Understanding Haiku: A Traditional Japanese Poetic Form

Feb 09, 2019 10:32 IST
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.

publive-image PC: pexels

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.

#tanka #Kala Ramesh #Japanese poetry #Haiku #haibun