Haiku in the Heights

We’re celebrating Spring in Arlington Heights with Neighborhood Haiku – a public art project bringing original poetry to storefront windows! Building on the success of our 2018 Bikeway Haiku we’re inviting the whole community to take up pen and write a 3-line poem inspired by the distinctive character and neighborhood life of the Heights. Thirty haiku will be selected to be hand painted in storefront windows as a way to show our local small businesses some love.  All haiku will be published on ArtsArlington.org and all authors will be invited to read at a June celebration.  So take the haiku challenge! Community and conversation, shops and restaurants, history and nature – there’s a lot to inspire you. We’ve all been through a difficult year; lift your spirit and reconnect with neighbors by writing a brief tribute to the complex and vibrant world around us.
Haiku offers a fun and challenging form to capture a closely observed moment, often with a surprise twist at the end.  You can write on your own, collaborate with friends or family, or take a workshop. Workshop schedule and registration, our Open Call, Rules, Inspiring Examples, and Links to Resources are all below. .
You can pack a surprising amount into these short, short poems – 17 syllables max – but you have to pick each word strategically.  One of the best ways to polish up your haiku skills and fire up your imagination is a workshop with poet and teacher Jessie Brown. We’ve asked her to teach three zoom workshops in her signature style: fun, engaging, and participatory.  A final workshop is scheduled for Monday, May 24 to polish up your best drafts.


“Haiku are like truffles — rich, intense, surprising,” says local poet Jessie Brown. Sharpen your skills and practice writing with friends in one of her free Zoom workshops. Interactive, participatory, and FUN, each workshop explores a different theme, though you can write about whatever inspires you.  Workshops are open to all, including children age 9 and up (with an older friend or relative). Each workshop is limited to 25, but Arlington residents will be given priority. Choose among the 3 workshops here, and click to register!

APRIL WORKSHOP: Nature & the Great Outdoors

Saturday, April 24, 4 to 5:30 pm
Join poet Jessie Brown for a fun and interactive workshop focused on writing haiku poems to celebrate the green spaces of Arlington Heights. Participants are encouraged, but not required, to take a field trip outdoors before the workshop, to observe and explore! Do the scents of spring take you back to your childhood? How do your feet sound on the boardwalks of Arlington’s Great Meadows? Can you spot a silent owl in the woods, or your own backyard?
Some spots to explore: Crusher Lot, Mill Pond Park, McClennen Park, Reservoir, Mt. Gilboa, Arlington’s Great Meadows (in Lexington but owned by Arlington), Sutherland Woods, Robbins Farm Park.

Streets and Shops

Thursday, May 13, 7 to 8:30 pm
Join poet Jessie Brown for a fun and interactive workshop focused on writing haiku to celebrate “Main Street” – the diverse ecosystem of small businesses along Mass Ave. and other areas in Arlington Heights. Notice the sounds, colors, aromas.
What catches your eye in a storefront window? Or on a crowded shelf inside? What’s your favorite story about a shop owner – real or imagined?

Family, Friends, and Neighbors

Sunday, May 16,  4-5:30 pm
Join poet Jessie Brown for a fun and interactive workshop focused on writing haiku to celebrate community in Arlington Heights.  Think about the places we connect — on a walk, in a shop, over the fence.  Around a table or at the playground.
What makes you smile?  Frown?  Who are the people — or pets — who touch your day?   What are the sounds of community?

Local History at the Old Schwamb Mill

Thursday, May 20,  7-8:30 pm
Register here
Join poet Jessie Brown for a workshop celebrating one of the historic treasures of Arlington Heights! Our host Ed Gordon, Director of Museum Programs for the Old Schwamb Mill, will share stories and insights on this 19th century industrial building and its surroundings. A mill has been located in this spot on the Mill Brook for more than 300 years, so there is a lot to discover.  BEFORE the workshop, we recommend you visit (call to arrange a covid safe tour) or explore via their video library to get inspired.  Poems created in this workshop will be part of a special installation at the Old Schwamb and one will be selected for display in the business district.



This project is open to people of all ages and cultural backgrounds with any level of writing experience. You don’t have to live in Arlington, just draw inspiration from the Arlington Heights neighborhood and write a place-based poem. If you are unable to explore the Heights due to health or mobility issues, we understand!  Simply write in response to the themes described above in our workshop section.  Please review the rules, inspiring examples and resource links lower down on this page as well as the FAQ section. If you still have questions or want help, please email us at: neighborhoodhaiku@gmail.com.


The more the merrier! We are starting with the goal of 30 poems in 30 windows, but if more businesses sign up we can make a bigger and more vibrant impact. This public art project is good for business, residents and visitors! E-mail Cecily Miller at cecily.apa@gmail.com to find out more.


Although haiku originated in Japan, it has spread around the globe and been used by diverse poets to write poetry true to their experiences and perspective.  With its compact form, haiku is most often used to call attention to small, closely observed moments in the human or natural world. Powerful yet accessible, these three-lined poems can use contrast, humor or surprise to create a shift in mood.  Their short, sharp images often provoke longer reflection.  Check out our Inspiring Examples section to get a sense of the variety.  With the constraint of no more than 17 syllables, haiku offers an engaging opportunity to play with words and see how much you can say in as few words as possible.  We invite you to give it a try!


All haiku should be three lines long, with concrete sensory details, and no more than 17 syllables long; you can try for less!  You do NOT have to structure your lines using the conventional 5/7/5 rule (5 syllables on the first line, 7 on the second, and 5 on the last), although of course you may if you choose.  You may add a short title.


Take a look at some diverse examples selected by Jessie  — including some from 2018 Bikeway Haiku written by local folks and some by contemporary published writers – and download a PDF from the Haiku Society of America with winners of their annual Youth Contest as well as some classic Japanese haiku.  We hope these examples will give you a better idea of the many ways you can write a haiku!


A selection committee of poets will choose up to 30 original haiku for installation in storefront windows. Although writers may suggest a window location for their submission, the project organizers will be responsible for choosing the installation sites for selected haiku.  Additional haiku may be selected for display in public spaces as other opportunities arise.
DEADLINE: Monday June  7, 2021 . Send up to 3 poems to: neighborhoodhaiku@gmail.com. Please include:
– Your name (as you would like it to appear in author credit)
– If under 18, your age and school
– Your town of residence
– Your best telephone contact


Who can enter?

We encourage submissions from writers of all ages, as well as writers of any cultural background.

Do I need to live or work in Arlington?

No, you just need to be familiar with the Heights. What do you notice there? It may help to take a writing walk. Stroll around streets, go into shops, explore local parks. What strikes you?

Can I submit with a friend?

Absolutely. We encourage friends or family members to collaborate

Are workshops required?

No, but if you attend one, you’ll learn strategies for writing more powerful poems, to get the attention of readers and listeners!

Do the haikus have to be for specific windows?

No. They just need to reflect neighborhood experiences that people can identify with. To write a more site specific poem you can, however, center your haiku on a story or observation about a particular local shop.

How do you choose locations for the winning haiku?

It depends on how many businesses participate. Authors can make suggestions, but the project team is responsible for matching displays with sites throughout the neighborhood.

What will the window displays look like?

Each will be different, hand-painted by our team of artist volunteers.

How can I join the team of artist volunteers?

We are looking for creative folks to join us. Just send an email to Cecily.apa@gmail.com with the subject “painting haiku” and we’ll get back to you.

What makes a winning haiku?

Besides the basic format (see “Why Haiku?” “Examples” and “Rules” above), the best haiku rely on fragments and phrases, rather than full sentences. They use sharp images that appeal to the senses (sight, sound, taste, texture, smell) to create an “aha” moment for the reader. Come to a workshop to learn more!


Check out these websites, below, for writing strategies and ideas for haiku.


*Cecily Miller, Curator of Public Art, ACAC
*Jessie Brown, Poet and Teacher
*Janet O’Riordan, Business Liaison
*Ali Carter
*Janet O’Riordan
*Rob Davison
*Arlington Commission for the Arts and Culture
*Arlington Heights Community Association
*Department of Planning and Community Development, Town of Arlington
*Old Schwamb Mill
*Robbins Library
HOST BUSINESSES (as of 4/15/21)
*Abbott’s Custard
*Cambridge Savings Bank
*Christian Science Reading Room
*Classic Cafe
*Classic Kitchen and Bath Design
*Cookie Time Bakery
*D’Agostino’s Food Store
*Hairsay 11
*Heights Barber Shop
*Home Taste
*Horizons Salon
*J&L Hair Studio
*Maruichi Japanese Food and Deli
*My Eye Dr
*Northender Italian Kitchen
*Old Schwamb Mill
*Roasted Granola
*Sports Etc
*Star Nails
*Thai E-Sarn Cuisine
*Utopia Cleaners
*Wanamakers Hardware
*Wonder Yoga
HAIKU IN THE HEIGHTS is supported by grants from the Arlington Cultural Council, a local agency, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.