Illustrations 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.

To learn more about the history and principles of haiku, check out Clark Strand’s online course with Tricycle, “Learn to Write Haiku: Mastering the Ancient Art of Serious Play.”


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: “Dew”

to a blade of grass
the dew has attached itself
using just water

Dewdrops were clinging to an upright grass blade. But, somehow, they didn’t slide down. I found it remarkable that the dew could form such a strong bond using only water.

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

Haiku Tip: Raise the Bar for Zen Poetry!

Dewdrops have a long history in Japanese literature—especially in haiku poetry. Basho smiled at the sight of a mushroom covered in dew, still young and in its prime; Buson found dewdrops glistening at the tip of each bramble thorn; and Issa mourned the death of his infant daughter with a haiku that nearly every Japanese person now knows by heart:

the things of this world
are like dewdrops…yes, like dew—
and yet…and yet…

The most celebrated modern dewdrop haiku was written by Kawabata Bosha (1897–1941).

like a diamond
drop of dew sitting alone
on top of a stone

A Zen Buddhist monk who devoted himself to the intense observation of nature, according to the translator Makoto Ueda, “Bosha never tired of watching cats, butterflies, spiders and dewdrops; and, as he watched them closely, he sensed the workings of a superhuman will that made them behave as they did.”

In selecting material for his 2018 anthology Well-Versed: Exploring Modern Japanese Haiku, Ozawa Minoru chose Bosha’s dewdrop haiku as his most representative poem. He writes:

Dew of course is made of water, but here it is perceived as being as hard as a diamond, as the Zen priest Dogen (1200–1253) said of the Buddha dharma: “Frozen, it becomes harder than diamonds, who could break it?”

Ozawa cites a modern critic who suggested that Bosha had absorbed Dogen’s way of thinking, only to step beyond it. Anyone can see that ice is hard. To understand the indestructibility of a dewdrop requires a more ecologically-grounded perspective on the world. Perhaps Bosha was thinking of Basho’s advice to his own disciples: “Do not seek after the sages of the past. Seek what they sought.”

A note on dew: In his book Haiku World, William J. Higginson writes, “Autumn dew presages winter frost, and [signifies] the fleetingness of this life since it is usually gone by midmorning.” Season word editor Becka Chester offers a more naturalistic description of the theme: “Dew is like rain because both are formed by condensing water. As vapor cools in autumn’s night air, it slows down and its molecules collect across cool objects, such as foliage. In the morning, after a cool autumn night, we often find dew sprinkled lightly across grass, tree leaves, and other objects outdoors. If we’re lucky, we can find it suspended like tiny pearls in a spider’s web.”


July’s Winning Poem: 

Summer Season Word: Lotus

on the yoga mat
lotus flower opening
and closing again

— Marcia Burton

haiku lotus
Illustration by Jing Li

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


Previous Winners

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Submission Form