Accomplished writers respect the rules of grammar the way an acrobat respects the tightrope — grammar might be intimidating and complicated, but we need it in order to perform.
Yet sometimes, an acrobat takes her foot off the tightrope. She does a flip or some other trick of physical prowess that seems to defy the laws of gravity and exceed the potential of the human body.
Grammar rules lend structure and clarity to our writing and gives us common ground rules that we can use to communicate clearly and effectively, just like the tightrope gives the acrobat a foundation upon which to walk.
So when does a writer take her foot off the rules of grammar so she can perform spectacular tricks?
Good Grammar in Poetry Writing
I’m often asked by writers and poets how they should handle grammar, capitalization, and punctuation in poetry. When it comes to grammar rules, is poetry writing the exception?
Many poets demonstrate grammatical expertise, neatly parking periods and commas in their designated spaces and paying homage to proper capitalization.
Consider the following poem and how it follows the rules of grammar. Note that in poetry writing, the traditional rule is that the first letter of each line is capitalized regardless of whether or not it starts a new sentence.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
By Adrienne Rich
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
Writing Poetry Without Grammar Rules
Poets don’t always follow the rules, which is why poetry is attractive to writers who are especially creative, rebellious, and enjoy coloring outside the lines.
Grammar rules, particularly spelling and punctuation, are nothing more than a creative tool for poets who choose to dismiss the rules altogether or use the them to decorate and add aesthetic elements to a poem.
Many poets have skirted grammar with great success. Many more have failed. E.E. Cummings is well known for giving grammar the proverbial finger, but he takes his anarchy one step further and actually alters basic sentence structure, and manages to do so quite effectively.
anyone lived in a pretty how town
By ee cummings
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
Cummings has dismissed capital letters altogether and he uses punctuation seemingly at random. Yet the poem works. Imagine it with the proper grammar rules applied and you’ll quickly realize that his way is more effective for this piece and what he’s trying to accomplish with language.
Poetry Writing – Where Rules and Creativity Cooperate or Collide
As the poetry canon grows beyond measure, poets increasingly reach for creative devices to make their work stand out.
Toying with grammar rules is one such device, but it is not something that can be approached carelessly. If you choose to forgo the rules because you don’t know them rather than as a creative technique, your lack of knowledge will show and the poem will present as amateurish. Of course, that’s true for all types of writing: learn the rules, and only after you have learned them, go ahead and break them.
I salute anyone who breaks the rules in the interest of art and great poetry writing just as much as I admire poets who craft meter and verse within the confines of grammar. So for this language-loving poet, either way is the right way. Walk the tight rope or jump from it and see if you can fly.
What are your thoughts on applying grammar rules to poetry writing? Are you a stickler for good grammar, even in your creative or experimental work, or do you like to bend and break the rules? Share your thoughts in the comments.
In the world of writing, one form stands out as different from all the rest: poetry.
Poetry is not bound by the constraints of sentence and paragraph structure, context, or even grammar.
In the magical world of poetry, you can throw all the rules out the window and create a piece of art, something that is entirely unique.
That doesn’t mean writing poetry is creatively easy. It can be much more difficult to make a poem than it is to write an essay or piece of fiction. There’s so much creative space, and without any limitations whatsoever, it can be overwhelming.
Yet poetry brings a great bounty of writerly skills and tools, and many of these will spill over into other writing forms, sprinkling them with just a little of the magic that is poetry. And while poetry might not be your favorite form of writing, reading poetry, poetry exercises, and poetry writing are fun and creative methods for improving your writing in any other form or genre.
Improving Your Writing
What is it about poetry that makes your writing better?
While other creative writing forms may use vivid imagery to create pictures in the reader’s mind, no other form comes close to what can be achieved with imagery in poetry writing.
Most writing forms attempt to explain something — a scene, a situation, an idea, a set of instructions, an experience. Poetry doesn’t bother to explain. It shows. It paints a picture and pulls you into it.
In a poetry workshop, you will hear this over and over: show, don’t tell. When you master the art of showing readers an idea through imagery, you can easily apply the concept to your other writing, creating work that comes alive in a reader’s mind.
Language, Word Choice, and Vocabulary
A poet’s vocabulary is paramount. Of course, language is essential to all types of writing, but in poetry, words must be selected carefully in order to generate a visceral response from the reader. In fiction, readers connect emotionally with characters and their plights. We get to know the characters, understand them, and we come to relate to them or even think of them as friends (or enemies).
Characters rarely appear in poetry, so instead of using the emotional connection forged between people, a writer must grab the reader’s heart by appealing to their senses, using words and images that make readers feel. This is achieved by learning how to use language that evokes emotions without telling readers what they should be feeling.
The meaning of each word in a poem must be weighed carefully. Connotations can mean the difference between a poem with depth and a poem that feels flat.
Finally, every single word must be necessary to the poem. Therefore, poetry teaches writers how to be economical with language.
A poet must be constantly aware of meter and rhythm. Poems and song lyrics are often compared, confused, and intermingled, and with good reason. Both poetry and music must pay attention to cadence and melody.
Think about how you feel when you hear a particular piece of music. You tap your feet, shake your hips, bang your head. Our bodies respond physically to music.
Through poetry writing comes a natural ability to marry musicality with language. When this musicality is brought to other forms of writing, readers feel it in their bones and muscles. They will have a physical reaction.
The Practice and Study of Poetry Results in Better Writing
Writing is about connecting with readers. And poetry writing helps you develop skills for connecting with readers mentally (language), emotionally (images), and physically (rhythm). Many young and new writers are impatient with poetry. They were forced to read archaic poems in school and came away with a bad taste for poetry. But poetry is like music; there’s something for everyone. Look around a little and you’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you.
If you’re interested in exploring poetry and using it to improve your writing, start by checking out these accessible resources:
- Poem of the Day (podcast): Packed with classic and contemporary poems, each piece is only a minute or two in length. Save the ones you like and listen to them over and over again. Tip: you can subscribe via iTunes.
- IndieFeed: Performance Poetry (podcast): Today’s poets are cutting the edge with poetry that speaks to the 21st century. From humor to heartbreak, these poets write out loud. Most pieces are under ten minutes, and the podcast updates a few times each week.
- Poetry Foundation: Once you whet your appetite, dig in and find out what’s going on in the world of poetry. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to the craft of poetry and includes lots of great poems, poets, and other poetry related resources.
Improving your writing through the practice and study of poetry forces you to whip out your magnifying glass and look at your writing up close. Whether you apply poetic concepts to fiction, blogging, or article writing, your engagement with poetry will help you produce better writing.
If your writing is good today, it can be great tomorrow.
Have you ever dabbled in poetry and noticed how it affected your fiction or creative nonfiction? Have you tried improving your writing through poetry? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
If you’re going to exercise, it’s a good idea to warm up first. That way, you’ll get your body geared up to do the heavy lifting, the hard running, and the strenuous workout.
Writing’s no different.
Poetry writing exercises are ideal when you’re feeling uninspired or lazy, or maybe your poetry is getting stale and you need to take it in a fresh direction. Perhaps you’re getting ready to embark on a big, long writing project and want to warm up first.
Today’s poetry writing exercises are good starters and don’t require you to know anything about poetry or have any experience writing poems. In fact some of these exercises don’t require any poetry writing whatsoever.
Poetry Writing Exercises
These poetry writing exercises are designed to get you thinking about rhythm, language, and imagery in your writing. Let’s jump right in!
1. Alliteration and Assonance Lists
Create a list of word pairs and phrases that are built around alliteration or assonance. Remember, alliteration is when words in close proximity start with (or contain) the same consonant sound (as in pretty picture). Assonance is when words in close proximity echo vowel sounds (bent pen). Try to come up with at least ten of each. The more, the better.
Bonus exercise: Use the words from your lists to write a poem.
2. Metaphors and Similes for Life
Make a list of significant life events: birth, death, graduation, marriage, having children, starting your own business. Next, come up with one metaphor and one simile for each of these events. Remember, a metaphor is when we say one thing is another thing. A simile is when we say one thing is like another thing.
Metaphor: Life is a dance.
Simile: Life is like a box of chocolates (as a metaphor, this would be life is a box of chocolates).
Tip: Choose metaphors that are visually interesting. Metaphors for life as a dance or similes stating that life is like a box of chocolates are both easy for readers to visualize.
Bonus exercise: Write a poem about one of your life events using only the metaphor or simile you have chosen. When it’s done, your poem should be a bit ambiguous; a reader will wonder whether the poem is literally about the metaphor or metaphorically about the life event.
3. Lyrics and Musicality
Choose a catchy song that you enjoy and rewrite the lyrics, but stick to the rhythm and meter. Try to go way off topic from what the original lyrics were about. You can play the song while you work on the exercise or search for the lyrics online and use those as your baseline. The idea is to get your mind on the musicality in your writing.
Have Fun with These Poetry Writing Exercises!
These poetry writing exercises are meant to be helpful and fun. If you tried any of these exercises, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Did you learn anything? Did you end up writing a poem?
Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Leave a comment!
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
This is one of my favorite writing resources of all time. It is subtitled “An Introduction to Poetry,” but it’s full of concepts that can benefit any form of writing.
Whether you write fiction, articles, essays, or blog posts, Perrine’s Sound and Sense will enhance the way you perceive and use language to communicate an idea, a scene, or information.
After all, language is a writer’s medium. How do we choose words and string them together? What makes one sentence so vivid while another is practically impossible to visualize? How can we play with the meaning of words in a way that is meaningful? How do we craft prose that is musical?
These, of course, are questions that poetry actively asks and explores. Storytellers spend a lot of time on plot and character. Article writers spend a lot of time on research. Bloggers spend a lot of time under the hood. Poets live and breathe in language.
And language — or rather, a writer’s use of it — is what elevates a piece of ordinary prose to something regal. Through a light study of poetry, you will expand your vocabulary, learn simple techniques to make images out of words, and understand the deeper secrets of language — secrets that make your writing extraordinary.
Perrine’s Sound and Sense
This book is a delightful and comprehensive romp through the intricacies of poetry and language. It’s a perfect introduction to poetry because it’s liberally populated with fantastic poems that will satisfy a range of personal tastes and preferences, making it a veritable anthology that teaches concepts alongside each poem (or that uses poems to beautifully illustrate and illuminate various concepts).
Sound and Sense starts with the basics. The first two chapters are respectively titled “What is Poetry?” and “Reading a Poem.” If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about poetry and why so many successful writers advocate poetry, these chapters will show you the light, both through their discussion of poetry and presentation of poems.
Later chapters deal with increasingly complex concepts. These concepts are taught in the context of how they are applied to poetry but they are applicable to any kind of writing. The chapter on “Denotation and Connotation” explains how we choose words based on their meaning, particularly when we can choose between two (or more) words with the same meaning:
The words childlike and childish both mean “characteristic of a child,” but childlike suggests meekness, innocence, and wide-eyed wonder, while childish suggests pettiness, willfulness, and temper tantrums. (p. 41)
We’ve all heard that imagery is critical to our writing, but many writers don’t quite understand what show, don’t tell actually means. Master writers refer to similes, metaphors, symbols, and allegories, all effective literary devices in any form. Sound and Sense helps you understand the importance of these devices, shows you how to identify them in a piece of writing, and therefore gives you the knowledge you need to apply those devices in your own work.
The insight doesn’t stop with meaning and literary devices. The book goes on to explore tone and dedicates a significant portion of its final chapters to musicality with chapters such as “Musical Devices,” “Rhythm and Meter,” and “Sound and Meaning.”
Everything that we do naturally and gracefully we do rhythmically. There is rhythm in the way we walk, the way we swim, the way we ride a horse, the way we swing a golf club or a baseball bat. So native is rhythm to us that we read it, when we can, into the mechanical world around us. Our clocks go tick-tick-tick but we hear tick-tock, tick-tock. (p. 187)
So if you’ve ever wondered how to make your writing sing and dance, if you’ve ever gotten a phrase stuck in your head and wondered what made it so catchy and then wondered how you could craft writing that is just as memorable, this book is for you.
Sound and Sense features tons of wonderful poems by some of the best known and loved poets of all time, including Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Andrew Marvell, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Sexton, Shakespeare, and far too many others to list here.
And it’s all capped off with a handy glossary and comprehensive index, which makes revisiting its contents quick and easy. I’m telling you, this is a resourceful little book!
This gem of a book doubles as an anthology of poetry and is useful for both readers and writers of poetry. But writers of all forms will reap great benefits by investing in this book.
Mostly used as a college textbook, it’s loaded with treasures packed in a dense landscape of writing concepts, some of which are practical and others that are whimsical, plus a bunch of writing concepts that are just plain magical.
Sound and Sense will transform the way you think about writing and will improve your writing at the levels of words and sentences, sounds and phrases. Want to make readers hungry? Want to make them think and feel and swoon and dance? Then get this book, because it shows you how to do just that.
Got any writing resources that you’d like to recommend? Do you find that studying one form helps you improve another? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep on writing!
Throughout the centuries, poets have composed meditations on seasons, landscapes, and constellations. Vegetation and animals have been the subjects of countless poems, and even when poetry is not centered around nature, it often makes references to it.
In poetry, nature may function as the backdrop — the setting in which the action takes place. Nature and various elements of nature may also hold center stage. Why are so many poets compelled to write about nature?
Consider the closing stanza from “Crossings” by Ravi Shankar:
Suspended in this ephemeral moment
after leaving a forest, before entering
a field, the nature of reality is revealed.
Words like forest and field hint at nature’s presence in this piece, but the closing line cleverly reminds us that nature is not present in individual words. Nature is reality, and it’s everywhere, all the time.
Poetry prompts are a great way to start a writing session when you’re feeling uninspired or when you simply want to try something new. Maybe you’ve never written a poem before. Maybe you’ve never written about nature. Maybe you’ve never tackled a writing exercise. Whatever your reason, these poetry prompts are meant to provide loose guidelines for kick-starting your creativity and get you pushing your pen across the page.
Below you’ll find a list of words that relate to nature. These words are your poetry prompts. You can use these prompts in several different ways. You can choose a single word and build a poem around it as a topic. You can choose a handful of words (about five would be good) and use those words to kick off different lines or verses. Or you can challenge yourself to write a single poem with all of the words included in it.
As you read through the list and choose which words will act as prompts for your poem, relax. Engage your imagination and visualize different images that these words might describe. Build actions with them. String them together with words from your own vocabulary. Put them in lines and verses. And make a poem.
If you have any ideas or suggestions for poetry prompts, share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep writing!
When I read Mina Loy’s description of poetry as “prose bewitched,” I felt like someone had captured the true essence of poetry for the first time.
We often struggle to define abstract or obtuse concepts. One of the greatest and most challenging questions of all time is, what is art? Although dictionaries attempt to define art, no definition quite captures its essence, so artists and thinkers have tried to define art in their own words for centuries.
Like art, the definition of poetry has been explored by writers, thinkers, artists, and poets themselves. So what is it? What is poetry?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives us plenty of definitions for the word poetry:
- the writings of a poet : poems
- something that is very beautiful or graceful
- metrical writing : verse
- writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm
- something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression
With all due respect to Merriam-Webster, I don’t think any of these definitions do poetry justice or truly convey an answer to the question, what is poetry?
I thought I’d take a stab at defining poetry:
Poetry is a linguistic art form that can be written, spoken, or performed. It focuses on the aesthetics of language. It is often composed in verse as opposed to prose and is more concerned with evoking an image or emotion (or both) over clearly communicating a thought or idea. Poetry makes liberal use of literary devices, such as alliteration and metaphor. It is the musicality of language, the rendering of abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions, rendered with words and sounds. It is pictures painted with words.
As you can see, I can’t capture the essence of poetry any better than a dictionary. Poetry is all of these things and none of these things. There’s a magic in poetry that is difficult to describe in words, even though poetry itself often uses words to create magic.
What is Poetry?
I think we need poetry itself in order to truly convey what poetry is. Mina Loy said it well, so let’s revisit her explanation of poetry:
“Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” — Mina Loy.
Do you ever write poetry? Which poems and poets are your favorites? How would you answer the question, what is poetry? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry!
Poetry is the music of language, the fine art of the written word. It demands a broad vocabulary and creative thinking. It promotes rhythm and meter, and it invites imagery. Poetry triggers the imagination, engages the intellect, and touches the heart.
Reading and writing poetry are excellent practices for any writer. Through poetry, we learn the nuances of language, the power of showing rather than telling, and the necessity for clear and succinct wordcraft.
Basically, poetry reading and writing improves all other writing.
So, whether you are a poet or not, as a writer, a basic understanding of poetry will improve your writing exponentially. Can you succeed without it? Of course. But with poetry skills in your writer’s toolbox, your writing will soar. Read more
Poetry writing is the most artistic and liberating form of creative writing. You can write in the abstract or the concrete. Images can be vague or subtle, brilliant or dull. Write in form, using patterns, or write freely, letting your conscience (or subconscious) be your guide.
You can do just about anything in a poem. That’s why poetry writing is so wild and free: there are no rules. Poets have complete liberty to build something out of nothing simply by stringing words together.
All of this makes poetry writing alluring to writers who are burning with creativity. A poet’s process is magical and mesmerizing. But all that freedom and creativity can be a little overwhelming. If you can travel in any direction, which way should you go? Where are the guideposts?
Today’s writing tips include various tools and techniques that a poet can use. But these tips aren’t just for poets. All writers benefit from dabbling in poetry. Read a little poetry, write a few poems, study some basic concepts in poetry, and your other writing (fiction, creative nonfiction, even blogging) will soar.
Below, you’ll find thirty-six writing tips that take you on a little journey through the craft of poetry writing. See which ones appeal to you, give them a whirl, and they will lead you on a fantastic adventure.
36 Poetry Writing Tips
- Read lots of poetry. In fact, read a lot of anything if you want to produce better writing.
- Write poetry as often as you can.
- Designate a special notebook (or space in your notebook) for poetry writing.
- Try writing in form (sonnets, haiku, etc.).
- Use imagery.
- Embrace metaphors but stay away from clichés.
- Sign up for a poetry writing workshop.
- Expand your vocabulary.
- Read poems over and over (and aloud). Consider and analyze them.
- Join a poetry forum or poetry writing group online.
- Study musicality in writing (rhythm and meter).
- Use poetry prompts when you’re stuck.
- Be funny. Make a funny poem.
- Notice what makes others’ poetry memorable. Capture it, mix it up, and make it your own.
- Try poetry writing exercises when you’ve got writer’s block.
- Study biographies of famous (or not-so-famous) poets.
- Memorize a poem (or two, or three, or more).
- Revise and rewrite your poems to make them stronger and more compelling.
- Have fun with puns.
- Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem. You can write a better one later.
- Find unusual subject matter — a teapot, a shelf, a wall.
- Use language that people can understand.
- Meditate or listen to inspirational music before writing poetry to clear your mind and gain focus.
- Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can write whenever (and wherever) inspiration strikes.
- Submit your poetry to literary magazines and journals.
- When you submit work, accept rejection and try again and again. You can do it and you will.
- Get a website or blog and publish your own poetry.
- Connect with other poets to share and discuss the craft that is poetry writing.
- Attend a poetry reading or slam poetry event.
- Subscribe to a poetry podcast and listen to poetry.
- Support poets and poetry by buying books and magazines that feature poetry.
- Write with honesty. Don’t back away from your thoughts or feelings. Express them!
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mix art and music with your poetry. Perform it and publish it.
- Eliminate all unnecessary words, phrases, and lines. Make every word count.
- Write a poem every single day.
- Read a poem every single day.
Have You Written a Poem Lately?
I believe that poetry is the most exquisite form of writing. And anyone can write a poem if they want to. In today’s world of fast, moving images, poetry has lost much of its appeal to the masses. But there are those of us who thrive on language and who still appreciate a poem and its power to move us emotionally. It’s our job to keep great poetry writing alive. And it’s our job to keep writing poetry.
What are some of your favorite writing tips from today’s list? How can you apply poetry writing techniques to other forms of writing? Do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment!
Writers are always looking for new ideas. Sometimes we look so far and wide for inspiration that we’re oblivious to what’s right in front of us.
They say, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” In life, we are presented with many choices, but family is not one of them. It’s pretty much luck of the draw.
That’s why family provides excellent inspiration for writing.
Poetry prompts are a great way to do a little writing when you’re not feeling particularly inspired. The prompts provide the subject matter and a few, choice words. Below, you’ll find four lists of words. Each list focuses on a single topic. You can use these poetry prompts in any of the following ways:
- Choose one list of poetry prompts and write a poem using all the words in the list.
- Write four separate poems, each based on one of the lists.
- Mix and match random words from the lists to write a single poem.
- Write one poem using all the poetry prompts from all the lists.
- Bonus: Write a form poem (sonnet, haiku, etc.) using any of the words from the lists.
Writing a poem using prompts is a helpful exercise. To take it a step further, set your completed poem aside and come back to it the following day. Spend some time revising and polishing it. Delete any unnecessary words and make sure the poem contains images that readers can easily visualize. If you wrote a poem in form, check that you’ve adhered to the rules of the form. When you feel the poem is complete, add it to your pile of finished writing projects and think about submitting it to a poetry publication.
|Womb||Roots||Brother / Sister||Adorable|
Feel free to add to these lists by leaving a comment. Of course, each of us can come up with a host of additional words about our own families, many of which would be entirely subjective. I’ve tried to keep the lists fairly general, but as you prepare to write a poem based on these prompts, feel free to add your own words to the lists.
Discover and Share
Once your poem is completed, come back and share your thoughts about using these poetry prompts. Did you find the process easy or challenging? Which list(s) did you use? Did you polish your poem? If you’d like to share your poem, you can post it in the comments or include a link to it.
Keep writing poetry!
Today’s writing exercise comes from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes writers on an exciting journey through different forms and genres while providing writing techniques, practical experience, and inspiration.
Each chapter focuses on a different form or writing concept: freewriting, journaling, memoirs, fiction, storytelling, form poetry, free verse, characters, dialogue, creativity, and article and blog writing are all covered.
Today, we’ll take a peek at “Chapter 7: Form Poetry” with a poetry exercise simply called “Haiku.” Enjoy!
Although haiku appears to be one of the simplest poetry forms, it’s actually quite complex. To truly understand haiku, you need to know a little bit about the Japanese language, or more specifically, some key differences between Japanese and English. Also, traditional haiku adhere to a few pretty strict rules regarding form and content.
A haiku consists of seventeen moras or phonetic units. The word mora can loosely be translated as syllable.
A haiku is a seventeen-syllable verse. Traditionally, haiku were written on a single line, but modern haiku occupy three lines of 5-7-5 syllables.
Haiku also use a device called kireji (cutting word). This word breaks the haiku into two parts, which are distinctly different but inherently connected. The kireji is not a concept used in English, so poets writing haiku in English often use punctuation marks instead of kireji, usually a hyphen or ellipses.
The kireji provides structure to the verse and emphasizes imagery used on either side. It may not always be easy to identify the kireji in a haiku, but if you look for a word or punctuation mark that abruptly breaks the train of thought and severs the haiku into two parts, you’ve probably found it.
Another basic element of haiku is the kigo (season word). A true haiku is set in a particular season and is fundamentally concerned with nature. The kigo might be an obvious word like snow (indicating winter) or it could be vague as with a word like leaves (which can be present in any season).
There is much debate (and some controversy) over what technically qualifies as a haiku. Some poets merely adhere to the 5-7-5 syllabic and line structure and disregard the kireji and kigo elements. Purists insist that a poem is not haiku if it does not meet all of the traditional requirements.
Additionally, many modern poets do not write haiku that exclusively focus on nature. Contemporary haiku explore just about any subject imaginable.
Try your hand at writing a few haiku. For this exercise, focus on writing a poem that is seventeen syllables on three lines with the following meter: 5-7-5.
Tips: The most captivating haiku are quite lovely and use imagery that is almost tangible. Many haiku have an element of surprise or use turns of phrase that are clever, reminiscent of puns.
Variations: Write a few haiku that follow stricter, more traditional rules. These haiku are concerned with nature and include the kireji (cutting word) and kigo (season word).
Applications: Haiku remain popular and can be found in literary and poetry journals. They are also ideal for social media (especially Twitter) and are fun and quick to write. They promote clear, concise writing and can help you cultivate the art of using vivid imagery.
Give it a Try
Feel free to write a haiku and share it in the comments. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.