Haiku, here’s the thing
Seventeen syllables are
Easy-ish to string
Gabby Garcia is, above all else, a pitcher. An all-star pitcher. She loves baseball because anything can happen but she also loves that, to a degree, the rules make sense.
In GABBY GARCIA’S ULTIMATE PLAYBOOK, my first middle grade novel where I introduce Gabby and her strategies to the world, Gabby has to switch schools in the middle of the baseball season and struggles to keep a life win streak on track. When things don’t go as she hoped with her new school’s ball team, she decides she needs a new “thing” to be awesome at.
An Gabby’s writer and guardian, I had to figure out what that thing was. Though she prides herself on athleticism, she has, I think, the soul of a poet. Or, really, I decided she did when she was searching for a non-baseball area to excel in. (The reasons: She tends to ruminate on things, she likes to write, and she’s the kind of player who totally takes notice of small details on the field – the green of the grass, a bird’s happy chirp, the fluffiness of a cloud.)
If free verse is a messy game of tag on an endless playing field with words that can run to and fro (or decide to cartwheel or skip or fly) and a sonnet is perhaps more refined, with boundaries and schemes (maybe an elegant game of tennis, somewhat mathematical and aligned) then a haiku is, to Gabby anyway, a pitch.
Curve balls and sliders
Tossed stitches spinning so fast
Let balls (and words) fly
Each one is unique but has to hit a target – in this case a 5-7-5 syllable per line limit. (Note: the 5-7-5 syllable scheme applies to the English interpretation of haiku. Haiku is a traditional Japanese form for poems about seasons and nature, and the language contains many polysyllabic words so haiku as it was originally conceived in 13th Century Japan is often shorter than my examples and in fact the rules guiding it are more strict.)
In GABBY GARCIA’S ULTIMATE PLAYBOOK, When Gabby is down for the count with her friends, she goes to the haiku as a way not to solve her problems entirely but to express something to each of them to get herself back in the game.
I’ve always loved jotting haikus because they’re great as warm-ups to the heavier writing I have to do every day. And if I throw out a really bad one, I only used 17 syllables. And, like baseball pitches, which have different speeds and drops and curves, a haiku can take on different tones: comic, thoughtful, joyful.
Whatever approach you choose, here are a few fun ways to write haiku alone or in a group.
Infinite Possibilities. If you’re working on haiku in a group (or are a teacher or librarian), one great exercise is to pick a subject and have everyone pen his or her own haiku – then read them and see how many variants. It’s amazing that 17 syllables can offer so many possibilities.
I Spy Haiku. Another fun game is for each writer in a group to pen a haiku about something nearby without naming it. Then, have each poet read their creation and have other writers guess what they were writing about.
Haiku Me-to-You. This is a game of sorts, like a writing round robin. In it, the first writer pens a haiku with a reference to the season or month. From there, each subsequent writer adds a haiku verse, which should feel linked (sometimes even very loosely) to a concept or thought in the verse before. These should be fiction, and the collaborative nature of the game should lead to comic or wild poems by the end.
Haiku Diary. Grab a pack of index cards and write a haiku a day. It could be a form of diary keeping or a way to highlight one great thing each day or just a nice retrospective on what was important or interesting or funny or maddening that day (in 17 syllables, of course).
Mostly though, if you’re thinking of taking up poetry in any form or fashion, there are two main rules I have to offer: 1. Read lots of poetry. Read lots in general. 2. Write a lot. Get things right. Get things wrong. Play around. Keep going.
This lesson over?
Not to lessen what you learned
But it just started