Category Archives: Haiku

17 Count Haiku

A few years ago I got into a long private conversion with someone about haiku and free verse and by the end of it I was hit with the realization that no matter how anyone in the West wanted to argue it, the Japanese always count when they write haiku. Basho, the one given credit for developing the genre, always counted the number ‘syllables’ he used. Any definition of haiku you see in Japanese will immediately state that it must be counted to being 17, although rigid conformity to this number was never, nor still is, doggedly pursued. Yet, even when they aren’t writing 17, the Japanese are still counting what they write.

This realization led me into writing 20 syllable haiku, which I have posted to this blog, as well as my reasoning why I thought it was proper to do so. Then, I got put on Jim Wilson’s ‘Formal Haiku’ Facebook page and he argued for counting 17 well enough for me to see it as something viable for English language writers.

I found writing 17 count haiku surprisingly liberating, which may seem a bit contradicting because in essence it does constrict what I am able to write, but what being confined to a set number means is that I have the freedom to explore and use grammar in ways that I never did when I wrote free verse. This empowered me to be more concise and gave me the sense that I was actually using the full spectrum of my language in ways that I hadn’t before. I’m sure that this is universally felt by anyone who writes count defined verse forms.

The genesis of the haiku below are from an old notebook that I have had laying around for many years. I had polished some of the haiku in this notebook enough to type them in my computer, but I had left some of them in manuscript form and I decide to work these unfinished ones into 17 count.

It is also generally thought that in the structure in English must be three lines, but my experience in free verse has made me understand how important lines break can be in providing poetic syntax. As Stephen Adams wrote in “Poetic Designs” (pg.154):

In free verse, the line breaks, cunningly placed, open up slight hesitations that focus attention on implications just under the surface……one of the functions of free verse, it seems, with its disruptive fragments, is to expose the various undertones in language that continuous prose glosses over. The line break, carried over from the conventions of end-stopping and enjambment in metrical verse, is one of its most powerful devices.

I find that always writing three lines is like pouring slurry into a mold that reproduces the same pattern of sound over and over again, especially when I try to strictly write in a 5-7-5 pattern, but expanding the form to 5 lines or less gives me an inexhaustible supply of line breaks that open up the possibilities of how I can generate sound and syntax. Another part of the definition of Japanese haiku is that it has one break in the phrasing of it, and trying to mimic that in English is oblivious to the fact that line breaks in our language mean more than it does in theirs. All they need is one line break, but our language requires that we use more, of which, I’ll argue, even three is not enough.


A lazy summer afternoon:
the oak has arched
itself on the

Summer late afternoon:
a man snoozes as
his bench etches more leaves.



Whose eye dare framed
a hawk into a
dove’s body?
A windhover.

A straightened
windhover bombing
towards prey;
the brown start of winter.

Today’s wintery sun:
the flecking flash
of a wing hung windhover.

A mouse clawing
back on
dappled wings;
the cold of this day.

Unrivaled aerial mastery;
what hunger has
made this
mid-day windhover?

Gashed unconscious
prey delivered by a saviour?
Ravenous windhover.

Winter wind!
A drapery stretched
seconds before buckling.

That cruel brute flash
in a windhover
buckling both wings:
winter’s sun.

A deadly wind!
Even the
windhover has
given up today’s hunt.

Winter stillness…..
A windhover’s fierce
glares finds
nary a movement.


Winter sunrise!
The dull
ache of knowing
realized today.

Deadly February!
Unable to
work a
snow chunk
off the sidewalk.

Could life
be any bitterer
or crueler?
February at night.

Again, we’re asked
keep a
trickle in the pipes.

The afternoon rays:
on the porch
don’t even reflect any.

An afternoon sun;
the driveway’s
puddle ice
bothered not a bit.

The doldrums!
An endless crisscross
of sparrow
under our feeder.


The whiz,
jiggle, and fiz
of everything
thawing at once:
Today’s noon!

I can’t help but
remember their stunning beauty!
Bare wet cherry trees.


As if
no other
name could
be as complete!
Snow surrounded snow drops.

Have the
    bulbs willfully
         emptied themselves out?
               Snow drops
                        with snow patches.

Do they
mourn the snow
that has finally melted all away?
Snow drops.

The loud
trumpets of Spring!
snow drops
ignoring the morning sun.

  The portrait where, 
         head bent, he
                       like a snowdrop.



The keenness of
a Reece’s
Butter cup!
Upright daffodils.

Daffodils on the kotatsu….
Like a
lemon bath
from a masseuse!!

The perfume
of Demeter long
before she ever gets here.

Spring has come!
Smelly daffodils
in a chilly
snow fed patch of mud.

White tuxed
‘Battle of the Bands’
revolving horn solos!
Daffodil clumps.

Clarions of Spring!
Daffodils jazzing
up the
chilly morning air.

Has something cracked
in traveling
Demeter’s perfume rack?

After Wordsworth

The twinkle of rays 
            on a sunny bay!
Upon the knoll 
            daffodils loll.

As if the
had gone on a
twenty pound diet!

Warm wind!
Daffodils tittering
like a
group of school girls.

A quick whiff
of rye and ginger as she
jiggles her hand.

As if
cracked down
by a bolt
hurled from the sky!
One fallen narcissus.


Narcissi spilling
on snow,
she paused to compose in
salute of him.

The nemesis
of menacing clouds
angrily above.

Amid all
those just as
green idly standing stalks
one thrice bloomed narcissus.

Shut eyes refusing to
      see the terror,
a seven bloom 
      tilting narcissus.

Winter wind!
All the
narcissi have started
like blind beggars.

One half bloomed,
one slightly bent,
one totally fallen.
Narcissus stalks.

The dull pupils of a
girl who refuses to dance,
Narcissus blooms.


Two sparrows at the
feeder gleefully shucking shells;
the ballet of spring!!

Reenacting how
the fattened sparrow’s
neck feathers roughed up…..
March wind!

The sprong in
        the slight sprig
             the brown redstart 
                      had sailed from!
Pink plum blossoms.

The Ides of March;
the wind’s slow unrhythmic
strums of electric blues chords.


Four pitiful
querying me,
her torn branch
of pussy willows.

A passel of
love sick cats
squalling by the creek,
cottoned pussy willows!

Looping, and scooping, and
hooping, all day;
pussy willows white in March.

Did winter neuter them
to begrudge
Clumps of cottoned pussy willows.

Why do I get a sense rain coming
while glancing at them?
Pussy willows.

Spring’s first full moon!
A ashy glint to
all of the
tall pussy willows.

My pain from them!
Five pussy willow straps on
my dining room table.

Passing Winter
coming Spring,
clumps of cottoning
pussy willows.

A pussy willow strap 
bangs my chilly hand again.

Thirteen baleful ways
of eyeing me,
a freshly
cut pussy willow.

The tail end of winter!
Cottony fluffs blurred out on
the pussy willows.

The sturm and drang of it……

Eunuchs in the court
of a tyrant!
Pussy willows
beginning to burr.

A southerly March wind!
The pussy willow straps all
squeak like field mice.

Does a
field mouse
believe they’re
beautiful flowers???
Pussy willows.

Pussy willows in
             brown meadows;
hoarse utterances
            from long dead ghosts.

Hurricane Lily (Cluster Amaryllis)


The blood of
retreating summer
shed among the environs:
hurricane lilies.


Far cluster amaryllis clumps,
the passion in
that glance cast half
a room away!


Warmth off
a now untouched
breast moved half a yard away!
A cluster amaryllis.

A hurricane lily:
the halted
spent whirl
of the scarlet
heat hurl of passion.

After the scarlet rush
almost absolutely
cluster amaryllis.