What Should You Not Do In A Haiku?

by Amy

The haiku: a form of Japanese poetry known for its simplicity, depth, and the evocative power packed into its minimal structure. Though it may seem straightforward—three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count—crafting a haiku that resonates requires a delicate balance of elements and a keen awareness of common pitfalls. This article explores what not to do when composing a haiku, offering guidance for both beginners and seasoned poets alike to refine their craft and capture the essence of this poetic form.

Before diving into what should be avoided, it’s crucial to grasp the essence of a haiku. Originating in Japan, this poetic form is more than just a syllable count. It traditionally focuses on nature, the seasons, or moments of profound insight, aiming to evoke an emotional response or illuminate a universal truth through specific imagery and juxtaposition.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

1. Ignoring the Kireji (Cutting Word)

One of the most nuanced aspects of traditional haiku that is often overlooked in Western adaptations is the use of a “cutting word” or kireji. This element serves to juxtapose two ideas or images, creating a division that invites reflection. While English haiku cannot directly replicate kireji, using punctuation like dashes, ellipses, or strategic line breaks can achieve a similar effect. Avoiding this division results in a haiku that may lack depth or the spark of insight characteristic of the form.

2. Overlooking the Kigo (Season Word)

Another cornerstone of the haiku is the inclusion of a kigo, or season word, which grounds the poem in a particular time of year, enriching its imagery and emotional resonance. Neglecting to incorporate a seasonal reference can strip a haiku of its connection to the natural world and its cyclical rhythms, a key element in traditional compositions.

3. Forcing the Syllable Count

While the 5-7-5 structure is widely recognized, rigidly adhering to this syllable count without regard for the poem’s flow or content can result in awkward phrasing or forced imagery. It’s important to remember that in Japanese haiku, the “syllables” count refers to on, which are not entirely analogous to English syllables. Prioritizing natural language and the integrity of the imagery may sometimes lead to slight deviations from the strict syllable count, which can be acceptable for capturing the true spirit of haiku.

4. Being Overly Abstract

Haiku thrive on concrete imagery and sensory details, rather than abstract concepts or generalizations. A common mistake is to use vague or overly philosophical language, which can detach the poem from the tangible, vivid experiences that evoke deep emotional responses. Aim for clear, specific images that invite readers to see, feel, and ponder the moment you’re capturing.

5. Ignoring the Principle of Ma

Ma refers to the use of negative space, or what isn’t said, allowing the reader’s imagination to engage and fill in the gaps. An overly explicit haiku that leaves nothing to the imagination can be less impactful. Strive for subtlety and suggestiveness, letting the spaces between the lines and words carry as much weight as the words themselves.

6. Forgetting the Poem’s Turn

A successful haiku often includes a shift or turn, a moment where the poem deepens, shifts its focus, or reveals a surprising contrast. This can be subtle, but it’s what gives the haiku its depth and power. Without this pivot, a haiku might remain a mere observation, lacking the depth or resonance that makes it memorable.

7. Neglecting the Sound of the Haiku

The musicality of a haiku, including its rhythm, cadence, and the sounds of the words themselves, plays a crucial role in its overall effect. Overlooking the auditory aspect of the poem can result in a piece that, while visually adhering to the haiku form, misses the mark in terms of its oral or auditory impact.

Crafting Your Haiku: Steps to Avoid Common Pitfalls

1. Start with Observation: Begin by observing the natural world or your immediate environment. Look for moments that move you or seem laden with unspoken meaning.

2. Focus on Specific Imagery: Choose concrete images over abstract concepts. Let these images evoke the emotion or insight you wish to convey.

3. Incorporate a Season Word: Ground your poem in a specific season to deepen its connection to the natural world.

4. Consider the Use of Kireji: Think about where and how you might create a division within your poem to juxtapose two contrasting images or ideas.

5. Let the Syllable Count Serve the Poem: While keeping the 5-7-5 structure in mind, prioritize natural language and effective imagery over rigidly adhering to syllable count.

6. Craft a Turn: Include a shift in perspective or revelation that deepens the poem’s impact.

7. Read Aloud: Pay attention to the poem’s sound, rhythm, and the interplay of words. Adjust as necessary to achieve a harmonious balance.


Mastering the haiku is a lifelong journey, one that involves not just adherence to form but a deepening understanding of the world through concise, evocative language. By avoiding these common pitfalls, poets can approach this art form with a respectful, thoughtful mindset, contributing to the rich, evolving tapestry of haiku poetry. Remember, the ultimate goal of a haiku is to capture a moment, emotion, or insight in its purest form, offering a window into the profound simplicity that surrounds us.


1. Is it OK if a haiku rhymes?

Traditionally, haikus do not need to rhyme. The essence of haiku poetry lies in its structure and its ability to capture a moment, emotion, or aspect of nature succinctly. Haikus typically adhere to a 5-7-5 syllable pattern across three lines, focusing on vivid imagery and often featuring a seasonal reference. Rhyming is not a standard expectation in haikus and can sometimes detract from the natural flow and simplicity that characterize these poems. However, there’s creative freedom in poetry, and some modern haiku writers might choose to incorporate rhymes.

2. Does haiku need a title?

Haikus do not have titles. The poem itself is meant to convey everything within its brief format, aiming for immediacy and a deep connection with the reader without the need for a title. However, in contemporary practices, especially in Western adaptations of the form, some poets do choose to give their haikus titles. This can be for clarification, thematic grouping, or artistic expression. Ultimately, whether or not to use a title or rhyme in a haiku comes down to personal or stylistic choice, especially outside the traditional Japanese haiku context.

Related Articles


Discover the soulful universe of PoemsHubs, where words dance with emotions. Immerse yourself in a collection of evocative verses, diverse perspectives, and the beauty of poetic expression. Join us in celebrating the artistry of words and the emotions they unfold.

Copyright © 2023 poemshubs.com