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What Are the Different Types of Haiku?

Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

Strictly speaking, there is only one type of haiku. This is the traditional Japanese form of the poem. In the West, particularly in the English-speaking world, there are other types. There are also love, refrigerator and chain versions of haiku in these areas.

An English haiku contains 17 syllables and is split into three lines with a 5-7-5 syllabic pattern. In English, the term haiku has also come to mean all Japanese poetic forms. Other related poetic forms include the renga, choka and tanka. Tanka are the simplest and most common form.

Refrigerator haiku can refer to haiku made using magnetic words on fridge doors.
Refrigerator haiku can refer to haiku made using magnetic words on fridge doors.

A tanka consists of a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern and can be about any topic. Choka are similar, but the alternating lines of five and seven syllables can be carried on as long as the poet wishes before finishing with two lines of seven. The renga is a collaborative poem which combines a large number of Japanese style stanzas.

The traditional form must contain a seasonal word known as a kigo and it must also contain a juxtaposition known as a kireji. For example, Basho’s poem about a frog: “An old pond / A frog jumps / Sound of water.” The pond is the kigo and the kireji or cut appears between the jumping frog and the sound of water.

Fewer English haiku contain kigo and kireji. These are often more akin to a Japanese poem known as a senryu, which also has a 5-7-5 formation. Senryu, in Japanese are not haiku.

The haibun is a mixture of haiku poems and prose. The piece can be about any topic, but usually includes plenty of references to nature and emotions. There are no rules about how long it must be and how many poems are included. There are also no rules about how the poems and prose are mixed up and arranged.

A refrigerator haiku is a poem written on a fridge magnet. Such poems can be about any topic. They can also refer to poems written using magnetic words. It is also a catchall term for a funny haiku such as: "Haiku are easy, but sometimes they don't make sense, refrigerator."

A haiku chain is a series of linked poems. These are found on many writing website forums and are more a source of fun than a serious art form. The first poem's last line becomes the first line of the next poem and so on.

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Discussion Comments


I was never very interested in reading or writing poems. I often found them boring or hard to follow.

My high school English teacher helped change that when she introduced the class to haiku poetry. When she showed us the first examples of haiku, I wasn't very interested.

She made this a class project though, and everyone ended up getting involved. For the rest of the semester she kept a haiku chain going in the classroom.

One person would write one line, and someone could add to it at any time. This brought about some interesting discussions and even made skeptics like me look forward to what was being written.

I don't think I have written a haiku since then, but look at them differently than I would if I hadn't had this experience with them.


At our house, we take the haiku form of a refrigerator magnet literally. We have a large assortment of tiny refrigerator magnets that are words.

The kids like to take these magnets and make poems from them on the front of the refrigerator. Sometimes they really put a lot of thought in to them and they are quite interesting.

Other times they are silly and don't make much sense at all. Either way, it is fun to see them being creative and using their imaginations to create a poem.

It always makes me smile to walk in the kitchen and see a new haiku poem on the front of the fridge.


I have been writing a daily haiku for almost a year now. It is a great exercise to keep me writing and to get me thinking more creatively. I always stick to the traditional form. That can be both restrictive and liberating.

Sometimes it's hard to stare down at a blank piece of paper and think that you could fill it up with anything your mind conjures. The haiku offers you an entry point. I can't say that my first haiku was any better or worse than the stuff I'm writing now but that is not the point. You never really improve as a writer, you just learn to work harder.

I had a creative writing teacher in college that had us work on haikus for two weeks. In the first week we had to use the traditional 3 line 5 - 7 - 5 format. No exceptions. But in the second week we were allowed to add lines and syllables as we saw fit.

It was an interesting assignment because it taught us both how to appreciate formal structure and then how to break away from it. I think everyone's writing ended up stronger in the second week.

Most of my favorite haiku has to do with natural surroundings. There is just something about the simplicity of the haiku format that gives its natural descriptions a lush and evocative quality. Have you ever seen a cherry blossom described as beautifully as it is in a haiku?
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    • Refrigerator haiku can refer to haiku made using magnetic words on fridge doors.
      By: Microstock Man
      Refrigerator haiku can refer to haiku made using magnetic words on fridge doors.