Saturday, September 15, 2018

Prompt #323 - Not the Villanelle!

About ten years ago, in response to a workshop group’s request, I came up with a pared-down version of the villanelle. After presenting a session on villanelle writing, the consensus of option was that the form, while interesting and challenging, was a bit too confusing for starters, and my workshop group requested something related but better suited to “getting their feet wet.” What I came up with worked well for the group, and they named the invented form the “Adeleanelle.”

I posted a blog prompt using this form a number of years ago, and thought it would be fun to revisit the form this summer. I admit, with a slightly red face, that in the ten years followed creating the form, I still haven’t written a single villanelle, though I still enjoy reading them, especially Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” I’ve excused myself with the thought that formula poems are almost mathematical (and math was never my strong suit). I think my feeling has been similar to the workshop group members’.

Developed in France and introduced into English literature during the late 1800s, a villanelle has 19 lines, with two repeating lines throughout the poem. Here’s the canonical format:

Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 2 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 4 (a)
Line 5 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 7 (a)
Line 8 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 10 (a)
Line 11 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 13 (a)
Line 14 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 16 (a)
Line 17 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Refrain 2 (A2)

(Are you confused yet?) The first five stanzas contain three lines (triplets), and the last stanza contains four lines (a quatrain). The 1st (A1) and 3rd (A2) lines of the first stanza are alternately repeated, with the 1st line becoming the last line of the second and the fourth stanzas, and the 3rd line becoming the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. Lines 1 and 3 are repeated again to  become the last two lines of the final stanza. (Feeling compulsive?) There is no prescribed meter or line length; however, iambic (ta-DUM) and four or five feet per line are good bets. (Do you have an idea now why I’ve never tried to write one?) Of course, modern attempts stray from the rules and allow for some flexibility, and enjambments can be used to help the course of the poem. Note: Poems have two basic types of line breaks: end-stopped and enjambed (in an enjambed line, the break occurs in the middle of a sentence or phrase; end-stopped lines end with punctuation).

Recently, I introduced the villanelle again in a private coaching session and, although it was happily received, the student thought the form was too strict and too rigid for any reasonable attempt. She asked if I know of a slightly simpler format loosely based on the villanelle but “easier.” Once again, I brought out the “Adeleanelle,” and hope you’ll find it fun to work with.


1. Write a twelve-line poem divided into three four-line stanzas.
2. There is no rhyme and no prescribed meter.
3. Begin each stanza with the same word. (That’s each stanza, not each line.)
4. Line 1 is repeated as line 5.
5. Line 4 is repeated as line 12.
6. The poem takes its title from the fourth line of the first stanza.


1. Begin with a free write and then get your ideas organized.

2. Take your time. Keep a copy of the guidelines close as you write and refer to it as needed.


Here’s an unedited example from the group (thanks, Jayne R. for permission to post this poem again).

Another Time, Another Life (the title is line 4)

Line 1                                                 And now in the retelling,
Line 2                                                 I wish and wish again that
Line 3                                                 the dream had been a dream—
Line 4                                                 another time, another life …

Line 5  (repeat line 1)                        And now in the retelling,
Line 6                                                 I wish you here, my love,
Line 7                                                 your still eyes wide (alive),
Line 8                                                 nothing in the shadows—

Line 9                                                 And only light and light—
Line10                                                where loss forgets its place,
Line 11                                               your hand still warm in mine,
Line 12 (repeat line 4)                        another time, another life …

If the Adeleanelle doesn’t strike your fancy and you want to go for a “real thing” challenge, there’s a great how-to here

Note: Keep in mind that whatever you choose, meaning should never be subordinate to form!

Villanelle Example:

“Villanelle” by W. H. Auden


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Prompt #322 – Writing a Memory (not quite a memoir) Poem

We’ve addressed the subject of memoir or memory poems a few times over the years, and this week we revisit the idea with a challenge to write a poem about a special memory (good or bad). Sounds easy, right? NOT!!! For this poem, I’d like you to stay very focused on not simply telling a story but, rather (and here’s the challenge), to stay focused on what the story means.


1. Remember that there’s a big difference between writing a poem and creating art. A lot of people who write poetry work from a prose impulse and a prose logic that they arrange in lines and stanzas. This is especially prevalent in “memory” and memoir poems. Be careful when you write. It’s good to start with a free-write, but then work especially hard to tweak and hone.

2. It’s way too easy to tell a story in a format that looks like a poem. Often, we see memoir and confessional “writings” that tell something of someone’s story, include a couple of good images, throw in few similes or metaphors, come up with a clever ending, arrange the whole thing in lines and stanzas, and masquerade as poems.  Sure, that kind of writing may generate applause from readers or listeners who have had similar experiences (especially in open readings where there isn’t enough time to “know” the poem well), but it’s not truly poetry because it never reaches beyond the poet’s impulse to “tell.” The poem has to be more than the story – it has to be about what happened because of the story; thus, the story becomes subordinate to its telling, and that’s precisely what too many writers don’t achieve.

3. Beware of writing/telling too much in your poem – beware the dreaded Prose-o-saurus! Remember that a poem should contain an element of mystery or surprise – first to the poet and then to the reader or listener. A lot of the poems being read and published today are so cluttered with superfluous detail (and adjectives) that the poems become claustrophobic experiences (I call it TMW – too many words). A poet, beyond competence, has to trust readers to fill in some of the blanks. Some people who write poetry become so occupied with telling their stories that they (the writers) are indelibly superimposed over their poems. There is definitely a finding and loss of the self in poetry writing – that sounds contradictory, but it isn’t. The poet enters the poem to learn something; once written, the poet necessarily exits. The poem shouldn’t carry the poet along with it – all that bulk and bone will cast shadows on the poem’s light.

4. A lot of people who write poems (memory-type in particular) are inclined toward abstractions and generalizations, which often equal sentimentality. These are majorly risky. There is a big difference between image and abstraction. The best lesson a poet can learn is to write little – to go to the minute on the way to the large, and that means avoiding abstractions and generalizations. A good poem does take risks – artistic and emotional – but never through concepts and notions or simplifications. Every poem needs a strong emotional center that doesn’t smother meaning with sentiment. A poem should be about poetic sentiment without schmaltziness. Subtlety is good, overstatement and the obvious must be avoided. Think of your poem in terms of what your personal story means in the larger, more universal perception of human experience.

1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

6. Remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains, and that really good poems have layers of meaning.

7. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long.

8. Bring your poem to closure with a dazzling dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.)


Once in the 40's by William Stafford

We were alone one night on a long
road in Montana. This was in winter, a big
night, far to the stars. We had hitched,
my wife and I, and left our ride at
a crossing to go on. Tired and cold – but
brave – we trudged along. This, we said,
was our life, watched over, allowed to go
where we wanted. We said we'd come back some time
when we got rich. We'd leave the others and find
a night like this, whatever we had to give,
and no matter how far, to be so happy again.

Note: What is Stafford really “telling” readers in this poem? How does this short poem convey the sense of what was and how good it was, and how we sometimes only recognize that much later?

Porch Sitting by Deborah LaVeglia

This dark night holds promise.
Each lightening bug produces
its own shimmer of hope.
Sitting on my stoop
on New York Avenue in Newark,
I watch the cars pass by. 
I laugh with neighbors,
smile at the children playing freeze-tag
and TV-tag, their knees powdered with
dirt, faces made-up with the crust of
forgotten ice cream.

This dark night holds promise,
I see the light shining in my kitchen
window, my mother passing by
for the hundredth time.
Louie’s mother leans from the fire escape
and joins in the conversation below,
Michelle’s mother calls from half-way
down the block, musical notes:
This dark night holds promise
and I am grateful.

Note: Notice the subtlety and nuance in this poem, and the way Deborah skillfully uses imagery to convey deep meaning. Notice how Deborah challenges the ordinary, how she connects, reveals, and surprises. The deceptive simplicity of the poem is intensely profound and means much more than the words it contains. What is Deborah grateful for? How does this have meaning for you?

The Dancing by Gerald Stern

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a post-war Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel’s “Bolero” the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop – in 1945 –
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing – in Poland and Germany –
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.

Note: Gerald Stern has said, “It’s the poet’s job to remember.” In this poem he remembers what it was like in Pittsburg, 1945. This poem is very specific to Stern’s experience (as memory poems should be). How does it speak to you? What, specifically, strikes a chord when you read this poem? What is Stern telling us?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Prompt # 321 – Through the Lens

The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.
– Yousuf Karsh

These days, there’s a lot of camera-watching going on (in malls and stores, via body cams, on cell phones, at traffic lights, on lamp posts and buildings, and as part of in-home, school, and business security systems). Our society has been called a cameras are everywhere culture.

This week, the challenge is to think about cameras and one in particular that’s watching you.


1. Write a poem about being filmed when you're not aware of it, or a poem from the perspective of a surveillance or security camera that’s “watching” you.

2. Where are you?

3. What are you doing?

4. What does the camera see? This isn’t just the average “spy camera” or “nanny cam.” This camera sees your feelings, records your moods, shows you as you really are.

5. Remember that the camera sees everything: smiles, tears, guilts, griefs, boredom, happiness, and excitement—not to mention loves, wishes, and dreams.


1.  Come up with a unique first line or two—invite your readers in with something surprising.

2. Write in the present tense to create a sense of immediacy. You may want to try writing a narrative poem (tell a story.)

3. Where are you? What are you doing? Who’s photographing you? Why?

3. Think in terms of creating striking imagery (just as a camera captures images, work toward capturing images in written language).

4. Create a sense of the mysterious. Use language that’s imaginative even if the situation isn’t.

5. Create a sense of the “uncomfortable” for your readers. That is, what is it about being filmed when you’re not aware of it that “speaks” through your poem?

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Prompt #320 – More than Window Dressing

The finest clothing made is a person's skin,
but, of course, society demands something more than this.

– Mark Twain

Have you ever thought about poems that have been written on the topic of clothing? There are many, notably:

“Couture” by Mark Doty

“The Plaid Dress” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Shirt” by Robert Pinsky

“My Shoes” by Charles Simic

and, of course Robert Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder”

Clothing is often considered an extension of an individual's personality. Interestingly, among the poems, there are also numerous stories about poets and clothing. For example, Randall Jarell once traded ties with colleague Robert Watson, gloves and scarves with his wife Mary, and jackets and hats with his friend Peter Taylor; and when James Laughlin first met Ezra Pound, he wrote in terms of clothing, “There came Ezra, dressed to the nines in his velvet jacket, pants with equestrian seat, his cowboy hat, swinging his silverheaded cane .…”

You guessed it! Our prompt this week is for poems about clothing.


1. Go through your closet and pick out something you haven’t worn in a long time. Think about associated memories, people, etc. and use those memories as “fuel” for a poem.

2. Take a “field trip” and visit an op shop (used clothing store). Walk up and down the aisles and think about the clothes you see. Choose a piece of clothing that you are especially drawn to or repelled by. Buy it and take it home. Use this piece of clothing as your inspiration for a poem (a poem about who wore the article of clothing, about what happened to someone who wore the clothing, etc.).

3. Write a poem about a favorite piece of clothing or about an article of clothing that had special significance for you.

4. Think about someone from your past, and note his or her clothing in a poem.

5. Think about articles of clothing as metaphors and try writing a poem in which you use clothing (one article of clothing or several) to represent something else.

6. In dreams, it is said that clothing represents two things: the way we would like the world to see us and the way we’re afraid the world sees us. Dreaming about clothing may also represent our attitudes about ourselves and about others. Write a poem about the way you are seen, or would like to be seen, by others.

7. Think about your clothesline (even if you use a dryer, imagine a clothes line that you might use). What’s hanging on that line? Write a poem about your clothesline (what laundry would you hang out to dry – actual or metaphorical).

8. Take a humorous approach to clothing and write a funny “clothes poem” (i.e., “Ode to Underwear”).

9. Thoreau wrote, “It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.” Do you remember the Hans Christian Anderson story about the Emperor’s new clothes? (You can read it here: Was there ever a time when you felt figuratively naked in a crowd of people? Write a poem about that time.

10. Create an article of clothing, something never before seen or worn and write a poem about it.

11. Write a poem about the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing (was there ever one in your life?).


1. Include such things as color, texture, and patterns.

2. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

3. You will write about clothing, but don’t forget that the best poems have obvious meanings and unstated meanings. Your poem should be about more than simply clothing.

4. Clothing is often considered extensions of people’s personalities, clothes can express emotion and mood. Keep these in mind while writing.

4. Think about things that certain garments might symbolize.

5. If you enjoy writing humorous poems, got for it with this one! "Dress your poem up" with laughter.

Examples: Please see above (first paragraph).

NOTE: Comments are still closed.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Prompt #319 – The Art of the Moment (Haiku & Haibun)

The Art of the Moment: 
Haiku and Haibun 俳文 

Over the years, I've posted several prompts about haiku and haibun, and I thought this summer might be a good time to revisit these two forms. Enjoy. 

Please note that comments are temporarily disabled. 
Your responses to the blog posts are always appreciated but, 
as a result of  numerous "spam" comments, 
I've had to turn them off in an effort to discourage the "spamming."

What Is a Haiku?

Although you’ll find many descriptions of haiku online, there are a few specific elements of the genre that hold true in most cases:

1.     Most haiku  are characterized by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji ("cutting word") between them. The kireji is a kind of verbal punctuation mark that signals the moment of separation between the two images or ideas and adds meaning to the way the juxtaposed elements are related.

2.     Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae though often loosely (and mistakenly) translated as "syllables"), in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 on, respectively. Modern Japanese haiku (現代俳句 gendai-haiku) are increasingly unlikely to follow the tradition of 17 on or to take nature as their subject, but the use of juxtaposition continues to be honored in both traditional and modern haiku. There is a common, although relatively recent, perception that the images juxtaposed must be directly observed everyday objects or occurrences.

3.     A kigo (seasonal reference) is usually included (this needn’t be the name of a season, although it may be).  A kigo may be some element of a season, even the smallest detail commonly associated with a particular time of year.

In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line while haiku in English usually appear in three lines to parallel the three phrases of Japanese haiku.

Haiku Background

Although something other than “mainstream” poetry and very much its own genre, haiku are compact and direct, and are usually written in the present tense with a sense of immediacy (a sense of being “in the moment”). The natural world and our responses to it are integral to haiku. While haiku appear to be light and spontaneous, their writing requires profound reflection and discipline.  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.

Despite the brevity of its form, haiku inspire detachment. That is, detachment from self-interest or self-absorption. The best haiku are life-affirming and eternity-conscious. They are spontaneous and unpretentious but are entirely focused and either gently or startlingly profound. Through haiku, both the writer and the reader are invited to reflect upon minute details that lead themselves to larger realities.

The haiku’s origins have been traced to a form of Japanese poetry known as haikai no renga, a form of linked poetry that was practiced widely by Matsuo Bashō and his contemporaries. Bashō infused a new sensibility and sensitivity to this form in the late seventeenth century. He transformed the poetics and turned the hokku (first link in a renga) into an independent poem, later to be known as haiku in the sense that we understand the term today.

In traditional Japanese, the haiku was typically written vertically on the page  (from top to bottom). Each contained seventeen on or sound symbols. The on were usually divided into 3 sections, with the middle one being slightly longer than the others, and often with a pause at the end of the first or second section to divide the haiku into two thoughts or images. These thoughts or images contrasted or pooled to create a sense of insight or heightened awareness and usually involved nature. A kigo (season word) was used to indicate the season or time of year.

However, early translators were mistaken when they assumed that an on was equivalent to a syllable 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 accepted by many. A more acceptable standard for English-language haiku is 10-20 syllables in 3 lines having a longer second line and shorter first and third lines. Three lines have become the norm, but haiku of one and two lines are also seen, although less frequently. Typically, haiku contain two phrases (or images) that are inherently unrelated but are juxtaposed to show some commonality within a particular experience. That said, the parameters are often stretched depending on content and meaning, and successfully experimental haiku of a single word have been written. A structural feature of the haiku is the kireji, or “cutting word.” In Japanese, kireji is a word used as punctuation, often signifying a question or an emotional subtext. It also signifies a break or pause at the end of a line. In English, cutting words are generally replaced by punctuation like exclamation marks, question marks, and dashes, or less often, commas or ellipses, depending on how sharp a “cut” the author wishes to achieve.

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, nor do they have titles. Some haiku poets feel that one measure of a haiku’s success is its ability to be reading in a single breath. (Note: The word haiku forms its own plural; haikus is not correct).

How To Write Haiku

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 that you’ve had.

3. Remember the season in which you had the experience, and then think of a work 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 (shortened days, longer nights) in winter. While many haiku appear to have a nature focus, they are more-specifically based on a seasonal reference that is not necessarily about 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. Use only the most absolutely necessary words. Write in the present tense, don’t use figures of speech, and keep things simple.

5. Be sure to include a contrast or a comparison. Many haiku present one idea for the first two lines and then switch quickly to something else 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. A Japanese haiku achieves the shift with what is called a kireji or cutting word, which “cuts” the poem into two parts. One of your goals is to create a “leap” between the two parts of your haiku. Creating a haiku’s two-part structure can become a balancing act because it’s difficult to create just the right equilibrium without making too obvious a connection between the two parts or leaping to a distance that’s unclear or obscure. At the same time, you must work toward sparking the emotions (not ideas) that you want to communicate.

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. In a nutshell:

focus on a single moment (detach from everything else); recreate that moment in words,

write simply and clearly,

forget about 5,7,5 syllabic structure (start with about 10-20 syllables in three-line format),

include a season word,

make sure you create a two-part juxtapositional structure,

include a shift between the two parts of your haiku,

avoid figures of speech, rhyming, anything forced or contrived.


Haibun is a prosimetric (written partly in prose and partly in verse) literary form that originated in Japan, which combines prose and haiku. The range of haibun is expansive and often includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal.

Interestingly, haibun offers an approach to the way a poem situates itself without being fully entrenched. It also offers both writer and reader a way to travel without getting lost. It’s almost as if haibun give writers and readers a new a refreshing perspective on an experience while focusing  strongly on nature and landscape.  

Described simply, haibun combine prose (what may be considered a prose poem) with a haiku. Most often, a haiku brings a piece of prose writing to closure as a kind of insightful postscript. Another way of looking at the form is to think of haibun as highly focused witness to, or recollection of, a journey composed of a prose poem and ending with a meaningful whisper (a haiku). What the writer hopes to achieve is an elegant and insightful block of prose (usually a paragraph or two) that concludes with a relevant haiku.

There is endless room for experimentation in haibun. Traditionalists suggest that the haibun must precede a single haiku, but other “configurations” may be used.

Here are some general (but not written in stone) attributes of haibun:

1. Detachment from, and even a complete absence of, the speaker, that is, avoidance of using any personal pronouns such as “I” or first-person possessive adjectives (“my” and “mine”).

2. Concentrated use of sensory detail.

3. Use of a seasonal word or phrase—something that suggests a time of year without overtly stating it.

4. Incorporation of a “turn," or a sudden change (when included, this is sometimes found in the third line of the prose section.

5. Unlike haiku, haibun typically have titles.

How to Write a Haibun

The haibun is the combination of two poems: a prose poem and haiku. The form was popularized by the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. Both the prose poem and haiku typically communicate with each other, though poets employ different strategies for this communication—some doing so subtly, while others are more direct.

The haibun usually describes a scene or moment in an objective manner. Think of subjects relating to either a physical or a spiritual journey to write a traditional haibun. Many haibun begin with the prose section first, with one haiku following it, but as with most poetic forms you can write your haibun however you choose.  For your first try, though, work with the prose followed by a single haiku format.

1.  Remember that a haibun is not a short story—it doesn’t have a beginning, a middle, and an end in the way that we understand short stories. A haibun relates a journey, whether the travel is a physical exploration of the world or an internal journey of spiritual and/or emotional discovery. It should take the reader somewhere—from here to there.

2.  Begin by thinking of a time in your life when you experienced a journey of some kind. This may be an actual trip or it may be the simple narrative of a special moment in your life. Like haiku, haibun often begin in everyday events—minute particulars of object, person, place, and/or action. Haibun are usually autobiographical and personal, and most often written in present tense. You may choose to write in the past or present tense.

3. The haibun prose should be similar in appearance to a prose-poem, usually presented in block form.  When typed, a paragraph with justified margins followed by a double space and then a haiku.

4. Both the prose and haiku should be image-centered. Trim the language in the prose section to its essence. The prose portion can be written in sentence fragments or complete sentences.

5. There is no set length to a haibun. It can be one paragraph with one haiku, or several pages with haiku interspersed throughout. However, most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. (Some longer haibun may contain a few haiku interspersed between sections of prose.)

6. The haibun’s haiku do connect to the prose, but in the best haibun, the haiku do not directly continue the narrative. Nor do the haiku explain the prose. Instead, they relate in theme, mood, or tone. Inserting the haiku into the haibun is like throwing a stone into a pond—causing ripples of association. The connection may not be immediately obvious, but that’s okay.

7. Most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. Some longer haibun may contain a few haiku interspersed between sections of prose. In haibun, the connections between the prose and any included haiku may not be immediately obvious, or the haiku may deepen the tone, or take the work in a new direction, recasting the meaning of the foregoing prose, much as a stanza in a linked-verse poem revises the meaning of the previous verse.


Don't accept the first haiku that comes to you after writing the prose. Find a word or image in the prose to expand.

Haibun prose is best if kept to a single theme with sensory detail, the haiku crystallizes the experience.

Make each word count in the prose text, as you would in a prose poem (your prose part should be tightly constructed), and remember that the prose is not an explanation of the haiku.

The juxtaposition of prose and haiku is important.

The prose should add to the depth with which we experience the haiku: the haiku is not a linear (sequential) continuation of the prose, so avoid the linear in your capping haiku: take a right angle turn. Haiku should link to but not repeat what the prose has said.

Use symbolism in your haibun to deepen the emotional impact.

End with a surprise, not a narrative resolution.


A chattering wind brings down the leaves. Remnants of bagworm and chestnut lie in the tangle. After long highway miles, I return to the mountains and the trees, to the old house that waits, tucked asleep, in an arm of the Adirondacks. Abandoned now, overgrown with bracken and vines, it sits sideways beside the creek, facing the forest instead of the road. After years of wandering through ruins I should have been prepared for this, but I never expected the tumbled chimney, the broken windows, the foundation shifted and cracked, the piece of clapboard that hangs at the side of the house like a broken arm.

the empty mountain house

falls into


The air turns colder. Like a hard breath blown through God’s lips, it strikes a tamarack’s stringed tongue. The tamarack trembles and moans. I shiver. I can hear the creek as it stumbles over stones, a tired tenor losing its voice. In the open field near the house, wild geese wake. In a sudden rush of wings, they remember the victory of flight.

between the stars

and the mountains,

a vee of migrating geese

There is nothing to reclaim here. Everything changes, but memory is holy. Tonight I celebrate the past as I walk to the cusp of our hill where an old iron bridge crosses the water. Somewhere on the edge of the night sky a small light begins to shine. It will gather momentum and fill the dark places. Forever is there, a glass bell that time rings through.

October mist—

only a stranger crossing

to the other side of the bridge 

(Excerpted and adapted from “Only a Stranger” by Adele Kenny, 
first published in Journey to the Interior, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 
Edited by Bruce Ross, 1998)