Writing haiku poetry

by | Mar 1, 2010 | Poetry

The poetry lessons draw more folks to this blog than just about any other article (with the two most frequently accessed posts being Writing a Diamante Poem and Cinquain Poetry).

This inspired me to share a new lesson: how to write haiku!

What Is Haiku?

Japanese in origin, haiku is not based on rhyme, but on a pattern of syllables. At three lines long, haiku is a poem of economy. Traditionally, only 17 syllables are allowed, so a finished haiku may end up being just 12 or 13 words long.

By its nature, haiku is concrete and concise, capturing a single moment in a mere handful of words. It’s a tall order to write a poem full of rich imagery, paint a picture in the reader’s mind, and leave an impression on a heart or soul—and do so with so few words.

Every word counts, and that’s why—perhaps more than any other poetry genre—haiku is especially fitting for Words Matter Week.

Writing Haiku Poetry: An Experience with Nature

Choosing a Subject for Your Poem

Haiku poems celebrate appreciation for beauty and nature. Plants, animals, water, weather, and seasons are often subjects of haiku. Powerful yet sensitive, these poems communicate a mood or tone without actually using words to describe feelings.

Haiku poems capture a moment in a handful of words. This lesson teaches kids about writing haiku poetry to celebrate beauty and nature.

Red and gold poppies
explode with fresh spring colors,
invading my yard.

Writing Haiku Poetry | Red and Gold Poppies

Notice how this haiku expresses a crisp, springy, bright feeling. You can picture a tired winter garden coming to life. The words never actually say, “After a cold, colorless winter, I am so happy and cheered to see flowers again!” Yet this is the message the poem brings.

In the darkest wood
with heads hanging mournfully,
weeping willows cry.

This poem gives a feeling of sadness, even though the words don’t tell you how the poet feels, or how you should feel. Notice how personification helps to communicate this tone. When writing haiku poetry, think about the emotions you want your reader to experience. Paint a picture with your words to express a mood.

Formatting Your Haiku Poem

Some poetry forms require the writer to follow a certain format, or structure. You may remember that cinquains and diamantes, for example, call for you to use an exact number of words within an exact number of lines. Haiku, on the other hand, requires you to carefully count syllables instead of words. This form of poetry always uses 3 lines and 17 syllables.

Line 1: 5 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 5 syllables

When counting out syllables, listen to the beat within a word, silently tapping it out on the table. Usually, a syllable is marked by a vowel sound. “Butterfly” has three syllables (but/ter/fly). The word “cocoon” contains two syllables (co/coon). The word “exuberantly” has five (ex/u/ber/ant/ly). “Flight” has only one (flight).

If you still have trouble counting syllables, try Rhyme Desk’s online tool.

Because your entire poem is only 17 syllables, every single word must be carefully chosen to say exactly what you want to communicate. Rely heavily on a good thesaurus for terrific, specific words! Your thesaurus will also be useful when you need to find a synonym of more or fewer syllables that will fit better on a line of your poem.


What to Do if a Line Contains Too Few or Too Many Syllables

> Leave out or add articles (a, an, the) to shorten or lengthen the number of syllables. Example: a six-syllable line must be shortened to five syllables.

A/ small/ frog/ trills/ loudly = 6 syllables
Small/ frog/ trills/ loud/ly = 5 syllables (drop the “a”)

Writing Haiku Poetry | Jungle Frog

> Use your thesaurus to find a similar word that will fit.

Suppose your haiku looks like this:

Thunder clouds follow me (6)
booming from behind (5)
the sky is so mad. (5)

Do you see how each line has too many or too few syllables? Let’s look at them one at a time.

Example: the first line of a haiku poem must be 5 syllables long.

Thun/der/ clouds/ fol/low/ me = 6 syllables (it’s too long – you need 5 syllables)

Now, look up follow in the thesaurus. Can you find a one-syllable word that will fit? (chase)

Thun/der/ clouds/ chase/ me = 5 syllables (this will work)

> Look for a word to drop.

Thun/der/ clouds/ fol/low = 5 syllables (just drop the “me”)

> Find a different way to say a similar thing. Often your thesaurus will help, but sometimes you just need to think! How can you express the same message while adjusting the number of syllables?

Example 1: The second line must be 7 syllables.

boom/ing/ from/ be/hind = 5 syllables (it’s too short – needs 7 syllables)
bel/low/ing/ from/ a/ dis/tance = 7 syllables (use longer words)

Example 2: The third line must be 5 syllables.

the/ sky/ is/ so/ mad = 5 syllables

The number of syllables is correct—so what’s wrong with this line? Remember that you want to avoid “to be” words such as is, and empty words such as so:

the/ an/gry/ sky/ shouts = 5 syllables, OR
the/ black/ sky/ threat/ens = 5 syllables

While still expressing a “mad” feeling, these lines use more specific words that paint a fuller picture. Show, don’t tell.

OK, here’s the finished haiku poem:

Thunder clouds chase me (5)
bellowing from a distance (7)
the angry sky shouts. (5)

Should haiku have a title? Typically not. If you think it needs a title to better explain the poem, do your best to work the title into the poem by removing and replacing words. Use your new syllable skills to help when writing haiku poetry.

Photos: Autan, Chad King, and Geoff Gallice courtesy of Creative Commons.



  1. j rap

    Thank you for your informative and interesting site. I would just add that contemporary American haiku has since the 1980s largely abandoned the idea of the 5-7-5 syllable count. See the writings of the HSA [Haiku Society of America). A more modern approach is to use 2 stressed syllables in the first line, 3 in the second line, and 2 in the third line, as in this poem, published in Acorn (Fall 2018): fire season/she says good morning/like a prayer — Stephen Colgan
    I personally feel that this new approach allows the poet greater freedom and also ensures that the poem has a pleasing rhythmic undercurrent. I strongly suggest that readers check out such journals as Acorn, Frogpond, Bottle Rockets and other modern haiku journals, as well as journals and websites devoted to haiku and its related forms of renga, senryu and haibun.

    • Kim Kautzer

      Love this modern approach! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. cam chat mobile

    Hey there, You have done an excellent job. I’ll definitely digg
    it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m sure they will be benefited from this web site.

  3. enna lucas

    I love haikus.

  4. Katie

    Thanks your lesson was very good.

  5. Kim

    Katie! I’m so impressed with how you put the lesson into practice right away. Thank you for sharing your haiku poems.

  6. Katie

    Just was reading through and thought I could leave some too. Sense I wrote them while reading your how to do.

    Water flow or the rocks
    Sing and chuckling its way
    Down the mountain side

    Blooming ecstasy
    Budding dreams for tomorrow
    Flowering young minds

    Stars and heavens change
    Time and space twist and collide
    Life ever changing

    Colors bright and new
    Grow ever brightening shades
    Yet still wither and fade

  7. sandra

    Hello Kim,

    Have found your site through Google – I like the clear instructions given for writing haiku.

    However, may I respectfully point out that the vast majority of haiku written in English do NOT adhere to 5-7-5, one of the reasons being the very suggestion that you make to use a thesaurus to find a synonym to get the syllable count right. Forcing a poem into a syllable count often results in a poem with/without necessary words, while dropping articles means haiku undeservedly have a general reputation for being “short hand” or “telegraphese”.

    If you work on the idea that a haiku should be able to be said in one breath, you will get it right – something like 12-20 syllables. Most writers in English opt for a pattern of short-long-short lines instead.

    If you would like to find out more about how most people write haiku in English, this article is a good place to start and contains lots of examples. It also gives a little background on the Japanese tradition.

    Kind regards,

    • Kim

      Sandra: Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful reply. I love the way you describe a haiku as a poem that should “be said in one breath.” Beautiful picture. I look forward to visiting your site and learning more about your haiku style.

  8. Amy

    Oh, YES! That helps!

    I’d choose a few from each line

    Slippers, overalls
    happy girl with tangled hair
    Anna fills my heart.

    Aw! And reading these brings tears to my eyes! Yep, you’ve got Anna there!
    Now she wants know if she did hers (the Wookie) right? LOL! It never ends!

  9. C. M. Badgley

    Come greens and blossoms,
    Stretching heavenward above,
    Hearts overflowing.

  10. Sharra Badgley

    Warm sun smiled on me,
    glimmering rays of beauty.
    I feel alive now.

    -Sharra B.

  11. Shaiya

    I’m waiting for spring.
    Amidst sunshine and blossoming flowers.
    Please spring won’t you come.

  12. Briyah

    Spring is in the air,
    and I really yearn for it.
    It is beautiful.

    -Briyah B., age 7

  13. Molly


    A breeze blows my hair
    As I gaze at the sunrise
    Of a brand new day

    by Molly
    (age 13)

  14. Cullen

    The grasses are green
    dew is sparkling here and there
    earth’s morning beauties.

  15. Javen

    Little Red

    Little red flower
    on a moss covered tower,
    here is your bower.

  16. Amy

    The Storm

    Angry thunder claps
    hasty lights flash; darkness flees
    rivers rush from sky-

  17. Rachel

    A new day dawning
    Yesterday’s troubles behind
    God’s mercies renewed

  18. Joey Colvin

    Storm Clouds Joey Colvin age 13

    The storm rages on
    like a cataclysmic quake
    equipped with rain clouds.

  19. Jaron Tubbs

    My Town

    The park turf is green.
    Fans are swarming in the gate.
    The team hits the field.

  20. Andrew

    YELLOW JACKET by Andrew K. 9yrs

    buzz-black, yellow bug
    in garden flying, eating
    stinging all the worms

  21. Anna

    What is a Wookie?
    Tall, furry, good cooking skills;
    they are people too!


    • Kim

      Amy W.: Everyone is just learning, so I hesitate to offer too many suggestions. But I’ll give a few tips.

      I mentioned earlier that a haiku is much more than 5-7-5 syllables. The heart of a haiku should capture a single moment. That said, clever as it is, Anna’s poem really isn’t a haiku. Yes, it has the right number of lines and syllables, but it’s not a Kodak moment! 🙂 Second, Anna uses two “to be” words (is and are).

      Instead of making it “informational,” Anna should try to put the Wookiee in a particular mood. Will he be thoughtful? Frustrated? Helpful? Here’s one idea:

      Tall, furry Wookiee
      weeps into his cooking pot
      the bantha has burned.

      Have fun!

  22. Amy W.

    for Anna

    Tangled hair, happy smile,
    overalls, turtleneck, slippers,
    my daughter is CUTE!

    Did I do it right?

    • Kim

      Amy W.: Now that the contest is over, I’m happy to answer your question. If you were a student, this would be your first draft—and almost every first draft benefits from a little editing. 🙂

      Even though your haiku veers from the traditional nature theme, I think it’s a fun topic. I love how you clearly delight in Anna! You also get good marks for using concrete words in the first two lines. Now here’s where a bit of editing will help:

      1. Line 1 has six syllables rather than five: tan/gled /hair/ hap/py /smile (you can tap out each syllable, tan-gled-hair-hap-py-smile). Try finding a one-syllable word to replace one of the two-syllable words. Example: Tangled hair, broad smile or Tangled hair, bright eyes
      2. Line 2 has eight syllables rather than seven: o/ver/alls /tur/tle/neck /slip/pers. Again, one of these words needs to be replaced with a word of fewer syllables. Example: turtleneck, jeans, and slippers or overalls, sweater, slippers.
      3. Line 3 contains a “to be” word (is) and a weak word (cute). You could try something like: Anna makes me smile or Anna fills my heart.

      Here’s one option for a revision:

      Tangled hair, bright eyes
      overalls, sweater, slippers
      Anna makes me smile.

      Haiku needs to create a snapshot—an “in the moment” picture. The next two examples run with your original ideas but create a more “haiku-ish” feeling. (Notice how reordering the first two lines and using prepositional phrases can help too.)

      In jeans and slippers
      happy girl with tangled hair
      Anna fills my heart.

      Slippers, overalls
      happy child with tangled hair
      Anna makes me smile.

      There you go! Does that help? Remember that writing haiku takes practice. It’s all about creating a mood, picking strong, vivid words, and counting out your syllables. Hope you’ll try again, Amy.

  23. Kim

    Thanks, JoJo. And thank you, Martin, for getting the ball rolling. I’m looking forward to reading others’ haiku poems this week.

  24. Martin

    Born as falling snow
    Water skates by dim street lights
    Then hat tricks to ice

  25. JoJo Tabares

    Sounds like fun, Kim! I’ll pass this around!



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