Haiku Like Issa 1: Haiku-A-Day Challenge #4 #sol18


Image CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 Steve Rotman on Flickr.com

I am joining Trina Haase at Trinarrative for a daily haiku challenge in December.

Each day for this haiku challenge, I try to read two or three haiku, learn something about the form, and write a haiku. It doesn’t take very long to read or write a haiku, so it’s tempting to read many more than two or three and tempting to write more than one. Once I get to tapping syllables with my fingers, I want to turn every stray thought into a haiku. But I am trying to break the habit of believing that a syllable count makes a poem. I am finding it helpful to experience the focus and intensity of haiku by allowing two or three to sit with me each day.

Today, I’m reading haiku written by Kobayashi Issa and reading a chapter in David Lanoue’s guide, Write Like Issa: A Haiku How-To. Lanoue’s first chapter focuses on Issa’s compassion for other creatures and his “lesson of imagining a fellow creature’s perspective to the point that ‘it’ and ‘I’ become ‘we’: sharing both space and consciousness.”  Here is one of Issa’s haiku:

the cricket’s
winter residence…
my quilt

I noticed that Issa’s haiku do not follow the five-seven-five syllable rule for haiku, and so I am encouraged today to break free of the security blanket of syllables for my own attempt to share “space and consciousness” with the fellow creature I know best:

drafty house
five cats sleeping
on my bed










19 responses to “Haiku Like Issa 1: Haiku-A-Day Challenge #4 #sol18”

  1. franmcveigh Avatar

    Love your haiku. I stressed so much over the syllable tapping and counting last year until Margaret showed me that haiku’s didn’t always follow the format. Silly, rule-following me!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Fran! I really struggle to force myself away from the syllable count, but it’s quite freeing when I do. I clearly need more practice in not following the rules.

  2. arjeha Avatar

    Years ago I attended a class taught by a woman who actually studied with a haiku master. Having the 5-7-5 syllable pattern firmly in place I was surprised when she told u us that syllable count per line wasn’t important. There was actually a range of number of syllables that was acceptable for haiku.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Image is the hardest thing for me in writing, and I’ve found that adhering closely to the syllable count often means I forget about image altogether. My hope is that I can work my way to stronger images if I’m focusing on that rather than syllable count. It’s really interesting to learn more about this form that I thought was so straightforward and turns out not to be!

  3. theapplesinmyorchard Avatar

    I love haiku and have written them with third grade students in a writer’s circle I ran for years. I find the syllabic requirement of 5-7-5 to be important when first teaching children how to write haiku. This way, they can focus on choosing vibrant words that convey a picture in the reader’s mind, instead of changing up a syllable count.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I definitely find for myself that I don’t bother at all with vibrant words–as long as they have the right number of syllables! So I’d probably improve my writing if I avoided the syllable count altogether!

      1. theapplesinmyorchard Avatar

        I totally get that. In working with the young student, just learning adjectives and adverbs, I try to get them to focus on their senses to help them write their haiku, I also tell them I do not want any connecting words at all – and, but, then, etc. are banned (temporarily, for our haiku lessons). Each word needs to count (in more ways than one!) Thanks for the comment!

  4. Trina Haase Avatar
    Trina Haase

    Elisabeth! I love your Haiku… I have not been brave enough to break out of the pattern yet, so good for you!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s hard to break free! Reading lots of Issa is helping!

      1. Trina Haase Avatar
        Trina Haase

        I will need to check it out!

  5. Emily Culbertson Avatar

    I’m right there with you and the cats! After being encouraged to try the haiku, I gave it a try today. I am intrigued about the syllables thing. It makes sense. I do think that the syllables make me think about word choice more, so…I don’t know. In addition, it is a rare thing for me to be able to stop after one stanza (or haiku). Thanks for sharing your poetry and thinking and inspiring mine.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Emily. It’s so interesting to me to see how we all work a little differently. I know that I get so hung up on syllable count that I will settle for less interesting or precise words if they have the right number of syllables! Since I also tend to write long always, the haiku is good practice in brevity. I still feel like I’m somehow cheating if I write just one, though.

  6. Amanda Potts Avatar

    I was struck yesterday, I think or maybe Sunday (but didn’t write to you) by your observation that haiku isn’t really about syllable count. I knew that once, but I’d lost sight of it. Today you write “I am trying to break the habit of believing that a syllable count makes a poem. I am finding it helpful to experience the focus and intensity of haiku…” and this observation hit me all over again. I struggled to get my students to write poetry this semester & fell back on syllable count poems, thinking it would help. Instead, they wrote shallow silly things that relied on counting rather than images. (We got past this, but that’s how we started.) This post, and your lovely haiku, help me understand what makes haiku powerful. Thank you for that.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      How interesting! I’ve had this experience when teaching poetry too and never connected it to starting with form and syllable count poems, but that makes total sense. I need to remember this for next time so that I can start with image instead! Thanks for this insight!

  7. margaretsmn Avatar

    I get stuck on the syllable count, too, and try not to abandon it. I should be more lenient on myself in exchange for deeper meaning. Your cats are your quilt.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I like this idea of leniency. I realize that I still often predetermine what a writing experience is going to be like before I write rather than being open to what comes organically through the process.

  8. Wondering and Wandering Avatar

    I recently learned that I didn’t have to follow the 5-7-5 rule and it was liberating. Haiku on!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Isn’t it liberating? Relaxing the syllable count invites us to focus on other aspects of the poems.

Leave a Reply to Elisabeth Ellington Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: