Learning and writing haiku

Lots of people write haikus or haiku-like verse. This past year we had several haiku-writing fests at our house. House rules during Lands Creek haiku fests are that each haiku must be of three lines with a 5-7-5 syllabic structure.

More wine was consumed than haikus produced. And as the evenings wore on the quality descended. But it was great fun and interesting to see how individual minds worked as they tried to turn out reasonable verse in a group setting. Han Shan would have laughed until his sides split. Some pretty good widely-published poets (I won’t name names) cranked out some miserable haiku that has been confiscated by the authorities.

Here are the Dec. 11, 2011, first- and second-place winners, which aren’t all that bad. Nothing qualified for third place.


still catching late sun

Uncle Luther Hyde’s old place

above the creek bend


cold December day

counting syllables with wine

ground hard as haiku


Kids like haiku a lot and have nimble minds, which is a plus. When our granddaughter, Daisy (11 years old), was visiting from Colorado last summer, we had a 20 or so minute haiku-writing session each evening after supper and put together a hand-bound gathering we call The Suppertime Poems. Here’s one of hers:


in the rainy mist

silent wolves moved down the ridges

always out of sight


She counted “ridges” as one syllable, which I would have, too. Here’s another one of Daisy’s:


sittin’ here waitin’

iron griddle & hot butter

cornbread on my mind


And I like this one that we wrote together. It’s a riddle (the answers to the three riddles in this column are on below in a box):


perched along the river

dark angels with outspread wings

waiting for the light


Writing haiku is therapeutic, especially when composed in a Mead composition book. I prefer the wide-ruled 100-sheet  9¾-by-7 black-and-silver model #09918 designed by Jackson Pollock …  especially those with the inside back covers featuring the multiplication tables (9-by-7 has been a lifelong difficulty) and the differences between lay and lie (another problem area) … not a journal … not a diary … no dates … no themes … mostly illegible pages decorated with mustard stains and bottle rings. Here’s the second riddle from my magic composition book:


weathered board monarch

frozen sky-tailed in the sun

dark crack slither gone


And the third riddle:


rocks without mortar

framing pathways with quiet care



Answers: (1) buzzards; (2) a skink; & (3) CCC work.

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.