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How to Write Bad Haiku

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Want to Write Good Haiku?

I recommend these hubs:

How to Write Haiku: Moving beyond 5-7-5 by Sheila Wilson

Haiku: The Art of Capturing Nature by Chef de Jour
(I disagree with him on 5-7-5, but also think he's one of the best poets on HubPages: his observations on the form are insightful, and his haiku examples are great.)

For a more advanced look at writing haiku see my How to Write Haiku: Using Juxtaposition

The Big Yawn

Have I got your attention?
Really, this tutorial is more about how to write mediocre haiku, so we can learn not to.

First off, I'm not talking about writing non-haiku, like this anonymous joke:

Haikus are easy
but sometimes they don’t make sense

Instead, I'm writing this for all of us who are working on writing traditional haiku, but may sometimes wonder if our efforts to capture a striking moment may be awkward-sounding, sentimental, wordy, obvious, and above all, boring.

The next section of this hub is inspired by an essay on haiku and senryu by published haiku poet Kathy Lippard Cobb; the middle section reveals one source of bad haiku; and in the last sections I hope to amuse you by taking some excellent haiku, classic and modern, and making them bad.

Bad Cat!

No more bad haiku, OK kitty?

No more bad haiku, OK kitty?

Sentimentality Helps Bad Haiku

Remember that a "sentimental bloke" has an advantage in writing bad haiku.

Remember that a "sentimental bloke" has an advantage in writing bad haiku.

Seven Tips For Bad Haiku

1. If you are writing in 5-7-5, make sure to create awkward and annoying line breaks:

Dragonflies swoop through
the garden chasing flies and
reflecting the light

  • Note that good haiku generally consist of two phrases, or a phrase and a short sentence, so this one gets a bonus badness point by being one long sentence.

2. If one seasonal reference is good (see Kigo: Season Words in Haiku), two, or even three, seasonal references are better.

Crisp autumn air
the smell of burning leaves
picking apples

  • This one also has a bonus badness point: instead of dividing into two parts, separated by a line break or a line break and punctuation, it consists of three unrelated phrases, making it feel disconnected for the reader.

3. For a sure-fire bad haiku, don't show the reader how you feel: tell them clearly:

Cold rain
thinking of the day you left
I'm filled with grief

  • Of course, you could write, "Cold rain / thinking of the day / you left,"
    but resist the temptation: it would not be nearly as bad a haiku.
Scroll to Continue

4. Above all, strive to be as predictable as possible. Here's a fine example from Kathy Lippard Cobb:

"heavy rain--
my shirt clings
to my body"

  • As she says about this kind of cause and effect "it's not only boring, it's too obvious." In other words, "Well duh, of course you get wet walking in the rain without an umbrella."

5. Make sure to use striking metaphors:

Your airplane
arrows though the sky
my heart flies after

  • This may not be a truly terrible poem, but it is a bad haiku. Haiku do their work without explicit metaphors; in Kathy Cobb's words, they capture "the essence of a moment, stated simply."

6. Another literary device important for bad haiku is personification, especially if it hits the reader forcefully over the head:

Bright dawn banishes
the countless twinkling stars
kisses the shy moon

  • Enough said. No wait, there's some bonus badness here too! While a good haiku may have one, or occasionally two, adjectives, and often makes do with none, a bad haiku can pack in as many as will fit in 5-7-5.

7. Last but not least, embrace cliché:

Happy children
playing in the first deep snow
snowman's coal black eyes.

  • It's a pretty scene, and it's also unquestionably a pretty bad haiku. And besides, who really uses coal for a snowman's eyes anymore?

Too Many Kigo Can Have Explosive Results

Messing with Young Minds. . .

A Key Source of Bad Haiku: Education!

Here is a video about 90 seconds long, made for schoolchildren. It was on the first page of a YouTube search for "haiku," and it's pretty scary.

The example given as model is (of course) in 5-7-5 and follows at least three of my tips for bad haiku.

No wonder that some people think that this is how to write haiku, and others, when they learn more about real poetry, decide that haiku have no literary value.

Dramatic Scenes are Risky

Simple description of a dramatic scene may lead to a good haiku: pour on the purple prose, and you will succeed at badness.

Simple description of a dramatic scene may lead to a good haiku: pour on the purple prose, and you will succeed at badness.

Postcard Prettiness is Safer

Pretty scenes make us happy, and if you describe them in predictable and cliched ways, you have a good chance at writing a bad haiku.

Pretty scenes make us happy, and if you describe them in predictable and cliched ways, you have a good chance at writing a bad haiku.

Good Haiku Gone Bad

1. Bad Basho

I'll begin with two of the great Basho's haiku, found in this interesting document with multiple published translations. (This link, incidentally, makes the whole hub worth reading, even if you don't like my lame sense of humor.)

Here's the first:

a wild sea—
stretching to Sado Isle
the Milky Way

~ trans. Shirane

The only thing conceivably bad about this translation is the word "isle," which seems rather old-fashioned and formal, and therefore distances the reader from the vivid scene.
Have you ever seen the Milky Way on a moonless night in the country? Now think of it stretching over a stormy sea, arching toward an island in the distance, black against the stars. That's a "haiku moment" at its best.

Now let's make it bad: How many of the tips can we use?

Dark and stormy sea—
the Milky Way forms an arch
kissing Sado Isle

I made it bad by incorporating cliché, unneeded adjectives, and a touch of personification: perhaps you can make it worse.

The second haiku:

into the darkness
a night heron's cry

~ trans. Barnhill

Here's a striking haiku and a beautiful translation. It's almost painful to mess it up, like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa, but I'll do what I can.

Lightning splits the night
eerie in lonely darkness
a night heron's cry

With clear determination to tell rather than show, even a great haiku can aspire to badness, or at least mediocrity.

2. Bad Modern Haiku

For two good modern haiku, I turn to the Summer 2012 issue of Simply Haiku, a fine on-line journal.

red moon . . .
in the stillness
between hoots

~ Don Baird

First off, this haiku is far too spare and mysterious to be a bad haiku.
How can I make it wordy and obvious?

Sunset-bloodied moon . . .
in the silent twilight woods
owls are hooting

While one can write fine 5-7-5 haiku, I am discovering that 5-7-5 gives more scope for badness, especially in the adjective department. A really short haiku may fall flat, but it generally doesn't slip on a banana peel and land on its butt.

One more good haiku to ruin

tai chi
shapes the wind makes
in the willow

~ André Surridge

This haiku is quoted in an essay by Patricia Prime, Awareness in Haiku. She writes that "human emotion balanced against close observations from nature may be said to characterize the most enduring . . . haiku," and gives this as an example.

What makes it a good haiku is that the poet expresses the emotion and the implicit metaphor -- tai chi and the flowing branches -- subtly and indirectly. Making it too obvious ruins the effect.

Graceful tai chi:
like willow branches
bending in the wind

Not a nose-holding horrible haiku, but distinctly bad. I added an unneeded adjective, "graceful," and removed the striking phrase "shapes the wind makes / in the willow," replacing it with a predictable simile. Not only is the simile cliched, but it removes us from the natural moment. Is there really a willow tree at all, or does seeing someone do tai chi just remind the poet of willow branches?

Thanks for reading! I think these cautionary lessons will help me write better haiku, and I hope they will do the same for you.

Just Remember

While good advice, this is either a bad haiku or a not a haiku at all: what do you think?

While good advice, this is either a bad haiku or a not a haiku at all: what do you think?


RTalloni on May 17, 2018:

No lame humor here...great stuff all round. Enjoyed this post very much and glad to have a better education on haiku. Am writing stories for my grands (on the third now, four more to go) and I do believe I will have to incorporate a good example of haiku in this one now that I've read your neat post.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on November 05, 2016:

Thanks so much! I haven't been on Hubpages for a while; you can read me & haiku I like on Twitter @krislindbeck

Rob on July 10, 2016:

One of the best-written and most useful hubs.

Shirley Smothers on April 04, 2015:

A Mime make a rhyme

Sure a Mime can make a rhyme

But who would hear it

Johnc974 on June 30, 2014:

Great, thanks for sharing this article. Really Cool. fkddekfdeefa

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on June 13, 2013:

Thank you kindly, Joseph.

I definitely sharpened my own skills writing about what NOT to do.

About haiku quality, we may be looking in different places, because my circle on twitter has many people who write haiku worth reading, but neither wonderful or horrible -- often a great image and slightly clunky expression, or just a little too postcard pretty, but still pleasant to read.

Joseph Frankina III from San Jose, CA on June 01, 2013:

This is an excellent way to teach how NOT to do something! It is great to se how something is supposed to look like, and equally important to see how something is not.

I think haiku is one of the more difficult poetic art forms. The restraints of the form require great ability to work around to produce something wonderful. Because of this, I see that a haiku is mostly either wonderfully written or horribly written. There does not seem to be much middle ground. No room for B.S. says it all.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on April 24, 2013:

Thanks, Sid! I do like the cartoon . . . so glad you do too.

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on April 24, 2013:

New cartoon for cooking

up bad haiku - seasoning

and caesura make you

a big famous frog in small

online haiku pond!

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on April 23, 2013:

Victoria Lynn, I'm so glad that a writer as good as you liked it and took a moment to say so. I've been writing haiku on-line since 2010, and I keep learning more all the time.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on April 23, 2013:

This is such a clever hub. I love the good AND bad examples of haiku. I've written a few, but I'm afraid mine are pretty elementary. :-) I really enjoyed reading this. Many votes!

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on April 18, 2013:

Thanks . . .

I like how this hub is bringing out the "bad" in people who leave comments.

I think we will enjoy one another's hubs!

Gable Rhoads from North Dakota on April 18, 2013:

This awful haiku

Is a glorious tribute

to the poet, Kris.


Thanks for showing me what haiku should be.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on April 04, 2013:

Thanks, Audrey!

Audrey Howitt from California on April 04, 2013:

So very true!

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on April 01, 2013:

I didn't know how much you'd been reading: I shouldn't have assumed I was speaking to a haiku beginner!


Impossible to go wrong with the Japanese masters . . . I've learned a lot from comparing translations - in fact I think I link to a site which does that in this very hub.

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on April 01, 2013:

I have enjoyed reading English translations from the Japanese masters over the past 40 years ago since college, writing my own sporadically until 2 years ago when I started w/ HP and stepped up my pace. Some so-called "good" haiku, I don't like at all-lol.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on April 01, 2013:

The best way, I've found, is to pick up one or two simple rules (such as minimize adjectives) at a time, and even more so, to read good haiku . . . check out the haiku blogs I mention in my other hub, or email for more suggestions.

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on April 01, 2013:

Thank you for this. It looks like I've got a lot of reworking to do! It is very challenging to strive for more discipline without losing the spontaneity of the moment.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on March 03, 2013:

Thanks, Sheila!

I never tried anything like this before -- it was fun to write.

Sheila Wilson from Pennsylvania on March 02, 2013:

This is hilarious! Very nicely done. My haiku hubs tend to read more like a serious lesson plan with me standing ready to slap someone's hand with a ruler for using "beautiful" or "best" in a haiku. I love your approach.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on December 20, 2012:

Francis, thank you! Your response is what I would have hoped for most from a reader. I've been amazed myself at how much there is to learn about haiku.

(sorry I didn't approve and reply sooner: I've been out of town).

Francis Hill from Miami, FL on December 13, 2012:

Your hubs are opening my eyes to the art form. Not that I was one of those to outright dismiss haiku, but now I'm starting to appreciate it as something a whole lot more nuanced than the 5-7-5 kitsch "haiku" they fed me in grade school.

Very good hubs, all of them!

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on November 09, 2012:

This hub seems to be inspiring poetry!

Thanks so much Sid, especially as you said I'm both brilliant and sweet . . .

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on November 09, 2012:

There once was a scholar named Kris

A brilliant, poetic, sweet miss

. She taught bad haiku

. To me, and to you

And in fewer syllables than this!

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on November 08, 2012:

Shining Irish Eyes,

There's too much bad advice about haiku out there. I hope (and the hubs on writing good haiku) inspire you to try again!

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on November 08, 2012:

Great advice and understandable examples and instruction for someone like me who has attempted and "crashed and burned" with writing a haiku.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on November 04, 2012:

Yes, writing a good haiku is surprising complex.

I personally didn't come to whatever skill I had by following the rules, but by reading examples that I liked.

I also spent some time thinking about what made the haiku in edited journals -- most of them -- better than even the popular nature haiku on twitter -- again, most of them, as there are some fine poets out there.

If you want to read more, my hub on writing haiku with links (linked to in this hub) is a good place to start, as are the hubs by others that I link to.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on November 04, 2012:

NOW this is all beginning to make sense. I need to read more material on this, I think.

KrisL (author) from S. Florida on November 04, 2012:

Thank you so much!

I particularly appreciate your praise in a bad haiku form. ;-)

John D Nathan from Dallas, Texas. USA on November 04, 2012:

That was really great!

I admire your resolve to

help write bad haiku!

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