An in depth look on haikus and 3x3s

6th November 2020

Hey y'all,

first off, we made it to Friday so, go us! I've also not been a big poetry nerd this week so today I'm going to break the streak and nerd it the F up. I am asked often about 3x3s and how they came about. How to write them and all these other things that I am going to cover. It weirdly, all starts at haiku and I'm going to do an in-depth haiku dive and then a 3x3 one. I am also going to open this up so every single one you, free or subscribed can comment and ask questions because what's about to come is nuts.

So I will try and get through all the things as briefly and as clearly as possible, sweet. The 3x3 was originally inspired by haiku. I'm not talking the normal definition of haiku with the syllables 5-7-5 but the classic variant specifically from 'The Great Four'. The great four are Kobayashi Issa, Masaoka Shiki, Matsuo Basho and Yosa Buson who are considered the haiku masters (a dope title I'm jealous of). Traditional Japanese haikus do consist of 5-7-5 but here's where the difference comes in, the Japanese count moras, not syllables. Japanese is a moraic language, not a syllabic one which in simple terms means it is more about weight than the length of words. Their version of syllables are called moras and a long vowel for example is one syllable but two moras. Ou is one syllable, but two moras, o-o, the word haiku itself is two syllables (hai-ku) but three moras (ha-i-ku) etc, etc.

It is honestly, level ten mind f'in and hella difficult to get your head around. However, whether you fully understand it or know what that means exactly isn't really important. What is, is that for haiku, the counts are different from 5-7-5 syllable counting to 5-7-5 mora counting. This added with the fact that Japanese words typically have more syllables, means Japanese haikus are shorter and when translated to English, don't really match up. Take the word car for example, in English it is one syllable but the Japanese word 'Kuruma' is three which means in translation, the syllables differ greatly. I'll give you a full Japanese haiku that matches the 5-7-5 syllable system below with translation where it doesn't meet it in English.

araigami - fresh washed hair

yuku tokoro mina - everywhere I go

shizuku shite - making trickles

Even though it is close, the English translation only reaches 3-6-4. Aside from the technical shit, there is great importance on meaning and reason in traditional haiku. Typically haiku include senses and lean heavily towards nature writing. Nowadays, they are written about anything but traditionally it was strictly about feeling and not conveying ideas or judgements. This means traditional haikus are very different to the ones you see today. I'll leave some links down below for the nerds (like me 🤓) who want to delve into this deeper and learn more. Now though, I'd like to bring it back to the 3x3s.

I created 3x3s to challenge myself daily and give myself a format nobody else was doing. The inspiration came from a handbook by William J Higginson on Old and new haiku. I fell in love with the short glimpses into life. Hyper focused on one very specific moment. I'm not typically fond of the restrictions found in other form poetry but haiku has always appealed to me. I noticed many of the haikus with three words on some lines were my favourite and it became a thing.

3x3 poetry in the most basic of terms is a three-lined poem with three words per line ess restriction than haiku, no mora or syllable counting but there are a couple of other rules I try to stick too. I like to try and give each line a feeling of completion. For example, I'm the postman/delivering the letters/to your house instead of I am the/postman who is/delivering your letters. My first one actually broke these rules:

If I was to rewrite it now, it would probably be more like this:

Ending a line in 'the' or ‘and’ gives the lines a feeling of it being unfinished and I try my best to try and avoid that. They can be observational nature poems like traditional haiku:

but 3x3s aren't confined to topic and can be silly:

Or serious:

3x3 poetry was designed to challenge the way haiku challenges. But instead of 5-7-5, it's fitting all you're trying to say into nine words making each line feel complete. I guess 3x3 was made to show the qualities of the writer in the full light as well as sharing the quality of traditional haiku of taking ant-sized moment and turning them into Godzilla moments.

There we are. That's pretty much 3x3s and haikus as simple and short as I could make it. Now I'm going to share some of my favourite haikus and get out of here. Have a fantastic Friday everybody.


This is happiness
crossing the stream in summer
carrying my straw sandals

- Yosa Buson


The taste
of rain
- why kneel?

- Jack Kerouac


Darkness on the edge
you the light in the middle,
the beacon back home

- Tyler Knott Gregson


The wind blows gentle,
the leaf leaps from the tree branch
and trusts in the sky.

- Ash Raymond James

Sidenote, Japanese art is my favourite and haikus on woodblock are unbelievably gorgeous

Who is it that grieves?
The wind blowing through his beard
for late autumn.

Advanced Reading

Article on Modern Vs Traditional Haiku

Article discussing 575 structure

Article On Translation

Issa Poems

Basho Haiku In Depth

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