On Haiku: the “One-Breath Poem,” Pseudo-Haiku, and You

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Patient POV decided to join Michelle Rafter’s Blogathon 2011 Haiku Day May 10th. At first, it seemed simple. But I learned today that haiku is a little more complex. In fact, if you consult with people who have studied Japanese, you will find that Americans don’t quite know what constitutes haiku (for example, there is no plural for haiku).

I asked Susan Schappert, who has been studying Japanese and Japanese culture for several years to provide an explanation of haiku. Sadly, I learned that I share many common misconceptions about haiku, misconceptions that I need to retract on twitter. But you can use those instructions. For this exercise, consider the lines blurred between haiku, and what is called “pseudo-haiku,” or bad haiku. Both might be just what you need for contemplating your health, illness, and wellbeing.

Patient POV Haiku/Pseudo-Haiku Requirements

Either follow the guidance below, trying to emulate haiku, based on Susan’s research, or submit pseudo-haiku, which I’ll publish too. You don’t necessarily write great haiku overnight. Susan did a lot of work for me in preparing this post. She credits Jane Reichhold, who has a very informative videotaped workshop haiku, along with a wonderful website . Here is a summary of what Susan learned about haiku from Reichhold:

First, forget that 5, 7, 5 structure. It turns out that only applies if you are writing Japanese, which counts sound units differently than English does. For example the word shikai, which we count as 2 syllables, is actually 3 in Japanese (shi-ka-i). So using the 17 syllable notion in English will result in overly long haiku.

Experienced English haiku writers are said to use about 10-14 syllables to capture the brevity of the structure. Reichhold recommends using 3 lines in a short-long-short structure. The rule she stresses the most is that haiku has two parts, with a syntactical break between them.

Think of haiku as being composed of a fragment and a phrase. One line is the fragment and the other two form the phrase.

Haiku are not a run-on sentence, so avoid capitalizing the first word and avoid ending with a period.

Keep the thought open.

Some Haiku and Pseudo Haiku

Haiku arrived in my email today. These are some of the first that I got:

By Dolores Rogers, New York

you must love your mom
though finding it a dark place
she gave you your life.

I weigh the same now
as over a year ago
the body grows gross.

don’t fret for past life
you’ve forgotten more than you’ve lived
let memory go

# # #

By Susan Schappert, Wheaton, Maryland (on allergies)

we wake up slowly…
gray rain skies oppress my heart,
soon I’ll start to sneeze.

such pretty flowers,
Suddenly spring has arrived.
if only … ah choo!

Asians on my block
wear face masks for their yard work
it’s allergy time.

And here, from Basho, perhaps the most famous Japanese poet

the warbler sings
among new shoots of bamboo
of coming old age

eaten alive
by lice and fleas — now the horse
beside my pillow pees

at my poor hovel
there’s one thing I can offer
small mosquitoes


Get your haiku or pseudo-haiku in by midnight May 9th and you’ll see them here on May 10th. Send them to me at patientpov “at” gmail “dot” com, or tweet them to lauranewmanny. Enjoy.