“How to write a Haiku and examples from writers Richard Wright and Sonia Sanchez”

How to write a Haiku and examples from writers Richard Wright and Sonia Sanchez

A haiku (俳句 high-koo) is a type of traditional Japanese poem made up of nonrhyming three short lines of text. The origins of haiku go back to the 9th century and the basic level the three lines are structured whereby the 1st and 3rd lines are 5 syllables and the 2nd line is 7 syllables. Traditionally, haiku (plural and singular like sheep or deer) are about nature and is a way of looking at the physical or natural world.

Most haiku written in English are in three lines of 17 syllables or less. So, the traditional pattern of 5/7/5 pattern does not have to be followed, although it is useful to decide on whether you will use the Japanese pattern or the English one. Haiku are usually structured in two parts however sometimes haiku are written in one sentence with two distinctive parts.

Traditional haiku uses words to paint an image, but in two parts. Part of the meaning haiku is called kiru, or Japanese for “cutting,” which describes the way in which two different images come together in the poem. This is usually the point of juxtaposition, or collision (kireji) whereby the “cutting word” word serves as the point of separation and contrast juxtaposing two ideas. 

A haiku is usually structured in two parts. The easiest way to structure haiku for a beginner is to describe the setting in the first line, then the subject and action in the second and third lines. One line is usually a fragment — often the first line — while the other two lines are one phrase.

To begin you might think of first describing a natural setting in the first line, then the subject and action in the second and third lines. The first line is usually a fragmented thought and then the other two lines are one phrase.

Lastly haiku are present tense, capturing a moment in time and the possible contradictions within nature and ourselves. Do not worry about using poetic devices like simile or metaphor with haiku it is the ordinary, the moments of the day, the season, which are ideal subjects for haiku.  Minimize your punctuation, capitalization, etc., keep it simple, and do not worry about perfection, haiku should feel unfinished like life.

Some of favorite writers of haiku are African American authors like Richard Wright and Sonia Sanchez. Author of Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), Wright wrote haiku at the end of his life while living in Paris. Sonia Sanchez, the first poet laureate of Philadelphia and the winner of the 2018 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets writes haiku each morning. As you read some of their works below watch for their structure, imagery, themes, and their use of juxtaposition.


Basic Structure of 5-7-5 Haiku form

17 syllables divided into three lines of five, seven and then five syllables again.

  1. First = 5 syllables
  2. Second = 7 syllables
  3. Third = 5 syllables

Richard Wright  (link to video about the “Life and Times of Richard Wright”)


Poems about city life


Keep straight down this block, 
then turn right where you will find
a peach tree blooming

From this skyscraper,
all the bustling streets converge
towards the spring sea


Poems about nature

A balmy spring wind 
reminding me of something
I cannot recall

In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white. 


Sonia Sanchez (link takes you to video of Sister Sanchez performing this “musical” set of haiku)

From 10 haiku (for master jazz drummer Max Roach)


Nothing ends
every blade of grass
remembering your sound


your sounds exploding
in the universe return
to earth in prayer


as you drummed
your hands kept
reaching for God


the morning sky
so lovely imitates
your laughter


you came warrior
clear your music
kissing our spines

feet tapping
singing, impeach
our blood


you came drumming
sweet life on
sails of flesh

your fast beat
riding the air settles
in our bones

your drums
soloing our breaths into
the beat…unbeat

your hands
shimmering on the
legs of rain.


“10 haiku (for Max Roach)” from Morning Haiku by Sonia Sanchez. Copyright © 2010 by Sonia Sanchez. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston. 


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