Writing Exercise

by | November 6, 2012 | Writing Exercise | 8 comments

By Ashley Lister

 Two naked bodies

Intertwined twixt midnight sheets

Slick silvered shadows

I can’t believe we’ve gone almost a year on this blog without discussing haiku as a writing exercise. The haiku is one of the most accessible forms of syllable based poetry. When used as a warm up device before writing, it’s a form of poetry that can help a writer focus on the essence of the words in her or his vocabulary.

As most people know, the traditional haiku is a three line poem based on a strict syllable count. Obviously there are some variations.

There’s the pop haiku, characterised by Jack Kerouac’s interpretation of the form.

There are senryu, identical to haiku in form, but with a content that is wry, ironic or whimsical.But today we’re looking at the traditional haiku with its rigid format:

1st line = 5 syllables

2nd line = 7 syllables

3rd line = 5 syllables

It’s worth noting here the definition of a syllable. The definition below is taken verbatim from the trusty dictionary sitting on my desk.

syllable ►noun
a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word; for example, there are two syllables in water and three in inferno.
Pearsall, J., Hanks, P., (2005), Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd Edition, Revised, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

However, even with such an authoritative definition, there will obviously be anomalies in the words we select. We hit words like sure, fire and wheel and can’t
decide whether the word includes one or two syllables. Is it ‘shoor’ or ‘shoe-er’? Is it ‘fire’ or ‘fie-arr’? Is it ‘wheel’ or ‘wee-ell’? My usual response to such observations is: How do you pronounce the word? It’s your poem. Own the word.

And that’s all there is to this form. Obviously haiku can be studied in greater depth. There are some forms that demand the author should mention a season or kigo. There are some forms that require a break at the end of the first line and insist on the juxtaposition of two images in the whole poem. But, for the purposes of this warm-up exercise, it’s enough to craft seventeen syllables of serious sensuality into a single haiku.

After the climax:

Glossy flesh lacquered with sweat

Heartbeats race-racing

As always, I look forward to seeing your poems in the comments box below.

Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. Rachel Green

    enjoying her scent
    he masturbates in her shower
    steals panties

    Not 5-7-5 but then, ku don't need to be.

  2. Ashley R Lister


    Delightful haiku – and you're right that the rigid syllable count doesn't need to be followed. That final line gives this poem an urgency that matches the content.


  3. Raziel Moore

    No heart beats, and no
    fire burns eternally;
    now is all we have.

    Almost audible,
    sunrise unlocks the new day.
    So she does to me.

    Don’t blossom for me.
    Pick another metaphor.
    I don’t fuck flowers.

  4. Ashley R Lister


    The final line in your third poem is incredibly powerful. It foregrounds the relationship between the poet and audience beautifully.

    However, I was enchanted by the power of the space in your first line. You've used 'heart beats' instead of 'heartbeats' and I hadn't realised a single space could make so much difference to the meaning of a poem.

    Thanks for sharing.


  5. Lisabet Sarai

    I love the poems posted so far!

    I haven't written poetry in a very long time, but I thought I'd share a haiku cycle I wrote long ago.


    Boston Rendezvous: Haiku Cycle
    October 1998
    To GCS

    discipline of words.
    haiku flowers in its bonds,
    a grace in restraint.

    safe sex: unopened
    condom box on the table.
    we swim the shallows.

    pain and pleasure twine.
    I do not understand but
    only laugh, obey.

    outside the portal
    your flesh trembles, hesitates;
    still, that gate is yours.

    I am truly glad
    you are not in love with me;
    I would break your heart.

    candle in the night.
    still we burn and yearn and dream,
    forever lovers.

  6. Ashley R Lister


    These are wonderful. Each of them could be savoured individually, or as part of the full narrative they convey.

    Had you ever thought of including these in a novel? A character could share these sentiments with his/her lover either through the exchange of celebration cards or even through emails?


  7. Donna

    This is a haiku I wrote a looong time ago. No seasonal word, but the setting is Japan!

    This is my first time
    With a foreigner, he says.
    But it isn't mine….

  8. Ashley R Lister


    Thank you! I knew I'd see a poem from you one day. And the appearance of a haiku is somehow apposite.

    That would sit so well in the pages of Amorous Woman.


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