Charles Trumbull: Haiku Diction: The Use of Words in Haiku

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




Beate Conrad, Germany


Haiga Fundamentals



Haiga or haikai drawing refers to a specific style of Japanese painting, which has also become popular in Western culture as a haiku-related form. Even early in Chinese traditional art, from which the Japanese art form has derived, poetry and other inscriptions were accompanied by images. We meet them with texts penned both by the artist himself and by other authors. From the 6th century onwards, based on the academic way of painting in court circles, gradually some common literary style developed blending poetic taste in painting, thus unifying the three arts of painting, calligraphy, and poetry. Thereby each art form, its appreciation and criticism is essentially built on the same transformed aesthetic standards, which are rooted in the philosophy of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism (of the 7th century, in Japan called Zen). Later the style was refined by the Chinese Wen Jen School also relying on profound observations (of nature). This aesthetics refers to the awareness and sensory perception in space and time, basis of every human cognition focussing on the general recognition of beauty's perceptiveness, its regularities respectively the proportions of objects and their relationship as such, and harmony in nature and art.

During the Edo period, the literary-flavored painting style was adopted and cultivated by the Japanese using the term nanga and bunjinga, meaning southern or literati painting. Among others, especially Yosa Buson, Japan's greatest painter of that period and also an important poet, developed the literati sensibility of haiga within the literary style using the same aesthetics, from which haiku poetry derives. These are aesthetic principles, which also feature mindful insight into the relationship between the essential elements in a composition.

The Japanese haiga unifies the haiku, a poem, traditionally painted with a brush in ink, i.e. the calligraphy, with a simple image painted in ink on the same sheet of paper. As a visual work of art the haiga is related in its form, style, and theme to the haiku. Etymologically hai means humor, fun, joy, life, the well-recognized and the well-shaped. In addition it indicates that something is right or correct in terms of general experience; ga means drawing or painting. Haiku expresses plain insight transformed into language. The haiga juxtaposes the insight expressed in writing, which is also graphically expressed, with a visual experience, the painting. This well-formed drawing does not illustrate or explain the text, but adds a new complementing aspect to the art of calligraphy, thus enabling poem and image to complete and balance each other as a new artistic entity, the haiga.

1. Sha-hai — Photo-Haiku and the Haiga Art Form

The traditional haiga developed under the influence of different approaches by artists according to their training, talents, and also according to their main focus on literary arts or within the visual arts. With the growing popularity of different media and techniques, today haiga is not only painted (with ink) but created in a large variety of media1. Photography and digital graphics offer new possibilities to experiment with this art form, even on a multimedia level.

However, photography plays a special role anyway as a Western invention. Thus the concept of “photo-haiga”1 was imported by the Japanese calling it sha-hai. Sha comes from shashin and stands for photo, hai stands for haiku.3 The characteristics of a photo-haiku compared to haiga are quite different. Mainly the photograph provides a documentation and renders its object in perspective view. A painting uses abtraction of forms, at least to some degree, and the concept of empty space. A photograph does neither. It merely holds highly detailed information and is complete in itself making it difficult to add text; therefore finding the balance between text and picture is rather difficult. That usually leads to very small printed overlay, caption, or wider frames. However, such frames are only effective if they amplify the subject matter itself. For each element has to have a specific, non-decorative function in the composition; otherwise it will distract from the essentials of composition.

Moreover, photography separates the means of presenting text and image, traditionally integral parts of the same media and technique (brushwork) as well as the same painting style. In photo-haiku the calligraphy is often reduced to letters (typography), neglecting the artistic aspect of the text. Whereas the spontaneous expression4 of the irreversible (brush-) stroke, that is reflected in a vital rhythmic flow of the lines (in one breath), harmonizes the entire composition of a painting as a whole, the photo-haiku divides this process and gives way to several less spontaneous steps at different times. With pictorialism5 (in the end of the 19th century) the new medium of photography rose from a mechanical process to an art form. It produced its own views by rendering specific painting-like scenes. As for photo-haiku, it may not reach the vivid expression of a genuine haiku-painting (haiga), but it may hold new associative ways of incorporating the haikai-spirit, where the artist's view beyond the actual image and text also resonates in the observer, where it blends and transforms into his own reality before his inner eye.

2. Photo-Haiku Special


Photo and Haiku by Romano Zeraschi, Artwork by Ombretta Corradi.

This photo-haiku creates a world of both illusions and reality. Beside a simple visual reflection, the image opens a wide range of experiences on different levels of consciousness and awareness like that of dreams and reality, and that of fiction and reality: in literature and mythology for instance as the Arthurian legend, the Wielandian “Castle in the Air”, or the “Flying Dutchman”. It evokes a variety of landscapes (sea, shore, land), where such optical phenomena occur. The photo shows a natural landscape, a shore or a desert, which together with the “laugh” may remind us of Longfellow's “Sweet Illusions of Song”. At the same time it reveals the real landscapes of the Straits of Messina and Sicily, thought of as an alternative place for Avalon.

This is due to the choice of words imbued with powerful connotations, dynamically enhancing text and image in context allowing the onlooker's experience to progress. Accordingly, the echoing laughter expresses underlying emotions and humor as well as the irony of some serious deception. This rich imagery is also achieved by linked repetition of graphical and text elements including its sound qualities.

Etymologically mirage means to look at, to wonder at. Its root comes from mirror and to admire. A mirage is a real optical phenomenon that produces false images at the observers location. What these images definitely represent is determined by the human's mind in context of his situation. This essence of natural and human experience is well-reflected and works on many levels in this photo-haiku. As a matter of fact, Zeraschi's example offers an opportunity to take a closer look at this “looking and wondering” as a structural element of artistic and poetic image composition.

a. Imagery Versus Interpretation

The sculpture integrated into the image — showing as art within art another interesting approach to photo-haiku — depicting a Bedouin or a knight on a camel, on horseback, or on a donkey strengthens the first impression of a desert landscape, where water and rocks now turn from a mirage into a Fata Morgana (even the sculpture might be an illusion of a veiled Morgana or that of a knight like Arthur), and the viewer may identify with it, going on his own dreamlike ride through the desert, even exclaiming: “It is gone, and I wonder and wait / For the vision to reappear” as Longfellow's poem suggests.

Considering the strong images of this well-wrought haiku, leaning on adequate and even symbolic images of nature itself, it is quite a decision for a haiga-creator on how much his painting or photograph might reveal.

To be very clear: What I am going to show does not mean that the above photo-haiku needs any amendment or “workshopping”. The point is rather to raise additional awareness and understanding of the creative process and its effects on the observer's perception according to haikai principles. As for Japanese aesthetics, the haiga leaves as much space as possible to the observer, hence to his imagination. In other words, it is important what the viewer possibly imagines, what he contemplates to be represented in the objects, when his eyes wander along the compositional “action”-lines from the haiku to the other points of interest.

As a first step, the sculpture is removed from the busy horizontal line in order to concentrate on the natural landscape in its full depth. Now the eyes of the observer wander from the bigger rock — as biggest object the “host“ of the composition — up to the small-typed letters in the upper left corner across the wavy haiku-lines into the sky, then to the smaller rock, across the left reflection of the rock in the water. Then the eyes move further down and stop in front at the creators inscrip-

From the Original: Romano Zeraschi, Photo and Haiku; Ombretta Corradi, Sculpture

tion, where we traditionally would expect the artist's seal to balance out the composition. From there the eyes go up again to the wavy haiku-lines and turn back to the the big rock-triangle. Thereafter its reflection starts a new viewing cycle “from mirage to mirage”. With every new eye movement along theses “action”-lines, the onlooker gets an additional sense of fore- and background, of space and distance, of the misty mountain ridge in the back, the waterline in the fore and the haiku. Thus the onlooker connects his discoveries with his associations and meanings of the text, constantly changing his experience.

b. Empty Space and Asymmetry

In a traditional haiga the medium, in which all objects exist, is omitted or rather alluded to by a part of the object line itself. As for a photograph, it is basically impossible to incorporate the concept of empty space in such a way. But the composition may be opened a bit further by removing the very small-typed haiku, since we already dispose of this dynamic text-wave that indicates all kind of movement and contrasts the rock-solid objects. Just this small reduction will give the sky space and allow the blue of water and sky to merge within and beyond the image

From the Original: Romano Zeraschi, Photo and Haiku; Ombretta Corradi, Sculpture

borders, thus creating a similar atmosphere as the concept of empty space does, or at least a less defined one. This amount of “less information” draws the viewer's attention even closer and sparks his imagination to fill the void. Even the loose typography of the haiku that vanishes into thin air by fading or breaking off with “mir... [age]” at the end of the second line will surely support this lightness. Hence, this little “imperfection” is actually a rhetoric tool for emphasis, and it challenges the viewer's imagination to complete it himself. This, too, adds to a multifaceted depth beyond the visible.

Another structural element that keeps these viewing cycles of “looking and wandering” going is the asymmetric object placement in an overall balanced composition. The concept of asymmetric composition works like a mathematical equation: as in 8=5+2+1, and rather not as 8=8, which is its symmetrical counterpart. This artistic technique leads to a vivid tension between the image and the text for further exploration by the observer. Here, for example it keeps the right side of the image with the most important “host” rock in balance with its other, less weighing “guests” on its left; and it balances the “empty” blue space in the upper left in opposite to the filled space in the middle and lower right.

Combining imagery of formerly disparate elements in such a way creates a meaningful relationship between a painting/photograph and a poem. In turn, the deep poetical and inspiring views of the most natural and simple especially keeps the entire structural composition in place and defines the “literary style” of haiga as art.

c. Wandering — The Text-Image Experience

Art per se transforms reality into viewer's reality. But the difference between this general impact of the arts and the literary flavored art form called haiga lies in the artistic concept of suggestions provided, which enable the process of “looking and wandering”. Accordingly, text and image do not merely render, but depict more than the naked eye can see. This floating process between discovery and incompleteness achieved through highly condensed, thus simplified imagery of both text and paining/photo leads to a deeper level, where sight naturally completes to insight solely in the individual's mind. That is where a new entity of art emerges. Exactly this poetic and energetic atmosphere of wandering is the unifying aesthetic essence of the haikai-style.



1 Haiga, strictly defined, are paintings, but many of the picture-text combinations included in Buson's printed works operate according to the same logic used in haiga, showing further evidence of the close relationship between text and image in haikai.

2 Therefore “photo-haiga” would translate into photohaiku-drawing, whereas photo-haiku expresses the cor- rect connotation.

3 In Francophone countries people were unfortunately rather rash to name the new genre haisha just following the examples of haiku and haibun, a designation fairly peculiar to Japanese ears as it means "dentist" in their language.

4 Painting in one breath also reflects the painter's soul and his emotional state of mind at the time his pain- ting is being created.

5 The pictorialistic photographer controlled the entire process and manipulated (retouched) the nega- tives. For quite a few the negative was only a sketch, which would become art during a complicated and elaborated chemical process and using special printing, which supposed to enhance the painterly effect. But exactly this striving for perfection led to its gravest criticism: imitation of another art.


Addiss, Stephen: Haiga: Takebe Sōchō and the Haiku-Painting Tradition. Richmond, Virginia: University of Richmond, 1995.

Addiss, Stephen: 77 Dances: Japanese Calligraphy by Poets, Monks and Scholars, 1568-1868, Weatherhill, 2006.

Addiss, Stephen / Yoshiko, Audrey: How to Look at Japanese Art. New York, 1996.

Brüll, Lydia: Über das Zusammenspiel von Leere und Schweigen im integrativen Text-Bild, Sommergrass Nr.89, Deutsche Haiku Gesellschaft, 2010, pp.11-17.

Codrescu, Ion: Haïga — Peindre en poésie, Éditions A.F.H., 2012.

Codrescu, Ion: The Spirit of Haiga, An Interview by Jeanne Emrich, Reeds Contemporary Haiga, Haiga, Vol. 4, 2006.

Crowley, Cheryl A.: Haikai poet Yosa Buson and the Bashô Revival, Leiden, 2007, pp. 165-243

Grewe, Gabi: Shahai and Haiga, Haiku and Happiness Blogspot, 2005.

Kacian, Jim: Looking and Seeing: How Haiga Works, Red Moon Press, 2004, pp. 126-153.

Leonard, Koren: Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, Stone Bridge Press,



First appeared in "Chrysanthemum 11" International Haiku Magazine, Spring issue 2012.

Republished by the author’s permission.