The new haiku is an "instant" form of brief verse can be written by anyone from child to professional. Present-day writers have dropped virtually all of the traditional standards, emphasizing personal freedom and pursuing ongoing experimentation, exploration and innovation in both form and subject matter.
Because of the great number of different views and practices today, it is impossible to characterize any current single style or format or subject matter as definitive "haiku." The term has broadened greatly in modern usage to cover any short verse descended in spirit from the reforms of Shiki. Nonetheless, some of the more common practices are:
Use of three lines written in five-seven-five English syllables;
Use of three (or fewer) lines of no more than 17 syllables in total;
Use of metrical feet rather than syllables. A haiku then becomes three lines of 2, 3, and 2 metrical feet, with a break or pause after the second or fifth;
Use of the "one deep breath" rule: the reader should be able to read the haiku aloud without taking a second breath.
The Haiku is poetic verse derived from the ancient haikai no renga and hokko.
No discussion of contemporary haiku is complete without some knowledge of its antecedent, hokku, and to understand the development of hokku one must look to waka, a very old Japanese verse form having a five-seven-five-seven-seven phonetic unit form. Near the beginning of the 12th century, verse sequences of 50 to 100 waka appeared, with each verse related to that preceding it. Such a verse sequence was called renga, “linked verse.” In the 1400s a risising middle class led to the development of a more free form of linked verse called haikai no regan, “playful linked verse.” The inventors of haikai are generally considered to be Yamazaki Sokan (1465-1553) and Arakida Moritake (1473-1549). Later exponents of haikai no renga were Matsunaga Teitoku (1571-1653), who attempted to make haikai more complexity, but in doing so gave it a frivolity that led to its decline.
In the 1600s two masters arose who elevated the level of haikai and gave it a new popularity. They were Onitsura (1661-1738) and Matsuo Basho. The hokku was only the first verse of haikai, but its position as the opening verse made it the most important, setting the tone for the whole composition. Of the five-seven-five-seven-seven pattern of waka, hokku used only the five-seven-five. Even though hokku sometimes appeared individually, they were understood to always be part of a wider verse or textual context, even if only theoretical. Onitsura and Basho were thus writers of haikai of which hokku was only a part, though the most important part.
The next famous style of haikai to arise was that of Yosa Buson (1716-1783) and others such as Gyodai, Chora, Ranko, Ryota, Shoha, Taigi, and Kito, called the Temmei style after the Temmei Era (1781-89) in which it ws created. No new popular style followed Buson. A very individualistic approach to haikai appeared, however, in the writer Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) whose miserable childhood, poverty, sad life, and devotion to the Pure Land school of Buddhism are clearly present in his hokku.
Haikai was said to be in decline until the apperarance of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), a reformer and revisionist who marks the end of hokku in a wider context. Shiki, a prolific writer not only disliked the tsukinami writers, but also criticized Basho. Shiki was strongly impressed by Western culture. He favored the painterly style of Buson and particularly the European concept of pleinair painting, which he adapted to create a style of reformed hokku as a kind of nature sketch in words, an approach called shasei, literally “sketching from life,” He popularized his views by verse columns and essays in newspapers, spreading them widely.
Shiki completely separated his new style of verse from a wider context. Being agnostic, he also initiated its separation from the influence of Daoism and Mahayana Buddhism with which it had always been tinged. And finally, he discarded the term “hokku” and called his revised verse form “haiku.” Shiki thus became the first haiku poet.
While traditional hokku focused on nature and the place of humans in nature, modern haiku poets often consider any subject matter suitable, whether related to nature, an urban setting, or even a technological context. Where the old hokku avoided some topics such as romance, sex, and overt violence, contemporary haiku often deals specifically with such themes.