Haiku Introduction

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form. First, let my say what I mean when I include my haiku. I often write what I consider ‘haiku’. Some will consider my definition too lax, while others will consider it too restrictive. You may well know more about haiku then I do. Then, you can ignore this, or correct my attempted explanation.

In Japan, haiku have 17 syllables, usually 5 in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third: 5-7-5. After studying transliterations, I think haiku in English should often be shorter mostly because in Japanese poetry the punctuation is included in the syllable count.

Some of my haiku have 17 syllables. Some have 14 syllables – 4-6-4. And some have 11 syllables – 3-5-3.

As noted above, I include some haiku in other sections, other categories.

Which is the length of a ‘real’ haiku? My answer to that is a haiku:

What’s the right length
for haiku? Look, listen,
and write. You’ll see.

But shouldn’t I at least be consistent? Maybe. If you read it. that’s good. If you react, that’s better. If you care to share your reactions with me, that’s wonderful.

Most haiku don’t have a title. The title should not be used to sneak in extra words. If I think that a title is needed to identify the haiku, I try to avoid cheating on the syllable count. I usually restrict the title to key words from the first or last line. If I want to title a haiku. I use lower case type.

A haiku has:

ONE MOMENT,
ideally, one place,
one emotion to share,
ideally, a smooth rhythm with one break in it.

Traditional haiku usually include a Kigo (“season word”), a word or phrase associated with a particular season. In case you wondered, the word ‘haiku’ is both singular and plural.

Haiku are also written or published in groups, or ‘sets’, with a common theme. Sets do have titles.

The idea of Graffiti Haiku came from a couple of inner-city kids from Washington, D.C. They had come to check out a workshop on poetry at the Labor Arts Exchange at the George Meany Center in Washington, in June 2000. This is an annual get-together of labor organizers, union staff, folksingers, and artists of all kinds to discuss how art can be a part of organizing, especially union organizing.

Graffiti haiku don’t follow rules on syllable count – or any other rules. They are short, poetic, political, and pissed off. They are graffiti to write on on a factory wall or post in a restroom. They are created to be tools for troublemakers in a strike, or some kind of protest. They are intended to be someplace likely to incite people to think and to act politically. Graffiti haiku may be on a picket sign, or someplace unexpected, someplace not permitted. YOU decide if something qualifies as a graffiti haiku.

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