Why 5-7-5?

The haiku form appeared organically over hundreds of years and was originally part of longer forms of collaborative Japanese poetry. Perhaps this explains why many people find haiku poetry so accessible and compelling.

The secret of mastering haiku

Beneath each video, you'll find excerpts of key instructions and points of interest. If you would like a full transcript of a video, these are available on the Downloads page.

The best advice is to not worry about whether you're writing good haiku or not. You need to give yourself permission to write a lot of haiku. My Zen teacher studied with Sōen Nakagawa Roshi—a very famous Japanese Zen master, but also a famous haiku poet, writer, and a student of Dakotsu Iida.

Sōen Nakagawa Roshi rarely mentioned haiku or taught haiku to his Japanese monks but occasionally they would ask him about haiku. Once my teacher asked Sōen, "What is the secret of mastering haiku?" And Sōen said, "It's easy. You just write 10,000 of them." Just write 10,000! That doesn't mean an actual number. What it means is to write haiku constantly and don't get hung up on whether or not you're producing masterpieces. The way you write a haiku masterpiece is by writing hundreds and hundreds of haiku. So, this week, be sure to give yourself permission to write a lot of very, very bad haiku. You're just trying to imprint the 5-7-5 form on your mind. That's really your only task.

You can go outside and you may see season words lying around. A robin in spring. Maybe in summertime you attend a fireworks celebration. In fall, falling leaves; in winter, snow. If you see a season word incorporate it into your poem, but don't let that stop you. At this point, you're really just beginning to play with the form. Remember that the word "haiku" means "playful verse." As long as you maintain a spirit of play, you won't have any problem with the form.

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