The term refrigerator haiku is based on one of the most famous English haiku: “Haikus are easy, / but sometimes they don’t make sense / refrigerator.” It is also a catch all term for haiku made using magnetic words on fridge doors. The term also applies to fridge magnets that contain haiku. Such magnets can be bought in shops or online or can be made at home for a more unique magnet.
Where the “haikus are easy” refrigerator haiku originated from is a mystery. Many Internet users will claim to have created it, but none can be verified. The haiku has since adorned t-shirts, websites and, in an ironic twist, fridge magnets. It fits the parameters of a normal English haiku, but is designed to make a joke of haiku in general.
Haiku evolved out of many longer forms of Japanese poetry. It grew out of the tanka and the choka. A traditional Japanese haiku consists of 17 syllables. In Japanese, a syllable and a letter are often the same thing, as Japanese is a syllabic language. A Japanese haiku must contain a seasonal word called a kigo and a juxtaposition called kireji.
One of the most well-known examples of a Japanese haiku is the Matsuo Basho “Frog” haiku: “furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto.” The meaning is more opaque than the refrigerator haiku because there is no definite link between the first, second and third lines. It translates to “An old pond / A frog jumps / Sound of water.” The assumption is that the sound of water is made by the frog jumping into the old pond, but there are no grammatical connections to confirm this.
In Japanese, there is a distinction between a haiku and a senryu. Both use the same pattern, but haiku use kigo and kireji, while senryu concern human foibles. The majority of humorous haiku such as the refrigerator haiku are more akin to senryu than haiku, however, the term haiku in English has become a catch-all term for all poems with a 5-7-5 syllabic structure.
Bearing the various rules and traditions in mind, refrigerator haiku can contain any topic. Like the eponymous example, they do not have to make sense and do not have to conform to the strict rules governing modern Japanese haiku. Their content is only determined by the writer’s imagination and the word-magnets available.