Understanding Haiku: A Traditional Japanese Poetic Form

Young Writers Training Program, Dry Tongues and Brave Hearts, writing forces reason Vanessa Ohri

Haiku is a Japanese art form that is more than 400 years old. Nature poetry, that seems to have fascinated Indian poets like Rabindranath Tagore and Subramanya Bharathi, at the beginning of the last century. In film jargon, we could refer to each haiku as “a shot”, for it captures more than a frozen moment.

Indian culture, which draws so much sustenance from nature and her seasons, is just waking up to this addictive art form. Although we’ve always had poets from regional languages exploring haiku in all its nuances, it has so far been centred on a nucleus that is unknown to the world at large, says Kala Ramesh.

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Kala Ramesh writes and teaches traditional Japanese poetry haiku, tanka, haibun and renku to children, undergraduates and senior citizens. Here are some of her works:

Haiku: can be written in 1, 2, 3 or 4 lines!

mango blossom beyond mango blossom the hopes

a mango plucked
an empty space      to the sky

morning rush
a dewdrop dangles
the sun

darkness at its deepest pitch cicadas hold the note

hitching a ride
on its own light

I am
what I make of dreams
a dewdrop
holds the moon


Senryu: focuses on human relationships and idiosyncrasies!

at the premiere
a soprano’s bosom fills
the spotlight

coffee lounge . . .
we act out each other’s
bored look

Indian wedding night:
relatives reluctant to leave
the bride’s bedroom


Haibun: prose embedded with haiku

 Peace of m.i.n.d

guarded secret …
once again his hands

not easy to escape a mental prison for tears unshed don’t stain the cheeks but stories kept locked breathe on pulsating thoughts — in and out and out and in of each cell in the body what and where is this thing called the mind

swollen vulva …
in her eyes the stretch
of the border camp


Tanka: a 1300-year old lyrical 5-line poem from Japan:

illusions ride
on a fast fading rainbow
somewhere there
I let go of my childhood …
I must have

just when
I think where I am
is nowhere
the cranes once again
colour the sky

flight passengers
swarm around
the conveyor belt
ah! the freedom to walk away
without baggage

millions of eggs
in a female fetus …
the egg
my daughter releases
was made in my womb

alone at home
sipping fresh-brewed coffee
I seek
an adult understanding
of Sita in the Ramayana


Kala Ramesh is a poet, editor and anthologist. She is the chief mentor at the Katha Creative Writers’ Workshop since 2012. An external faculty member of the Symbiosis International University Pune, she teaches Japanese short forms of poetry to undergrads — a first in India. Passionate about taking haiku to everyday spaces, Kala initiated the ‘HaikuWALL India’ project, which has graffiti artists paint haiku on city walls. In February 2019 Kala will be organising her sixth haiku conference in India.

The views expressed are the author’s own.