Many people overthink hokku.  Once one understands the aesthetics, it becomes quite simple.

Here is a summer hokku:

A summer shower;
All over the river —
Widening circles.

It has no hidden message.  It expresses the season in a natural event, without any commentary or interpretation, and without any “self” of a writer appearing.  A shower has begun, and everywhere on the surface of the water are the widening circles caused by each raindrop as it touches the surface.

It is a simple experience of the senses, not of the intellect.

If we use our old “setting/subject/action” pattern, we can look at it this way:

Setting:  A summer shower
Subject:  Circles
Action: Widening all over the river

Now you can see that these elements are not arranged precisely in order in the hokku, but they are there nonetheless.   The setting/subject/action pattern is just a helpful tool in composing, not a rigid group of boxes into which each element must be forced in a strict order.

All one needs to write hokku is to realize that it is not a conventional “poem.”   It is an experience of the senses that is felt to be meaningful, involving Nature or the place of humans as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons, and devoid of ego and added commentary.  Hokku uses ordinary words and ordinary things, but in these we should feel a sense of significance that is beyond explanation.

Of course hokku has its own aesthetic of simplicity and selflessness, and always in the background we feel that universal characteristic of existence — impermanence, the transience of things.  In this hokku we see it in the circles that appear, widen, and vanish on the surface of the river.






Here is my loose rendering of a hokku by Issa:

The autumn mountains;
On one after another
Evening falls.

That offers a good example of how the common pattern — setting/subject/action — varies.

In this verse, the setting is the autumn mountains.
The subject is evening.
The action is … falls on one after another.  But of course it is not written that way.  Instead “on one after another” is the second line, and the verb “falls” comes right after the subject “evening” in the third line.

So the setting, subject, and action do not have to be in a rigidly divided sequence.  Hokku is not that restrictive.  And of course the setting/subject/action pattern is just a tool — an aid to writing hokku — but it is a very good and useful tool.