Haiku in February: the shortest month for your shortest poems
by Barbara Schiffman
This February / write one short poem each day / for NaHaiWriMo
February seems like “the runt of the litter” compared to other months. The shortest in our calendar, even on a leap year, it was the last month added to the Roman calendar and marked the end of winter. It’s also the only month that can pass without either a full or new moon, and was originally called “Februarius” in honor of Februa, the annual Roman purification ritual on February 15th.
February holidays now include Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, sometimes Chinese New Year (Friday 2/12 in 2021) plus a host of other religious, cultural, civic and commercial celebrations. Find a list at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/February.
My new favorite February celebration, however, lasts all month long. While researching the world of haiku for my September 2020 MWW blog post and workshop about haiku as a valuable practice for writers, I learned that February has been honored by poets as National Haiku Writing Month (aka NaHaiWriMo) since 2011. This was inspired by NaNoWriMo in November, when many novelists around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in a month. FVCC even schedules an annual NaNoWriMo class led by Kathy Dunnehoff.
February is the shortest month and haiku the shortest of poems, so it makes sense for haiku poets to write only one per day. Traditional haiku are only 3 lines with a total of 17 syllables (no matter how many words are used) so if you write one poem a day for 28 days, that’s a mere 476 syllables. This sounds easy, but it’s not as each poet strives to find the right word for the right place.
This February, I propose we give NaHaiWriMo a try just for fun. Can you write one haiku each day between 2/1 and 2/28? You can approach this challenge as a short-term diary or journal about this period of your life. Haiku can reflect the events or moments of your day, or just random thoughts, questions, or concerns. They can be humorous, witty, serious, sad, silly, cheerful, or curious.
How do you write a haiku? I created these haiku-guidelines to help me remember the structure:
Five syllables plus / seven more and five paint a / picture for your mind
Traditional Japanese haiku structure allows only 3 lines with a total of 17 syllables (5+7+5). But Montana Haiku can be shorter, longer or unstructured — after all, we go our own way in Big Sky Country. Feel free to experiment.
For inspiration, find suggestions at http://NaHaiWriMo.com and daily writing prompts at the NaHiWriMo Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NaHaiWriMo).
To prepare, get a small notebook where you can jot down interesting words or phrases as they come to mind “based on things you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch (generally avoiding analysis and judgment),” according to NaHaiWriMo. “Haiku are poems of experience that create an emotional effect, first in you, and then, if you craft the poem effectively, in the reader.”
Keep the notebook by your bed at night — haiku phrases have popped up in my dreams, but if I didn’t write them down, they evaporated by dawn.
If you get stuck, check out the online Haiku Poem Generator (https://www.poem-generator.org.uk/haiku/). It will ask you for a few words or category choices, then create a haiku for you. Here’s one “written” by the generator using a few of my words plus its own random choices:
Deer – A Haiku:
Snow-clad wintertime /
A red, attractive deer hides /
at the perfect house
That sure sounds like a Montana Haiku, doesn’t it? I hope you’ll also become a MonWoHaiPo (aka Montana Woman Haiku Poet) and share your poem-diaries in future MWW blogs.
(If you miss NaHaiWriMo, you can always write one haiku on April 17th for International Haiku Poetry Day.)