How to Write Haiku: Meditative Poetry to Honor the Human Experience | Dandan Liu | Skillshare

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How to Write Haiku: Meditative Poetry to Honor the Human Experience

teacher avatar Dandan Liu, Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Class Intro & Welcome


    • 2.

      Class Assignment


    • 3.

      Journey Into the Spirit of Haiku


    • 4.

      Haiku Structure & Essential Elements


    • 5.

      Break Rules: Modern Haiku


    • 6.

      Embrace the Spirit of Writing Haiku


    • 7.

      Write Haiku in 6 Steps


    • 8.

      Guided Writing Warm-up Meditation


    • 9.

      How to Tell if Your Haiku is Good


    • 10.

      Class Wrap-Up & Parting Thoughts


    • 11.

      My Teahouse of Wonder


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About This Class

Join Top teacher Dandan Liu in this meditative poetry class that teaches you how to write haiku from its most traditional to modern forms. Learn how to embrace its spirit, which can transform the way you live your life.

So what is a haiku?

Haiku is the most popular form of poetry in the world. It is a three line poem, with a 5-7-5 syllable structure. Yet, don't be fooled by its simplicity. Despite its tiny size, it can hold so many facets of our human experience that are hard to express.

  • How do we express the exuberant joy that sometimes visits out of nowhere? 
  • How do we hold all of the pain we see in the world, when it’s too much? 
  • How do we begin to process the contradictions in our human experience? 

These are some examples of where haiku can meet us. 

Haiku is a refuge when the world seems chaotic and life feels out-of-control. It is also a simple way to add rich delight to your day. 

Together with Dandan, you will learn: 

  • What makes a traditional haiku and how modern writers break the rules.
  • All the depths and dimensions a haiku can hold and express.
  • How to write your own haiku. 
  • How to enter the meditative spirit of haiku.

This class is for you if:

  • You're a beginner interested in writing poetry, but feel intimidated by the process.
  • You're a seasoned writer who wants to experiment and sharpen your skills in a playful way.
  • You're looking for a simple creative way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. 
  • You're looking for a gentle way to break the creative rut and get the juices flowing. 

It is highly recommended to listen to this class with headphones, so you can fully enjoy the immersive soundscapes that accompany your journey into the spirit of haiku.

Make sure to download the haiku handbook to revisit the featured haikus in this class.

Let's begin! 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Dandan Liu

Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Top Teacher

Hi there! I'm Dandan, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and contemplative creative living in Italy.

As a self-taught filmmaker, I love foraging for unique stories around the world that illuminate the interconnections among us. I started making films while on a 4 year journey living in monasteries around the world. One film led to the next, and after persevering for many years, I found myself working full time on film crews and streaming my films on Roku, Apple TV, museums, trains, and airplanes.

My highest work is helping others craft an authentic, creative, and mindful life- your unique work of art. I believe that knowing who you truly are is the foundation for flourishing in every area of life. So, I founded Unravel, a playful journey of self discovery, which has... See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Class Intro & Welcome: The spring sky so clear that you feel you are seeing into tomorrow. Summer grasses, all that remains of great soldiers, imperial dreams. Now the swing is still, a suspended tire centers the autumn moon. Simply I'm here, simply snow falls. Our lives are made of poetic moments. The question is, are we awake to this poetry? My name is Dandan Liu and I am an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, top teacher here on Skillshare and guide for intentional living. Poetry forms the beating heart of everything I create. One of its forms in particular has a special place in my heart, The Haiku. You probably learned in grade school that a haiku is a three line poem to the 575 syllable structure. If you're interested in writing poetry and maybe feeling a little intimidated by it all, I think haiku is a great place to start. It's simple, accessible, and it trains you to build the foundational skills to write other more elaborate forms of poetry. Haikus can hold so much depth. For seasoned writers or poets, haikus form a beautiful opportunity for you to experiments and sharpen your writer's knife. Haiku is a refuge when the world seems chaotic, when you're feeling lost, frightened, and nothing is clear. When I write haiku, I slow down and savor the miracle of being alive. I feel like I'm dancing with moments, not of time but of timelessness. In this class, we'll be looking at exactly what makes a haiku, we'll looking at all the depths and dimensions a haiku can hold and transform, and we will learn how to write our own haiku. The poet, Billy Collins, once wrote. Today, I pass the time reading a favorite Haiku, saying the words over and over. If feels like eating the same small, perfect grapes again and again. Let's eat the small perfect grapes together. I'll meet you in the first lesson. 2. Class Assignment: Your class assignment is to share haiku on the project's page featuring the season in which you are currently in. Then share it on my Instagram tagging me @dandanliustudio so I can share it with my community. I'm running a special competition now where I will be giving one annual Skillshare membership to the winner if you post by February 14, 2023 at 11:00 PM PST. Have fun and best wishes. 3. Journey Into the Spirit of Haiku: [MUSIC] Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this poetic form, I'd first like to bring you on a journey into the spirit of haiku for you to listen to it's beating heart. I'm going to read some of my most cherished haiku's which span a wide and deep spectrum. I ask that you now carve the space inside of you to receive these poems. Haiku are short, so if you're not paying attention, you're going to miss out on the miracle hidden inside. To do this, it's very simple. Close your eyes and bring your mind back to your body. Take a few deep breaths. [MUSIC] Peeling a pear, a trickle of sweet juice along the blade. A train crashes past a butterfly still as stone on the humid earth. [MUSIC] Calligraphy of geese against the sky the moon seals it. [MUSIC] Hospital quiet I enter alone at twilight. The scent of lilacs. Woman's desire deeply rooted, the wild violets. [MUSIC] Smooth cemetery stone, I run my fingers over her lifetime. [MUSIC] News of his passing I walk my feet through morning dew. [MUSIC] The boy on the swing surrounded by war rubble does not swing at all. [MUSIC] Could this melody be sung in other countries by other birds? [MUSIC] How did you feel when you heard these poems? Did you notice how with just a few words you really felt the full emotion of the moment? The full emotion that would have been diluted with more words. If you'd like to read this haikus again, I have included a document called The Haiku Handbook inside the Resources section with these poems and their authors. I hope you can now see how haiku can hold so much. It doesn't just present what's pretty unpleasant as it's usually associated with. But it can also hold the pain, the deep, complex, contradictory emotions that are hard for us to say but grace are human experience. 4. Haiku Structure & Essential Elements: Now that you have felt the spirit of haiku, let's talk about its structure. A haiku in its most traditional form consists of three elements. The first element is a 5-7-5 syllables, three-line structure. You probably learned this in grade school. In its most traditional form, haiku is a three-line poem. The first line has words that add up to five syllables. The second line has words that add up to seven syllables. The third line has words that add up to five syllables. For example, my dear old village, every memory of home pierces like a thorn. Now when it comes to syllables, a lot of people ask me, do I count certain consonants like Ss for plural words? There's no agreement on this in the haiku world so my answer is to not worry about it. The spirit of your poem is more important than the form which I will talk more about in the next lesson. Later, we'll also use examples of how modern haiku writers really break the rules. The second element for haiku is a season word, also known as kigo in Japanese. A season word is a word that is traditionally associated with a season. Here are some examples of season words. These anchor the haiku and orient us to the time and space of the moment you're writing about. What's cool is that they are passed down the generations. In fact, there are compilations of season words available. You can find a free one online, which I will link in a document called the Haiku Handbook attached in the class resources section. The third element of haiku is the most mysterious one. The poet, Billy Collins calls this element a little flash of illumination. It's a twist, what the Japanese call haiku humor. Note that humor doesn't necessarily mean funny. It's more of a direction that wasn't expected. A surprise, or what Alan Ginsburg calls a leap in the mind. It's a pivot that makes the poem more than the sum of its parts. Let's look at some examples of this twist. Ancient meteor on reaching the atmosphere makes light of itself by Clark Strand. In this example, the twist comes in the last line, makes light of itself. It's a play on the word light. Besides the light that's made in contrast to darkness you also have this light that's in contrast with heaviness. Here you have this meteor that's been traveling for thousands of years and when it reaches its destination, it's not a heavy occurrence, but a light one. Here's another example. The boy on the swing surrounded by war rabble does not swing at all, by Vicky Wilson. There's nothing funny here. In fact, it's a very sad scene. But what the Japanese mean by haiku humor here is the twist. When you read the first line of this haiku, you think it's going to be a happy story. A swing is usually a joyful thing. It's the first time young kids discover unbridled motion. But then this haiku overturns this joyful expectation with this war scene. Here's another example. This is a particularly touching haiku for me because it is one written from a Japanese poet, Buson, to honor his mentor and friend Bosho after his passing. How beautiful is that writing a haiku dedicated to your friend or your loved one? With the soundlessness of winter rain on mosses, vanished days are remembered. Now, this doesn't match the 5-7-5 syllable structure with its English translation from the Japanese but it does illustrate the twist. You have soundlessness and vanished days, both empty elements. Yet through these empty elements, things are preserved. Here's another multi-layered example. In the summer sky, a cloud with its mouth open eats a smaller cloud, by Billy Collins. This is a great example of how a haiku can have multiple layers of meaning tucked into its tiny body. Here, Billy is alluding to our Darwinian struggle in life. He's saying how even in the sky, the big fish eats the little fish. But here's another twist, clouds. They are insubstantial and light. So can our struggles in the human realm be light as well? As the last example, here's one that always lands deeply for me. News of his passing, I walk my feet through morning dew, by Frank Hooven. Morning dew is something that signifies freshness, a new beginning and yet here he is contrasting that with news of someone's death. This contrast is what creates this twist. I love this poem because you can really feel the tactile sensation of cold liquid wetness on your feet when reading this poem. In summary, a traditional haiku has three elements. A 5-7-5 syllable three-line structure, a season word known as kigo, and a twist or pivot that causes a leap of the mind for the reader. 5. Break Rules: Modern Haiku : [MUSIC] Now that we have learned what makes traditional haiku, I wanted to give you some examples of more modern haiku that break the rules. In fact, Clark Strand, a contemporary haiku poet said, "Haiku is whatever you can get away with, with 17 syllables." As before, if your mind has drifted off somewhere else, bring it back into this fat moment. Close your eyes and bring your mind back to your body. Take a few deep breaths. [MUSIC] Blossom to blossom. A bee tips the fate of the world. [MUSIC] A year at most, we pretend to watch the hummingbirds. [MUSIC] Nevertheless, fall colors. [MUSIC] Spring thaw, what I meant to tell her. [MUSIC] The heft of a cast iron skillet. Autumn deepens. [MUSIC] You can also find these poems in the haiku handbook in the resources section. As you've just heard, all of these poems do not follow the traditional three-line or 5-7-5 syllable structure. But they still produced a leap of the mind. I hope these examples give you a sense of permission that, yes, you can break the rules if you feel like that serves your haiku best. 6. Embrace the Spirit of Writing Haiku: [MUSIC] Now we're going to transition from reading haiku to writing haiku. But before we dive into the nuts and bolts of the writing process, I wanted to talk about the most important part, the spirit of writing haiku. When it comes to the spirit of writing Haiku, in my opinion, there are four important guiding principles. The first is releasing the present moment. As you can already tell, writing haiku requires mindfulness and is very much rooted in the present moment, yet it's not an attachment to the present, but a letting go of it. Haiku does not capture the moment, but releases it. Haiku is not a moment of time, but a moment of timelessness. If you can embrace the spirit, you'll write much more powerful haiku. Number 2, show, don't tell. It's not talking about a thing, but entering it and showing the person what you found. Number 3, embrace play. Writing haiku is all about playing. Contemporary haiku writer, Clark Strand said, "This process is like rolling the dice." You can write multiple versions. In fact, that's encouraged. The important thing is to have fun to be in a loose and relaxed state when you're writing. Don't take it too seriously. You don't want to box yourself in with the haiku. We want to see it as an invitation for you to just improvise and play. Number 4, grounding as a route of haiku. When writing haiku, take a leap, but only when you have grounding. This means being rooted in the present moment. Writing with your entire body, not just with your head. Feel the pen gliding across the smooth paper while feeling your belly rising up and down from your breaths. Haiku is a form of meditation, so allow it to transform you as you write. 7. Write Haiku in 6 Steps: There are infinite ways to write haiku but it does help to have a starting point. Here is my process which I hope can be a handy guide for you as you take this fun plunge. The first step is to let go. Haiku is really about receiving whatever moment is before you fully. You cannot receive if your cup is already full of expectations, preconceived notions, or your unfinished to-do list. Before you begin, it does help to empty yourself of yourself so haiku can write itself in you. The way you do this is with a simple meditation. Now, if you're like, gosh, I have tried meditation before and I'm not good at it, it's not for me, don't worry, you can do this. You were probably taught one of the common myths of meditation, which prevent a lot of people from connecting with the true essence of this practice. If you're more interested in this, you can dive deeper into my meditation one-on-one class. For now, I've included a lesson with a short guided meditation you can play before you put your pen to paper. Step number 2, when you feel routed back into yourself, take a seat and soften your gaze, adopt a wider view of perception. Most of the time, we don't really notice what's around us because we're stuck in our thoughts or just out of habit noticing the familiar. Haiku is all about noticing the subtle. Like when a sparrow sinks for a second before it opens its wings, open your perception to the subtlety and the hidden magic around you, will reveal itself. Step number 3, start writing when you feel an inner tug or small whisper of curiosity. This bark is not something to look for or aim for but to wait for and receive, when it comes, trust that feeling and go with it. See it as an invitation. Step number 4, write down every line that comes. There may be more than one choice that sounds right, put them all down, roll that dice, if your inner critic pops up and says something like, this sucks, just gently think it and let it go. Know the inner critic is a normal part of the game. Continue rolling the dice and enjoy the process. Step number 5, revise. Make it crystal clear, remove anything not needed. Did you use the best word to catch the moment? Do you feel the moment when you read it? Is something missing? Here is an example of how one word can make all the difference. Imagine having no home, all you have is one suitcase and a crushed daisy. Version 2, imagine no home, all you have is one suitcase and a crushed daisy by Brenda Jacobsen. In the first version, the word having, I feel it's unnecessary, especially since you have the word have in the second line. The word having also makes it feel like you're talking about a person. In the second version, by removing this word, it feels like you're talking about a people. Here's another example, this one from my own collection. A little backstory. I grew up in Europe and America, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. My grandparents lived in China. This meant that we only visited them once every four or five years. When my grandparents were really slowing down, I remember feeling this deep sadness and pain sitting silently in the airport taxi that would kick off our journey back to the West very well knowing that this was likely to be the last time I'd see my grandparents. I wrote this haiku as a way to hold and express this emotion that will live in me forever. Airport taxi leaves, the rearview mirror wipes tears of my grandma. We all have felt the deep sadness that comes when meeting someone we cherish for the last time and I hope this haiku showed you how this poetic form can create a bridge between us and show our common humanity. Here were some previous versions. I ultimately settled on this version because it showed that twist most clearly. I like how I showed you it was raining as the back window windshield wipers were on. Besides wiping raindrops, the back windshield wipers were also wiping the tears falling down my grandma's face, which I could clearly see in the rearview mirror. Step number 6, share. Haikus were meant for sharing. In fact in Japan, haikus began as games between groups of people or one person would write a haiku, which would be the prompt for another person to write their verse and so forth. This chain would continue for hours and even days. To carry on this tradition, after you write a haiku, please share your favorites on the class projects page and a few lines on how this process went for you. Then share it on my Instagram tagging me @dandanliustudio so I can share it with my community. I cannot wait to see what you write. 8. Guided Writing Warm-up Meditation: I'm so excited for you to begin writing haiku. Before you put pen to paper though, let's take a few moments to re-center and open ourselves to receive this process. Doing this will align you with the spirit of haiku. First, sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths gifting yourself with this fresh stream of oxygen that carries your stress away. Feel your feet firmly planted on the ground, which pushes you up with support. Feel your body in its entirety. Allow your shoulders to just drop and your arms to sink down heavy. Allow your jaw to soften, all the tiny muscles in your face to relax. Any tension in your wrists, let it evaporate. Continue to breathe, letting go of your stress, feeling like you're coming back home to this present. When you're ready, you may open your eyes and begin the writing process. Have fun. 9. How to Tell if Your Haiku is Good: [MUSIC] As subjective as the realm of poetry is, there is good haiku that stands the test of time and bad haiku that are quickly forgotten. How do you know if you've written a good haiku? I love what Allen Ginsberg says. He says, "the only real measure of a haiku is upon hearing one, your mind experiences a small sensation of space, which is nothing less than God". Basho, known as the father of haiku said that a good haiku works on two axes. The horizontal one is the present, then there is the vertical one, which is the past. For me, the best way to know if your haiku is good is to share and receive the feedback of others. Do they experience the leap of the mind? Does your haiku cut through their thinking minds and touch something in them? Maybe even shatter something within them. 10. Class Wrap-Up & Parting Thoughts: Congratulations for finishing this class. I hope that you now see haiku with new eyes and have enjoyed learning how this tiny form can contain multitudes. I hope that this has given you a new connection to the present moment and a new way of expressing whatever may be too big to hold. If you enjoyed this class, I invite you to check out my other classes on my instructor page and sign up for my newsletter where I share curated inspiration, behind the scenes, updates, and more high-value resources on the art of authentic living. I'm going to wrap up this class with a parting haiku. Eating grapes like one word, another word, and still another. Thank you so much for taking this journey with me and I'm wishing you all the best for your haiku writing. Until next time. [MUSIC] 11. My Teahouse of Wonder: If you enjoyed this class, I invite you to leave a review and sign up for my newsletter. This is not your ordinary newsletter, but instead, a virtual tea house of wonders where I share curated inspiration behind the scenes, updates, and more high-value resources on the art of authentic, creative living. It is my most intimate space to spoil my readers with delight. Sign up to receive on my course instructor page. [MUSIC]