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The Haiku Rules

Veterans of this publication will know we've not accepted haiku submissions. Actually, I like haiku. It's just that when a publication is open to haiku, that publication tends to get a lot of bad haiku submitted. As a rule, we've never thought hiaku would fit into our issues.


But a special issue--it could work.


So, the February issue will be winter haiku. Haiku for winter. We're going to ask, though, for real haiku. We're going to stick with some rules but, if you've never studied haiku, some of these rules may be new to you and even a little surprising. I want to credit the late William J. Higginson whose classic The Haiku Handbook helped me in many ways. Here we go. 


1. Let's get length and format out of the way. First, I subscribe to the idea that the 3 lines, 5-7-5 rule is not ideal for English. I've read and I think I understand why it right for Japanese. But, among other things, English syllables are, on average, longer. Longer on the page and, on average, longer by the stopwatch.


So, I want to discourage 5/7/5, disallow anything longer, and strongly favor poems submitted with these guidelines for length.


  • 3 lines preferred but 2 lines can work.

  • Total of less than 17 syllables. Prefer 8-14. 

  • We really like 3/5/3 and 4/6/4. Even 2/4/2.  Slight variations on that are fine. Generally prefer the 2nd line be the longest.


2. The cut/break/turn


I think good haiku often cuts, pauses, breaks, or turns at the end of the 1st or 2nd line. I think turn is the best word for it. Like these:


Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)


Snow in my shoe

Sparrow’s nest


That turns after line 1.


Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)


In the coolness

of the empty sixth-month sky—
the cuckoo’s cry


That turns after line 2.


3. Avoid punctuation, except the em dash. (—)


Although not necessary, in English, an em dash can help emphasize the turn, as in the Masoaka Shiki poem above.


4. Include a seasonal element.


This can be a literal season word. In this case, "winter." (It's a winter haiku issue.) But, you can bring in the season by references to cooling, cold, blue/grey/white colors, natural things (plants, elements, etc.) which one associates with winter.


5. No titles.


6. Handle emotion with subtlety and skill.

No direct references to emotion. Perfectly ok to evoke an emotion, though. There's no crying in haiku!


7. Humor fine, jokes not fine.

I like the joke haiku fine. Somewhere else. 


It's ok for a haiku to be funny, but it can't be a joke.



There you go. Email me with questions. We look forward to seeing your goods.











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