School of Haiku 

Jane Reichhold  



Lesson Two
Before Writing Your Own Haiku

Learn to Read Haiku
            Before you can learn to write haiku, you need to be able to read haiku. That sounds fairly simple, but like everything else concerned with haiku, levels are buried under levels and archeology seems child’s play in warm sand. To uncover some of the mysteries of haiku, let us begin by digging below the surface of this haiku:
moving into the sun
the pony takes with him
some mountain shadow

            The first line, if taken literally, sets up an impossibility – nothing of our earth can truly move into the sun. However, earthly things can move into an area where the sun is shining. Already the brevity of haiku demands that the reader tries to find a meaning since the line is a fragment which lacks an object. The reader, wanting to be able to form a mental image needs an object, and so, rapidly moves his or her eyes to the second line. Ah, “the pony takes with him” there is the answer – the pony, but already the rest of the line “takes with him” sets up the desire for more information. The reader is now unable to stop reading the haiku in an eagerness to find out the rest of the story.  The answer – “some mountain shadow” – now, what does that mean?
            The reader then goes back to the first line. Now it is understood that it is the pony that is moving into the sun and it is taking with him some of the shadow of the mountain. It is fairly common to speak of the shadow of a mountain and the shadow of a pony, but to see that the shadow of a pony has moved away some of the mountain’s shadow for itself is a new way of viewing a natural phenomenon. All of these steps and the further pondering of what it means is the very active participation of the reader.
            Experienced haiku readers will automatically follow and understand this process and the journey. Sometimes beginning readers need to have additional information to completely understand the haiku. For them, it might help to know about the situation that gave rise to the inspiration for this haiku.
            I was sitting at the window of a hotel at a mountain resort watching some ponies grazing early in the morning on a valley meadow that was still partially covered with the shadow of the near-by hillside. As the grazing pony moved slowly into the sunshine, I happened to be focused on the edge of the shadow and actually saw some of the mountain's shadow follow the pony. The line of shadow seemed to break off and reshape itself to become pony shadow.
            At a philosophical level, the haiku can also be expressing the idea that when something – like a person, moves into the light, there will still be, not only the slender shadow in person shape, but also a remnant of our greater shadow from which we have come.
            It can also be thought that the pony, by eating the grass of the mountain becomes the mountain in the same way the shadows of these things move between the objects. When the boundaries disappear between separate things it is truly a holy moment of insight and it is no wonder that haiku writers are educated to latch on to these miracles and to preserve them in words.

Read Many Different Haiku

There are many different styles and methods of writing haiku and because you will be picking the one that is best for you, you will need to sample the works of many assorted writers.

It seems the wisest way to study haiku would be to study the Japanese Old Masters who are considered to be Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki. The works of each of these revered gentlemen have been translated by several persons. Part of the problem with using these works as an example for your own haiku occurs when you realize that many of these translations are made by scholar/translators - most of whom are not poets. Though they can often bring across an accurate sense of the poem, in many cases the way they do it is not consistent with our current ideas of how a haiku should be written.

If you must buy a book, you will probably get the most for your money if you get an anthology. Then you can have a sample of the work of many writers and see which ones resonate with you or whose works grab and inspire you.

Reading though a haiku magazine can also show you the work of many writers which allows you to pick and chose your favorites.

Then buy the books of the authors you admire. It is so hard to sell books, the least you can do is to support your author and his or her publisher by buying a book.

The Internet also offers a bewildering array of haiku styles and writers.In just a few hours of searching, you will find sites or magazines that appeal to you where you can then spend days researching deeper.

My Experience

When I first discovered haiku, in the Peter Pauper books I wrote my haiku in the style Peter Beilenson, the translator used which was 5, 7, 5. Later in the early 1980s when I discovered Frogpond and Modern Haiku, I started keeping my favorites in a leather-bound book. To this day I get great pleasure in leafing through those yellowed pages to read again the poems that first showed me what haiku could do. It was not long until I realized that I found the work by Ruth Yarrow to be the most interesting. I felt she truly understood linkage between the images in her haiku and I wanted to learn how to do it. I bought her books and I began to write in them. I would take a haiku that I admired and then rewrite it.

To Ruth Yarrow's poem found in Wind Chimes #10:

jagged cry:
across the rock face
a raven's cry

I would try:

jagged cry:
across the rock face
a raven's voice


shattering the rock
a raven's cry


rock face
lines etched deeper
by the raven's cry


etched into the cliff
the raven's cry

Just one such poem could give me days of pleasure. Looking back at the poems I can see how certain phrases or images would catch me, hold me, release me and allow me to move on to other images and combination. While I did this, there were others who tried the same thing and slowly these exercises were given the pejorative title of "desk" haiku because they were not written as the result of a "haiku moment or experience" but were practices of using words and images. However, I feel this kind of exercize in haiku writing is very valuable.


For Your Experiences

Find a haiku that you really admire and write it in here. It would be kind to the author to record his or her name and where you found the poem.

Then begin to rewrite the poem. Maybe start by just changing one word. Or changing one line. Or take a phrase of image you greatly admire and see how many ways you can make it work with other images.

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Basho The Complete Haiku translated by Jane Reichhold

The Sound of Water translations of Basho and Buson by Sam Hamill

The Essential of Haiku by Robert Haas



The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel

The Classic Tradition of Haiku by Faubion Bowers

Haiku Moment by Bruce Ross



Red Moon Press - Jim Kacian

AHA Books - Jane Reichhold

Snapshot Press - John Barlow (UK)

Bottle Rockets Press - Stanford Forrester







Page and Materials Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2001.

Please give credit when borrowing.