begin haiku

is a place to take apart what we know about haiku, examine it closely, and put it back together again.


has had the privilege to host the Shiki Monthly Kukai since September of 2002. A Kukai is a haiku contest where the participating poets vote for one another's poems. Sometimes beginners need some help learning what a haiku is. Other times a poet will fall in love with an image, but just can't seem to get the haiku shaped right to appeal to others. In both cases the result is the same. Zero Votes!

kukai tune-ups

is intended to help just such poets. If you have a poem that earned Zero Points in the kukai, and would be willing to let us work with it, we might be able to learn something together as we analyze your poem and try to find ways to improve it. We are not claiming to be haiku masters! Just more beginners interested in learning together.

Let's Begin!

kukai tune-up #1

I thought haiku were supposed to be a sentence?

Thanks for your question! It's a question that many beginners struggle with, and which has been also complicated because there are several early haiku books where each line begins with a capital letter and the final line ends with a punctuation mark.

To answer your particular question, it is true that we don't need to have complete sentences for our haiku. In fact, it would be hard to accomplish one major component of the haiku -- the "break" -- in the space of a single sentence.

In haiku, there are typically two separate pictures or images represented. Some people call them "Phrase" and "Fragment". The Fragment is assigned to either the first line or the third line of the poem, while the Phrase is allowed to share the other two lines.

If we look through the Kukai Archives we will see that almost every "high points" haiku follows this structure.

Usually this takes the form of:

phrase part a
phrase b

such as the December Free Form winning poem, by Darrell Byrd . . .

tundra winds~
downy feathers flutter
from the empty nest

but the inverse can also succeed:

part a
part b of the phrase

Such as Darrell's second place Kigo poem in January . . .

fog swirls
through the boat yard -
winter rain

While there definitely doesn't have to be complete sentences, you also don't want to cut out words that are needed to make the sentence flow. They call this "Tontoism" in haiku (like Tonto and the Lone Ranger).

  horse scare
bad storm come

- tonto the haiku poet

Many people admire the structure of

longer line

and if you don't follow that a great many of our poets will just flat not consider voting for it. So, don't use unnecessary words, but make sure you include enough words for the phrases to make sense. While its ok to use more syllables, try to NEVER go longer than

5 / 7 / 5


See More Kukai Tune-Ups

begin haiku has the following sections:
Articles Critiques Links
Articles for beginners. Submit poems for critique. Links to other helpful sites.