january haiku challenge
Illustration by Jing Li

At seventeen syllables, haiku is the shortest poem in world literature. It is now also the most popular form of poetry in the world, written in nearly every language. And yet, as haiku has spread internationally, one of the most important aspects of the tradition has largely been lost—the community of poets.

In Europe and the United States, haiku is often regarded as the domain of literary elites, but this is not the case in Japan, where haiku is deeply rooted in communal activity. Millions of amateur Japanese poets belong to haiku groups (clubs, really), which are sponsored by different “schools” of haiku, each with its own magazine. Most daily and weekly newspapers carry a haiku column featuring poems submitted by their subscribers, sometimes on the front page.

To help bring back this social dimension, we are inviting our readers to participate in the monthly Tricycle Haiku Challenge. Each month, moderator Clark Strand will select three poems to be published online, one of which will appear with a brief commentary. Each quarter, one of these poems also will appear in the print magazine alongside an extended commentary. In this way, we can begin to follow the seasons together—spring, summer, fall, and winter—and share the joy of haiku together as a community. 

Requirements:

Anyone can submit haiku to the monthly challenge using the form below. To be considered for publication, your haiku must: 

  1. Be written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables:
    Getting the syllables of a haiku to sit naturally inside of its seventeen-syllable form is the primary challenge. Each haiku is a word problem in search of a satisfying seventeen-syllable solution. 
  2. Contain the “season word” assigned for that month:
    A haiku isn’t only a word problem. To the seventeen syllables the poet must add a turn of thought that results in more than seventeen syllables of meaning—along with a word that refers to one of the four seasons. How the poet uses “season words” like dandelion or dew will typically determine the effectiveness of the poem.

Part of the reason haiku appeals to so many people is that its rules are simple and easy to follow, yet it can take a lifetime to master them. Ten million people currently write haiku in Japanese. There is no reason why millions can’t write haiku in English, too, provided they agree on the basics. The turn of thought you add to that simple formula of 5-7-5 syllables with a season word is entirely up to you.

Submissions close on the last day of the month at 11:59 pm ET, and the results will be posted the week after. Monthly submissions are anonymized and the winning poems are selected in a blind process.


This Month’s Season Word: 

Submit as many haiku as you please using the submission form below. Just be sure to include this month’s season word.

Fall season word: “dragonfly”

Unlike dragonflies
parallel lines never meet
they must get lonely

I watched as two dragonflies came together above the lake and realized they must be mating. This called to mind something I learned in high school, and I saw the opportunity for a bit of melancholy mathematical satire. Poor Euclid.

Submit as many haiku as you wish that include the early autumn season word “dragonfly.” Your poems must be written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively, and should focus on a single moment of time happening now.

Be straightforward in your description and try to limit your subject matter. Haiku are nearly always better when they don’t have too many ideas or images. So make your focus the season word and try to stay close to that.

REMEMBER: To qualify for the challenge, your haiku must be written in 5-7-5 syllables and include the word “dragonfly.”


August’s Winning Poem: 

Summer Season Word: Cool or Coolness

candlelight vigil
the coolness of a bugle
bringing on the night

— Susan Polizzotto

august haiku coolness
Illustration by Jing Li

You can find the honorable mentions, additional commentary, and August’s haiku tips here


Haiku Tip: To master haiku, learn the basics!

For those new to haiku, it may feel presumptuous to speak of mastering the art. But there is something to be gained from keeping our eye on the prize right from the beginning—or at least knowing what it is.

To master haiku is to live so fully within its two basic conventions that following them becomes the principal creative and imaginative endeavor of our lives. It means to live, eat, breathe, sleep, work, love, and eventually die inside of those conventions, using them to express every nuance of our experience.

The first convention of haiku, the fixed 5-7-5 syllable pattern, reminds us that all things express themselves through form. A wild rose has five petals. The heart has four chambers. The primary colors, three in number, combine to make all of the rest. There is infinite variety in the natural world, but all of it fits into the greater pattern of the whole. Everything has a form.

Given time and practice, the 5-7-5 syllable pattern enters so deeply into our consciousness that it transforms our consciousness, giving us “a mind to follow Nature and return to Nature.” For Basho, this was the secret of all great art.

The second convention, the use of season words, binds us to the wisdom of Nature. Just as all beings exist within the limits established by their form, they exist in relationship to all other beings because of time. Nothing is static. What goes up comes down. Whatever eats is also eaten.

For the haiku poet, the whole universe is constantly becoming—forever dying and being reborn. The season words locate us within the circle of that Great Reality, showing us that we belong to it in any given moment, and showing us where we belong.

And so, nothing could be simpler than learning to write haiku, because there aren’t too many things you have to keep in mind. At the same time, there is no end to learning it. After five decades of writing them, I have come to the conclusion that to master haiku is simply to write haiku daily for one’s entire lifetime. You can’t fail to master haiku if you do that.

A note on dragonflies: Some 3,000 species of dragonfly are known to exist in the world today. Most live in the tropics, although they are a common sight in temperate regions as well. Dragonflies appear in summer but are most notable in early autumn, for which reason they are associated with that season in haiku. Adult dragonflies have large, compound eyes, two pairs of transparent wings, and a long body. The iridescent, metallic coloration of many dragonflies makes them especially noticeable in the clear autumn light. Dragonflies are a favorite theme in Japanese art and literature. In the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest literary work, the word Akitsushima (“Island of the Dragonfly”) appears as an alternate name for Japan.


Previous Winners

2021

2022

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Submission Form