Beate Conrad: Haiga Fundamentals

Anatoly Kudryavitsky: Haiku in Ireland

Jane Reichhold's Interview with Kala Ramesh

Lynne Rees: Going organic: line break in free form haiku

Lynne Rees: haiku: a poetry of absence or an absence of poetry?

Michael Dylan Welch: Haiku Neighbours: North American Haiku Today

Michael Dylan Welch: Go-Shichi-Go: How Japanese and English Syllables Differ

Stewart C. Baker: Fishing for Bashos: Interpretive Communities and Haiku in English

David G. Lanoue: Stories behind the Haiku: Cultural Memory in Issa

Aubrie Cox interviews Michael Dylan Welch

 

Vol. 12, No 20, Summer 2015

Itô Yûki talks with Udo Wenzel: Forgive, But Do Not Forget: Modern Haiku and Totalitarianism

Michael Dylan Welch: This Perfect Rose: The Lasting Legacy of William J. Higginson

Susumu Takiguchi: Karumi: Matsuo Bashō’s Ultimate Poetical Value, Or was it?

Charles Trumbull: Meaning in Haiku

Martin Lucas: Haiku as Poetic Spell

Bruce Ross: Haiku Mainstream: The Path of Traditional Haiku in America

Robin D. Gill: Can One Hundred Frogs All Be Wrong?

Jane Reichhold: Building an Excellent Birdcage

Charles Trumbull: Between Basho and Ban’ya (Bypassing Barthes): A New Brand of Haiku?

Aubrie Cox: Clarity in the Unsaid

Zoe Savina: The Influence of Japanese Culture on the Contemporary Society

 

Vol. 11, No 19, Winter 2014

Angelee Deodhar: Haiku Silence 

Steve Wolfe: Bards of a Feather Lost Between Heaven and Earth

Klaus-Dieter Wirth: Haiku in German-Speaking Countries

Beverley George: Haiku and the Seasons

Bruce Ross: Haiku as an Absolute Metaphor

Klaus-Dieter Wirth: The Haiku in Europe

Ferris Gilli: The Power of Juxtaposition

Jim Kacian: The Way of One

Toshio Kimura: A New Era for Haiku

 

Vol. 11, No 18, Spring 2014

Stephen Wolfe: Death in Deep Autumn

Klaus-Dieter Wirth: The Haiku at the Crossroads?

Michael Dylan Welch: Getting Started with Haiku

Richard Gilbert: Haiku and the Perception of the Unique

Robert D. Wilson: TO BE OR NOT TO BE -
An Experiment Gone Awry

Jane Reichhold: Should Senryu be Part of English-Language Haiku?

Jim Kacian: Skinning the Fish: Interpenetration in Haiku

Michael Dylan Welch: The Practical Poet: On the Art of Writing

 

Vol. 10, No 17, Summer 2013

Robert D. Wilson: What Is and Isn't

David G. Lanoue: Animals and Shinto in the Haiku of Issa

Interview with Professor Peipei Qiu by Robert D. Wilson

Richard Gilbert: Kigo and Seasonal Reference in Haiku

Tatjana Stefanović: A branch with birdsong

David G. Lanoue: Write Like Issa

 

Vol. 9, No. 16, Summer 2012

Chen-ou Liu: Read It Slowly, Repeatedly, and Communally

Jim Kacian: So: Ba

 

Vol. 8, No. 15, Winter 2011

Jim Kacian: Haiku as Anti-Story

Chen-ou Liu: The Ripples from a Splash: A Generic Analysis of Basho’s Frog Haiku

David G. Lanoue: Issa's Comic Vision

Ikuyo Yoshimura: Kato Somo, the First Japanese Haikuist to Visit the United States

Dr. Randy Brooks: Haiku Poetics: Objective, Subjective, Transactional and Literary Theories

Vincent Hoarau: Suggestiveness in haiku through the work of Svetlana Marisova

David Grayson: The Sword of Cliché: Choosing a Topic

Robert D. Wilson: To Kigo or Not to Kigo

Saša Važić: What's the Use

Tomas Transtromer awarded Nobel Prize

 

Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011

Haruo Shirane: Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku myths

Geert Verbeke: Haiku Study & Photo Haibun

David Burleigh: In and Out of Japan: The Contours of Haiku

Robert D. Wilson: Kigo – The Heathbeat of Haiku

Michael Dylan Welch: Haiku Form and Content

Richard Gilbert: Kigo and Seasonal Reference: Cross-cultural Issues in Anglo-American Haiku

Robert D. Wilson: Study of Japanese Aesthetics: Part I: The Importance of Ma

Matthew M. Carriello: The Contiguous Image: Mapping Metaphor in Haiku

Richard Gilbert: The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A Study of Disjunctive Method and Definitions in Contemporary English-
language Haiku

Bruce Ross: The Essence of Haiku

Robert D. Wilson: Study of Japanese Aesthetics: Part II: Reinventing The Wheel: The Fly Who Thought He Was a Carabao

Anatoly Kudryavitsky: Vera Markova’s “Ten Haiku Lessons”

Anatoly Kudryavitsky: Tranströmer and his Haikudikter

Anatoly Kudryavitsky: Haiku Poets' Last Line of Defence

Michael F. Marra: Yūgen

Robert D. Wilson: Simply Haiku Winter 2011 issue's Featured Poet: Slavko Sedlar

 

 

 

Charles Trumbull, USA

 

Haiku Diction: The Use of Words in Haiku

 

 

Haiku has been described as “the wordless poem.” Because of need for brevity, the haiku poet must use language with extreme economy and accuracy and employ techniques that are very different from those used in crafting Western-style poems. In this essay we will explore the poetics and aesthetics of English-language haiku as they apply to the poet’s choice and deployment of words.

In working with words, there are three basic strategies that a haiku poet can adopt:

1. minimizing the number of words in the first place

2. being sure that every word used is the right one

3. making each word as full of meaning as possible

We’ll look at some of these approaches, concentrating on questions of simplicity and conciseness of language, levels of poetic diction and choice of words, the use of metaphor and simile, the importance of allusion, and related questions of the haiku craft.

Haiku and Conventional Poems

It is important to know what we are trying to do with our haiku, which usually is significantly different from conventional poetry. We’re talking about English-language haiku, and our examples will be mostly that. Still, haiku evolved from Japanese haiku, and we’ll need to touch on Japanese poetics and aesthetics as well.

The goal of haiku is to communicate. The means of communication has to be words, yet words are an inefficient, misleading, even meretricious vehicle for the conveyance of meaning. It would be wonderful if the haiku poet, like the graphic artist, could communicate images directly, without the medium of words, but of course that is not possible.

The careful choice and use of words is important in all kinds of writing—in fact that is practically a definition of poetry—but I would argue that the haiku poet is under a different pressure. Poets writing mainstream poetry select words for their intrinsic and resonant beauty. Haiku poets strive for precision of meaning and appropriateness of diction. Wordplay or any other use of a word that calls attention to the word itself or away from the meaning of the haiku is discouraged. Words must be used as gently as possible so as to minimize perturbations of the image. From this comes the idea that haiku is, or insofar as possible should be, a wordless poem.

Using as Few Words as Possible

The observant reader will have noticed that haiku are shorter than conventional poems. In fact the haiku poet approaches his craft from a different direction than the conventional poet. He/she tries to describe a moment as succinctly and directly as possible. When poets set out to write haiku, they realize that the quota of words will be extremely limited so they impose on themselves constraints that conventional poets generally need not worry about.

The haiku poet should be aware of the danger of including an extra word or two by way of explanation, to add color to the poem or for any other reason. Here are some examples of haiku that I have seen in my editing work that I found less than ideally concise, followed by the version that was finally published or approved.

As the spring rains fall
soaking in them, on the porch
a child’s rag doll

Spring rains
soaking on the porch
a child’s rag doll1

my young child’s
schoolhouse
toy soldiers
at the doorway

schoolhouse
toy soldiers
at the doorway2

sidewalk at dusk
a skateboard’s clip-clop
fading toward home

dusk
the clip-clop of a skateboard
fades3

Most of what was trimmed in these examples falls in the category of unnecessary information. “Spring rains” says everything necessary from the original, five-syllable first line. “Schoolhouse” already suggests young children, and that the child was the poet’s is neither here nor there to the reader. “Dusk” plus “fading” carry the suggestion of returning home, so the surrounding words can profitably be dropped.

A frequent problem, especially for beginners, is the bloating that occurs when the poet tries to pad out a verse to the 5–7–5 syllable structure that was—and still is by some—considered a norm. Here are two examples from early writers of haiku in America:

This brave plum tree shakes
its fisty buds at retreating
bullying winter.4

Wrinkled summer pond:
turtle sailing old brown log
gulps pirate stone flies.5

In addition to the bloat, caused mostly by the use of puffy descriptors—I call them “perfidious adjectives and adverbs”—both these haiku show other stigmata of having being stuffed into 5–7–5–syllable structure. The second especially suffers from “tontoism,” the dropping of small words—articles here—with the resulting stilted diction, and the introduction of words purely for their ornamental value.

Redundancy

Haiku poets must be supremely aware of the full meaning of the words they select for their verses, both their denotation and connotation. It is easy to fall victim to cliché or otherwise include words in their haiku that are not necessary or distract from the essence of the verse.

A common problem is the “double kigo” (we’ll talk about kigo later, but for now a kigo is a word or phrase that connotes a specific season of the year and is one of the main devices the Japanese haiku poet can use to expand his poetic vocabulary). If you have “snow” in your haiku, mention of “winter” is redundant.

Here is a real before-and-after case where a second kigo was surgically removed without damaging the patient:

unraked leaves
the first autumn
without him

unraked leaves
the first year
without him6

Double kigo is more of a problem when dealing with (or imitating) Japanese haiku. For example, water birds and whales are both winter kigo, so to the Japanese these two published American haiku would be seasonally redundant or conflicting—or at least confusing:

toddler’s frown …
winter ducks swim past
her bread crumbs7

summer’s end
at the high-water mark
pilot whales8

Both these haiku are probably acceptable to the English-language readership for whom the nuances of seasonality are not of great concern. Still, I wonder if “winter” in the first haiku adds anything.

There are many other situations in which words unnecessarily overlap one another in connotation. A phrase such as “my pet dog” could probably do without “pet,” which aspect would likely be assumed. Likewise, “steep” in “steep cliffs” is probably unnecessary. In the following haiku it seemed to the poet that “old” was gratuitous, even a cliché, as we already receive a sense of age from “granddad,” “cracked,” and “coalbucket.”

granddad’s old coalbucket
cracked at the handle—
early autumn dusk

granddad’s coalbucket
cracked at the handle—
early autumn dusk9

In the following haiku, having “fingers” and “hands” in the same haiku troubled me. The version on the left was published, but the version on the right suggests that additional pruning might have served the poem well.

fingers still sticky
from cotton candy
we hold hands10

still sticky
from cotton candy
we hold hands

Internal Inconsistency

Haiku poets can have a problem with internal inconsistency—using two expressions that contradict each other. One example that piques me is using a word such as “still” or “quiet” plus a mention of a noise or movement:

quiet woods —
sound of an acorn falling
through the tree11

old and quiet pond
suddenly a frog plops in —
a deep water sound12

Maybe in “quiet woods,” one could argue that “quiet” describes the general atmosphere that permits the hearing of a small sound such as an acorn dropping. The addition of “quiet” to the translations of Bashō’s “old pond” haiku, however, seems to muddy the waters a bit by using three words relating to sound (as well as adding three “perfidious” descriptors that are not in Bashō’s original: “quiet,” “suddenly,” and “deep”). The following haiku keeps me in the dark as to the state of illumination, and that very phrase seems eminently expendable:

No one lights a lamp.
Just our voices in the dark
as the night descends.13

Choosing the Right Word

English is an amazingly rich language, and the poet almost always has available a range of word choices, allowing great precision and nuance.

How Specific?—Tech Talk

What degree of precision is desirable and acceptable? In a wonderful essay in Frogpond 32:1 (winter 2009), Paul Miller discusses specificity in terms of balance:

Poetry is a balancing act. As writers we are all misunderstood. That is fortunately(!) the nature of the short poem. Words are abstractions, so the less words we use, the more abstract and general our poems become—and more open to reader interpretation. And haiku are the least wordy poems! It is important to remember that each poem is two poems: the writer’s and the reader’s. As a writer I want to express my discovery in just enough words to lead the reader to discover what I did, but I don’t want to tell them too much or they lose their discovery.

Riffing on Miller’s idea, examine six variant first lines for a haiku of John Barlow’s and see if you can determine which is the one he actually wrote. Lines two and three follow below. The meaning of the haiku shifts substantially with the changing first line.14

[ … ]
flits through the thicket …
late summer wind

Different choices make for different interpretations. “Bird” and even “long-tailed bird” are pretty general and don’t evoke much of an image for me. “Passerine” is not a common word in English; it refers to perching songbirds. “Warbler” is more specific and better known. People can be expected to understand it. “Whitethroat” is a species native to Europe but not North America; presumably an ornithologically challenged North American might discern that this is some kind of bird or butterfly but would likely have no idea of the creature or its habits. Sylvia communis, the Latin genus and species, would be known only to a scientist or a serious birder.

The consideration here is how the level of specificity relates to the rest of the haiku. Any bird might flit through the thicket. Does it really matter if it is a warbler, whitethroat, or any old bird? Maybe even a butterfly or a chipmunk? How specific does the word choice need to be?

Occasionally a slight shift in one word will make a haiku more universally understandable:

a county plow
closes the driveway—
April 15th

a county snowplow
closes the driveway—
April 15th15

In April “plow” would mean “snowplow” in Wisconsin, but perhaps an Arizonan might momentarily be puzzled.

Having found the right word, the poet needs to be sure to place it in the haiku in a place where it receives appropriate emphasis. By zeroing in on the coming-out party and placing it first, in revisions this poet achieves desirable directness:

news
of his coming out party
the cacti in bloom

coming-out party
the cacti in bloom16

High-falootin’ Talk

Sometime a haiku poet will choose words that are not in common use or that are more complicated or recherché than they need to be, such as these two that were submitted but not accepted for publication:

A capriccio
Temple and Grand bumpers glare
—Anagnorisis

smoking cessation
a cigarette butt
in the grackle’s nest

In such cases I always have the impression that the poet is trying to advertise that he/she knows more words than I do—i.e., showing off. Again, the point of writing a haiku is to communicate. If it does not do so because one or more words is unfamiliar, I have to adjudge a failed haiku. My tolerance for Googling or Merriam-Webstering is definitely limited.

Pretty Talk

Some haiku poets believe they’re writing conventional poetry and choose words that are intended to make their poem lyrical or pretty. Often times a single image is decorated in such a way that it may pass itself off as more than one image. James Hackett does this. The first of these two haiku of his is really a statement with one heavily decorated image. The second has two images, but their focus and meaning is, I feel, subverted by the wordplay:

Made impregnable
by squadrons of bumblebees:
this clovered coolness.17

The censered souk
echoes my ‘coughing Zen’ …
asthma in Islam18

Here are two unpublished submissions that to me seem to be mostly about poetry, pretty images, and wordplay:

louring clouds
a Spode dish of pills
on a silver tray

plangent loons
I find moonlight
in the room

I had to Google “louring” only to learn that it is a rare usage. I thought it might be an allusion of some sort, but couldn’t find anything. What would be the effect on the haiku by using “lowering clouds” or “low clouds”? And in the second line maybe “Meissen” or “Quimper” instead of “Spode”? “Plangent loons,” seems to me an exercise in the sound of the words, especially the rhymes and assonance. For me, the sound of a haiku is a consideration, but definitely a secondary one. I believe haiku are made for the eye not the ear.

Invented Words

A haiku poet with a poetic bent may even find that the available lexicon is inadequate to support his/her feelings of lyricism. Consider the invention of portmanteau words such as Elizabeth Searle Lamb’s “nightdark”:

into the deepest of the nightdark the talking drums19

Certainly a descriptive and lovely image, but is it too-too poetic for haiku? Anne McKay was especially noted for her gorgeous haiku-like poems and inventive use of language, for example:

dreams under umbrellas
in the rainvalley
raindreams20

torn lace
and tincan geraniums
on sills of secondstory rooms
a bonnard
face21

In addition to inventing new words, poets today manipulate text and use concrete-poetry techniques to push the meaning of their words well beyond even lyricism. Such is the case with classic poems such as Cor van den Heuvel’s single-word “tundra”22 or Nick Virgilio’s compressed “fossilence.”23 Or with visual poems such as:24

i
niche
o
n

For my money, all of these devices raise the flag that we warned against at the outset: words that call attention to themselves divert attention from the meaning of the haiku itself. If, as Bashō taught, you point at the moon with a bejeweled finger you won’t notice the moon.

Specificity and the Haiku Persona

The haiku poet will often omit the “small” words in the pursuit of brevity and conciseness (see tontoism above). When this involves personal pronouns, however, necessary specificity may be lost. For instance, the poet must decide whether or not to include a persona in the haiku—and how. It has long been fashionable to use present participles—the “-ing” form, sometimes mistakenly called gerunds—rather than full verbs. This probably reflects the fact that Japanese typically does not use personal pronouns and the doer is understood from the context. To Westerners it sounds as if “[somebody or other] drinks” or “traveling [is done by someone].” In English, however, a full-fledged subject and verb is usually more meaningful. Compare these variant pairs, published versions on the right:

autumn wind:
giving my red heels
away

autumn wind:
I give my red heels
away25

Valentine’s night—
breaking up
the chocolate heart

Valentine’s night
we break up
the chocolate heart26

In addition to bypassing the indefinite antecedent problem (“the autumn wind giving my shoes away”), the addition of specific persona through an active verb strengthens these verses immeasurably.

Having a personal pronoun in a haiku is not the same thing as having an ego-centered haiku. Haiku are usually expected to be objective and egoless, but if the poet becomes the focus of the haiku, the necessary objectivity is lost.

on a dirt road
I notice an approaching
cloud of dust

This haiku was submitted to Modern Haiku but not published for that reason. “I notice” seemed both gratuitous and injurious, putting the poet at the focal point.

Making the Words You Choose More Meaningful

Haiku use words to convey images. The choice of just the right word is essential. But we have pointed out that an image or an emotion can only be inadequately expressed by words. What can a poet do when available words are insufficient? One fundamental technique is to have key words refer to some outside thing by means of an allusion of one sort or another. That is, using a certain word can evoke in the reader’s mind another thing of philosophical, literary, cultural, or historical significance that is not itself directly mentioned in the haiku.

Kigo (season words) and utamakura (place references) are standard Japanese techniques for external allusion and can be adapted for English-language haiku. Western poetic devices such as conventional metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and personification can be viewed as internal allusions (i.e., both the target and source image are contained within the haiku ), but these are generally held in low regard by serious haikuists. Still, many poets employ conventional metaphor and simile, and open-ended comparison or metaphor—what Paul O. Williams called “unresolved metaphor”—is the English-language–haiku version of the product of the Japanese kire (cutting or caesura to divide in two and qualify the impact of the phrases of a haiku.

Kigo

Kigo, or season words, are the basic poetic device in Japanese haiku, one of the two or three indispensable aspects. Japanese poets use kigo as a device to link their haiku not only to a precise time of the year but also as a literary allusion by means of which their haiku is added to the collective weight of all other haiku and other poetry written over the centuries. We really have nothing like kigo in Western poetry.

A famous example of kigo as “vertical” or historical axis of Japanese haiku is Bashō’s:

over an entire field
they have planted rice—before
I part with the willow27

This haiku refers also to a certain willow tree at Ashino village at which the poet Saigyō had composed a famous waka some 500 years earlier. “Willow” is an early spring kigo. Bashō visited the willow in the summer, however, as revealed by the reference to planted rice.

The application of kigo in English-language haiku is problematical. Many American haiku poets persist in using season words, but the function is perforce different and often seems an idle formality:

clothesline —
from a shirt sleeve
a cicada sings28

The cicada (late summer kigo in Japan) might be the subject of the haiku from New Zealand but does not seem to have been included to add a seasonal dimension or allusion to the poem. Similarly, in the following haiku the first line seems to be a “date stamp,” quite unnecessary in the company of two other winter season words.

winter wind
colder in prison
frost radiates on my window29

Utamakura

A similar device used in Japanese haiku to extend meaning is utamakura, or making reference to historical places or events to broaden the significance of the bare words in a haiku and open a nest of associations. Bashō used utamakura all the time, especially in his travel diaries. This is a valuable tool too for English-language haikuists and could be employed even more widely. Here are two examples of references to places replete with meaning for all Americans:

False spring
snow
where Custer last stood30

Where the Twin Towers stood Harvest Moon.31

And one more, a prizewinner in 2007, that uses the kigo “summer grass,” familiar from Bashō as well as the place reference in the first line to the vast herds of buffalo that formerly roamed the Great Plains:

buffalo bones
a wind less than a whisper
in the summer grass32

What might be called haiku of place is somewhat different than utamakura. Poets who use haiku for journaling and pay close attention to the time and place a haiku is composed, might mention a specific place of significance to them, as Gary Hotham has done in:

rocks
in the ocean’s way
———
Schoodic Point33

This is a brilliant evocation of the pounding surf in Acadia National Park, but Hotham does not seem to be trying to tap into a collective image as much as record his own awe at the scene. The 2009 Haiku Society of America members’ anthology featured haiku of place, some, like this one, getting really close to utamakura:

Trail of Tears
a soft rain falls
on my cheeks34

In these cases, we can see poets reaching for meaning beyond the naked words of their haiku by using place names to stimulate collective memories and emotions.

Literary Reference

Japanese and English-language poets alike are fond of alluding to canonical works of literature in order to link their nascent verse with the wisdom and perceptions of the ancients. We saw how Bashō often made obeisance to Saigyō, while there have been countless English-language allusions to Bashō’s “old pond” haiku. Here are more citations/parodies (on the right) of two of Bashō’s and one of Issa’s poems (on the left):

Lonely silence,
a single cicada’s cry
sinking into stone35

the silence
a bee is singing
right into rock36

summer grasses—
traces of dreams
of ancient warriors.37

army blankets—
traces of the warriors’
wet dreams38

The man pulling radishes
pointed my way
with a radish.39

farmer pointing the way
with a shotgun40

More and more we’re seeing haiku poets use allusions to canonical Western literature to expand the meaning of their work. Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Métro” is one frequent referent, as are Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Blackbird,” and William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” For example:

Wet petals
against a black bough —
and my up-turned face.41

An apparition
in the crowd of white petals
the wet black bough42

the fourteenth way
a black bird on this black bough
sings a reckoning, though none may.43

nothing
depends on
this hyacinth blooming44

small town Fourth
so much depends
on the fireflies45

American classics are popular targets for allusion too, such as Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”:

under the spreading
chestnut tree, two children
playing gameboys46

overtaken
by weeds —
the road not taken47

Phrases from the Bible and Shakespeare are, of course, rife in haiku. Two examples:

Through a glass clearly:
a sparrow waging battle
with his reflection.48

columbine, by any other
name49

In Simply Haiku 3:3 (Autumn 2005), Susumu Takiguchi did a series of haiku on the subject of death and employing literary references to, among others, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine and John Donne’s Devotions. “Earth Day: Variations with Theme,” a sequence by Geraldine Clinton Little, featured a refrain repeated, like a tolling bell, at the end of each rhymed haiku. It probably alludes to the Donne line, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee”:

sundawn
a flutter of mourning doves,
& poised, light-bathed, one faun
nearby, a bell tolls changes50

Robert Spiess famously published a series of senryu in the style of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology called “Tall River Junction.”51 Spiess’s descriptions of the residents of that fictitious town are not quite a parody of Masters, but almost.

Writing with allusions has its pitfalls, as when the reference proves too obscure for your target audience. For example, the following reference is okay for me, but might be just over the line for people of a younger generation:

tugboats moored
to the Marseilles dock —
the Gertrude, the Alice B.52

https://sr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alis_B._Toklas

These two would miss me entirely if they hadn’t been patiently explained:

New Year’s Eve bath —
I fail to become
a swan53

day moon
the only living boy
in Chicago54

Fay Aoyagi’s haiku, on the left, refers to another by Sumio Mori, well known in Japan, in which his wife is bathing on New Year’s Eve and reminds him of a swan. Christopher Patchel’s haiku, on the right, refers to Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 song, “The Only Living Boy in New York.”

Internal Allusion

The discussion above concerns external allusion, in which the source image is contained within the haiku but the referent is external to it. There are many devices in both Japanese- and English-language haiku that can extend the meaning of words even using internal referents, that is, metaphor—especially unresolved metaphor—and other referents that are contained within the haiku.

Because good haiku in any language rely for their effect on the technique of cutting (kire in Japanese), which causes the juxtaposition of the images for the purposes of internal comparison, it is important that, first, there be two images, and second, that they be in some manner comparable. The left-hand version here was the original and the one that was published, but I would have liked to sharpen the two images as on the right:

smell of asphalt
tells of summer’s
beginning55

asphalt smell
the start
of summer

The following haiku as submitted seemed to me to lack a well articulated second image, leaving the potential of the haiku unrealized. The author came up with “evening primrose,” a plant that is native to her area, and image that seemed to add a fine dimension to the haiku.

through open range
the blackened windows
of a prison bus

evening primrose
the blackened windows
of a prison bus56

Not many haiku are written these days that use metaphor or simile as blatantly as did Carrow De Vries and Etheridge Knight, respectively:

Mock orange is snow,
ruby-throated hummingbird glints in sunset;
sledding over it.57

Eastern guard tower
convicts rest
like lizards on rocks.58

The objection haikuists have to such work is that, in an attempt to broaden the meaning of an image, it is presented as something that it is not: mock orange is not really snow and convicts are not lizards. The haiku principle of objectivity is violated.

Internal Comparison: Kire

The technique of cutting—kire—in order to promote internal comparison of images or phrases, basic and essential to haiku, is itself a sort of metaphor. The reader is given two things—images or phrases—and challenged to compare or contrast them. The poet is saying in essence, “I see some meaning beyond the obvious in Image A; the essence can be expressed as Image B; can you see the connection? Not exactly saying A = B (metaphor) or A is like B (simile) but as a suggested, or unresolved, metaphor. In both “asphalt smell” and “evening primrose,” by defining the cut between the two images the vital element of internal comparison in the haiku is enhanced.

More or less appropriate to haiku—but frequently used—are other Western poetic devices such as synecdoche (the representation of the whole by a single part) and zeugma (a word modifying other words in a different way).

a new blue shirt
leaves this solitary house
to go wife hunting59

Running
across the meadow …
stream and six-year-old.60

Clearly, James Tipton’s blue shirt is to be understood as something much larger—i.e., himself—while in the second haiku the meaning of the word “running” is amplified by its application to both the stream and the child.

Similar to zeugma are devices in which a descriptive word for one image is mentally extended by the reader to the second image. I call this transference, as in Carol Montgomery’s senryu,

honeymooners
… fondling
their menus61

Sometimes in cases like this the haiku poet wants to amplify the meaning of his/her words but in a misleading, nebulous, or ambiguous way, perhaps to increase the challenge to the reader in decoding the poem. Because such techniques sully the notion that haiku is a mode of communication, I’m not sure that deliberate ambiguity is always desirable, but it is certainly now a trend in English-language haiku composition. The following haiku won a top spot in the Shiki Internet Kukai and was picked up for the Red Moon Anthology:

moon in the lilies
she asks me
to stay the night62

so clearly not everyone was worried about the indefinite “she” in line two. Knowing that the poet is a woman didn’t solve much for me, however, as I still wrestle with whether “she” is a mother, daughter, sister, lover—or who exactly. I sort of like the ambiguity, but more than one of my editorial colleagues finds this sort of puzzle in haiku off-putting.

Another, more telling case is the following famous verse. By itself and without any context this haiku would be unintelligible to 99% of readers:

cockscombs
there must be 14 or 1563

If you know that the poet was Shiki—and if you know who Shiki was and that he was bedridden and immobilized by painful spinal tuberculosis for the last several years of his life—the haiku perhaps begins to make some sense. You can visualize the invalid pulling himself up to the window with excruciating difficulty to check the state of his garden.

Misdirection is a mainstay of senryu, of course. The first part of the poem sets the mind going in one direction and the second part comes as a complete surprise, usually humorously—the “aha! moment” writ large:

nude beach
his enormous
sand castle64

This kind of disjunction, especially Jim Kacian’s haiku

my fingerprints
on the dragonfly
in amber65

has been much discussed in the literature in recent years . Here the reader is misdirected to puzzle over how fingerprints can be found on a dragonfly. Haiku critic Richard Gilbert has identified dozens of types of disjunction that are used in haiku to cause a jump in meaning and, one hopes, an expansion of the meaning of the words of the haiku.66

Afterword

To recap, words are the key building stones of haiku. In choosing words for a haiku the poet faces three basic tasks: first, to choose as few words as possible—only those that are absolutely necessary; second, to select just the right word with the right meaning; and third, where necessary, to expand the meaning of the words through connotations and tropes. Skill in haiku diction comes through reading and study, and in the doing.

 

Notes

1 Steven E. Cottingham in Modern Haiku 38:1 (Winter–Spring 2007).

2 Tony A. Thompson in Modern Haiku 38:3 (Autumn 2007).

3 Not published.

4 Frank Ankenbrand, Jr., in American Haiku 1:1 (1963).

5 Truth Mary Fowler in American Haiku 5:1 (1967).

6 Aurora Antonovic in Modern Haiku 38:3 (Autumn 2007).

7 Randy M. Brooks and Shirley Brooks, In Her Blue Eyes: Jessica Poems (Decatur, Ill.: Brooks Books, 1998).

8 W F Owen in Tinywords [Internet], Sept. 20, 2002.

9 Michael D. Welch in Modern Haiku 39:1 (Winter–Spring 2008).

10 Edward J. Rielly in Modern Haiku 39:2 (Summer 2008).

11 Elsie Canfield in Shiki Internet Kukai, 10/3/99 (kigo: “acorn”), 2nd place.

12 Bashō in Grass Sandals: The Travels of Bashō. Trans. Dawnine Spivak (New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997).

13 Robert E. Major in Frogpond 18:3 (Autumn 1995).

14 John Barlow in Simply Haiku [Web] 5:2 (Summer 2007). “Whitethroat” is the variant Barlow used.

15 Dan Schwerin in Modern Haiku 38:2 (Summer 2007).

16 Marilyn Appl Walker in Modern Haiku 38:3 (Autumn 2007).

17 J. W. Hackett, Haiku Poetry: Volume Four: Original Verse in English (Tokyo: Japan Publications, Inc., 1968). New revised edition, 46.

18 James W. Hackett, A Traveler’s Haiku: Original Poems in English (Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 2004), 60.

19 Elizabeth Searle Lamb, “A Sequence from Lagos, Nigeria,” Frogpond 4:4 (1981).

20 Anne McKay, Toccata (Vienna, Md.: Wind Chimes Press, 1997).

21 Anne McKay in Wind Chimes 2 (1981).

22 Cor van den Heuvel, The Window-Washer’s Pail (New York: Chant Press, 1963).

23 George Swede and Randy Brooks, eds., Global Haiku: Twenty-five Poets World-wide (Northumberland, England/Oakville, Ont.–Niagara Falls, N.Y.: Iron Press/Mosaic Press, 2000).

24 Emily Romano in Modern Haiku 26:3 (Fall 1995).

25 Jennifer Gomoll Popolis in Modern Haiku 38:3 (Autumn 2007).

26 Collin Barber in Modern Haiku 39:1 (Winter–Spring 2008).

27 Bashō in Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters (Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press, 1992).

28 Carol Markwell in Elizabeth Crayford, ed., Catching the Rainbow (1996 New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition Anthology).

29 Prisoner No. 49873 West of the Mississippi in Persimmon 2:1 (Fall 1998).

30 Shane Bartlett in Frogpond 28:3 (Fall 2005).

31 Alexis Rotella in dew-on-line 3 (2002).

32 Chad Lee Robinson in The Heron’s Nest 9:3 (September 2007).

33 Gary Hotham in Whirligig 2:2 (November 2011).

34 Jayne Miller in Joseph Kirschner, Lidia Rozmus, and Charles Trumbull, eds., A Travel-worn Satchel (HSA Members’ Anthology 2009), 39.

35 Bashō, Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings by Matsuo Bashō. Trans. Sam Hamill. (Boston: Shambhala, 2000).

36 Raymond Roseliep, Light Footsteps: Haiku (La Crosse, Wis.: Juniper Press, 1976), 2.

37 Haruo Shirane, Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998), 238.

38 David Cobb in Blithe Spirit 11:3 (September 2001).

39 Carlos Colón, Haiku Light Web site (accessed September 2001).

40 Issa in Robert Hass, ed., The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (Hopewell, N.J.: Ecco Press, 1994), 156.

41 M. K. Kulikowski, “After Ezra Pound,” Dragonfly 3:2 (April 1975).

42 George Swede in Acorn 12 (Spring 2004).

43 Gerard Smith in Hummingbird 3:2 (March 1993).

44 Ruby Spriggs, Sun Shadow, Moon Shadow: Haiku, Graphics and Calligraphy (1986).

45 Joan Klontz in Acorn 5 (Fall 2000).

46 Michael Ketchek in Black Bough 9 (1997).

47 Carlos Colón in Haiku Headlines 111 (10:3, June 1997).

48 David Caruso in Monostich [blog], April 8, 2013 .

49 J. W. Hackett, Haiku Poetry: Volume Three: Original Verse in English (Tokyo: Japan Publications, Inc., 1968), 13.

50 Geraldine Clinton Little, “Earth Day: Variations with Theme,” Frogpond 14:2 (Summer 1991).

51 Robert Spiess, The Bold Silverfish and Tall River Junction (Madison, Wis.: Modern Haiku Press, 1986).

52 H. F. Noyes in Nina A. Wicker, Peggy Willis Lyles, and Kenneth C. Leibman, eds., Dreams Wander (HSA 1994 Members’ Anthology), 33.

53 Fay Aoyagi in The Heron’s Nest 5:4 (April 2003).

54 Christopher Patchel in Modern Haiku 37:3 (Autumn 2006).

55 Jeanette Cheung in Modern Haiku 38:3 (Autumn 2007).

56 Karen Cesar in Modern Haiku 39:2 (Summer 2008).

57 Carrow De Vries, Passing Butterflies (El Rito, N.M.: S. Nishiguchi Art Publications, n.d. [1967?]).

58 Etheridge Knight, Poems from Prison (Detroit: Broadside, 1968), 19.

59 James Tipton, Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror: Haiku and Senryu (Baltimore, Md.: Modern English Tanka Press, 2008), 16.

60 Derth Rose Obbink in Haiku West 5:2 (January 1972).

61 Carol Montgomery in Modern Haiku 22:3 (Fall 1991).

62 Francine Banwarth, Shiki Internet Kukai May 2008 (kigo: “lily”), 2nd place; Jim Kacian et al., eds. White Lies (Red Moon Anthology 2008), 12.

63 Shiki in Shiki-Kinen Museum English Volunteers, ed. and trans., If Someone Asks … (2001), 56.

64 John Stevenson, Gerald M. Brady Awards for Senryu (Haiku Society of America, 1996), 3rd place.

65 8th International Kusamakura Haiku Competition (2003), Nyūsen (3rd Prize, selected by judge Richard Gilbert) and contest results booklet, 50.

66 Most recently, Richard Gilbert, The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A New Approach to English-Language Haiku (Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2013).

 

First published in Frogpond 38:2 (Spring/Summer 2015), 96-117.

Republished by the author‘s permission.