How to Read Haiku

With The Heron’s Nest Editor Fay Aoyagi and Haijin Chad Lee Robinson

Kitagawa Utamaro, circa 1790s

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |

Early on in my haiku and haibun journey, editors rejected my haibun and several advised me to read haiku, saying that I’d not be able to write a good haibun until I had mastered the haiku part of haibun’s prose-haiku partnership. I had already looked at the many definitions of the two related genres (haiku and haibun), but found definitions lacking in specifics and mostly useless except as a rough guide, particularly the formulaic definitions like number of lines and syllable counts.

So I read a lot of haiku, both those of the Japanese masters and of the published works contemporary haijin and learned I simply didn’t get much out of them except that most didn’t follow the 5-7-5, 3-line, short-long-short structure learned in English classes.

And I mostly wondered why the editors picked the haiku featured in their journals. I concluded that haiku are not only difficult to write, but they are also difficult to read and understand, to “get the poetic spark,” so to speak. A problem was that I had a tendency to read them once quickly and to read too many at a time. In short, I was merely glancing at them, expecting a spark to jump out at me. I wasn’t engaging in what might be called “deep reading.”

I decided that in order to better understand haiku and thus, to be better able to write a worthy haiku and haibun, I had to first hone my haiku reading skills. In this way, I might be able to appreciate and understand why the editors selected some and not others, and particularly why they didn’t accept mine. And that’s what this three-part series is about – How to do a deep reading of haiku for better understanding of the nature of haiku.

Continue reading -> Part 1

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