Haiku is plagued by rules, some of which are famous and false. Others are little-known but essential.
False: the idea that a haiku consists of 5-7-5 syllable lines. I’ll let Gabi Greve and the Haiku Society discuss that. In Japanese, there is a count, but it’s not exactly English syllables.
Fewer people know about the “kireji,” or “cutting word.” In Japanese, it acts sort of like punctuation or grammatical structure, and functions similarly to the “volta” or “turn” in a classic sonnet. The kireji cuts the poem into two parts. In Japanese, a kireji may indicate a question, emphasis, surprise, completion, probability, cause, or interrelationship.
In English, these words are sometimes represented by punctuation, such as colons, dashes, commas, ellipsis, exclamation points, or question marks (: — , … ! ?) or words like “but, how, and, yet, now, this, still” (and a lot more) or simply by a line break.
Kireji links two ideas. The best haiku have more depth than a simple observation; they link an observation, often about the changes in nature and its seasons, to something else.
Kireji also frees the poet from the constraints of a sentence. Words can be left out, and fragments of sentences can be connected to create both emphasis and brevity.
How does this work? Here are some of my haiku, offered humbly to avoid plagiarizing better poets:
hard to say:
which day did the robins
(The kireji is the punctuation, the colon.)
Christmas eve —
the woman in the checkout line
blinking back tears
(The kireji is the dash.)
back to school…
even the playground trees
thinks no one is watching
(Here “and” is the kireji.)
an empty bench
and a bag lunch
(The kireji is “and” again.)
dead on the sidewalk
but Spring does not pause
on last year’s poinsettia
a red leaf
a girl climbs the playground fence
(Here the kireji is “anyway.” The location at the end of the haiku brings you back to the beginning, and gives emotional closure to the poem.)
These haiku also offer the traditions of immediacy and personal experience — I saw all those things and was inspired by them. Something happened in the context of something else that allowed the creation of meaning beyond the words themselves.