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Haiku ( 俳句) listen is a kind of Japanese poetry. It was given this name in the late 19th century by a man named Masaoka Shiki by a combination of the older hokku ( 発句) and the haikai (or verses) in haikai no renga. Haiku, when known as hokku were the opening verses of a linked verse form, haikai no renga. In Japanese, hokku and haiku are traditionally printed in one vertical line (though in handwritten form they may be in any reasonable number of lines). In English, haiku are written in three lines to equate to the three parts of a haiku in Japanese that traditionally consist of five, seven, and then five on (the Japanese count sounds, not syllables; for example, the word "haiku" itself counts as three sounds in Japanese, but two syllables in English, and writing seventeen syllables in English produces a poem that is actually quite a bit longer, with more content, than a haiku in Japanese). The kireji (cutting word or pause) usually comes at the end of either the first or second line. A haiku traditionally contains a kigo (season word) representative of the season in which the poem is set, or a reference to the natural world.

Because Japanese nouns do not have different singular and plural forms, "haiku" is usually used as both a singular and plural noun in English as well. Practicing haiku poets and translators refer to "many haiku" rather than "haikus."

Senryu is a similar poetry form that emphasizes irony, satire, humor, and human foibles instead of seasons, and may or may not have kigo or kireji.

Syllable or "On" in Haiku

While Modern English verse is typically characterized by meter, which counts "beats", Japanese verse instead typically counts sound units, known in Japanese as " on". The word On is often translated loosely (and somewhat inaccurately) as "syllables," but it is troublesome to think they are equivalent. The traditional haiku consisted of a pattern of 5, 7, and 5 on.

The Japanese word on, literally "sound," corresponds to a mora, a phonetic unit similar but not identical to the syllable of languages such as English. (The word onji (音字; ‘sound symbol’) is sometimes used in referring to the Japanese syllable units in English although this word is archaic and no longer current in Japanese.) In Japanese, the on corresponds very closely to the kana character count (closely enough that Moji (or "character symbol") is also sometimes used as the count unit). One on is counted for a short syllable, an additional one for an elongated vowel or a doubled consonant (i.e., a glottal stop), and one for an added "n" at the end of a syllable. Thus, the word "sign," though one syllable in English, would be counted as three sounds if said in Japanese (something like "sigh-ya-uhn").

Although it is possible to dissect the difference between counting on and counting syllables in great detail, in actual practice, for some classical Japanese haiku the count of on is very often identical to the count of syllables. However, because most Japanese words are polysyllabic, with very short sounds (like the three-syllable English word "radio," but unlike the one-syllable words "thought" or "stressed"), the seventeen sounds of a Japanese haiku carry less information than would seventeen syllables. Consequently, writing seventeen syllables in English typically produces a poem that is significantly "longer" than a traditional Japanese haiku. As a result, the great majority of literary haiku writers in English write their poems using about ten to fourteen syllables, with no formal pattern.

Possibly the most well-known of Japanese haiku is Bashō's "old pond" haiku:


This separates into on as:

furuike ya
(fu/ru/i/ke ya): 5
kawazu tobikomu
(ka/wa/zu to/bi/ko/mu): 7
mizu no oto
(mi/zu no o/to): 5

Roughly translated :

old pond
a frog jumps
the sound of water

Haiku are written as three different lines with a distinct grammatical break between two of them, called a kireji, usually placed at the end of either the first or second line. In Japanese, there are actual kireji words, which act as a sort of spoken punctuation (for example, the "ya" at the end of Bashō's "furuike-ya" poem is a kireji). In English, kireji has no direct equivalent. Instead, English-language poets often use commas, dashes, elipses, or implied breaks to divide the three lines into two grammatical and imagistic parts. The purpose is to create a juxtaposition, which creates space for an implication as the reader intuits the relationship between the two parts. Among most Japanese haiku writers, the kireji and kigo are both considered non negotiable requirements for the genre, yet are seldom taught in English. These elements, although considered by many to be essential to haiku, are not always included by modern writers of Japanese "free-form" haiku and some non-Japanese haiku. In Japanese "free-form" haiku, this omission is deliberate.


  • An example of classic hokku by Matsuo Bashō:
fuji no kaze ya oogi ni nosete Edo miyage
the wind of Mt. Fuji
I've brought on my fan!
a gift from Edo
  • Another Bashō classic:
hatsu shigure saru mo komino wo hoshige nari
the first cold shower
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw

(At that time, Japanese rain-gear consisted of a large, round cap and a shaggy straw cloak.)

Origin and evolution

From renga to haikai

The exact origin of hokku is still subject to debate, but it is generally agreed that it originated from classical linked verse form called renga (連歌).

The first 5–7–5 sound units of a short renga is called ‘maeku’ (and looks and sounds like a haiku) to which another person writes a response, a ‘tsukeku’ — added verse — which is linked to the previous one using the equivalent of 7–7 Japanese sound units written in two lines. A tan renga is basically a tanka written by two people.

  • The long renga, chōrenga, consists of an alternating succession of chōku and tanku. Originally the renga consisted of 100, 1000, and even 10,000 links. During Basho's time he shortened the 100-verse renga down to 36 links. It was then called the "kasen" renga. The first verse of a long renga is a chōku (5–7–5) called hokku (発句, ‘the opening verse’), the second is a tanku (7–7) called waki, … and the last is a tanku called ageku.

In the 1400s a rising middle class led to the development of a less courtly linked verse called playful linked verse (俳諧の連歌 haikai no renga). The term haikai no renga first appears in the renga collection Tsukubashu. Haiku came into being when the opening verse of haikai no renga was made an independent poem at the middle of the 17th century.

The inventors of haikai no renga (abbr. haikai) are generally considered to be Yamazaki Sokan ( 1465– 1553) and Arakida Moritake ( 1473– 1549). Later exponents of haikai were Matsunaga Teitoku ( 1571– 1653), the founder of the Teimon school, and Nishiyama Sōin ( 1605– 1682), the founder of the Danrin school. The Teimon school's deliberate colloquialism made haikai popular, but also made it depend on wordplay. To counter this dependence, the Danrin school explored people's daily life for other sources of playfulness, but often ended up with frivolity.

In the 1600s, two masters arose who elevated haikai and gave it a new popularity. They were Matsuo Bashō ( 1644– 1694) and Onitsura ( 1661– 1738). Hokku was only the first verse of haikai, but its position as the opening verse made it the most important, setting the tone for the whole composition. Even though hokku sometimes appeared individually, they were understood to always be in the context of haikai, as they were part of the verses of a renga. Bashō and Onitsura were thus writers of haikai of which hokku was only a part. Many more of these ‘stand-alone’ haikai verses were written than were used in renga. Basho also used his haiku as torque points for his short prose sketches and longer travel diaries which combined prose and haiku. This sub-genre of haikai is known as haibun (see Haibun Defined: Anthology of Haibun Definitions).His best-known book, Oku no Hosomichi, or Narrow Roads to the Far North, is the most famous literary work in Japan and has been translated into English extensively. It even exists in play form as Banana Skies.

Basho was deified by both the imperial government and Shinto religious headquarters one hundred years after his death because he raised the genre from a playful game of wit to sublime poetry. During his lifetime he was the most famous poet in Japan and still is today.

The time of Buson

Grave of Yosa Buson

The next famous style of haikai to arise was that of Yosa Buson ( 1716–1783) and others such as Gyōdai, Chora, Rankō, Ryōta, Shōha, Taigi, and Kitō, called the Tenmei style after the Tenmei Era (17811789) in which it was created. Buson was better known in his day as a painter than as a writer of haikai, but today that is reversed. His affection for painting can be seen in the painterly style of his hokku, and in his attempt to deliberately arrange scenes in words. Hokku was not so much a serious matter for Buson as it was for Bashō. The popularity and frequency of haikai gatherings in this period led to greater numbers of verses springing from imagination rather than from actual experience.

No new popular style followed Buson. A very individualistic approach to haikai appeared, however, in the writer Kobayashi Issa (17631827) whose miserable childhood, poverty, sad life, and devotion to the Pure Land sect of Buddhism are clearly present in his hukku.

The appearance of Shiki

After Issa, haikai entered a period of decline in which it reverted to frivolity and uninspired mediocrity. The writers of this period in the 19th century are known by the deprecatory term tsukinami, meaning ‘monthly’, after the monthly or twice-monthly haikai gatherings of the end of the 18th century. But in regard to this period of haikai, it came to mean ‘trite’ and ‘hackneyed’.

This was the situation until the appearance of Masaoka Shiki (18671902), a reformer and revisionist who marks the end of hokku in a wider context. Shiki, a prolific writer even though chronically ill during a significant part of his life, not only disliked the tsukinami writers, but also criticized Bashō. Like the Japanese intellectual world in general at that time, Shiki was strongly impressed by Western culture. He favored the painterly style of Buson and particularly the European concept of plein-air painting, which he adapted to create a style of reformed hokku as a kind of nature sketch in words, an approach called shasei, literally ‘sketching from life’. He popularized his views by verse columns and essays in newspapers.

All hokku up to the time of Shiki were written in the context of haikai, but Shiki completely separated his new style of verse from wider contexts. Being agnostic, he also separated it from the influence of Buddhism with which hokku had very often been tinged. And finally, he discarded the term "hokku" and called his revised verse form "haiku". Shiki thus became the first haiku poet. His revisionism brought an end to haikai and hokku as well as to surviving haikai schools.


Haiga, the combination of haiku and art, is nearly as old as haiku itself. Haiga began as haiku added to paintings, but included in Japan the calligraphic painting of haiku via brushstrokes, with the calligraphy adding to the power of the haiku. Earlier haiku poets added haiku to their paintings, but Bashō is noted for creating haiga paintings as simple as the haiku itself. Yosa Buson, a master painter, brought a more artistic approach to haiga. It was Buson who illustrated Basho's famous travel journal, Oku no Hosomichi - Narrow Road to the Far North.

Today, artists combine haiku with paintings, photographs and other art.

Haiku in India

Indian languages that follow Indic (abugida) alphabetical system interpret 5,7,5 structures counting CV, CCV, CCCV or CCCCV clusters, irrespective of length of syllables. In early 20th century Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore composed Haiku in Bengali. He also translated some from Japanese. In Gujarati, Jheenabhai Desai 'Sneharashmi' popularized Haiku and remains the most popular Haiku composer. In the traditional syncratic spirit of Gujarati literature, poets like Bhagavatikumar Sharma and Bhushit Joshipura have composed Ghazals with shares formed as Haiku. This type of poetry is named as Haiku Ghazal. Urdu (which is written in abjad alphabetical system) interprets 5,7,5 structures counting long syllables. Dr. Rehmat Yusufzai has composed a number of Haikus in Urdu.

Haiku in the West

Although there were attempts outside Japan to imitate the old hokku in the early 1900s, there was little genuine understanding of its principles. Early Western scholars such as Basil Hall Chamberlain (18501935) and William George Aston were mostly dismissive of hokku's poetic value. One of the first advocates of English-language hokku was the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi. In "A Proposal to American Poets," published in the Reader magazine in February 1904, Noguchi gave a brief outline of the hokku and some of his own English efforts, ending with the exhortation, "Pray, you try Japanese Hokku, my American poets!" At about the same time the poet Sadakichi Hartmann was publishing original English-language hokku, as well as other Japanese forms in both English and French.

In France, hokku was introduced by Paul-Louis Couchoud around 1906. Couchoud's articles were read by early Imagist theoretician F. S. Flint, who passed on Couchoud's(somewhat idiosyncratic) ideas to other members of the proto-Imagist Poets' Club such as Ezra Pound. Amy Lowell made a trip to London just to meet Pound and find out about haiku. She returned to the United States where she worked to interest others in this "new" form. Haiku subsequently had a considerable influence on Imagists in the 1910s, notably Pound's " In a Station of the Metro" of 1913, but, notwithstanding several efforts by Yone Noguchi to explain "the hokku spirit," there was as yet little understanding of the form and its history.

An early translation of a haiku book to a western language, in this case, to Spanish, was realized by the Mexican poet and Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz with the collaboration of Eikichi Hayashiya. In 1956, they published "Sendas de Oku," the famous book by Matsuo Basho, "Oku no Hosomichi." Octavio Paz wrote an essay about this translation work, and published it in the book "El signo y el garabato."


After early Imagist interest in haiku the genre drew less attention in English until after World War II, with the appearance of a number of influential volumes about Japanese haiku.

In 1949, with the publication in Japan of the first volume of Haiku, the four-volume work by R.H. Blyth, haiku was introduced to the post-war world. Blyth was an Englishman who lived in Japan. He produced a series of works on Zen, haiku, senryu, and on other forms of Japanese and Asian literature. Those most relevant here are his Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics (1942); his four-volume Haiku series (1949-52) dealing mostly with pre-modern hokku, though including Shiki; and his two-volume History of Haiku (1964). Today he is best known as a major interpreter of haiku to English speakers.

Present-day attitudes to Blyth's work vary. Many contemporary writers of haiku were introduced to the genre through his works. These include the San Francisco and Beat Generation writers, such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg. Many members of the international "haiku community" also got their first views of haiku from Blyth's books, including James W. Hackett, Eric Amann, William J. Higginson, Anita Virgil, Jane Reichhold, and Lee Gurga. In the late twentieth century, members of that community with direct knowledge of modern Japanese haiku often noted Blyth's distaste for haiku on more modern themes and his strong bias regarding a direct connection between haiku and Zen, a "connection" largely ignored by Japanese poets. (Bashō, in fact, felt that his devotion to haiku prevented him from realizing enlightenment) Blyth also did not view haiku by Japanese women favorably, downplaying their substantial contributions to the genre, especially during the Bashō era and the twentieth century.

Although Blyth did not foresee the appearance of original haiku in languages other than Japanese when he began writing on the topic, and although he founded no school of verse, his works stimulated the writing of haiku in English. At the end of the second volume of his History of Haiku (1964), he remarked that "The latest development in the history of haiku is one which nobody foresaw, ... the writing of haiku outside Japan, not in the Japanese language." He followed that comment with several original verses in English by the American James W. Hackett (b. 1929), with whom Blyth corresponded.


In 1957, the Charles E. Tuttle Co., with offices in both Japan and the U.S., published The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples by the Japanese-American scholar and translator Kenneth Yasuda. The book consists mainly of material from Yasuda's doctoral dissertation at Tokyo University (1955), and includes both translations from Japanese and original poems of his own in English which had previously appeared in his book A Pepper-Pod: Classic Japanese Poems together with Original Haiku (Alfred A. Knopf, 1947). In The Japanese Haiku, Yasuda presented some Japanese critical theory about haiku, especially featuring comments by early twentieth-century poets and critics. His translations apply a 5–7–5 syllable count in English, with the first and third lines end-rhymed. Yasuda's theory includes the concept of a "haiku moment," which he said is based in personal experience and provides the motive for writing a haiku. While the rest of his theoretical writing on haiku is not widely discussed, his notion of the haiku moment has resonated with haiku writers in North America, even though the notion is not widely promoted in Japanese haiku.

The impulse to write haiku in English in North America was probably given more of a push by two books that appeared in 1958 than by Blyth's books directly. His indirect influence was felt through the Beat writers; Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums appeared in 1958, with one of its main characters, Japhy Ryder (based on Gary Snyder), writing haiku.


Also in 1958, An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Bashô to Shiki by Harold G. Henderson, came from the American publisher Doubleday Anchor Books. This was a careful revision of Henderson's earlier book The Bamboo Broom (Houghton Mifflin, 1934), which apparently drew little notice as the world spiralled into militarist dictatorships before World War II. (After the war, Henderson and Blyth worked for the American Occupation in Japan and for the Imperial Household, respectively, and their mutual appreciation of haiku helped form a bond between the two, even as they collaborated on communications between their respective employers.)

Henderson translated every hokku and haiku into a rhymed tercet (a-b-a), whereas the Japanese originals never used rhyme. Unlike Yasuda, however, he recognized that seventeen syllables in English are generally longer than the seventeen morae of a traditional Japanese haiku. Because the normal modes of English poetry depend on accentual meter rather than on syllabics, Henderson chose to emphasize the order of events and images in the originals. Nevertheless, many of Henderson's translations were still in the five-seven-five pattern.

Henderson also welcomed correspondence, and when North Americans began publishing magazines devoted to haiku in English, he encouraged them. Not as dogmatic as Blyth, Henderson insisted only that a haiku must be a poem, and that the development of haiku in English would be determined by the poets.

The budding of American haiku

Precisely who qualifies as the first American haiku poet depends on one's definition of haiku. During the Imagist period, a number of mainstream poets wrote what they called "hokku," usually in the five-seven-five pattern. Amy Lowell published several "hokku" in her book "What's O'Clock" (1925; winner of the Pulitzer Prize), and even E. E. Cummings wrote hokku a little earlier, among other poets. Individualistic "haiku-like" verses by the innovative Buddhist poet and artist Paul Reps (1895–1990) appeared in print as early as 1939 (More Power to You--Poems Everyone Can Make, Preview Publications, Montrose CA.). Other Westerners inspired by Blyth's translations attempted original haiku in English, though again generally failing to understand the principles behind the verse form, which in Blyth is predominantly the more challenging hokku rather than the later and more free-form haiku. The resulting verses, including those of the Beat period, were often little more than the brevity of the haiku form, combined with current ideas of poetic content, or uninformed attempts at "Zen" poetry; however, a few by Kerouac and Richard Wright, in particular, remain striking early examples of the genre and adumbrate the concision of contemporary practice.

Snow in my shoe
Sparrow's nest
--Jack Kerouac (collected in Book of Haikus, Penguin Books, 2003)

The African-American novelist Richard Wright, in his final years, composed some 4,000 haiku, but only 817 of which are collected in the volume Haiku: This Other World. Wright hewed to a 5-7-5 syllabic structure for about three-quarters of these verses, and frequently employed surreal imagery and implicit political themes. His content and style (even down to his indentation of lines) was heavily influenced by R. H. Blyth's translations (Blyth's books were Wright's main influence, and perhaps even his only influence). Poets Gerald Vizenor, Gordon Henry, Jr., and Kimberley Blaeser have connected the haiku form to the tradition of the Native American/ First Nations Peoples of the Anishinaabe tribe, stressing, as Wright often did also, the essential interconnectedness of humans and the natural world.

Whitecaps on the bay:
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.
--Richard Wright (collected in Haiku: This Other World, Arcade Publishing, 1998)

An early anthology of American haiku, Borrowed Water (Tuttle:1966) of work by the Los Altos (California) Roundtable was compiled by Helen Stiles Chenoweth. Haiku at that time were bound by the rule of using seventeen English syllables.

The experimental work of Beat and minority haiku poets expanded the popularity of haiku in English. Despite claims that haiku has not had much of an impact on the literary scene, a number of "mainstream" poets, such as Richard Wilbur, James Merrill, Etheridge Knight, William Stafford, W. S. Merwin, John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Seamus Heaney, Wendy Cope, Ruth Stone, Sonia Sanchez, Paul Muldoon, Billy Collins, and others have tried their hand at haiku. Often, though, they have approached it in a relatively uninformed manner, more as a fixed form than as the complex, nuanced genre it is. Their work has frequently demonstrated no awareness of the tenets of the season word, cutting word, objective imagery, or other dominant characteristics of the genre. Haiku has also proven very popular as a way of introducing students to poetry in elementary schools and as a hobby for numerous amateur writers.

The North American "haiku movement" really begins in 1963 with the founding of the journal American Haiku in Platteville, Wisconsin edited by James Bull and Donald Eulert. Among contributors to the first issue were poets J. W. Hackett, O Mabson Southard (1911-2000), Nick Virgilio (1928-1989), and Virginia Brady Young. Whereas Hackett represented an experiential/existential/Zen approach to haiku, Virgilio exemplified a more aesthetic conception that incorporated "found" and imaginary elements. In the second issue of American Haiku Virgilio published his "lily" and "bass" haiku, which became models of brevity, breaking down the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic form, approximating the actual duration of Japanese haiku, and pointing toward the leaner conception of haiku that would take hold in subsequent decades.

out of the water
out of itself
--Nick Virgilio (Selected Haiku, Burnt Lake Press/Black Moss Press, 1988)
picking bugs
off the moon
--Nick Virgilio (Selected Haiku, Burnt Lake Press/Black Moss Press, 1988)

American Haiku ended publication in 1968 and was succeeded by Modern Haiku in 1969, which remains the premiere haiku journal in English. Other early English-language haiku journals included Haiku Highlights (founded 1965 by Jean Calkins and later taken over by Lorraine Ellis Haar who changed the name to Dragonfly), Eric Amann's Haiku (founded 1967), and Haiku West (founded 1967).

The Haiku Society of America was founded in 1968 and began publishing its journal Frogpond in 1978. In 1991, the biennial Haiku North America conference ( was first held in California, and it continues to be the primary meeting ground for leading haiku poets, scholars, and translators on the continent.

Some key issues that American haiku practitioners continue to debate include: appropriate length and structure of haiku, the use and importance of kigo (including in regions with little seasonal variation), the relation of haiku to Zen, the use of natural and urban imagery, the distinction between haiku and the related senryu genre, haiku grammar, and the incorporation of subjective elements, including personal pronouns. For some haiku poets, these issues are settled, but serious poets new to the genre continue to raise these issues, so they continue to persist. Resources for poets and scholars attempting to understand English-language haiku aesthetics and history are William J. Higginson's Haiku Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 1985), Cor van den Heuvel's The Haiku Anthology (third edition, Norton, 1999), and Lee Gurga's Haiku: A Poet's Guide (Modern Haiku Press, 2003).

Although the English-language "haiku movement" is a collective enterprise with many significant contributors, one can single out particularly outstanding individual achievements by poets such as Hackett, Virgilio, Charles B. Dickson (1915-1991), Elizabeth Searle Lamb (1917-2005), Raymond Roseliep (1917-1983), Robert Spiess (1921-2002), and John Wills (1921-1993). Dickson, Spiess, and Wills are all exemplars of a nature-oriented approach to haiku, while Roseliep (a Catholic priest) adopted an adventurous metaphysical style that makes him the John Donne or George Herbert of American haiku.

an aging willow--
its image unsteady
in the flowing stream
--Robert Spiess (Red Moon Anthology, Red Moon Press, 1996)
my "I-Thou"
--Raymond Roseliep (Rabbit in the Moon, Alembic Press, 1983)

Particularly noteworthy figures still active in the haiku community include: Jane Reichhold (b.1937), Peggy Willis Lyles (b. 1939), Marlene Mountain (b. 1939), George Swede (b. 1940), vincent tripi (b. 1941), Alexis Rotella (b. 1947), Christopher Herold (b. 1948), John Stevenson (b. 1948), Lee Gurga (b. 1949), Gary Hotham (b. 1950), Alan Pizzarelli (b. 1950), Jim Kacian (b. 1953), and Michael Dylan Welch (b. 1962). Their work exemplifies many important trends. For instance, Swede, Rotella, Pizzarelli, and Stevenson often blur the line between haiku and senryu.

Just friends:
he watches my gauze dress
blowing on the line.
--Alexis Rotella (After an Affair, Merging Media, 1984)
meteor shower . . .
a gentle wave
wets our sandals
--Michael Dylan Welch (HSA Newsletter XV:4, Autumn 2000)
one fly
the heat
--Marlene Mountain (Cicada 2.1, 1978)

Marlene Mountain was one of the first or more persistent English-language haiku poets to write haiku in a single horizontal line, a less-favored form in English, but one that has gained increasing prominence. This form was first introduced to a wider audience by Hiroaki Sato's translations of Ozaki Hosai and other 20th Century Japanese Haiku Poets in the 1970's (see From the Country of Eight Islands co-edited with Burton Watson). The single-line haiku was practiced quite successfully by John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, Marlene Mountain, John Wills, and Matsuo Allard, and has been used more recently by poets such as M. Kettner, Chris Gordon, Scott Metz, Jim Kacian, and Charles Trumbull, to name a few (see Haiku: A Poet's Guide by Lee Gurga). Haiku of four lines or longer are also written, some of them vertical poems with only a word or two on a line. The vertical poem has been adopted by prolific poet and bookmaker John Martone, whose work calls to mind Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley, and Jack Kerouac's best work.

Another pioneering haiku poet, Cor van den Heuvel (b. 1931), has edited the standard Haiku Anthology (1st ed., 1974; 2nd ed., 1986; 3rd ed. 1999). The third edition, published by W. W. Norton, remains the best introduction to the achievement of English-language haiku poetry up to 1999, although it has already become a little dated in its selections because of the rise of the Internet. Since its publication, another generation of haiku poets has come to prominence in the new millennium and the era of the Internet. Among the most widely published and honored of these poets are Fay Aoyagi, Connie Donleycott, Carolyn Hall, Paul M., Scott Metz, Christopher Patchel, Chris Gordon, Chad Lee Robinson, and Billie Wilson ( see the loose thread: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2001, Jim Kacian Editor-in-Chief: Red Moon Press 2002). But the total number of significant poets seems to be increasing, and a host of other names should be adduced (see Echoes: The New Resonance Poets edited by Jim Kacian and Alice Frampton: Red Moon Press 2007). Consequently, the need for a fourth edition of van den Heuvel's anthology, or a prominent new anthology compiled by another editor, would seem to be greatly in order. However, van den Heuvel has recently published Baseball Haiku (Norton, 2007), a very popular book that represents some more recent writers, albeit confined to a particular subject.

The work of recently rising haiku poets and their predecessors belongs to the small press movement and figures prominently in long-established publications such as Modern Haiku and Frogpond. Other important contemporary haiku journals include Mayfly (founded by Randy and Shirley Brooks in 1986), Acorn (founded by A. C. Missias in 1998), Bottle Rockets (founded by Stanford M. Forrester), and The Heron's Nest (founded by Christopher Herold in 1999, an Internet-based publication with a print annual). Previously, Brussels Sprout (edited from 1988 to 1995 by Francine Porad), Woodnotes (edited from 1989 to 1997 by Michael Dylan Welch), and Hal Roth's Wind Chimes made a significant impact. Also being published are the Australian journal Paper Wasp and newer North American publications such as Wisteria, Moonset, White Lotus, and the Internet-based Simply Haiku. Many haiku journals have come and gone over the last five decades; the staying power of Modern Haiku (currently edited by Charles Trumbull) and Frogpond (currently edited by John Stevenson) is the exception rather than the rule--but it testifies to the continuity and continued vibrancy of English-language haiku. Raw Nervz Haiku, edited by prominent Canadian haiku poet Dorothy Howard, was a bastion of experimental haiku for most of the 1990s and only recently ceased publication. ant ant ant ant ant, edited by Chris Gordon, has published contemporary and experimental haiku since 1994, with an emphasis on innovation while remaining rooted the core aesthetics of the form. Scott Metz and Jason Sanford Brown's online haiku journal Roadrunner offers one of the Internet's best venues for a variety of quality haiku poets.

Among significant contemporary publishers of haiku books are Jim Kacian's Red Moon Press, Randy Brooks's Brooks Books, Michael Dylan Welch's Press Here, Jane Reichhold's AHA Books, and John Barlow's Snapshot Press in the U.K. All have produced high-quality anthologies and single-author collections.

mourning dove
answers mourning dove--
coolness after the rain
--Wally Swist (The Silence Between Us, Brooks Books, 2005)
so suddenly winter
baby teeth at the bottom
of the button jar
--Carolyn Hall (Water Lines, Snapshot Press, 2006)

Another significant development in English-language haiku was the founding, in 1996, of the American Haiku Archives, which is the largest public archives of haiku-related material outside Japan. It is housed at the California State Library in Sacramento, and includes the official archives of the Haiku Society of America, along with significant donations from the libraries of Elizabeth Searle Lamb, cofounder Jerry Kilbride, Jane Reichhold, Lorraine Ellis Harr, Francine Porad, and many others. The archives has a Web site at

Today, haiku are written in many languages, but most poets are still concentrated in Japan and in English-speaking countries. Haiku has already had a significant influence on western poetics, but the extent to which the "haiku movement" will become integrated into existing literary canons remains to be seen.

Contemporary English-language haiku

While traditional hokku/haiku focused on nature and the place of humans in nature, modern haiku poets often consider any subject matter suitable, whether related to nature, an urban setting, or even a technological context. While old hokku avoided some topics such as romance, sex, and overt violence, contemporary haiku often deal specifically with such themes.

Traditional hokku/haiku required a long period of learning and maturing, but contemporary haiku is often (and mistakenly) regarded as an "instant" form of brief verse that can be written by anyone, from schoolchildren to professionals. Many writers of modern haiku stay faithful to the standards of old hokuu, however some other contemporary haiku poets have dropped such standards, emphasizing personal freedom and pursuing ongoing exploration in both form and subject matter.

Due to the various views and practices today, it is impossible to single out any current style or format or subject matter as definitive "haiku." Nonetheless, some of the more common practices in English are:

  • Use of three (or fewer) lines of about 17 or fewer syllables
  • Use of a season word (kigo)
  • Use of a cut or caesura (sometimes indicated by a punctuation mark) to contrast and compare, implicitly, two events, images, or situations

This gradual loosening of traditional standards, encouraged by such poet-critics as Bob Grumman, has resulted in the word "haiku" being applied to brief, mathematical "poems," ("mathemaku") and to visual poetry by Scott Helms. This attempt at stretching definitions of haiku can be considered excessive, but Grumman attempts to defend his position by pointing to an alleged blurring of definitional boundaries in Japan. Those cognizant of Japanese and the haiku scene in Japan dispute this claim.

In the early 21st century, there is a thriving community of haiku poets worldwide, mainly communicating through national societies and journals in in Japan, English-speaking countries, in Northern Europe (mainly Sweden, Germany, France, and The Netherlands), in the Balkans (mainly Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania), and in Russia.

Famous writers

Pre-Shiki period (hokku)

  • Matsuo Bashō ( 1644– 1694)
  • Onitsura ( 1661– 1738)
  • Yosa Buson ( 1716–1783)
  • Kobayashi Issa (17631827)

Shiki and later (haiku)

  • Masaoka Shiki (18671902)
  • Kawahigashi Hekigotō (18731937)
  • Takahama Kyoshi (18741959)
  • Taneda Santoka (18821940)
  • Iida Dakotsu (18851962)
  • Nakamura Kusatao (19011983)
  • Ozaki Hosai
  • Ogiwara Seisensui
  • Natsume Soseki
  • Murakami Kijo
  • Akutagawa Ryunosuke
  • Hino Sojo
  • Mizuhara Shuoshi
  • Yamaguchi Seishi
  • Tomiyasu Fusei
  • Kawabata Bosha
  • Nakamura Kusatao
  • Ishida Hakyo
  • Kato Shuson
  • Saito Sanki
  • Tomizawa Kakio
  • Kaneko Tota

(see Modern Japanese Haiku: An Anthology, compiled and translated by Makoto Ueda: University of Toronto Press 1976)

Non-Japanese poets

Although all of the poets below have some haiku in print, only Virgilio--and perhaps Roseliep and Swede--are known primarily for haiku. Amiri Baraka recently authored a collection of what he calls "low coup," his own variant of the haiku form. Poet Sonia Sanchez is also known for her unconventional blending of haiku and the blues musical genre.

  • John Ashbery
  • W. H. Auden
  • Amiri Baraka
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • John Brandi
  • Billy Collins
  • Cid Corman
  • Charles Henri Ford
  • Allen Ginsberg
  • Dag Hammarskjöld
  • Jack Kerouac
  • Dezső Kosztolányi
  • Lenard D. Moore
  • Paul Muldoon
  • Octavio Paz
  • Raymond Roseliep
  • Kenneth Rexroth
  • Sonia Sanchez
  • Gary Snyder
  • George Swede
  • José Juan Tablada
  • Nick Virgilio
  • Gerald Vizenor
  • Richard Wright
Coming from the woods,
A bull has a lilac sprig
Dangling from a horn.
--Richard Wright


  • Monoku Haiku/Senryu in one-liner form.

Haiku journals

  • Modern Haiku magazine
  • The Heron's Nest – A well-regarded online journal of contemporary English-language haiku
  • Simply Haiku: – An online literary journal showcasing Japanese short form poetry
  • tinywords – An online English-language haiku journal, founded in 2000, that publishes one haiku per day
  • Roadrunner Haiku Journal – An international online English-language haiku journal, founded in 2004, which also includes gendai haiku translations and The Scorpion Prize.
  • Frogpond – Frogpond, the Journal of the Haiku Society of America
  • DailyHaiku – Publishes one contemporary English-language haiku online each day, and puts out a yearly print collection of contributed work


  • The Pseudo-haiku page at the Open Directory Project
  • Spam Haiku archives at MIT A very large archive of spam-related Haiku.
  • Salon Magazine's Haiku Error Messages the winners of the contest that was the original source for the haiku error messages that can be found all over the internet
  • The case of the hijacked haiku Salon magazine's discussion of the distribution of winners of their haiku error messages contest, usually without the attributions to the original authors
  • DeCSS haiku The code for DeCSS in haiku by Seth Schoen
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