. Henderson, An Introduction to Haiku (Doubleday, 1958)

Donald Keene, World Within Walls (Grove Press, 1976)

Catherine Mason, “Haikuwrimo” on Deviant Art (March, 2008). Read it here: [link]

Lynda Nead, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Pornography (Routledge, 1992).

Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Japanese Poems (New Directions, 1955). Read the introduction here: [link]

Laurence Stacey, “ Poetry Discussion 3; Spark Images,” on Deviant Art (June, 2009). Read it here: [link]

Makoto Ueda, Basho and his Interpreters (Stanford University Press, 1995)

Michael Dylan Welch, “Becoming a Haiku Poet” (Haiku World, 2003). Read it here: [link]

Chris White, “Haikuwrimo” on Deviant Art (Summer, 2008). Read it here: [link]

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Daily Deviation

Given 2009-06-17
Haiku Theory Part 1 -2009- by ~SOLARTS is an informative article on the foundations of Haiku, including juxtaposition, superimposition, and repetition. A must-read for serious and budding writers of Haiku. ( Featured by fllnthblnk )
CarBuyWhiz Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2013
AggroMiau Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
A quick  ? Haiku ?

spring in full bloom:
trenched six foot deep
gravediggers whistling a tune

:? Does this fit to the form of haiku as stated in this article?
Cause this would be my very first haiku at all :blush:
gyroids Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014
yes! that is accurate. nice job !
AggroMiau Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks so much for sharing - This is indeed very helpfull for the beginner ot grab a basic understanding of the western haiku writting :D
altocumulus Featured By Owner May 1, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Is there a Part II ?
James-Chandler Featured By Owner Feb 29, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much
For the gift of your knowledge
Is a gift for life

I've been wanting to learn about haiku for ages and I have found this very helpful indeed. Now all I have to do is find that "aha" moment! :)
saiomshriver Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2012
The Onitsura one is my favorite... thank you!
Gershom Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is great. I feel that I understand and can now appreciate haiku so much more. Excellent! Thank you so much for putting this up.
PoeticVine Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
In response to your request for "on the spot" haiku (however belated) --


Shadow stillness, frozen
breath in autumn chill:
fading flowers fall.


Thank you for posting this. :)
bottle-in-the-sea Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
that was really helpful, thanks :)
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