School of Haiku 

Jane Reichhold  



Lesson Fourteen

True, there is not much that is lovelier than a haiku and there is a great charm in just those few words lifting one's heart in joy and ecstasy. However the very shortness of a haiku neatly lends it to be put with other haiku to form a series or sequence.

When making a book of haiku, one is, at another level making a sequence. Thus, when presenting your haiku to any audience, be it by book or magazine, it is wise to know a bit about the many ways of doing this.

A good sequence is built on an idea, or a scaffolding of an idea, so that the sequence becomes a long poem. Depending upon the material in the individual haiku, it is important to pick a theme or armature on which to build your poem.

Traditionally books of haiku were divided into the four seasons starting with spring with the haiku following through the year. Even the newest haiku writer could soon have enough haiku to make a simple sequence based on the seasons. Tiring of this though, one could arrange the haiku according to the months of a year or hours of a day.

Such an arrangement can suggest another - the tie of a common theme of subject matter. Collections of haiku and sequences have been built on animals, insects, poems about gardens, love poems and any facet of life that is common to all the poems. Unusually the title of the work is that common theme and these are more properly called a poem series instead of a sequence.

However, if your poems are about many subjects, you will need to find another method of arranging them. If you have worked with renga, and are comfortable with the subtle ways renga links are formed, this is an excellent method of aligning the poems. Not only do you demonstrate the marvelous methods of leaping and connecting within each haiku, but between them you offer the reader new delights of connection or even disassociaiton. This method offers you the greatest freedom and insures a greater richness of material than a simple series.

Unable to do this, one can always fall back on our own literary history and use the method of forming a poem sequence most familiar to us - the narrative. The order of the haiku follow the chronological arch of the event with beginning, middle and end.This is probably the easiest sequence for Westerners to follow and appreciate, but you will get less admiration from other haiku writers.

In addition to these methods is the use of the acrostic. Even Japanese poets have used this method of sending subliminal messages which has served as a framework for the poems. In some cases the first word of each poem added to the mysterious phrase; in others the first letter of each poem was used to spell out a word and occasionally, in tanka, some part of the beginning of each line combined to make the acrostic.

Sequences and renga - which are basically collaborative sequences, can be built on almost any idea or theme such as colors, animals, letters of the alphabet, an event or a trip.

These ideas only touch the skeleton of the sequence. What makes or breaks the whole poem is how you move your reader from one poem to the next. Not all haiku are equal. Some are 'better' than others.

Only you the writer can decide whether to start the sequence with your very best poem (to capture the reader's attention) or whether to start with a simple easy-to-understand haiku in order to ease the reader into the long work. No matter what your framework is, you do not want to put all the the best poems together where they will compete with each other in a clump. Often it is best, and if the subject matter allows, to have a wave-like movement with best poem, less good, even less outstanding and then build back up to another truly outstanding stanza with a group of somewhat ordinary haiku. In these designations of better and less good haiku, I refer only to the tone and method of handling the subject matter. Each poem stanza needs to be faultlessly composed and written. When you have the reader in the thrall of following your sequence you cannot afford to offend with a badly written haiku.

In the suggested book, The Modern Poetic Sequence, the authors make the case that the sequence is the best part of modern poetry and whoever can successfully create sequences will demonstrate genius. A worthy goal. How to reach it?

The pen and paper types can write the individual poems on cards or slips of paper. Then, like solving a puzzle, you can line the poems up in various sequences until you are satisfied with the flow of the longer poem. It is often good to walk away at this point and come back later. Often your eyes will be drawn immediately to the one poem that is in the wrong place and you can begin the shuffle again.

For computer types, it is even easier. Whizzing the poems around on the page at the control of a cursor is exciting and easy. You can even save a possible combination, open a new file and began to move the haiku around in a new configuration. Sometimes to make the poem flow better you will need to make minor changes in a haiku. This is good. You are enriching your haiku as they enrich you.

Before you congratulate yourself on graduating, I hope you will give yourself the enormous pleasure of building longer poems out of the haiku you have written.


Previous lesson


Suggested Reading

The Modern Poetic Sequence - Genius of Modern Poetry by M.L. Rosenthal & Sally M. Gall. Oxford Univerisity Press:1983.


Jane Reichhold

For Rosemund Gumpert Jorgensen




90 lbs.
her frail body held together
with hugs

shining pine
dovetailing together with
carpenter’s hands

no nails
the new-coffin smell
of high-tech glue

no embalming
in the tribal tradition

old fashioned
but still it hurts
no flowers

without smoke
laughter in the buds
of marijuana

blurring the star
handfuls of damp earth

in a foreign language
our tears

winter rain
on its way to the sea
a square hole

populated with bodies
each alive

more rain
the newly-filled grave

 natural gas
the coffin becomes an ark
lighter than air

with a life of its own








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