How to Haiku by Jim Kacian


Jim Kacian is is an American haiku poet, editor and publisher.  So it stands to reason that he knows something about Haiku. 

As an introductory text though, I think I would still direct those interested in exploring Haiku to Jane Reichhold’s resources at or indeed her wonderful (and much plugged by me) Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands on Guide. 

But Kacian’s How to Haiku is worth reading.  I found a number of sections built on or better informed my practise.  If I had to summarise it, How to Haiku is giving you advice on how to polish your works more than construct them.

The chapter What is a Haiku? is a bit more generalised than I would have expected.  It looks more at the intention rather than specific techniques.  The spirit of the form rather than the nuts and bolts.  Indeed it’s much like an extended definition with examples.

The chapter Form discusses the origins and varieties of Haiku in English, 5-7-5 or short long short, 5-12 or 12-5 or the monostich/one liner.  It ends with an emphasis on the form suiting/serving the poem and not the tradition.

In Content we are directed towards what should be in a Haiku. It should focus on nature or our interaction in it.  It should imply the thing the poet wants to  express, rather than expressing it directly.

In Technique Kacian identifies three types of Haiku we might encounter and write:

implied context; context and action, and juxtaposition.

this is somewhat short of the number of techniques that Reichhold has identified but I found this section an interesting observation from another angle.

Language covers the appropriate word choice and diction for writing Haiku.  The focus should be on bringing the experience to the reader and in some sense the language should almost be transparent or wordless.  There is also great thought given to when to be specific or broad i.e. do you use Bird or Cormorant.  What really interested me here was the small discussion on grammar and punctuation.  Some of it was intuitive but it was good to see how hyphens, colons and semi-colons slightly altered the reading/presentation of the poem.

How to Write Haiku served as an example of process rather than of technique.  Kacian’s suggestions were to take copious (but brief notes) when observing or experiencing Haiku moments and then whittle this down at a latter stage.  I must say that I don’t work this way but I think its a valid way for someone to approach it.  

The A (Very) Brief History of Haiku rather than be a repeat of other short histories I have read on Haiku, actually had some really good information on the transmission of the form in the west, identifying different waves/cohorts of writers.  I’d say that this booklet was worth the reading for this section alone.  It is largely American centric but still it further solidified and helped organise my impressions.

There were also additional gems found in Related Forms, particularly on Haibun, though the Renku, Rengay and Sequence information was worthwhile too.  The section on Performance had a number of suggestions including those for how to read to an audience, the addition of music.

In summary, I felt that How to Haiku was certainly a journeyman text.  It has the feel of a series of thoughtful, considered meditations on Haiku.  I think a beginner might get hung up on the “specialness” of Haiku and be unable to write for fear of not producing something of great worth.  In saying that, I don’t think its Kacian’s intention to preclude beginners, its just that in my experience its better to get people playing with the tools and then showing them how to be craftspeople.  So read this if you are looking to improve your craft.

How to Haiku was downloaded from the Haiku Foundation for free.  You can check them out here.


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