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Haiku-na Matata

‘And what a wonderful phrase, it means no worries’, as so greatly articulated in the childhood movie favourite, The Lion King. Young cub, Simba, is taught the art of finding peace and, more importantly, to look for the beauty in a simple life, despite the ugliness and difficulties that every day may bring. Such a learning may not always be easy to grasp, but it brings great joy when perfected, which is something the Japanese mastered through the art of writing the Haiku.

The Haiku, an ancient form of poetry, first came about in the 17th Century as a retort to the longwinded Shakespeares of the world. A Haiku is a short poem comprising of three lines and 17 syllables (if you’re confused at first, don’t worry – there are many who might have forgotten about the primary school lessons on what syllables are).

Emphasising syllables, the Haiku form of poetry was originally intended to tell only of nature’s picturesque essence, taking you on a gentle journey filled with emotions, while at the same time leaving you wanting more. The famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Bashō, portrayed this perfectly in his Haikus, for example:

‘Mount Fuji,

a flea on the cover,

of the tea grinder’.

Bashō embodied the Haiku, painting scenes of nature beautifully in less than twenty words. It’s no wonder that he’s still recognised as one of the greatest Haiku Masters centuries later (and oh, how we love Bashō!)

The Haiku has a simple format, with the premise of evoking emotions and keeping readers engaged and interested. The beauty of the Haiku is rooted in the writer’s ability to work with very few words, kindling strong sentiment and leaving a sense of yearning, all without rhyme and seemingly with no rhythm. Haikus do not follow a rigid sentence structure and do not need punctuation or capital letters (English teachers are left shaking!)

So, where does one start with the art of the Haiku?

The three-liners generally consist of five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second, and another five in the third. Since the form has evolved over time to encompass any topic that could best be captured by this sensory poetry style, writers around the world have adopted this form of writing poetry as a simple yet effective way to engage their audiences, making them smile, laugh, and cry, charmed by the power of the words written and the impact in the gap of the ones left unsaid.

So, how, you may ask, do you write a Haiku and become a master of not-so-many words? Here are six steps to becoming a great Haiku writer, without having to tell a long tale:

1. Do your research.

Reading and comparing Haikus is the best place to start. Diversify your focus between the greats and more modern interpretations. Analyse the writer’s choice of words to get a better understanding of how to begin.

2. Choose a topic.

Decide whether you want to write a traditional Haiku, focusing on nature, seasons, and scenery, or whether you want to be bold and go beyond the norm. The choice is yours.

3. Seek inspiration.

All great writers have some sort of practice or ritual that helps draw inspiration, for example, George Orwell, Edith Winston, and Mark Twain, all wrote from the comfort of their beds (it doesn’t sound too odd until you hear that they wrote lying down!) Drawing inspiration doesn’t have to be boring. Do what works for you!

4. Scribble Picasso.

Now that you’ve got an understanding of the Haiku, it’s time to get scribbling. Start with the first two lines, in relation to one another, and then make the third as vastly different as possible.

5. The key lies in the words said, and those that are not.

The art of the Haiku is in the gap: the words deliberately left out. Great Haiku writers always leave you wanting more, while inviting you to fill the blank spaces with your thoughts.

6. The secret sauce.

The Haiku is all about the syllables and format. By sticking to the 17 syllables, and three lines, you’ve already begun to master the art of this Japanese poetry style, which has been celebrated for centuries.

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