Haiku vs. zappai

Let’s do a refresher on haiku and zappai:

Some of what I’m seeing lately is called zappai, or pseudo-haiku, which is not truly haiku. Just because a poem has three lines and twelve to seventeen syllables, doesn’t make it a haiku. If your poem does not feature a season word, it’s not a haiku. It’s haiku-like or pseudo-haiku.

Zappai means miscellaneous haikai verse in Japanese. Some of these poems are written as a joke—think spam haiku, gothic haiku, sci-fi-ku, etc. Zappai is closely related to senryu, featuring a touch of humor. Zappai are not senryu! Senryu features irony in its structure.

If a poem sounds like an aphorism, epigram, proverb, or fortune cookie wisdom, it’s usually a zappai. Haiku always have a season word…



  1. The poetry foundation and other sources tell me Haiku don’t HAVE to contain a season. In fact, most of the traditional Japanese Haiku I’m familiar with, don’t contain a season word at all. I suppose it depends on which school of thought you subscribe to.

    It could be the traditional spiritual Haiku have different criteria … either that, or the Zen masters simply didn’t care, lols 😂

    This from Matsuo Basho, who wrote this classic haiku in the 1600s:

    An old pond!
    A frog jumps in—
    the sound of water.

    In 1666, Basho moved to the capital city of Edo (now Tokyo), where he studied poetry and gained recognition for his use of the haiku form.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Frogs live between 2 and 10 years. If a specific life cycle were mentioned, then I could see the seasonal reference, but not in years. This poem is about the enlightenment experience, and the key words are ‘splash’ and ‘silence’.

        It’s a shame if we miss our ‘a-ah’ moment due to following rigid rules rather than creative expression.

        Again, as I mentioned in my response, we each have the freedom to choose which school of thought we follow.

        Thanks, Merril.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Harmony check out this site: https://www.graceguts.com/haiku-and-senryu, by Michael Dylan Welch, who is part of the Haiku Foundation. I explain many of the issues of writing haiku in English in my book, Word Craft: Prose & Poetry; for this reason. The season word is where we get creative. On another comment I explained that one of my favorite season words was “quilt.” It alludes to autumn, winter and even a cold spring. The season word is what makes it a haiku. 💜


    1. I’m a Japanese haiku purist. This is all rather controversial. I site my resources and why. One of the issues is that haiku is misrepresented in its true context in western writing communities. The lines have been blurred and haiku has become 17 syllables with no true form. For my challenges I like to follow the form as it should be written. But that’s me. 💜

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I was at a meeting of the New Hampshire Poetry Society recently, during which the facilitator referred to “the haiku police.” (That’s where I received the link for The Haiku Foundation.) Who would have thought that poetry could be so controversial!

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I’ve researched this haiku stuff for years. I’ll send you a link to Lee Gurga’s book. I have the honor of having a haiku published in the same journal as him. I’m away from my desk. He really breaks it down in detail. This is why I’m very specific in the rules. My next book is about haiku, senryu and zappai. 💜

          Liked by 2 people

        2. I used the books, “Haiku: A Poet’s Guide,” by Lee Gurga with Charles Trumbull; and “The Haiku Handbook” by William J. Higginson and Penny Harter, as the basis of my understanding of haiku. I bought both copies of the books on Amazon. Gurga’s book offers the most insight into haiku and zappai of any book I’ve ever read. 💜

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I always say I’m a student of writing poetry. I took poetry and creative writing in college too, but that was many years ago. When haiku was first taught the form was misrepresented in the syllable count vs the Japanese sounds. Some of the other details were ignored. For the last six years, I’ve delved deep into the mechanics behind the forms. Just because it’s a short form, poets tend to write it quickly. Haiku is about images. Check out the books I suggested. You’ll connect with the forms in new ways. 💜

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think you can write a “pure” haiku in English. The languages are totally different, as are the filters through which we view the world. But you already know I’m not a purist. At the same time, you can ask people who write to your prompts to follow your rules, absolutely. But neither poetry nor language are static things. (K)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m a purist as I believe the form should contain a season word and we should write the form as authentically as we can. I know even Frank Tassone has stessed the use of a season word in his challenges when writing haiku. I used the following books in my research: Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Frank Gurga; and The Haiku Handbook, by William J. Higginson and Penny Harter. The issue with writing the form in English is found in the syllable count (17 syllables) compared to the Japanese sounds. Haiku scholars agree that haiku in English should be written in around 12 syllables.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve read a bunch of stuff on haiku too (both books and internet) and I agree the syllables are definitely controversial. But other things are too. Those Japanese lists of seasonal words contain many words that don’t seem seasonal to me at all. Just because they call them seasonal doesn’t make them so. If frog or pond is seasonal, then why not human or house? Freya has her own strict rules which I try to follow when submitting to Pure Haiku. But they are different than yours. The Beats had their own way of writing haiku too. (thus–the American sentence) I’m not saying you are “wrong”–but I don’t think there’s only one “right” way either. The goal should be good poetry. Not purity, whatever that is, if it even exists. If you just say, these are my rules, no problem. But this is the only way–that I don’t agree with.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. And, that is perfectly fine, Kerfe. We all must do our own research. I prefer the use of a season word for haiku because that is closest to the intentions of the original Japanese poets, according to my research. I always tell everyone to check the rules. Some journals and contests are more liberal than others. 💜

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to admit enjoying both haiku and zappai. When writing a series of haiku (about an experience, for example), I don’t like having “summer” in each poem because it gets repetitive. But then, reading through the comments, I realized that it’s not that strict at all, and words symbolizing summer are not only adequate but more creative and evocative. What a great post and discussion. I get it now. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!! Exactly! You get it!That’s the beauty of haiku. It’s that creativity in season words that give us our “aha” connection. Zappai are flat, usually seventeen syllable poems. There is no connection because the magic has been lost in the creation. I’m a haiku purist. Haiku is a beautiful, deeply meaningful Japanese form. One of my favorites! 😍

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Just because a poem has three lines and twelve to seventeen syllables, doesn’t make it a haiku” — oh yes. Dear me. Yes!
    One gets to see this mistaken occurrence often and starts to wonder. Thanks for being here and making a difference, Colleen. Bless you.
    And I know that season words are not only the four seasons. I really know what that means. Thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. They can be very intimidating but that’s the beauty and the challenge of writing them. If I write a poem specifically to address an image or a quote prompt and it doesn’t meet the definition of haiku or sunryu, I tag it as micro poetry. I don’t want to lose the intent of my poem to meet a certain poetry form. I’ve been trying to go by your guidelines to write haiku.💛

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I first learned the differences in haiku from Frank Tassone’s blog challenge. That led me down the rabbit hole of Japanese poetry. I just don’t want folks to get offended. I want everyone to have fun. All I can do is share my research from the respected haiku poets of our time. I’m still a humble student of poetry and always will be. 💜

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I give the links to some “season word” lists on the cheat sheet. However, the creativity comes in using words that suggest a season. My favorite example is the word “quilt.” If you’re using a quilt, you know it’s autumn, winter, or even a cold spring. Otherwise, we all would only use winter, spring, summer, autumn. This being a Japanese form, their language allows for many rich seasonal descriptions. All we have to do is think creatively when we write these Japanese forms.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But then those with two tropical seasons that meld into each other are a bit shorthanded on this if we are writing about home. I thought haiku is also weather, water bodies, vegetation, deserts, the sky and stars; all natural things.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I did and I can’t see majority of our animals nor plants, not even the monsoons. I think, this is where I let the haiku form go, or at least the translations. I will write them for their deeper connections and epiphanies and questions with nature, coz that’s universal, but these rules away from the sound and structure are constricting. If Japanese had colonised the tropics, they’d have adapted haiku to that experience. These people are wrong to narrow this form so selfishly and I think so are you for championing these restrictions. But it’s not a big deal, your house your rules. I won’t be playing this haiku game though, not here. Will stick to shadorma and so many other forms I’m yet to learn that I find here🙏🏾😌.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I have read a number of your links and my own research. I understand the essence of seasonal nature and balance so very well, but in my own context, my own nature. It is not the rule of using seasonal words that irks me, it’s the list of seasonal words. I’m hurt, even offended, that your list of “appropriate nature words” has almost 0% of our nature, not even a lion.😤 This often unintentional lack of consideration is a sort of norm in the literature world but it’s such a shame that in an industry where empathy is one of its biggest tools, consideration is at a premium.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. First let me say, that the the Japanese season words are a guide. The key here is the word, season. Season words are a poetic device. Plus, seasonal words give us unexpected glimpses into how we view the world around us. That is why we write haiku. Season words are essential for clarity and concision in haiku. You should adapt season words that share your view of the world. Different seasons give different kinds of energy. Use that to your advantage. It’s the a’ha moment that makes your haiku sing. Haiku should share a singular experience or event. Write haiku that brings Africa alive for us!

            Liked by 2 people

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