2018 International Poetry Competition – Results and Judges’ Reports
Open Section | Haiku Section | Open Junior Section | Haiku Junior Section
OPEN SECTION (Anne French)
First Place: ‘Bathing in Melancholy’ Bogusia Wardein, Poland
Second Place: ‘Cassio and Desdemona’ Kim J Fulton, Auckland
Third Place: ‘Her’ Wes Lee, Wellington
Highly Commended (no special order): ‘Her Warning Signs’ Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod, Auckland; ‘1950: After Evensong’ Peter Belton, Dunedin; ‘In Praise of Unpredictability’ Siobhan Harvey, Auckland; ‘It’s taken me all morning for her to do this’ Nicola Easthope, Raumati South; ‘Buffalo’ and ‘My Friend From High School’ Johanna Aitchison, Ashhurst; ‘Saturday Morning’ Bernard Harris, Palmerston North; ‘Last Wishes’ Gail Ingram, Christchurch; ‘Stranding’ and ‘After’ Elizabeth Morton, Auckland; ‘The Turn’ Mary Rainsford, Wellington.
Commended (no special order): ‘Abandoned’ Tom Dowling, Ireland; ‘genetic conjugation’ Jess Fiebig, Christchurch; ‘The Barrel’ Claire Rorke, Auckland; ‘Signs’ Annabel Calder, Christchurch; ‘Farmer’ Stephanie Mayne, Auckland; ‘Peter Snell Runs the Coast to Coast’ Rangi Faith, Rangiora; ‘dreams of hi-vis’ Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North; ‘I Wish a Little’ Sandra Lock, Invercargill; ‘Engaged to Stillness’ Bogusia Wardein, Poland; ‘While the book group’ Ruth Hanover, Christchurch; ‘Message in a bottle IV’ Paul White, Auckland; ‘Company’ Andrea Ewing, Auckland; ‘Axes’ and ‘Lanterns’ Sam Keenan, Wellington.
Judge’s Report Poetry Competition Open Section 2018
According to Fleur Adcock, ‘there is only one prescription’ for the prize-winning poem: ‘it’s got to be good’. Remembering the rather ghastly examples Adcock gave, I confess I had low expectations of the enormous bag of entries I received from the Poetry Society. I thought many of them might be awful, but in the event only a handful were on the poor side. Most were competent, if slightly clichéd. Far too many were quite interesting, and about 40 or so of those stood up to repeated reading. My task as judge was not to winkle out the gems from a large pile of dross, but to make finely judged decisions about excellence in a surprisingly strong field.
Despite the ‘International’ nature of the competition, most of the entries seem to have been written by New Zealanders. These entries demonstrated a deep love for mountains, sea, and forest, which often cause the poets to reflect on larger matters such as love, loss, and the passing of time. Excluding any poem that started with an observation about the natural world would have brought the field down by about 90 per cent.
Formally, most entries were unadventurous. Insisting that entries should use some kind of recognised formal constraint, if only syllabics, would have excluded about 95%. (As I plugged thorough the first read, I was rather sorry we hadn’t banned free verse.) It was a rare poem that was slightly experimental, or took any kind of formal risk. A rarer few were playful, even witty. These ones went immediately into my ‘gosh this is great’ pile.
By the time I got to the final 30, it became harder. The top half-dozen poems had announced themselves on the first read, and it was pretty straightforward to select the very best (‘Bathing in Melancholy’), the second-prize winner (‘Cassio and Desdemona’), and the runner-up (‘Her’). These are all surprising, interesting, strong poems. The winning poem is both playful and serious, apparently straightforward but mysterious. Alluring! The other two tell stories, ‘‘Cassio and Desdemona’ with charm, ‘Her’ with economy and power. All three poets’ voices are distinctive and assured. I’d like to read more work by each of them; much more.
The 11 Highly-Commendeds eventually came into focus as I read and re-read. That left me with slightly too many Commendeds. Frankly, I found these the hardest decisions to make. These are good poems: well made, competent, interesting, often fun, sometimes powerful. But in my view they didn’t quite have the x-factor of the others. Sometimes I wanted to commend a poem for its sentiments rather than its execution, but a third or sixth read gave me the right answer. Nonetheless, if I had been permitted 20 highly-commendeds, my task would have been considerably easier.
If your poem was unplaced and you’d like to win next year, think about the formal elements of the poem, about wit and surprise, about playfulness of language, about story. Read some Glenn Colquhoun, say, and try your hand at imitating his technique. See how the patterning gives his poems their rhetorical power. Or take a look at Hera Lindsay Bird and experiment (perhaps in private) with being transgressive. Then see what that does to the next poem that bullies its way out of your fingers. If you’re sick of sounding like you, knock up a few found poems.
But – oh, and this sounds like such a cliché – please remember that this is just my opinion, and I may have got it wrong. There were some super poems that didn’t make the final cut. I’m sure one of them was yours.
Fleur Adcock, ‘The Prize-Winning Poem’, Selected Poems, OUP, 1983.
HAIKU SECTION (Katherine Raine)
First Place / Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: ‘cloud lichen…’ Sandra Simpson, Tauranga
Second Place: ‘their firstborn’ Scott Mason, USA
Third Place: ‘log after log’ Jenny Fraser, Mt Maunganui
Fourth Place: ‘nachos’ Patsy Turner, Akaroa
Fifth Place: ‘his hand moves’ Anne Curran, Hamilton
Highly Commended (no special order): ‘cityquake’ Nola Borrell, Lower Hutt; ‘fast ferry’ Elaine Riddell, Hamilton; ‘ruined abbey’ and ‘ goshawk’ Scott Mason, USA; ‘taking me’ Jenny Fraser, Mt Maunganui; ‘drought’ Debbie Strange, Canada; ‘braille’ Patsy Turner, Akaroa; ‘lonely beach’ Quendryth Young, Australia; ‘refugee huts…’ Ron C Moss, Australia; ‘by the time’ Sandra Simpson, Tauranga
Commended (no special order): ‘homecoming…’ Anne Curran, Hamilton; ‘autumn dark’ and ‘crowded train’ Nola Borrell, Lower Hutt; ‘beach combing’ and stormy night…’ Elaine Riddell, Hamilton; ‘spring moon’ Jenny Fraser, Mt Maunganui; ‘percheron’ Debbie Strange, Canada; ‘my culture’ and ‘dark theatre’ Valerie Millington, Ohaupo; ‘taking baby home’, ‘hues of autumn’ and ‘he mentions regret’ Barbara Strang, Christchurch; ‘old pond’ and ‘thinking of you…’ Rajandeep Garg, India; ‘roadside blackberries -‘ Sandra Simpson, Tauranga
Judge’s Report Poetry Competition Haiku Section 2018
Many thanks to all who entered – I tremendously valued and enjoyed my month of sharing your words and worlds. Overall, I was impressed with the high quality of entries, with more than 200 of the 413 entries making a tall ‘good; pile on my first readings. I wish I could acknowledge my appreciation of each of them. Of these, my ‘really good’ pile contained 65, and from then on it took many readings to settle on my final choices. I really hope all of you will continue to keep your senses open and continue write – I look forward to seeing you again next year!
What I looked for first of all was emotional impact, feeling touched by your honesty, sincerity and directness. I have chosen haiku that made me laugh out loud in delight, or gave me a pang in my heart, or surprised me with unusual imagery (or all three, as with cloud lichen …). The best ones of all chose themselves by springing to mind while I was in the shower, driving or going to sleep, becoming part of my inner life. The most successful haiku not only have a strong immediate impact, but also continue to resonate like ripples in the reader’s mind. When haiku are open, suggestive rather than spelled out, questions remain for the reader to work with in his or her imagination, as in his hand moves and braille. In resolving a poem in our own way as time goes on, we readers complete the creative process for ourselves in a satisfyingly personal way.
In terms of form, I also looked for brevity and was impressed with the amazing shortness of a number of expressive haiku, as in each of the five prize-winners. Seven of the Highly Commendeds and Commendeds are honed down to 10 syllables or fewer. An effective haiku needs first the poet’s sharp experience of sensory/emotional connection and then a form which communicates this insight effectively. I always particularly enjoy haiku where the structure of the lines itself expresses the meaning, as in their firstborn, goshawk, and fast ferry. Quite a few entries had wonderful imagery, but sadly this was not supported by a skilful crafting of the word arrangement into lines. (More on this below.)
I was intrigued to discover some new categories of haiku appearing – it seems haiku is evolving (here in New Zealand as well as overseas)! Traditionally there are two types of haiku, the serious-to-melancholy ones that link people and nature (with a sub-group of ‘nature without human presence’) and the wryly humorous senryu that are about people only. Among these competition entries, however, it was delightful to find some amusing ‘people-and-nature’ ones (cloud lichen …, kingfisher, stormy night, percheron) and some deeply-felt, serious ‘people-only’ haiku (his hand moves, braille, my culture, refugee huts …, homecoming). I chose only two haiku about ‘nature-only’, drought and hermit crabs. It’s difficult to go beyond descriptive nature notes to create a particular emotional resonance, but these were successful in making me care about their creatures. The majority of entries were of the traditional ‘people-and-nature’ type. Many dealt skilfully and poignantly with the traditional theme of impermanence, and through the linking of their images, showed how our inner and outer worlds reflect and resonate with each other. One way haiku can be profoundly valuable is in developing an awareness of how interdependent we are with our environment.
Imagery is the essence of haiku. Most often these images are visual; many of my top choices were haiku extra-special in being based on the senses of touch, taste or hearing. Also, I enjoyed feeling the connections to our land and waters in entries based on specifically New Zealand landscape features: pine logs, ferries, beaches… with earthquake images still reverberating. Traditional Japanese haiku must contain a word which refers to the season (kigo). Westerners may be lax in leaving these out (I know I am), but when used, their rich associations connect our personal perceptions to the energies of the wider world. So I was particularly glad to see several haiku about New Zealand seasonal happenings: spring’s whitebait netting, summer’s pohutukawa and late autumn’s kohe kohe tree blossoms. Also, I’m all in favour of using bicultural imagery and language, making haiku uniquely tricultural in New Zealand. For this reason I especially commend my culture as a pioneer in this fusion. In my listing of Highly Commended and Commended haiku there is no particular order of esteem with any of the excellent haiku in these categories. I equally relish strong, fresh, ‘international’ imagery, such as nachos, ruined abbey, goshawk.
As I mentioned above, I was struck by the number of otherwise excellent haiku that had technical problems. Many of these could be edited fairly easily into a more worthy form. To encourage you talented poets and diminish confusion and struggle – to enhance your haiku pleasures – I’ve created the checklist for you to use as a resource (see bottom of page).
Comments on Winning Haiku:
First Prize (and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award): cloud lichen …
This poem has everything one looks for in haiku – brevity, unique imagery, a seasonal tone, the traditional Japanese theme of impermanence presented lightly – and something extra. I especially enjoy this one for two reasons. First, its ‘openness’: the poet shares the creation of the haiku with the reader, by leaving it to us to find our own links between the two startlingly unrelated phrases. The puzzle of this haiku will never be solved… and the possibilities are intriguing. The “cloud lichen” is an unusual, powerful, but imprecise image. It has me picturing a New Zealand cloud forest, its ancient, gnarled trees dripping with lichens… or perhaps a cumulus-shaped lichen spreading on a rock (or a gravestone). Either way, to me the image indicates an unstoppable, natural process of aging, a wintry season of coolness and dampness, a sense-impression of the heavy immobility of wood or stone: altogether evoking a melancholy feeling. Second, though, on top of all the usual virtues of an excellent haiku, this one turns around with the “tango” in the third line, surprising us with humour! I laughed out loud when I first read it. But even as I am amused, I’m also touched. Most of us cherish our frivolous and romantic wishes, remnants of our secretly passionate natures – which life doesn’t seem to allow us to fulfill. We readers might even acknowledge our own when contemplating this haiku. The tone deepens when I wonder whether this realization of being “too late” is a result of some definite closure in the subject’s life. There’s bravery in facing the losses of aging with wit, but also considerable sadness – these complex layers summoned up by a mere eleven syllables.
Second prize: their firstborn
The foremost feature of this skilful haiku is its extreme shortness and apparent simplicity – only eight syllables. And yet it is intensely touching. The unusual structure of the second line leaves an empty space at its start for the surprise of the turning-over to happen, building suspense. The poet has made the perfect matching of a natural image with the baby’s action, one with a full spectrum of associations. Not only does the “rainbow” comprising line three describe the arc of the movement, but also indicates the joy the parents feel at seeing it. Such a small action can seem cosmic in its significance – expressing the power of the life force brought into play by becoming parents. Many readers will remember and re-experience their own instances of similar exhilaration. Yet rainbows, for all their heavenly colour and specialness, are also insubstantial and ephemeral. So the imagery reminds us that these moments of delight also pass, often leaving the clouds and downpours of a stormy sky. Infant or adult, we can’t hang on either to achievement or beauty. With its delicate touch, the single captured moment of this haiku holds this deep universal truth.
Third prize: log after log
Here is another haiku which is impressively eloquent in just eleven syllables. The sense of it develops line by line, until it all comes together when the reader is hit with the impact of the single final word. Essential to its success is the way the emotions of the poet are expressed indirectly, only through the voices of the gulls that we can vividly imagine. I value the uncommon haiku that touch upon larger issues, especially those that show restraint by not being overtly polemical. So much is contained in this imagery. The “export” of line three of course stands for all the pros and cons of our national economy and trade agreements. Yet in this poem, as at this port, these are invisible. No people appear here; only the birds are disturbed and protesting. The repetition in first line, “log after log”, expresses the inexorability of the whole process from policy to planting to ship-loading. It feels significant, too, that the haiku has no verb, only nouns; and no one is doing the actions, no person can be seen to be responsible, and even the viewer/poet is overwhelmed to the point of being invisible. The very plainness, specificity and small scale of this haiku give it a great affecting power.
Fourth prize: nachos
I’ve laughed and laughed over this irresistible imagery. In contrast to the previous three haiku, traditional in how they link the human and natural realms, this one is a senryu, ‘the other kind’ of haiku that expresses a humorous view of humanity. Unlike senryu based entirely on a pun, this one continues to be highly amusing because of the link between the two images. The minimalist structure (it could not possibly be shorter than these five words) creates an ambiguity as the internal forces and external objects intermingle. I’m curious about what is kindling the heat here in this date, their food or the attraction between them? The first line is perfectly simple, only the one word needed to conjure up the richness of associations. The second line creates a sense of anticipation, fulfilled by the word-play of line three. Nachos! – steaming, spicy, intensely savory – dripping and gooey, crude and messy – making the mouth water – destroying all manners and inhibitions – demanding to be gobbled up… What more fitting imagery could there be to embody a certain kind of getting-acquainted, erotic encounter when you’re really hungry! There could be very few examples elsewhere in literature of six syllables providing such a feast of enjoyment.
Fifth prize: his hand moves
Haiku is extraordinary in its ability to open us to a depth and complexity of feeling with the most minimal of means. This haiku does just that with its nine words. Most unusually, it reveals the power of the sense of touch. The imagery engages me and moves me with the smallest of subjects, within a single fleeting moment: a tiny, ambiguous gesture. This indication of affection is so subtle it may not even have happened, as the second line tells us with “as if”. When the third line gives the context as a dementia ward, the reader can feel the possible significance of his reaching out, its poignance. The poet takes the gesture to heart and is open to interpreting it as a loving caress. Along with the poet, I want to believe that this couple can reach across the void of dementia with a touch, to confirm their mutual bond when all other ways of communicating have fallen away. Those of us who have been close with a demented person will know this is very possible. But here we cannot know what the intention of the man is. The haiku makes no claims; we have only the bare fact of his hand moving. There is no sentimentality, no words of emotion at all. Yet beyond the possibility of his caress, there definitely stands the unstated love of the poet which holds all the warmth, hope, grief and stoicism in their situation and in the poem.
OPEN JUNIOR (Janis Freegard)
First: ‘Nocturnes’ Samantha Jory-Smart (Burnside High School) Christchurch
Runner-up, Primary/Intermediate: ‘Homage to Bess’ Evie Johnson (Selwyn House School) Christchurch
Runner-up, Secondary: ‘(where the birds kept singing)’ Ria Hermans (Newlands College) Wellington
Highly Commended (no special order:) ‘flute’ Emma Uren (Diocesan School for Girls) Auckland; ‘Begin again.’ Jessica Parrish (Whangarei Girls’ High School) Whangarei
Commended (no special order): ‘Refugee’ Evie Johnson (Selwyn House School) Christchurch; ‘Moth’ Sarah-Kate Simons (Home-schooled) Southbridge; untitled “Home is,” Adine Russell (Central Southland College) Dipton; ‘To Be Soft Is To Grow’ Avni Labhsetwar (Newlands College) Wellington; ‘I’m Sorry Mum…’ Sine’a Morrison (Southland Girls’ High School) Gore; ‘A Conversation’ and ‘After the funeral’ Emma Uren (Diocesan School for Girls) Auckland
Judge’s Report Poetry Competition Open Junior Section 2018
What a pleasure it was to read so many wonderful poems by young writers. Every poem had something about it to admire and appreciate – an interesting idea or a carefully-observed image. Many poems made great use of poetic devices such as metaphor or alliteration. I read through every poem several times, encountering war, love, birds, family, the sea and stationery. Whittling the pile down to a small number was no easy task and there are many more poems I would have liked to commend.
Some of the poets sounded as though they were struggling through a difficult time. I’d like to remind everyone that things do get better and poetry (both writing and reading it) can be a great source of comfort.
As every judge does, I brought my own preferences to the process. I was most drawn towards poems that had a surprise for me – in the use of language, imagery, ideas or lay-out – as well as poems that offered hope or possibilities. For my final selection, I chose poems that showed mastery of the craft of poetry, poems that made me happy or made me think, poems that stayed with me and poems that made me want to read them again.
The overall winner, ‘Nocturnes’, is a mature and confident poem which impressed me with its imagery and lyricism. An ekphrastic poem (one which describes a work of art), its three stanzas bring in both the three-part musical composition, ‘Nocturnes’ by Claude Debussy, and James Whistler’s paintings (also called ‘Nocturnes’) that inspired it. There were many layers of inspiration going on here and it prompted me to find out more about Debussy and Whistler’s works. It’s a poem that pleases the ear when read aloud (“pools/ of pulled and pleated night”; “thud of mandarins/ plummeting from a juggler’s hand”). It’s also a poem about the creative process: “A composition flickers on the horizon”; “The man… gathers sounds like a cloak”. It was a pleasure to read and, like most good poems, I drew more from it with each re-reading.
The Secondary section runner-up, ‘(where the birds kept singing)’, is inventive and intriguing, with some striking imagery, telling July to “stop dragging your teeth across the backs of wings” for instance. This poet is not afraid to experiment and careful thought has gone into laying out the words on the page.
The runner-up from the Primary/Intermediate section, ‘Homage to Bess’ stood out for its rich imagining of the experience of a war horse in battle. Alongside the poet’s insights into what the horse might be thinking and feeling are descriptions of what’s happening around her. It’s full of sights and sounds, the inner world and the outer world of the horse drawn together: “It makes my tummy rumble, like the world around me”. I’m pleased it ends on a happy note with Bess and her owner safely home.
Congratulations to everyone who entered. You have created something to treasure. I hope you will all keep writing and enter again. Remember that there is a prize for every poem that’s written, and that’s the poem itself.
HAIKU JUNIOR (Quendryth Young)
Primary and Intermediate –
First Place / Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: ‘walking to school’ Natalie Barclay, (Pymble Public School) Australia
Second Place: ‘island’ Xanthe Pearce (Selwyn House School) Christchurch
Third Place ‘memories are held’ Eliana Collins (Arrowtown Primary School) Arrowtown
First Place: ‘red puddles’ Brianna Sloper (St Andrew’s College) Christchurch
Second Place: ‘a blank canvas’ Rinay Chandra (St Andrew’s College) Christchurch
Third Place: ‘her last night’ Jamie Howell (St Andrew’s College) Christchurch
Highly Commended (no special order): ‘out of place’ Alexandra Smith (Ohaupo Primary School) Ohaupo; ‘full moon’, ‘twilight swimming’, and ‘dark shadows’ Natalie Barclay (Pymble Public School) Australia
Commended (no special order): ‘seagulls flying’ Noah Ballard (Te Huruhi School) Waiheke; ‘old sailor’ Paige Keith (Ohaupo Primary School) Ohaupo; ‘shadow in the wind’ Maisie Taylor (Fendalton Open Air School) Christchurch; ‘midnight’ Carmen Wood (Selwyn House School) Christchurch; ‘the forest’ Charlotte Leatherland(Selwyn House School) Christchurch; ‘Cellophane glitter’ Emma Uren (Diocesan School for Girls) Auckland
Judge’s Report Poetry Competition Junior Haiku Section 2018
What a joy it has been to read so many observant, sensitive and emotive haiku. The Primary/ Intermediate section comprised 111 entries, with 45 entries in the Secondary section. The range of submitted poems presented responses to a variety of subjects and situations, and it was pleasing to note the special attention given to the environment, pollution, war, and the writers’ relationship with the natural world.
I was attracted to those haiku that captured the essence of a passing moment (rather than stories with more than one time frame, or fantasies or explanations), and valued haiku that displayed an observation using one or more of our five senses, and which adhered to a more traditional formatting. A winning haiku displays these features (walking to school – First, Primary/ Intermediate; Jeanette Stace Memorial Award). Here we find a conventional structure in two parts, with a break (‘kiriji’) after the first line. The reader is likely to presume that the person walking to school is a student, and the initial impression is of a haiku that presents a simple image, using simple words. However, perhaps there is more to be enjoyed. Leaves are falling into patterns, falling into place, and maybe the student has found his/her studies are at last ‘falling into place’ – making sense. The leaves are “red”, the most vital colour in the spectrum, and on reaching the earth they rot and release their elements to be utilised once more – by the tree or by other organisms of the flora and fauna – thus fulfilling the eternal patterns of recycling.
Another role of a good haiku is its ability to evoke ‘wonder’: to present a new concept that will stimulate the reader to respond, “Aah! Yes, of course! I’ve never thought of that!” (full moon – Highly Commended). All of us have viewed the full moon, and most have at some time seen a night creature scurrying across the road. Using a strong verb such as “scurries” can be a great help in setting the scene. In our moment of observation we see the moon, apparently motionless, with the little possum in such a hurry. And yet the moon is travelling at 3,683 kilometres per hour, while the possum’s movement is one-thousandth of that. Wonder indeed!
A fine haiku may leave much unsaid, so the reader might consider the image presented. The two haiku above demonstrate this. Here are two more: red puddles – First, Secondary; out of place – Highly Commended. Why are the puddles red; what donkey is that; where is the setting? Where is this child; why is she/he out of place, and why is the hood being pulled tighter? Images have been evoked, but not all the questions are answered. The reader is left to ponder.
A competent poet uses as few words as are necessary; there is no bottom limit. Do not be afraid to cut/cut/cut. island (Second, Primary/ Intermediate) is a delightful award-winning haiku in six words.
Haiku is poetry, so at times the rhythm may contribute to the mood, and some writers made good use of this tool. Most haiku use an iambic beat, the common metre in speech, as in one award-winning haiku, she tells the moon/ goodnight . The measured tone of a trochaic metre is perfectly presented in red leaves falling / into patterns. There are other metres that you might like to explore. Below you will find that a dactylic metre in Cellophane glitter (Commended) poem is used to effect in lines 1 & 2 (reflecting a glittery tickle), with the stressed syllables in line 3 emphasising the change of mood.
The greatest achievement for a poet is not an award, nor even publication. It is the joy of having all senses always on alert to appreciate our world, and capture the images in words.
A helpful Haiku Workshop has been made available for free download by the Sydney School of Arts & Humanities. You may find it by googling ‘Haiku Workshop Sydney’.
So you’ve had a vivid flash of perception. You want to communicate this clearly to others. And you’ve found fresh and original imagery to share your experience. ou’ve formed it into a short poem.
But is it haiku? You can use the following checklist (a) to make sure your poem has the basic form and spirit of haiku, then (b) to refine it into an excellent haiku that uses the traditions of the form to maximize its expressive power.
- Brevity: as short as possible
- contemporary haiku in English is almost always shorter than 17 syllables
- look carefully for what you can eliminate while still keeping the meaning
- but don’t leave out “a”, “an” or “the”, where these are necessary for a natural flow; haiku is not a telegram
- Dual phrasing: two images
- a haiku consists simply of two phrases
- one of the phrases is shorter, one longer
- the contrast or association of these two images creates the liveliness of the haiku; the way they relate to each other is often called ‘juxtaposition’
- sentences are not necessary; if you do write a sentence, make sure to divide it in two, giving it an internal break
3. Line pattern: usually three lines, short/long/short
- the short phrase can form either the first or third line
- the second line is longest, containing the majority of the longer phrase
- the two short lines should be about the same length and convey similar amounts of essential information; it’s important that each line does significant work
- a skilful third line often contains a surprise
- this short/long/short pattern can be varied to create a subtle drama
- blank spaces can also be expressive
- one-line haiku can work well, but should still contain two images
- two-line and four-line haiku do exist, but are much more difficult to write successfully
- “Bare bones” style: in the Japanese tradition
- edit out features of the Western poetry tradition:
- ‘poetical’ and abstract language
- philosophical musings
- metaphors (“the moon is an eye”), similes (“the moon is like an eye”) and personification (“the moon opens her eye”)
- capital letters at the beginning of lines
- punctuation, except “–” and “…” between phrases if wanted
- choose a small, modest subject; it can subtly point to a larger truth
- Directness: capturing the moment
- be honest: be true to yourself, writing about what you’ve actually experienced, just the way you experienced it
- all haiku happens in the present moment, so if you use a verb, it should be in the present tense
- use sharp sensory images, not intellectual concepts (focus on what do you feel, rather than what do you think)
- but don’t name your emotion, let your imagery suggest it
- try using images from senses other than vision
- find fresh, intriguing, unconventional language
- really search for precisely the perfect words: each one counts
Desirable options: Neither of these points is necessary, but they give haiku an extra dimension of character, interest and relevance to readers.
- use imagery that indicates the season, to connect your experience to the wider world
- if you’re a Kiwi poet, use imagery and/or language from our New Zealand environments and cultures, just as poets from other countries use theirs
Recommended further reading: Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide by Jane Reichhold