Poetry Form - How to Revise and Improve your Haiku

How to Revise and Improve your Haiku
notes by J. Zimmerman from the talks and writings of poet Ebba Story.
Presented by permission of Ebba Story.

See also writing the Haiku:
* History. * Form. * Your Composition. * Examples.
* A Linguist's Comments on Sounds and Syllables in Haiku. * References.

When revising one of your own haiku or a poem of a friend or colleague, here are areas where you may be able to find improvements and questions to ask:


  • Are the images clear and vivid?
  • Mystery can be good, confusion is not. A particular image carries much more impact than a general or abstract statement.
  • Can you feel the setting - place, season, environment, mood?
  • Do the individual images and separate elements of the poem related to each other in a meaningful way?
  • Is each relationship one of echo, contrast, expansion, juxtaposition, or something else? Is there some way to enhance each relationship?

Emotional response.

  • Does the reader have an emotional response to the poem?
  • What is the emotional tone or undercurrent? Does it enhance or distract from the whole poem?
  • Does the poem express a depth of sensitivity and insight?
  • Is there a confusion of mood?
  • How much depth and resonance is conveyed?
  • Will the reader feel a deep connection with the subject matter?
  • Is there a suggestion of interpenetration between the subject of the poem, the writer, and the reader? between words and experience? between self and nature?

The moment.

  • Is a specific moment highlighted?
  • Or does the haiku need to be more finely tuned to bring the moment into focus? Can you tune in the details?
  • Is the poem strongly focused, even if it extends over a period of time? Can you hone the focus?


  • Is meaning conveyed by images, rather than by comment or explanation?
  • Does the poem tell too much? Does it explain rather than evoke?
  • Does the poem tell too little? Does something in the poem need to be enhanced to make it more immediate or intense?
  • Does the poem wish to be subjective or objective?
  • If you could ask the poet one question to help them become clearer about the haiku, what would it be?


  • Has a single kigo been used effectively to infuse the poem with season or time and place?
  • If more than one kigo is present, what is the poet's intention?


  • Does each word count?
  • Could something be taken out, added, or enhanced?
  • If a change is needed, rework the poem carefully to bring it to its greatest potential. Polished poems shine.


  • Are there an appropriate number of syllables per line?
  • Does the poem feel encumbered with too many syllables?

Craft, including line breaks.

  • Is the poem well-crafted?
  • Does the quality of expression recommend the poem and help the reader move into the experience?
  • Does the haiku have a poetic construction? Or is it a prose statement or a sentence?
  • Do you need to make more use of line breaks and punctuation to assist the poem, helping it to be more immediate and intense and less prosaic, such as by adding space and contrast and tension between the lines?
  • Lines: Are the line breaks careful and thoughtful?
  • Grammar: Are you using the appropriate tense, person, and number on your verbs?
  • Punctuation: Does the punctuation support the meaning of the poem? Has it been used correctly? Has it been used creatively?
  • Does the poem feel like it needs more work? If so, it probably does.

See also Our Reviews of Modern Haiku.

Modern Haiku, volume 34.2 (2003). Includes haiku and senryu (includes work by Billy Collins and Sharon Olds), and book reviews by William J. Higginson.

Modern Haiku: The Robert Spiess Memorial Issue (2002). The first third of the magazine is a memorial to Robert Spiess (1921-2002) and his many contributions to the development of haiku in North America. The rest of the magazine has haiku and senryu (includes work by Billy Collins, Jane Hirshfield, and Gary Snyder), essays, and book reviews.

Order Modern Haiku.

Other Books on Haiku.

Buy Essential Haiku The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa
edited by Robert Hass.
Enthralling essays by the past-poet laureate of the U.S.A. of the lives of three masters and inventors of the haiku tradition in Japan: Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa.
Buy Haiku Seasons The Haiku Seasons: Poetry of the Natural World
by William J. Higginson.
Buy Japanese Haiku The Japanese Haiku,
by Kenneth Yasuda.
Buy Haiku Handbook Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku
by William J. Higginson, William S. Higginson.

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