Advice for Those New to Haiku

by Brad Bennett

Focus on the writing first 

For me, there are two major parts of the haiku-writing process: the experiencing and recording of the haiku moment and the crafting of the haiku poem. Both are infinitely enjoyable, but to me, staying open, receiving, and recording the haiku moment is more important. That’s the ice-cream. Revising, editing, and getting published are the cherries on top.

Be humble 

The haiku is a humble poem. And the process of writing haiku can be a humbling experience. I love that anyone can write a haiku — it’s a supremely democratic poetry form. But not everyone can write a great haiku, especially not without much practice. It’s a challenge to capture or create a haiku moment with effective juxtaposition using concrete images that allude to human emotions. I love that challenge and hopefully you do as well. Try to relish the challenge and remember that each haiku you write is one step closer to greatness. If you decide to submit your work, remember that all responses, acceptances and rejections can be helpful feedback.

Learn the ‘rules’ of haiku, then break them later

There are different definitions of haiku, different guidelines, different techniques, and different tools in the haikuist’s toolbelt. I think it’s helpful to get to know some of these techniques well first, and then experiment in new directions. For instance, practice the short-long-short haiku structure for a while and get to know it. Then start experimenting with other structures, like long-short-long and short-longer-longer.

Haiku is a team sport 

While the act of writing is often a solitary pursuit, it’s very important to connect in some way with the haiku community. And I’ve found it to be a very generous and collegial community. If a poet writes in a vacuum, it may be hard to improve their craft. I learn so much from other haiku writers. So, find at least one other haiku writer with whom you can swap feedback. Or join a group on-line or in person.

Don’t ‘bulldog’ your poems 

A poem is not just yours. It is ours. It is a gift to the world. So, it is our responsibility to help each poem reach its fullest potential. And if we hold on too tightly to a particular word, line, phrase, or idea, we may be blocking that potential. Early in my poetry writing career, I took a workshop that was titled, “The Poem Knows More Than You Do”. We are but gardeners tending our beds of blossoming flowers.

Trust the reader 

Other “New to Haiku” interviewees have talked about this bit of advice. It’s a lesson I learned slowly. When I first started writing haiku, I had specific experiences that I wanted the reader to also experience in my specific way. Haiku taught me that I was really limiting the reader — I was telling the reader how to think and feel. Now I deliberately try to create enough space (or “dreaming room”) for the reader to create their own interpretation and meaning.

Approach haiku with a beginner’s mind 

No one knows everything about haiku. That’s a good thing. We are all lifelong learners and if we think of ourselves in that way, we can stay open to the joys and benefits of this wonderful form.

Don’t try to create a specific voice 

When I was new to the haiku community, a haiku poet I respected very much urged me to build my haiku voice deliberately. That advice didn’t work for me. Since I attempt to be true to the haiku moment and to the poem itself, I didn’t want to start out with a specific agenda for each poem and my collective work. Each poem is its own end. Be true to yourself and write haiku that feel true to you. Then, in the future, others can point out a few characteristics or major elements of your voice.

The way of haiku can become a gratitude practice 

Staying open to haiku moments and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary are two lessons that haiku has taught me. As Scott Mason reminds us, the haiku is a poem of wonder. Haiku help me find my gratitude each day.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared as part of an interview with Brad Bennett at The Haiku Foundation and appears here with Brad’s permission.

Brad Bennett is an award-winning haiku poet living in Arlington, Massachusetts, USA, who has published two collections of haiku, a drop of pond (2016) and a turn in the river (2019), both with Red Moon Press. The first won a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award from The Haiku Foundation and the second was shortlisted for a Touchstone Award. He is a member of the Broadmoor Haiku Collective, the Haiku Poets of Northern California, and the Sugar Maple Haiku Group. Brad teaches haiku to adults through local community education organisations, and taught haiku to children for more than 25 years. He is a mentor in the Haiku Society of America Mentor Programme, and assistant haiku and senryu editor of the HSA journal, Frogpond.