Saturday, July 19, 2014

Prompt #192 – In, Above, Beyond: Prepositional Phrases in Poetry

One of the things you’ll hear in poetry workshops is to “cut the clutter” and that too many prepositional phrases can weaken a poem. In poetry, we usually try to eliminate prepositional phrases whenever we can. For example, why write “members of the group” when we can write more simply “group members?”

A preposition shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. The combination of a preposition and a noun phrase is called a prepositional phrase.

Prepositions usually convey these relationships: agency (by); comparison (like, as); direction (to, toward, through); place (at, by, within, beside, on); possession (of); purpose (for); source (from, out of); and time (at, before, on, during).

The combination of a preposition and a noun phrase is called a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition, its object (usually a noun or a pronoun), and any modifiers of the object:

preposition + noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause

preposition + modifier(s) + noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause

Assuming that you’re familiar with prepositional phrases ... and ... without getting into a long grammar lesson, let’s reverse the rule and write poems comprised mainly of prepositional phrases.


1. Come up with a subject and see how many prepositional phrases you can write that pertain to your subject.

2. Begin putting your phrases into sentences that describe or somehow explain something about your subject.

3. Each line should begin with a prepositional phrase and should include 3-5 additional words.

4. Your poem should contain several prepositional phrases. The challenge is to make some sense of things within your poem—not just a list of unrelated prepositional phrases.

5. Now, and here’s the part about practical application and your writing: look at several poems you’ve written previously and circle the prepositional phrases. Are they all necessary? Can you edit any out?


1. A prepositional phrase often appears after the word it modifies:

 A bird from my neighbor’s aviary flew into my back yard.

2. Like adverbs, prepositional phrases that modify verbs can also be found at the beginning or end of a sentence:  

In the afternoon, a bird flew into my yard.

A bird flew into my yard in the afternoon.

3. Here are some commonly used prepositions for you to work with:

instead of


At the Amusement Park

At the amusement park,
beyond the pine trees,
within the crowds,
under the roller coaster,
inside the fortuneteller’s tent,
in the house of mirrors,
over the first grief of loss
but still missing you.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Prompt #191 – Writing the Day, One Ronka at a Time by Guest Blogger Kenneth Ronkowitz

I’m happy to introduce you to this week’s guest blogger, Ken Ronkowitz, and to a form of poem called the ronka that he invented. I recently read with Ken at a group reading for The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, and his poem, based on a prompt that called for a poem to be composed of clichés, really blew me away because it was so much more than just clichés—there were meaning and purpose and a strong sense of craftsmanship that made the clichés feel strangely right.

In addition to being a poet with publications in a wide range of journals and anthologies, Ken has worked a social media coordinator for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), has been an instructor at Montclair State University, and an instructor in humanities and professional and technical communications at New Jersey Institute of Technology. His interests range from teaching, instructional design, and curriculum development to web design, blogging, and media design and management.

From Ken:

This year I wanted to take on a daily writing practice with my poetry. It’s not an original New Year’s resolution. William Stafford is the poet who inspired me the most. He wrote every day of his life from 1950 to 1993. Not everything he wrote was a poem. His 20,000 pages of daily writings include early morning meditations, poems, dream records, aphorisms, and other “visits to the unconscious.” 

I do write every day, but not always poetry, so the resolution was to do a daily poem. Stafford did go through a period when that was also his goal. When he was asked how he was able to produce a poem every morning, he replied, “I lower my standards.” I like that answer, but, while the phrase has a negative connotation, Stafford meant that he allowed himself some bad poems knowing that with daily writing there will be eventually be some good work. I wanted to impose some form on myself each day and I thought using a short form might make the project more likely to succeed. I love haiku, tanka, and other short forms, but I ended up creating my own form for this project.

   Finding a photo of her 

   from that summer when we were fifteen 
   that hot day behind the beach house 
   her bare shoulders, back, arms and legs—
   when I suddenly realized she’s a woman 
   and it startled me. It startled me.

I call my form the ronka—obviously a somewhat egotistical play on the Japanese tanka form. To read more about tanka, click here.

For my invented form, a ronka contains 5 lines, each having 7 words without concern for syllables. It’s important to know that many Westerners consider haiku to be 5, 7, and 5 lines counted by syllables, but, the Japanese language has no syllables, and applying syllables to Japanese forms of poetry has always been a Western convention. So … no syllable counts for the ronka.

Letters Loved

Old letters from lovers, not love letters,
but timelines of relationships like plot diagrams—
conflicts, turning points, resolutions, conclusions, mostly tragedies.
Why do I save them? No sequels.
Dangerous tinder to have around. Best burned.

As with traditional tanka, I decided to have no rhyme. (Even accidental rhymes were considered faults in a tanka.) I also decided to use the haiku principle of show rather than tell. For example, to indicate spring by mentioning cherry blossoms rather than stating the season. I started the year trying not to include myself or people as frequently as we do in Western poetry, those have crept into the poems. I have even added a few footnotes and links to poems.

Fathers and Sons

Sons grow up and leave their fathers
to become fathers and perhaps have sons.
Child is the father of the man,
said another poet, his heart leaping up.
Five days of rain, then, a rainbow.

We are just past mid-year and I have maintained by daily poem practice without great difficulty. I post them online at Writing the Day and each observation of the day is categorized as being from the outside world or inside the world of dwellings or the mind. I write at all times of the day, but most poems seem to come at the end of the day. (I also set a daily 10 pm reminder on my phone about posting a poem.) A non-poet might think that writing 35 words a day is not much of a challenge, but poets will understand that I frequently don’t write much faster than a word-per-minute. I also post an image (my own or borrowed) with each poem. Some poems are ars poetica or poems about poetry or writing.

Firefly Revision

Basho considered a Kikaku haiku as cruel:
A red firefly / tear off its wings –
a pepper.  A pepper / give it wings –
   a red firefly, was Basho’s simple change.
   Revision as a Buddhist act of kindness.


No, writing poetry is more like carving
wood and taking away, finding the heart
hidden inside, paring, using point and blade.
The danger comes from the dull knife.
The soft inside will be thrown away.

Some are observations on a particular day, such as this one from the Friday the 13th in June:

The Thirteenth

A thirteenth day that is a Friday.
A full moon to complete a triad
of  strange correlation without any real causation.
We look carefully for signs and connections—
find clockwork regularity; serendipity in the moments. 

The blog I post to has a “tag cloud” feature, and I tag each ronka with a few keywords that describe the poem. It is interesting to me to see what words occur most frequently: birds, time, the moon and tea have all been things that I seem to return to this year. Titles have become another way of adding a line to the poem, though I still limit myself to seven words there too.

I’m Not an Actor in Hollywood 

But I want a body and stunt double.
I want better lighting. No high definition.
More scenes and lines, 20 against 20,
gross points on profits, hand and footprints,
a star on the Walk of Fame. 

There are lots of books and websites to find poetic inspiration through writing prompts. I have been doing a monthly one at Poets Online since 1998. Adele has provided almost 200 well-defined prompts here already. My fellow New Jersey poets, Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Diane Lockward have excellent craft books with prompts—Writing Poetry To Save Your Life and The Crafty Poet, respectively. William Stafford and Stephen Dunning’s Getting the Knack is a book I bought when I started teaching and I still dip into for inspiration. Daily practices have a long history as paths of transformation spiritually, physically and for learning a craft. Perhaps, meditation and prayer will be your spiritual practice. Perhaps, yoga, tai chi or running is your physical practice. You might even combine them—kinhin is walking meditation. Consider a daily writing practice, whether it be poetry, a field guide from nature, a garden journal, one page of that long-intended novel. Disciplines of the mind are a good way to a healthy brain!

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Ken!

Ken’s advice to write something every day is a suggestion I share (although I don’t always manage to write every day). For those of you who would like to try writing a ronka, some guidelines and tips follow.

1. Decide on a subject for your ronka.
2. Compose your poem in five lines—each line must contain 7 words (no more, no less).
3. Don’t be concerned with syllables, only the number of words in each of your five lines.
4. Avoid rhyming (although alliteration, assonance, and anaphora are okay to create a sense of music in your poem).
5. Instead of just telling about your subject, include things that suggest, for example, the season or time of year.
6. Work through imagery to create meaning and an emotional center.
7. Think of a title (maybe drawn from a line or phrase in your ronka)—the title may or may not be severn words long.
8. Make room for some silences in your ronka (caesuras), and remember that sometimes the most important part of a poem is what’s left unsaid.
9. Remember that meaning should never be subordinate to form, and compose carefully with your focus on what you mean (what you want to say).
10. Resist the urge to finish a poem by tying it up in a neat little package. Your dismount should bring the poem to closure in a meaningful and memorable way.

Be sure to visit Ken’s website
and its companion blog

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing At All

I'm so happy to share the news that a publication date of  December 7, 2014 has been set for my new book, a collection of 53 prose poems! The book is already available for generously discounted pre-orders at and is up on my publisher's website Welcome Rain Publishers.

After taking this holiday weekend off (4th of July weekend), I'm going to begin the process of final tweaking and editing. So ... I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, here in the U.S. and abroad, and there will be a new prompt for you next Saturday.

Here's the book trailer!

From the Publisher's Website

"Intensely focused, compressed, and sharp-edged, these prose poems by Adele Kenny take the spiritual journey into heightened awareness of experience, place, and identity. Deliberate fragments, the language of dreams, and an occasional nod to the surreal combine with Kenny’s signature elements of striking imagery, lyrical precision, and compelling immediacy to inform an enhanced vision of the ways in which the interior life intersects with the outside world. These poems startle, surprise, and tell us things about ourselves that we didn’t know."

ISBN: 9781566493963
80 Pages

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Prompt #190 – So Much Depends

The first time I read William Carlos Williams’ famous poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,”  I thought it was silly. A red wheelbarrow beside white chickens? I was about 11 years old and hooked on Robert Frost—obviously not ready for the kind of profound compression, mystery, and power that Williams achieved.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

“The Red Wheelbarrow,” like so many other Williams poems, is experimental. It appears to be a single sentence that ends with a period but doesn’t begin with a capital letter. The lineation is abrupt and dotted with monosyllabic words. 

Williams doesn’t tell us why “so much depends / upon” the “red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens.” He invites us to ask and to answer that question for ourselves.

In what has been called a “still life poem,” the last brushstroke adds another color and another image: white is set in juxtaposition to the earlier red, and chickens are added to the wheelbarrow image, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly depends upon the red wheelbarrow, whether or not the wheelbarrow is a metaphor for something else and, perhaps, why this poem has become well known.


1. Choose an object that represents or “remembers” something important to you (an object that you “live with” now or one from memory), and write a poem in which you describe that object. Don’t tell why it's important or what depends upon it. Use the Williams poem as a model for your own.

2. Williams famously said, “No ideas but in things,” which suggests that ideas, emotions, and abstractions should be avoided. Work toward that in your poem.

3. William breaks his poem into the red wheelbarrow’s most basic parts to create a sense of looking closely at each component of the scene. Include your object in a simple scene and create the poem’s power through compression and simplicity.

4. Williams uses line and color in much the same way that a painter might, but he uses them sparingly. Try to do the same in your poem.


1. Think carefully about why the object you chose to write about is important to you. What depends (or has depended) upon it?

2. The wheelbarrow is introduced starkly with only the word “red” to create drama and contrast with the white chickens. Introduce a single bit of bright color in your poem, and set it in juxtaposition to something white, black, or gray.

3. Use some monosyllabic words to heighten the effect.

4. Use short lines with no unnecessary words and no figures of speech.

5. There's a striking pause between “wheel” and “barrow” in the Williams poem. Create a single unusual or meaningful pause in one line of your poem.

6. Don’t explain why the object you write about is important but suggest something about its meaning.

7. Reflect upon Williams’ poem and think about what makes it so powerful. Think about creating complexity through simplicity.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Prompt #189 – SummerScapes

Today marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Every year on the solstice, I read some or all of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and think about the time I visited Stonehenge to watch the sun rise on Midsummer morning. After the severe winter we had here in the northeastern U.S., this spring and summer couldn’t come quickly enough, and now that summer is here, it seems a good time to celebrate with a poem that’s light, lovely, or filled with a sense of summer fun. With that in mind, our prompt this week is to simply write a poem about the solstice, midsummer night, summer, or any aspect of summer that makes you feel good. 


1. Make a list of happy summer memories and select one memory from your list to write about.

2. Write a funny summer poem.

3. Write a poem about any character from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Titania, Oberon, Puck). Or write a poem from the perspective of one of the characters.

The entire play may be read here:

4. Do a stream of consciousness poem about summer. Think about summer and just start writing. Write for about 10 minutes and see where your thoughts have lead you.

5. Using your five senses as inspiration, create a “SummerScape” that includes summer’s sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and touches.

6. Write something "magical" (or a summer fantasy) in a poem about the summer solstice.


1. Make your poem a kind of celebration. Have fun with it. Think warmth, bright skies, sunshine, flowers, leafy trees, children playing outdoors, swimming pools, sailboats, lazy days, vacations—think fullness and abundance.

2.  Use sound (alliteration, assonance, anaphora) to give your poem a sense of summer.

3. Keep your tone light.

4. Use line and stanza breaks that enhance your content.

5. Remember: nothing superfluous—no extra words, lines, phrases, images. Don’t include anything that your poem doesn’t absolutely need.


Happy Summer solstice, dear blog readers!

"Then followed that beautiful season... Summer.... Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape Lay as if new created 
in all the freshness of childhood." 
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

May this summer bring you the "freshness of childhood" and much joy!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Prompt #188 –Conditional Clause Poems ("If" Poems)

Perhaps you’ve heard of “If” poems? These are poems characterized by conditional clauses (“if clauses”). Such clauses can be used to get a poem started or may be inserted in various places through the text of a poem.  Poems of this type are not the typical “what if” sort of poem. They do something more.

Note: A conditional clause is a type of adverbial clause that states a hypothesis or condition, real or imagined, and their consequences. A conditional clause may be introduced by the subordinating conjunction if or another conjunction, such as because, unless, provided that, or but. Like other adverbial clauses, a conditional clause may before or after the clause on which it states a condition.

One of the most famous “if poems” is “If—” written by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling begins with a conditional clause and goes on to add interest by creating a kind of causal tension when he contradicts his “if” clauses with details, contradictions, and contrasts. There are also “result” clauses that follow the “ifs.” Here’s the beginning of Kipling’s poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you  
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;  
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

In “King of the River,” Stanley Kunitz does much the same thing and keeps us, as readers, waiting for what will come next. His long sentences create suspense and a sense of mystery and expectation as the poem’s momentum begins and is sustained. Here’s the beginning of “King of the River:”

If the water were clear enough,
if the water were still,
but the water is not clear,
the water is not still,
you would see yourself,
slipped out of your skin…

Adrienne rich begins her poem “For this” with a conditional (“if”) clause:

If I’ve reached for your line (I have)
like letters from the dead that stir the nerves …

Her third stanza continues:

If I’ve touched your finger
with a ravenous tongue
licked from your palm a rift of salt
if I’ve dreamt or thought of you
a pack of blood fresh-drawn …

As you can see in the three examples, conditional clauses create mood, conditions, limitations, dependencies, and expectations.  Along with “if” clauses, others that work similarly include “but,” “although,” “when,” and “because.”


1. Begin by writing a list of “ifs.” Think about things in your own life, in the natural world, etc.

2. Follow with a list of “then” statements so you have “ifs” and “thens.”

3. Reflect on your lists for a while. Do any of the ideas link or match up?

4. Begin a poem with one of your “if” clauses, add an appropriate “then” and continue. See where the poem leads you.

5. Remember to start out by thinking in terms of “ifs” and “thens,” but don’t be limited by them.

6. Try writing a poem like Kipling’s in which you set up the characteristics or necessary qualities for some personal kind of success.

7. Using my prose poem below, write a poem that looks at something which made an awareness occur. Create a setting, configure a truth, move from the specific, individual experience to something more universal

If It Hadn’t Been

We wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the rain, the wind-loosened trees (this quiet shelter); and I wouldn’t tell you how nothing wonderful ever matches its memory, how not going home is a sadness we all carry. I wouldn’t tell you what I know about losing, how what we keep is never all that we need.


1. Simply writing an “if-then” poem isn’t what we’re working toward. Conditional clauses, yes, but we need to expand, switch gears, make a point, and create striking imagery.

2. Try a little anaphora—repetition. You may want to use several “if” clauses within the text of your poem. read the examples and see how they use but don’t overdo repetition.

3. A really good poem almost always has two subjects—the obvious subject and the implied or suggested subject. Think about that.

4. A good ending is one that readers will remember—an ending with punch and purpose, an ending filled with meaning. Work on creating a powerful “dismount.”


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Submission Tips for Summer by Guest Blogger Donna Baier Stein

With summer quickly approaching and, hopefully, some leisure time for all of us, this seems a good week to think about submitting poems to journals. I’m delighted to present our guest blogger this week, the publisher of TIFERET Journal, Donna Baier Stein, whose long career in writing, editing and publishing provides the background for some practical and invaluable journal submission tips.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Donna at Tiferet since 2006, and here’s a bit about her by way of introduction: Donna Baier Stein's poetry and prose have appeared in Poet Lore, Beloit Poetry Journal, New York Quarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Phoebe, Confrontation, and many other journals and anthologies. Her story collection Sympathetic People, a finalist in an earlier Iowa Fiction Awards contest, was published last year by Serving House Books. Awards include a fellowship from Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, a scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the PEN/New England Discovery Award, honorable mention in the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, four Pushcart nominations, and more. Donna was a founding editor of Bellevue Literary Review and is founder and publisher of TIFERET Journal. You can visit Donna online at

From Donna Baier Stein

As writers, we want to pass muster first with our own internal editor. Then, when the work feels ready for a wider audience, we push our word babies out into the world, hoping to catch the eye, heart, and approval of a publication editor. 

This process doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sometimes feels.

After viewing thousands of manuscripts submitted to Tiferet Journal and Bellevue Literary Review, I can tell you how off-putting sloppy formatting, spelling errors, and slow beginnings are to an editor you want to impress. There are always other manuscripts waiting to be read.

So here are 5 tips to increase your chance of success with an editor:

1. Start strong. As my Missouri aunt used to say, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.” The longer it takes your writing to hook the editor’s attention, the less likely a positive response.

2. Fine-tune mercilessly. Remove every unnecessary word. Read your poem aloud to hear its internal music. Language is your medium; use it expertly.

3. Spell check. Use standard formatting and type fonts. Fair or not, handwritten submissions begin with one strike against them.

4. Include a short, professional cover note.  List prior publications if you have them but don’t worry if you don’t. The work is judged on its own merit. What is not necessary, and somewhat detrimental, is to write a long treatise about why you have just started writing.

5. Be patient. Editors really are inundated with manuscripts. At Tiferet and most journals, review is a multi-step process, with different levels of readers.

Here at Tiferet, we look for writing that is so truthful it may elicit goose bumps. Writing that resonates emotionally. And specific to our publication, writing that offers a glimpse of the invisible world, that reminds us of all that is sacred in our lives.

Many thanks, Donna!

To order Donna's books via, click here.


For lists of journals that accept submissions during the summer, please be sure to visit Diane Lockward’s excellent blog (Blogalicious):

Summer Journals Q-Z

Prompt Ideas for This Week

(Nope! I didn’t forget …)


1. Write a poem about the end of spring, the beginning of summer, or summertime,

2. Write a poem in which you highlight the tastes (or remembered childhood tastes) of summer (lemonade, Kool Aid, marshmallows, watermelon, BBQ, etc.). You may want to use a sense other than, or along with, taste for this.

3. An alternative prompt is to read Donna’s poem "The Yellow Brick Road" and let it inspire you to write something about an imaginary place or thing and its relative or metaphorical meaning to you.


1. Focus this week on sensory perceptions (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell).

2. Remember that imagery is used to suggest all the objects and qualities of sense perception in a poem—such images may use literal descriptions, allusions, or figures of speech such as similes or metaphors.

3. Keep in mind that the best poems typically contain some element of mystery or understatement. 

Good luck with your submissions!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Prompt #187 – Haiku: Honoring the Art of Detachment


Haiku’s origins have been traced to a form of Japanese poetry known as haikai no renga, a kind of linked poetry that was practiced widely by Matsuo Bashō (1644-94) and his contemporaries. Over time, the first link in a renga, the hokku, evolved into the haiku as we understand it today. A minimalist form of poetry, haiku has been popular among modern poets since the 1960s, when a western-world haiku movement generated increased interest in the form. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, and Paul Muldoon have written haiku, and haiku-like poems are found in the works of such literary greats as Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and Richard Wright. Although something other than “mainstream” poetry and very much its own genre, haiku is a unique and demanding form to master.

In traditional Japanese, the haiku is typically written vertically on the page  (from top to bottom). Each haiku contains seventeen onji (sound symbols). However, early translators were mistaken when they assumed that onji were equivalent to syllables in the English language and that haiku should be written in three lines containing 5,7, and 5 syllables respectively. Although incorrect, these “defining” qualities of haiku are still regarded as “haiku format” by many. A more acceptable standard for English-language haiku is 10-20 syllables in 3 lines with a longer second line and shorter first and third lines. That said, the parameters are often stretched depending on content and meaning. Three lines have become the norm, but haiku of one and two lines are also seen, and syllable count varies

Traditional haiku contain a kigo (season word) to indicate the season or time of year in which the haiku takes place, along with two phrases (or images) that are inherently unrelated but are juxtaposed to show some commonality within a particular experience. Normally, one idea is presented in the first two lines and then a switch occurs in the third. Alternatively, a single idea is presented in the first line and a switch occurs in the second and third lines. Nearly every haiku has this kind of two-part, juxtapositional structure. The shift is achieved with what is called a kireji or cutting word, which “cuts” the poem into two parts. The kireji is a kind of caesura (and similar in theory to the volta in a sonnet) that signals a pause in the poem’s “thought” and suggests a parallel to the preceding phrase, the following phrase, or provides a “dismount for the poem that offers a finely tuned sense of closure. 

Haiku is, in a sense, an art of detachment in which the poet is removed enough from the subject to write without self-interest or self-absorption but, rather, with a sense of both inward and outward direction. The best haiku are life-affirming and eternity-conscious, spontaneous and unpretentious but entirely focused and either gently or startlingly profound.

Note: The word haiku forms its own plural – haikus is incorrect.

Acknowledgment: The essay part of this prompt (above) first appeared in 
Tiferet: Literature, Art, & The Creative Spirit (Digital Issue, April 2014)


1. Haiku describe things in a very few words – they never tell, intellectualize, or state feelings outrightly. They never use figures of speech (similes, metaphors, etc.) and should not rhyme.

2. Haiku is more than a simple genre or form of poetry—haiku is a way of seeing, a way of capturing experience, a kind of “aha” moment or instant when something in the ordinary captures our attention and leads us to a closer, more concentrated look at its connection to nature, and human nature.

3. Haiku don’t have titles, although haiku sequences do.

4. Brevity is key, along with a sense of immediacy (written in the present tense) and often a sense of relationship between nature and human nature. Some haiku poets feel that one measure of a haiku’s success is its ability to be read in a single breath. Most will agree that a successful haiku is characterized by crystal-cutting clarity and in-the-moment presence.

5. Haiku are about spiritual realities, the realities of our every-day lives, and the realities of human- and natural-world relationships. Most importantly, haiku honor the inside of an experience through attention to the outside.

6. Compact and direct, haiku appear to be light and spontaneous, but their writing requires careful reflection and discipline—haiku may even be considered a kind of meditation. Finely-tuned powers of observation reveal the haiku moments that happen continually in the world around us.

7. Don’t be bound by any notions of 5,7,5 syllable structure—focus instead on use of season words, two-part juxtapositions, and objective sensory imagery.


1. Bashō said that each haiku should be “a thousand times on the tongue.” Before writing anything, read many haiku from a range of sources to get a “feel” for the form. Be sure to read some haiku that have been translated from the Japanese, but spend more time on good haiku written in English. Read some of the haiku aloud.

2. After you’ve read many haiku and have a sense of what they’re about, think about an experience you’ve had.

3. Remember the season in which you had the experience, and then think of a word or phrase that suggests that season. For example, peonies is a season word for spring; snow and ice are season words for winter. A simple phrase like “autumn leaves” can evoke feelings of loneliness and the coming of darkness (shorted days, longer nights) in winter. While many haiku appear to have a nature focus, they are more-specifically based on a seasonal reference that as much about nature as it is within nature.

4. Organize your thoughts into approximately three lines. First, set the scene, then suggest a feeling and, finally, make an observation or record an action.  Write in the present tense, don’t use figures of speech (similes, metaphors), and keep things simple.

5. Be sure to include a contrast or a comparison. Remember that haiku often present one idea in the first two lines and then switch quickly to something else in the third. One of your goals is to create a “leap” between the two parts of your haiku without making too obvious a connection between the parts or leaping to a distance that’s unclear or obscure. At the same time, you must reveal the emotions (not ideas) that you want to communicate without stating them overtly.

6. Try to think of haiku in terms of your five senses—things you experience directly, not ideas or your interpretation or analysis of “things.” Think in terms of sensory description and avoid subjective terms.

7. Spend time working on punctuation. In poems so brief, punctuation is important. Read some of the examples and see how other haiku poets make punctuation work for them in their haiku.


From the Japanese Masters

Winter seclusion –
Listening, that evening,
To the rain in the mountain.
— Issa

My life, –
How much more of it remains?
The night is brief.
— Shiki

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.
— Soseki

No one travels
Along this way but I,
This autumn evening.
— Bashō

Contemporary Haiku from Frogpond (Journal of the Haiku Society of America)

And, by way of sharing, a few of my own:

migrating geese –
once there was so much
to say

       (1st Place Henderson Award, 1984,

between the moon
and the billboard,
a jet liner rising

       (42nd Street Art Project, displayed on the Rialto West Theater Marquee, NYC, 1994.)

a flurry of bats
and then
the Milky way

       (Haiku Quarterly, First Prize, Autumn 1989)

at the edge of the words,
we listen

      (From Castles and Dragons, 1990)

through darkness
churchbells on the cusp
of the hill

       (From Questi Momenti, 1990)