How Haiku Made Me a Better Non-Fiction Writer


photo credit: mike912mueller – creative commons

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.
— Edgar Allan Poe, nineteenth-century American author and poet

Writing poetry is hard enough. Now add rules, impose structure and leave off the page as much as you put on. That’s haiku. It’s been said haiku is the very soul of poetry.

Haiku poetry requires structure and demands the poet follow certain rules. Contemporary “Western” haiku has exactly 17 syllables. Write more, or less than that and you didn’t write haiku; you wrote “haikudn’t”. No, that’s not a real word; I just made it up. But you get the idea. Western haiku is written in three distinct lines. The first line has five syllables, the second one has seven. The third and final line has five more syllables. This 5-7-5 pattern is widely interpreted, and many of the traditional haiku poems didn’t always follow it.

Purists will include a kigo in the poem. This is a single word or short phrase that symbolizes the season of the poem, or includes a reference to nature or natural phenomena.  Modern poets and distinctly non-Japanese haiku poetry doesn’t always include this reference, but it’s always nice when it’s there.

Like this:

The snow falls briskly (5)
in winter I am riding,  (7) (kigo)
bareback on a horse   (5)
By Chuck Douros

I started writing haiku as a strategy to become a better non-fiction writer. That sounds counter-intuitive and a little crazy. How in the world can a non-fiction writer become better at his craft by writing haiku? This won’t take long to explain: “wordsmithing”. Haiku forces the writer to carefully select only the most meaningful words. Haiku requires intense discipline to place not only the right words for the story, but the right order as well. Finally, well-written haiku poetry is provocative and leaves your imagination running wild. The poem leaves an indelible picture in your mind’s eye. These are all very valuable traits of a good non-fiction writer as well. It’s altogether too easy to regurgitate facts, figures, research and data, on pages and pages of ordinary drivel. Better non-fiction material incorporates all the style and brevity of a great poem.

In haiku the half is greater than the whole: the haiku’s achievement is in what it omits.
—  Robert Spiess, American haiku poet

In 2010, I entered a national haiku poetry contest with a distinctly organic theme: Truffle mushrooms. The elusive subterranean mushroom is prized in the culinary world and very hard to find in nature. The judges selected my poem over all others to win the Grand Prize.

My Award-Winning  TRUFFLE HAIKU  
Valentine’s Day 2011

Love and Truffles

It was our first time
You and I unearthed much more
Now we search as one

About these ads

8 thoughts on “How Haiku Made Me a Better Non-Fiction Writer

  1. Pingback: Thunderstorm Haiku | runwritedig

  2. Pingback: Another Poetry Wednesday | Two Voices, One Song

  3. Pingback: Poetry Without A Message | Monkey Prodigy

What are Your Thoughts? Comments?

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s