HAIKUS: A 17 syllable mental health break

HAIKUS: A 17 syllable mental health break

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by Reggie Dogan
CHNWF Community Outreach and Events Manager


I love words.

I love saying them, hearing them and especially reading and writing them.

Just the other day, my granddaughter said she had to find some words to write a poem for school. I asked if she’d heard of a haiku.

A blank stare. She had not.

My English/language arts middle school teacher introduced me to the haiku. It’s simply a Japanese poem that consist of three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.

The memory of haikus led me to start anew to write a few.

To my surprise, it brought me back to something I hadn’t felt for a while – the elemental joy of searching and find the right word to express an idea.

I didn’t anticipate how big a sense of accomplishment I’d get from something as small as a haiku. It was an exhilarating rush to see and hear words come to life in a short poem.

I began asking co-workers about haikus. Some remembered; others hadn’t a clue.

Someone in our office suggested the brilliant idea of a writing contest at work, and may the best haiku win. A few co-workers put on their creative caps and honed in on their artistic craft.

I reached out to a fellow wordsmith, a longtime journalist and avid reader to judge the entries. More later on her selection.

The fun of Haikus is that they can be written for just about anything. There are haikus for humor, to raise social awareness, to evoke emotions or to remember the past. Haikus can be a microcosm of a larger thought or feeling.

I like the idea of capturing a moment within 17 syllables. It is a challenge to find the right words to highlight the essence of a moment in such a brief form, and I’ve been chasing the ideal, with varying degrees of success, over the past few weeks.


Here’s one of several I wrote recently:

Gentle breeze whispers
Soft sounds rustle the leaves
Branches bend to hear

One of great things about writing – and reading – haikus: it helps us to pay attention to the world around us.

During a stressful workday, we often miss the small things, such as a bird chirping or a butterfly floating out of nowhere.

With haikus, we can recapture some of the wonder we experienced when we were young, lost in the curiosity of childhood.

Not everyone can or want to write essays, books or long poems. But almost everyone can string thoughts together to create a haiku.

For the office contest, I purposely omitted the names of the writers to ensure objectivity and fairness. Nine employees submitted a haiku for the contest.

The judge said in her email: “I choose the following as the winner. The language is precise, but powerful. Ending with the call to action propels the poem forward.”

And the winner of Community Health’s inaugural “Health Haiku” is …. Kelli Pipkin!

She penned:

Golden Sister Friend
News of you hits hard and deep
Battle time. Let’s go.

Indeed, Kelli’s haiku evoked emotion. She wrote it about a dear friend’s battle with cancer. The haiku clearly pulls at the heartstrings.

Kelli said: “I really like this haiku thing. I found the syllable limitations ironically freeing! I didn’t have to come with long, flowery phrases with big vocabulary words.”

It was exciting to get the haikus from my co-workers. They took the time to think, write and share their feelings with me, and here I want to share them with you.  

Fish in the sea swim
Clouds in the sky where birds fly
Where did the time go? (Norda Stonewall)

Her collar rattles
So that I know she is there
Unseen like angels (Sena Maddison)

Craving some tacos
And a lot of tequila
Cinco de Mayo (Long Bui)

Red blue purple green
Leaves turn in the trees at fall
Watch as nature calls (Takita Rudolph)

The warm summer night
Echoes of whip-poor-will land
On ears of a child (Chandra Smiley)

Gratefully I woke
With dedication to work
Smiling her I am! (Bria Straughn)

June is beautiful
July is sunny and warm
And August is hot! (Athena Durant)

Believe in yourself
Let your success be your noise
For you will succeed (Tiffany Smith)