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Haiku: The Wordless Poem










for sale
a sparrow slips into the attic
trailing toilet paper


watching fireworks
from the car


screen door
song of the birds
cry of the cat


a sudden fall
of acorns—

chipmunk looks
at me


I’ve been focusing on haiku again, preparing submissions for Modern Haiku (deadline July 15) and Frogpond (deadline August 1). (Hint, hint…) I set these aside to post here because they were the most kid-friendly.

Haiku are sometimes called “wordless” poems. The idea is that the reader connects directly with the experience being depicted, not with the words of the poem. For me wordless also refers to all the words that might have been included but weren’t–words that the reader constructs for herself. We know from the words in the second haiku that somewhere there is a screen door, birds singing, and a cat crying but there are no words explaining that the cat is crying because she is on one side of the screen door and unable to hunt the birds happily singing on the other. According to Cor van den Heuvel, the poet Ogiwara Seisensui once described haiku as a circle–half provided by the poet and half provided by the reader. This is just the kind of active reading I hope to inspire in kids.

For more Poetry Friday visit Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty.

15 replies
  1. Laura Shovan
    Laura Shovan says:

    That chipmunk picture is adorable. I responded most to the first poem — what a fresh image! I loved the contrast between that empty house (lonely, spooky?) and the busy sparrow carrying something as ordinary and funny as toilet paper (which also evokes ghostliness). It’s as rich as good haiku should be.

  2. Bridget Magee
    Bridget Magee says:

    I connected with the emotion of the second Haiku — chickenpox preventing the child from watching the fireworks with everyone else – poor kid! I love the description of “haiku as a circle–half provided by the poet and half provided by the reader”. Great poems and post today, Liz!

    • lsteinglass
      lsteinglass says:

      Hi Bridget. We did this one year when my oldest had chickenpox. That was back when they thought one shot was enough. I’m not sure kids even get chickenpox anymore.

  3. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
    Michelle Heidenrich Barnes says:

    Like Laura, I was particularly drawn to your first haiku– the unexpected image really hits home. I can understand why it made such a lasting impression! Thanks also for allowing me to think of haiku in a new light– wordless and circular.

    • lsteinglass
      lsteinglass says:

      Thanks, Michelle. The bird was trailing quite a long piece of toilet paper so it almost looked like a flag or a banner.

  4. maryleehahn
    maryleehahn says:

    You’re so right — haiku are wordless for just the reasons you mentioned! I added so many words of my own to the fireworks haiku — a whole story-ful! And the screen door haiku went back and forth between the sound of the screen door and the sounds of the birds outside and the cat inside! Good luck on your submissions!!

  5. Tabatha
    Tabatha says:

    Thanks for sharing these with us today — I think the second one is my fave. The circular definition is excellent, and I will be contemplating other arts it might apply to. Good luck with your submissions!


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