Learning from the Best Haiku Teachers

Some of my favorite haiku books and journals.



chapstick and nail clippers
all that’s left
in my father’s dresser


For almost twenty years, the Haiku Society of America has hosted The Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku and Senryu Competition for students in grades 7-12. I hope you’ll take a moment at some point to read the winning entries. The students’ work is beautiful and moving and impressive. Over the years an outrageously disproportionate number of students earning honors have come from classes taught by two teachers at opposite ends of the country: Tom Painting and Arlie Parker.

In the most recent episode of the podcast Haiku Chronicles (a podcast I could not recommend more highly) Teaching Haiku, Tom and Arlie discuss haiku and senryu, how they teach it, prompts they use, and why they think the form is so valuable for students.

I’ve already listened to the interview twice this week, and I am quite sure I’ll want to listen to it again. As a writer and someone who has taught a few haiku workshops and would like to teach more, I value their suggestions about what examples to share, how they think and talk about the form, the limits they give their students, and when they bend them. I had thought of haiku and senryu as two broad categories of poetry, but Tom and Arlie break these categories into smaller ones–such as meaningful moments, painful reminders, and things that don’t go together. These categories can be used as prompts, which is how I came to write the senryu above.

In some ways I think haiku is quite different from other poetry, especially in the way that the writer is supposed to get out of the way and allow the reader to have a direct experience. On the other hand I think haiku is poetry distilled to its essence–strong imagery, strong feeling, and an abiding belief in the power of a few, carefully chosen words.

Happy Poetry Friday! Donna JT Smith has the roundup at Mainely Write.

18 replies
  1. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
    Michelle Heidenrich Barnes says:

    I remember you mentioning that podcast on Facebook, but then out of sight, out of mind. Thanks for the reminder! This time I won’t let it slip away. Your touching senryu is a wonderful illustration of what you describe in the last line of today’s post.

  2. katswhiskers
    katswhiskers says:

    Aside from the beauty of true haiku, it’s that brevity of distilled moments that makes haiku-breaths so recognisable (and powerful) in other writing. I’ve not written a senryu before. You make me want to.

  3. Robyn Hood Black
    Robyn Hood Black says:

    Thanks for sharing these resources and your thoughts, too, Liz. Very poignant haiku.
    I haven’t met Arlie, but Tom is a dear haiku friend, and an amazing teacher – of students of any age!
    PS – Great stack of reading, there. :0)

  4. Catherine Flynn
    Catherine Flynn says:

    Thank you for sharing these resources, Liz. I will listen to that podcast later today. Your senryu is so poignant. As Michelle said, it’s a fine example of the power of a few well-chosen words.

  5. lindabaie
    lindabaie says:

    Diane has shared the interview too. Now if I can find the time to listen. I receive the daily Issa & have read parts of some haiku ‘how-too’. Sometimes I think I’ve “got it”. Other times it feels elusive. Thanks for your poignant haiku, Liz and the reminder about these experts.

  6. Bridget Magee
    Bridget Magee says:

    Between your poem, your insights, and the links to your resources, this is a post filled with abundance, Liz! I like the idea of thinking about “meaningful moments, painful reminders, and things that don’t go together” as starting points for poems – brilliant!

  7. Diane Mayr
    Diane Mayr says:

    Thanks for spreading the word about haiku/senryu. I loved listening to the podcast earlier in the week and I’m glad you featured it today.

  8. Donna Smith
    Donna Smith says:

    This has reminded me of my early education on haiku and senryu…and of being careful of my identification and my use of words in these forms. They are short but complex. Thanks for the reminders.


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