The Simplicity and Depth of Haiku

by Charlotte Digregorio

My definition of haiku below is taken from my book, Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All. It is a rather long definition, but it covers many of the aspects that beginning haikuists and poets of other forms may not understand.

But before defining haiku, I would like to say that the form isn’t as simple to understand and write as inexperienced haikuists often think. Although haiku is short and written in simple language with literary devices, there are often layers of meaning. And, to write it using basic, not flowery language, along with an economy of words, takes regular practice.

  • Haiku are from the heart, and they can touch the reader by evoking any type of emotion, from sadness to happiness. Effective haiku is thoughtful, insightful, and intuitive, and it captures the moment. To capture the moment, it must be written in the present tense. When skillfully written, it has layers of meaning.
  • In writing any form of poetry, we are told to show, not tell. This is imperative in haiku. Haiku evokes strong images without abstractions.  We receive images through all of our senses. The underlying emotion of the haiku poet is understood and felt.
  • Haiku is a short poem revealing insights into the moments of our lives through evocative images. These insights are written without pretension or commentary, and the poet does not moralize. Haiku should have either a strong image or two images that are seemingly unrelated, but linked in thought. When juxtaposed, the two images create a revelation that readers recognize as the “aha” moment. There is an avoidance of simile, though a likeness is implied.
  • From the old Japanese haiku masters to today’s American haikuists, the role of observation is key . . . haiku that Americans are often familiar with has three lines and seventeen syllables . . . Today, haiku written in English is usually one to four lines long, and it doesn’t have to have a particular number of syllables in a line.
    (Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All, Charlotte Digregorio, 2014)

Three examples of my haiku are:

wooded hills . . .
the evening downpour
fogs distant city lights

the bonsai . . .
my knotty life

eulogy . . .
through the open window
a breeze gentles me




Charlotte DigregorioCharlotte Digregorio is the author of Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All, and a haiku collection, Shadows of Seasons. A lifelong writer and writer-in-residence at colleges, she is also the author of four other non-fiction books, and was on university faculties teaching languages and writing for many years. She has received thirty-eight poetry awards, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and served as an officer of the Haiku Society of America for six years. She hosted her own radio program, Poetry Beat, on public broadcasting in the 1990s, and often speaks at national writers’ conferences. She regularly exhibits her eleven forms of poetry in various places including large libraries, restaurants, banks, botanic gardens, supermarkets, wine and apparel shops, art galleries, and on public transit. She lives in Chicago.