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: “Rake”

everything fallen—
to fix all of it would take
a really big rake

The leaves had fallen after a night of wind. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) was due to convene in Glasgow the following day, but I was pretty sure it would end like the other climate conferences before it.

I made the last line of the haiku deliberately funny by using a ham-fisted rhyme. I wanted readers to smile before the dark truth of the poem set in—that humans are not exempt from the sixth extinction.

Submit as many haiku as you wish that include the fall season word “rake.” 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 “rake.”

Haiku Tip: Be of one mind!

Basho said famously that all great art requires a mind to follow Nature and return to Nature, befriending the four seasons of the year. This is the “Haiku Mind” that Japanese poets sometimes speak of, and there are two things to know about it:

  1. It is circular, not linear, in its thinking.
  2. The human mind is contained in it, rather than the reverse.

Most people can grasp the first point. A haiku poet isn’t trying to “get” anywhere by writing haiku. The point is to follow the four seasons throughout our lives. That is why, when asked about her approach to haiku, Tsugawa Eriko (b. 1968), a major figure in modern Japanese poetry, answered that she simply wanted to continue writing them until she died. That was her haiku philosophy.

The second point is more difficult. The Haiku Mind doesn’t just follow the four seasons. It is the four seasons. The human mind has no reality apart from Nature. We exist only insofar as we are intimately related to other beings. Leaf beings. Cricket beings. Wind and water beings. Beings of every kind. The line separating humans from Nature is an illusion. Every haiku is a self-portrait. In following the four seasons, we are a cat chasing its tail.

A note on rakes: “A rake is a gardening or farming implement consisting of a pole with prongs or wide-set spikes at one end. Used to collect leaves or loosen soil, it is believed that the first rakes were human hands. Eventually, tools such as branches from trees were used. The earliest “modern” rake dates from 1,100 BCE. Its basic design has not changed significantly since then.” — Becka Chester, Season Word Editor, 17—Haiku in English

Unless otherwise specified, rakes are associated with fallen leaves in haiku poetry. Leaf raking, which usually occurs in late autumn, is a relaxing, rhythmic activity that keeps the body in motion yet, paradoxically, tends to set the mind at rest.

the simple dance step
one falls into easily—
raking up the leaves


October’s Winning Poem: 

Fall Season Word: Long night

Long nights are coming.
If you will hold the lantern,
I will get the door.

— Jill Johnson

haiku challenge long night
Illustration by Jing Li

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


Previous Winners

2021

2022

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February 

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Submission Form