1. There is no yesterday; there is no tomorrow. There is only you, scratching me under my chin right now.
The best haiku emerge from a right-this-instant experience – or from a memory of that experience. Always use present tense to heighten immediacy and authenticity in your poems.
2. When poised at a hole, remain still – and use your ears, eyes, nose, whiskers and mouth to detect a lurking gopher.
Observation is crucial to haiku. One must quiet the mind and use all five (or more!) senses to absorb, appreciate, and anchor the moment.
3. Be patient. Then, when least expected – pounce!
Haiku captures a moment in time, revealing a surprise or evoking a response of a-ha! or ahhh. This pounce helps the reader awaken and experience the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
4. Most cats have18 toes – unless we’re polydactyl; then we might have 20, 22, even 28 toes!
Japanese haiku feature a total of seventeen beats or sound units: five in the first line, seven in the second, five again in the third. This 5-7-5 form doesn’t apply to American haiku, however, because of differences in English phonics, vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Forcing an unnecessary adjective or adverb into a haiku simply to meet the 17-beats rule can ruin the flow, brevity and meaning of your poem. So feel free to experiment with any pattern you prefer (ie; 2-3-2, 5-6-4, 4-7-3) – provided the structure remains two short lines separated by a longer one. Remember: what’s most important here is not syllables but the essence of a chosen moment.
5. When I’m out, I want in; when I’m in, I want out. Mostly, I want out. That’s where the rats, gophers, lizards, snakes, bugs and birds are.
Traditional haiku focus on themes of nature, and always include a kigo or ‘season’ word. This doesn’t mean you must be explicit about the weather or time of year. A sensorial hint (ie; a green leaf versus one that is russet-colored) is all that’s needed.
6. What part of meow don’t you understand?
Tease a cat and it won’t bother to holler – it will bite and scratch. It shows its annoyance rather than tells. Good haiku follows suit. Instead of explaining, haiku illustrates a meaning or emotion through vivid imagery. Your poems should create a mental picture that captures the resulting feeling it evokes.
7. If you refuse to play with me, I will snooze on your keyboard, flick pens off your desk, and gleefully shed into your printer.
Yes, haiku has ‘rules’, but remember to play! Use words as toys, and frolic with them in new ways to portray images, emotions, themes, conflicts and character.
8. When in doubt, nap.
Good writing comes from revising. Set aside your poems and allow them to ‘nap’ for a few days. Then revise them with rested eyes, alert ears and a fresh mind. And if too much rewriting causes the weary, bleary blues, well, there’s always that comfy looking couch…
Lee Wardlaw is generously offering a signed copy of her picture book WON TON — A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (winner of the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award and the 2012 Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award) for one reader. Leave a comment below to enter. The contest closes Monday, 8 April. US residents only, please.
Lee Wardlaw claims that her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!), and published close to 30 award-winning books for young readers. Her picture book WON TON – A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU won the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award and the 2012 Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award. A companion title, WON TON AND CHOPSTICK, will be published by Holt in 2015.
Book Dilettante says
That does look cute. Won Ton haiku!
Mark Smith says
Copy of this book
I would like to win draw me
Best of luck to all.
Irene Latham says
Remember to play. Yes! Thank you, Lee and Caroline. xo
Lee Wardlaw says
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Wardlaw says
Love the haiku entry! Me-wow! Purrs, Lee
Caroline Starr Rose says
I love this post, Lee!
Donna Macdonald says
My students just love
Reading haiku poetry
Cat poems – what fun!
Love this post!! *purrs*
Great post! I sure miss my cat, Lisa
You’re the cat’s meow
with this royal beast in mind
you write in style.
Thanks for the clever haiku lesson. My students will enjoy this lesson as well as reading fun cat poems.
This is great. Thanks!
The last time I wrote a haiku was probably in high school, and I tossed it aside as a too-simple form to bother with. However, these tips combined with the humility that comes with age, encourage me to try it again. Thanks for the post!
Kid Reviews says
I especially love Lesson #1. Haiku lessons = life lessons!
Lee Wardlaw says
Thanks for all your complimentary comments! If any of you are interested, there is a teacher’s guide for WON TON. Just click to WON TON’s page: http://www.leewardlaw.com/Won-Ton-A-Cat-Tale-Told-in-Haiku.htm
And, if you’re interested in receiving a hand-out to make an origami kitty face, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.