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3rd Sailing

Sails is a section of troutswirl that is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku. Sails will be overseen by Peter Yovu. For an introduction to this section, see Sails.

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   • 2nd Sailing

3rd Sailing

presented by Peter Yovu


Haiku? Senryu? Something else?

You have probably noticed, under Viral 4.3 and Periplum #3, an ongoing discussion about a poem by Penny Harter, much of it centered around whether it is a haiku, a senryu, or something else. In this Sailing, I would like to continue and broaden the discussion somewhat. The central question is this: do these considerations help or hinder the understanding and/or enjoyment of a poem? In what ways?

As evidenced in the Viral and Periplum discussions, some people feel that the distinction is important. Others do not. But chances are, those who do not have studied the distinctions, and probably have even, for a while anyway, kept to them in their writing, or as guidelines for reading. Here then are two related question: how important is it for newer students to learn the distinctions and to practice them? How important was this for you?

This is an open forum of course, but I believe the most helpful approach here may be a personal one. If your imagination is best served by staying within certain bounds, it would be good to hear how that works for you. And similarly, if it is best served by testing the bounds, how does that work?

I feel it would be quite enlivening to see a poem or two which, like the Harter poem, may yield to us dimensions otherwise missed without this kind of examination. So please feel free to introduce (or re-introduce) to us such work. At some point, I may do that myself with a famous poem by Chiyo-ni. I hope looking at it in this light will be fun and perhaps instructive. But maybe I won’t need to.

This Post Has 81 Comments

  1. Hi, All, Thanks for the feedback. I guess the thing that got me asking it is I understand that a kigo is a word that gives you an image of a certain change.. and I just was writing a haiku that used the image of
    “Woodstock” in it. What puzzled me was, is it just the change of the seasons or is it any word that holds the image of change. When I used that word I was hoping that whoever would read it would come away with the full understanding that I meant the culmination of a whole change in the spirit of a nation.
    I am so thankful for the input here. It helps me to get to the bottom of so many questions that keep coming up for me.

  2. Well, Merrill and all,
    the World Kigo Database states the following:

    You should not use Japanese kigo that do not fit your cultural background or region.
    The aim of the World Kigo Database is to help you understand the basics of Japanese kigo to enable you to establish a saijiki of your own region, share the treasures of your own culture !

    You will be the cultural ambassador of your area via haiku, open a gate to your regional culture via the introduction of your kigo.
    Please help create and find new words that carry enough cultural background to be a new kigo for your area!

    More is here

    I am still hoping for the Great American Kigo Heritage Saijiki to evolve some day … :o) grin


  3. Welll, I’ll defend Peter a bit — I think he “spoke” or rather his dog dictated (ahem!) rather informally. We deal here at THF with mostly impressive haiku. But, even in Japan I expect, and I know here in the West — a lot of tripe passes for haiku. Some folks grasp at straws to add to a verse … and seek, book in hand maybe, to “kigofy” a few lines of perhaps interesting words.

    It is not of direct experience, not personal illumination of some relationship that caused poet to put pen to paper. It is an intellectual exercise. How many editors and my contemporaries can I fool this month? Can I make one up good enough to win a prize? Such pseudo poets do exist.

    When friends and editors get together (in person or electronically in private) it is a hoot (FUN) to send up some lines and append a common kigo. This IS NOT TO SAY that I do not use these kigo, I do, and other kigo– sometimes tailored to my own geography and circumstance (which Merrill asked about).

    Here using a few lines from my own published renku stanzas NOT paired with kigo… Never were intended as part of haiku … are what we might see as failed haiku attempts in the West, in English. Not that they might not be haiku, not at all … but that they are: (oooooh, subjectivity alert!) Bad Haiku. I made them up from available parts — with my own words so as not to embarrass anyone else.

    For fun, but also illustration:

    petals down the wedding chapel’s
    center aisle
    autumn rain

    illegal immigrants caught
    with forged papers
    autumn rain

    “Another highball here
    Mr. Bartender.”
    autumn rain

    kayakers linger
    in the shadows
    autumn rain

    musk oxen repel
    the wolfpack’s relentless attack
    spring rain

    undertow at this beach
    in Zanzibar
    spring rain

    indubitably Sherlock
    shows me the crucial clue
    spring rain

    OK, I’m kidding around — _Mostly_ so.

    Some folks could study one of these and find meaning, intentional juxtaposition of a kigo yielding depth. Such is the stuff of “desk haiku.” A lot of it passes through the haiku system. So does green corn.
    – Paul MacNeil

  4. Well, okay. Yes, Louis Miero, what you say makes sense, and I’m quite inclined to agree. When the time seems right, I will find a way to say what I mean in a more inviting “field”, though I often find that what I find inviting, others do not.

    Gabi brings up an interesting point. I am indeed curious about how the American, and beyond, haiku community feels about establishing a kigo culture. This has been discussed many times in many places already, but perhaps there is more room for discussion.

    Anyway, my dog made me say it!

  5. Hi, Gabi, What makes a kigo, anyway. I realize that the lists come from the history of Japanese literature, but how would you suggest that say, someone in America create American kigos. While many of the Japanese kigos do resonate in our culture, sometimes things in our own culture resonate even more. Perhaps if I understood the criteria for a kigo, I could better understand how they can be employed more fully here.
    I enjoy and derive a lot of satisfaction and understanding by becoming familiar with Japanese kigos..but I think each culture has a treasure trove words that can act as kigos.
    Any thoughts on this?

  6. Trouble is, Peter Yovu, when you say something clever like “gratuitous kigofying”, you narrow the field down to reactivity, when you could open it up to response. Does this make sense?

  7. paging through New Resonance 6, how about this one by Andrea Grillo:

    is it still indian summer if we have to ask

  8. Sandra, I would say the opposite: the poem relieves one of the suffering brought on too often by gratuitous kigofying. Wordplay is dogplay. Woof! And oh, the golden roller’s growly ohls of delight!

  9. Boy, that is so cool – I hoped I would help by submitting two Ernie-ku (Merrill, BTW, they are both Ernie’s, the “summer” one a winner in the ASW awards this year) in response to Scott’s request for contemporary haiku-senryu … and what I get is a full-blown education. Marvellous.

    Thanks so much, Paul and Allan. Really interesting.

    The smile for me in:

    my golden retriever
    rolls in it

    is the third line … because we all know what dogs like to roll in, right?

    Although the poem may suffer from naming the season, it very cleverly builds on that to bring us the simple joyfulness of being alive at that moment, for both owner and dog.

    If everyone sees these as true haiku, then maybe there are others to be nominated as “cross-over” poems?

  10. Allan, Thanks for that info. It stirs all sorts of ideas about the biological history locked in each dragonfly.

  11. My reading of Ernie Berry’s “lily pad” accords with that of Paul (MacNeil). I see it as capturing an aspect of “dragonfly-ness” and as a haiku.

    Just for fun–a few other favorite dragonfly haiku:

    a dead dragonfly
    on a dried weed stem–
    wings extended
    (Paul O. Williams; a particularly good one to read aloud)

    spot of sunlight–
    on a blade of grass the dragonfly
    changes its grip
    (Lee Gurga)

    rustle of marsh grass
    a dragonfly inches out of
    its graying husk
    (Jack Barry)

    No one, though, it would be safe to say, wrote more dragonfly haiku than Lorraine Ellis Harr, who published a book titled 226 Dragonfly Haiku. And she also edited the journal Dragonfly.

    Btw, just a quick natural history note. Dragonflies are actually quite substantially older than the dinosaurs. The oldest dragonfly fossils go back to about 325 mya whereas dinosaurs go back only to about 230 mya. So dragonflies established their holding patterns for nearly 100,000,000 years before the first dinosaurs appeared. They extended their wings during the 160,000,000 years during which the dinosaurs reigned. And they’ve been changing their grips for the 65,000,000 years since the Cretaceous-Tertiary Event, which they obviously survived, including inching out of husks in the 160,000-year blink-of-the-eye that modern humans have existed. Our brains aren’t really adapted to conceive of the ancientness of dragonflies.

  12. I discovered something very interesting when I first started submitting drawings to magazines. I had done a whole series of abstract drawings and without fail, they were received as sexual images. They had no basis at all for being connected to sexual images except in the viewer’s perception. And the thought came to me that all that humanity does is exploring who/what humanity is. This viewer even finds a human connection between Anita Sadler Weiss’ dog and her own.. I read it as the sudden awareness that her dog has more freedom to enjoy summer than she does. Of course, that’s my reading. It may not be her intent or anyone else’s reading. So I have some difficulty trying to understand how subjectivity can get in the way of writing haiku? What am I missing?

  13. On the other hand, to tweak Blake, (or maybe to shake and Blake) “How you know but every dragonfly that cuts the airy way, is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?”

  14. I take your point, Louis, that the haiku poet writes objectively about her/his subjective perception. Readers should be aware; writers should also know their own perceptive filters. It was an Ernest B. haiku. When Sandra shared it, it became your haiku, and my haiku. It takes a 20th C. or later reader to find air traffic controller in this. Nothing at all wrong with this finding. I would still think it haiku. There is another hypothesis. Indeed Vees of geese and patterned flights of dragonflies “on patrol” were surely seen and written of before the Wright Brothers invented human flight (and a New Zealander, I believe, concurrently). What Ernest Berry is showing the reader is a part of the “little truths” of dragonfly. It is not stretching the realm of objectivity — on the surface, first reading, level — to show “holding patterns.” A close observer of most of the Odonates can tell the sex (color and behavior) of an individual. Dragonflies are always looking for a meal, but do claim a territory, defend it against other males, and try to attract females. A vast chemical exchange is underway among individuals, too. My point is that an individual one of these insects will return again and again to one place, a lily pad is easy for humans to see, take off, and return yet again. [I doubt it carries over day-to-day, but I have no way as just an observer to tell if the same dragonfly is positioned over or on a certain place yesterday as today.] Berry is not just making a flat description and telling us all about it — he has “learned” from the place and the dragonfly. This haiku has emotional depth, I posit. It is also seasonal, but diffusely so. Formal placement in saijiki aside, dragonflies (various species) are often 3-season insects quite effectively timed by genetics to hatch from their watery form when prey insects are available. The lily pad may have a shorter season and be the governing kigo in this haiku. Both are a nature reference — and despite that, the haiku is about them. They are the subject not a grafted-on special effect. What do you hear, if you open your mind to this haiku? Where is this shallow water necessary for water lilies? Do you see its flower, smell it? What of the methane bubbles from the muck the lily tubers spread in? Other insects, birds, colors, sounds of this marsh or shallow zone at water’s edge? What amazing creatures they are — surviving in fossil record since the dinosaurs. Berry is a smooth writer and a fine naturalist. It is haiku for me all the way. – Paul MacNeil

  15. Thank you I will come back with this question. Isn’t this dragonfly haiku really an Ernest J. Berry haiku? It tells mostly about how people see things, no? relating one thing to another. I don’t think E. J. Berry went to the dragonflies to learn from the dragonflies– or maybe he did and actually learned about his own way of seeing things, and got a chuckle which I think makes this a senryu. My experience is haiku humor gives us a sad smile, and senryu gives us a chuckle which only when it is done reveals another sadness. Aren’t we all foibled by our perceptions?

    By the way, I think it is important to learn about your own way of seeing things before you can see things.

  16. Louis, Yes, please come back again. Everyone’s input so valuable to us all. That’s what’s so fun about this site…in addition to being educational…is that we all hope to explore the width and breadth and depth of haiku and can only do that with as many voices and points of view as possible.

  17. I enjoyed these examples, most the first. I think if senryu includes a glancing at human nature in foible and satire, it has senryu qualities. Yes, we see very clearly what the dragonflies do, but also what the one watching does: relate their flying to the very human activity of airplanes over airports. I don’t think dragonflies live in a world of air traffic controllers. Lucky bugs!

    I like this blog by the way. Maybe I’ll come again.

  18. One of the doyennes of haiku writing in New Zealand – the prolific Ernest J Berry – muddies the lines between haiku and senryu effectively and often writes poems with that little smile in them. A selection of his poems are available in the Haiku NewZ Showcase. Here’s one:

    lily pad
    the holding pattern
    of dragonflies

    And this poem was among his winners in this year’s Anita Sadler Weiss contest:

    my golden retriever
    rolls in it

  19. I think the lightness, and freshness of topic or at least treatment portrays “haikai” not senryu. This was the century (Chiyo 18th after Basho 17th) when the slow rise of Art from below replaced the rarefied level of the Imperial Court and Courtiers. Basho was paid to lead renku sessions by the merchant class. Often a local haikai master was included. Professions not hereditary officials or royal rankers of the Court. If Chiyo’s “morning glory” was a hokku as was said, then it began a set of linked verses. It was “cut” and had a main-topic kigo, kidai. Clearly it was what is now known as haiku despite the bit of Buddhist “live and let live” philosophy that seems translated at the end. She was, after all, a Buddhist nun. I see lightness and a serious philosophy, not irony or the foibles of human nature. She has well captured the suchness of morning glories … stems grow and attach almost before your eyes as do peas and beans. Her’s is a serious nature observation of the kidai, not just a recitation of it. One can, is allowed to, smile at a haiku. That is what it means! Buson’s butterfly on the temple bell was haiku. Francine Porad’s send up of the imitators of the haiku: another damn butterfly on another damn bell [paraphrase] was senryu with intentional irony despite a named kigo. I was reminded of a Master Senryu Artist, Alan Pizzarelli, at the just-concluded HNA at a session about Nick Virgilio. Nick’s classic 1963 (!) haiku: lily/out of the water/out of itself

    The senryu: Lily/ out of the water/ out of her suit

    Bye, – Paul MacNeil

    1. are there any english, 20th/21st c ku out there anyone can share that might get to the original question being raised here? personally, i find looking at an 18th c poem in Japanese rather daunting. reading through Ueda’s Far Beyond the Field for the umpteenth time, i noticed he translated the third line of Chiyojo’s ku as:

      my well bucket
      taken by the morning glory—
      this borrowed water

      completely in the past tense. an interesting difference.

      also, quite surprisingly, Ueda notes that critical opinion of her work “has ranged from one extreme to another . . . In pre-modern Japan her literary fame almost equalled Bashō’s . . . In the 20th c however her haiku came under scathing attack from both scholars and practicing poets . . . Takahama Kyoshi [an ultra-traditionalist, and supporter of the fascist-imperialist regime], the most influential haiku poet of the century, repeatedly condemned her poetry as conceited and phony. No less unflattering was the opinion of the eminent haiku scholar Ebara Taizō, who found her work emotionally shallow. . . .” Which reminds me that Shiki kind of detested Bashō’s work and was highly critical of it.


      how about some 20/21st c english work to consider that play along the edges of haiku and senryu?

  20. I think that Chiyojo took holy orders as she grew older…and as I read her poetry I keep hearing this longing for a clear vision (if you will) … the water
    is necessary for life, but oh! how it entangles her in life…and the fact that she states that she won’t disturb the morning glory…the beauty…confirms to me that she was leaning toward those holy orders even as she was in the midst of a worldly community.
    I find her name as Chiyo-ni in some places and Chiyojo in others. Does anyone know if it was changed after she took holy orders?

  21. “Chiyo-ni writes within line three:
    “I ask for water” ”

    Chiyo-Ni writes 貰い水 MORAIMIZU and the translator did the English.

    yahoo dict. (and others) says

    I went to a neighbor for water.

    also I found this Japanese version

    where TORARETE is the verb I suspected, (see my comment above), and not “entangled” …


  22. Chiyo-ni writes witnin line three:

    “I ask for water”

    Is she being defiant? Is she asking for water for herself?

    line two opens up this poems to all sorts of images.

    This is a good example, probably a good example of how a haiku should be written?

  23. To me, this is primarily haiku, although without a doubt contains elements of senryu.

    “morning glory” starts things off with a sense of nature, although one not short of analogies to human existence.

    However, pairing this with “the well-bucket entangled” I get a stonger sense of passing time, natural process, perhaps even transience – the well bucket has been shown to be a part of nature and has once again been enveloped by its encompassing state.

    “I ask for water” suggests that nature has the upper hand to some degree – both the bucket has been entangled and as a result the poet has had to ask for water from someone else.

    However, there’s also the possibility that the poet has chosen to leave the bucket tangled rather than to destroy the entangling creepers – the poet is showing a kind or respect or reverence for nature. As a result of this attitude the poet is then forced to ask for water. As such there is a sense that the poem is looking into human attitudes too.

    Perhaps there’s also a sense of irony in that the poet has had to ask for water when they otherwise may not have, but it has resulted in people being borught together, communicating and cooperating. They have been forced to move from isolation to community.

    Yet further still is the possibility that the poet is not asking anyone in particular for water, but that she is making a silent prayer to nature, to the gods?, that instead of an empty bucket thickly entangled they may have access to water in any form.

    Ultimately we can say that nature is shown as presiding over human life, whatever interpretation we take – the poet needs water and that is inescapable. So, that’s why I take it as primarily haiku.

    In answer to Peter, I think that makes me fall on the “enlightened” side of the line, rather than the “egotistical”.

  24. morning glory–_the well-bucket entangled_I ask for water

    I suppose if one were so inclined, it would be possible to find a number of early poems which are imbued at least partially with the spirit of senryu. I leave it for someone else to open that up, and give examples if they wish. If I read Chiyo-ni’s poem as given, with no biographical or historical background, I find a progression, or layering of three elements: “morning glory” represents the thing it itself, “morning glory”—just that. “the well-bucket entangled” brings in something of the morning glory’s nature, but also, lightly, a human element: it is the morning glory’s nature to entangle and also to rise, for sustenance; it is human nature to (entangle) and also, with wells and with questions, to dig deep, for sustenance. “I ask for water” emphasizes the human—(asking/doing)—contrasted to nature—(taking/being), though the word “taking” fails here, to the extent that it anthropomorphizes. Nature, you might say, is that for which doing/being is a unity. Human nature, the field of senryu, is that for which they are separate or at odds. An enlightened human being, one might say, is someone who is not at odds with nature, for whom doing/being are the same.

    I went back to the introduction to the book Chiyo-ni, Woman Haiku Master.
    It appears that some regard this poem as “egotistical”, meaning that its author is in effect showing off her compassion, pointing to her own wonderfulness. If the author is playing with and on this, we are in the province of senryu. No?

    Others regard it as an “enlightenment poem”, which in my characterization would mean that she is not at variance with the nature of the morning glory. She may not even be at variance with the possibility that asking another for water may be an entanglement.

    Wherever one lands, on “egotistical”, on “enlightened” or somewhere in between will likely be an indication of one’s preference, which certainly is another of the provinces of senryu.

    So the question emerges: on the continuum between “egotistical” and “enlightened”, where do you land?

  25. Gabi, You and Japan are in our prayers. Earthquakes and typhoons are not something any of us would enjoy enduring and we hope for your land
    only good things.

    Also, the poem, if I remember it correctly of Chiyo-ni goes something like this:
    “I forget my lips are rouged – at the clear water” It speaks to so many levels of truth. But when I first came across it, it seemed to speak to me to always try to write “truth”…to speak “truth”… I was thankful for that.

  26. 朝顔に 釣瓶とられて 貰い水
    asagao ni tsurube torarete morai mizu

    …………. ENTANGLED

    Hi Gene and all,
    I was wondering about the translation of TORARETE …
    I wonder if it is from the verb : torareru …

    to have something stolen, to be dumbfolded …

    the morning glory got the better of me
    (I got up too late this morning)

    the morning glory took it away from me

    or something of this effect?

    Does feel like the meaning of “ippon torareta” 一本取られた ?
    to beat; to gain a point; to upset

    Can anyone shed light on this translation ?


  27. morning glory–
    the well-bucket entangled
    I ask for water

    Well, we all know that senryu can use a kigo, and normally, I would agree that the emphase falls on human
    nature, but, knowing how important water is to every living thing. I would say that this example is a haiku.
    line 2, “entangled” is probably the most important word
    within the poem, above; morning glory, I, or even “water.”

  28. Another thing worth keeping in mind is that Karai Senryu (1718-1790) himself was a younger contemporary of Chiyo-ni (1703-1775). So the word “senryu” may not even have been in circulation in Chiyo-ni’s lifetime. (Can anyone confirm that?)

    That seems important. From a historical viewpoint, it’s hard for me to imagine that Chiyo-ni herself and her contemporaries would have viewed this poem as anything but an autumn haiku–or “hokku” back in the day–as Gabi already noted.

    Poems that actually do blur the line between haiku and senryu or exhibit properties traditionally associated with both would be a later historical development.

    If it were a 21st c. E-l poem, its genre might be debatable. It’s not, though–and I think we have to view it for what it is, an 18th-c. J haiku. And I certainly agree with Scott’s point about kigo often being an artificial construct relevant only to J poets. All this shows us, I think, how important time, place, and tradition are to questions of genre and seasonality.

  29. So I wonder, for the sake of discussion and unfolding dimensionality, do you, dear reader, consider this a haiku? Why? A senryu? Why?

    1. . . . . at the same time there is great beauty and simplicity in the delayed destruction in the poem (which, technically, and historically, is a hokku). it was her choice not to destroy it and to instead look elsewhere for water.

      from a 21st c. point of view though, it’s well balanced between haiku and senryu and could be viewed either way (a great, tough, choice, Peter). i’m tempted to say it doesn’t matter. it’s interesting that the kigo (morning glory) is technically autumn (remembering that this is based on not only Japanese culture and literature but also, even more specifically, Tokyo/Edo and Kyoto culture, which i believe is a major reason why so many Japanese haijin have rebelled against having to use kigo and their artificiality). it gives it a bit more of an autumnal taste then. I would have associated it with summer cause that’s when i see them, which is precisely why kigo are so irrelevant to anyone who isn’t Japanese (the autumnal feel is lost). what i am left though with, ultimately, in this poem in not the poet and her decision but the wildness and beauty (and possible destructiveness, i guess) of nature/the wild/universe: the morning glory opening and closing. if left alone though, the well would be overtaken, devoured, and the water would be impossible to reach—the balancing of life and death, survival and destruction.

      mark me down for this hokku being a haiku.

  30. the Chiyo-ni poem seems to be saying that sometimes nature foils our plans and we sometimes need to depend on other people/humanity/the human aspect of nature. That “nature” can’t provide everything all the time; but humans, in all their beauty and ugliness/destructiveness, are all we have sometimes, for better or worse. Perhaps that neighbor of hers was the last person she wanted to ask (assuming this poem might be taken from a “direct experience” and isn’t imaginary or language/allusion based). The poem becomes more psychological then, more emotional, more inner, more centered around human need and human nature, affected by nature and its wild, uncaring mind. The wild does not care if we need water or not to survive. It would overtake everything in no time at all.

  31. Oh, Gabi, What a treat! I love the poetry of Chiyo-ni….
    What an impression her use of the term “clear water” has made on my life. Thanks.

  32. Hi, Guys, I probably should just keep reading…this is getting very, very good…but I just had to make a comment about birds and words.
    I am fascinated by birds…and if I were stronger I’d be a birder too. But it’s physically impossible for me. While I spent about ten years dealing with paralysis…I spent a considerable amount of time in this one room…and the birds had a visceral effect on me.

    Now to draw one must concentrate on a line…on a mind hand connection. Since I could no longer do sumie I found that the effect the bird had – to stir the human desire to sing…to fly… actually gave me the strength to do it…

    The very word “wings” has a certain effect if you enter it in its true nature, in the nature of the word itself…

    These things have to do with the human/nature connection that we are losing. After spending years in doctor’s offices and braces and casts and medical stuff…I want to tell you that the first time I dug up some dirt in my garden…the dirt on my hands did something to me that humanity is losing.

    In any event, a good haiku – one that affects us as nature does, whether or not it’s a nature haiku is a joy and I believe a benefit to our human nature.

  33. 朝顔に 釣瓶とられて 貰い水
    asagao ni tsurube torarete morai mizu

    A morning glory.
    Twined round the bucket:
    I will ask my neighbor for water.

    (tr. by Donegan, I think)

    “morning glory” is a kigo for early autumn.

    This is a traditional Japanese haiku, listed in Japanese saijiki.
    (There is even a sweet with this name in its honor. but that will not help the haiku/senryu discussion, just the palate. :o)


  34. Gene,

    Here’s a Brant haiku from Wing Beats by John Barlow & Matthew Paul. Note, though, that the British use the term “Brent Goose”. But it’s the same species: Branta bernicla.

    where the estuary ends
    and the ocean begins,
    brent geese wheeling in

    –Matthew Paul

  35. This may be a good time to introduce the well-known Chiyo-ni poem I mentioned in the introduction to this Sailing. It certainly connects to compassion for the wild, but I believe may bring up some interesting thoughts and feelings related to the haiku/senryu question. Here it is, and I look forward to the discussion:

    morning glory–
    the well-bucket entangled
    I ask for water

  36. real quick since I’ve read bird haiku several times:

    Within the states and these figures are a decade old, but
    the avian audience is about 50 million. Most of the
    haiku written does not contain the full genus, so in my
    opinion, the subject of “bird” will never wear out.

    Look at all of the “geese” poems that have been written,
    and I cannot recall ever reading a “brant” poem, for example.

  37. Scott (& all),

    Thanks for continuing the conversation.

    “…why is it do you think that elh hasn’t entered [the academic] arena yet?”

    I don’t think it has been assimilated at all to existing conceptions of the literary canon. And there are a number of factors probably working against that assimilation. Here are just three:

    1) “Haiku” in general has acquired a quaint connotation from the uninformed 5-7-5 newspaper version, which is what most Americans seem to be familiar with.

    2) The aesthetic values of genuine haiku are considerably different than those underlying mainstream Western lit and require special study. That study does not exist inside the current academy.

    3) Elh is still relatively recent and still mostly separate from other currents of contemporary lit.

    I don’t think it’s a question of merit. Consider the endless critical ink spilled on Imagism, a literary mvmt that lasted very briefly (c. 1909-1917). Its accomplishments, when you actually look at the poems, are quite modest. Mainly, it’s remembered because Pound was associated with it and because its principles influenced later developments (e.g., Objectivism, the Black Mt. school, the Beats, etc.).

    If it’s simply a matter of objective merit, there’s no question in my mind that the poetic achievements of elh vastly outstrip those of Imagism, by many orders or magnitude. So, if there were any justice to these matters–and I don’t say there is–haiku would eventually be the subject of a great deal of literary interest and critical writing.

    But one “lesson” here may be that in order to receive academic attention a poet recognized as “major” will have to be associated with the movement–and also there may need to be greater integration with or influence exerted on wider currents of English-language poetry.

    If academic attention does focus more on haiku it will probably be because of the work in that genre of writers who are already part of the canon, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, and/or Richard Wright.

    Then, an astute critic who really delved into the genre and grasped the mindset behind it should go on to discover that the finest achievements of the genre were actually by hitherto unknown names (to academia and mainstream poetry) such as Virgilio, Wills, Mountain, Lyles, tripi, Kacian, usw.


    Exhaustion of subject matter is one thing artists in any genre have to be attuned to, of course. Perhaps some “generic” bird topics have been overdone in haiku, okay. But given the variousness of bird behavior and habitats and the fact that there are more than 10,000 bird species worldwide, the possibilities for avian haiku remain vast for those interested in exploring them. It goes w/o saying that bird haiku must, like any other type of haiku, be good haiku, i.e., good poetry of this type.

    Here’s something I wrote in my review of Wing Beats by John Barlow & Matthew Paul: “Birds provide, to a degree few other things in the world do, a focal point and a motivating stimulus for haiku. The typically fleeting nature of a bird sighting–a resonant moment in spacetime–almost cries out for haiku treatment. Unsurprisingly, many first-rate haiku, from Bashō’s time to our own, take birds as their subjects.”

    Perhaps bird haiku are mainly of interest to other birders–but you could argue the same thing for any haiku topic. Perhaps they also invite readers to pay more attention to birds and to expand their consciousness of reality in that direction.

    Btw, thanks for singling out “source of the creek”, which is also one of my own favorites from that selection. Click HERE for an image of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which is a common montane breeder here in Colorado. Without getting too much into the back story, I’ll just say that’s also the haiku I worked hardest for, physically.


    One in 8 bird species, worldwide, though, is considered to be on the brink of extinction. So perhaps we better write those avian haiku quickly….

    Of course, nothing we can do, including writing haiku, will have much of an impact on the unfolding environmental disaster of the 21st c. The human population growth rate right now is 220,000 per day–that’s births minus deaths. Please read that again. Then multiply it out. It means that each year there are 80 million more humans on the planet. It means that each decade there are 800 million more. And as more arrive, the growth rate increases. The global population will hit 9 billion before the middle of this century.

    And for each person, land must be cleared for food production, energy sources, housing, work space, entertainment options, etc. And that means that much less land for Everything Else. That much less habitat. That many fewer other animals and other species. The net effect of the expansion of human civilization on other species right now is equivalent to the slow-motion impact of a giant meteorite such as that wiped out the dinosaurs. Things are changing too quickly for other species to adapt–and in any event there’s nowhere most of them can go anyway.

    As an environmentalist, all one can hope for is to raise consciousness of the situation and to get through this with as much preserved as is possible.

    We are cut off from the rest of nature in so many ways already. To me, it’s just another and a rather terrible sign of our anthropocentrism when haiku–traditionally a form of nature (or at least seasonal) poetry–of all things also reflects that disconnection. It’s a symptom of the bigger disease. So for reasons that are perhaps mostly symbolic I do–as an ardent outdoorsman, environmentalist, and haikuist–want to argue for the importance of nature reference in our haiku. I want to argue against the Trantor-ization of haiku.

    I also, of course, believe in pluralism and creative freedom and would not ask poets to ignore anything that’s compelling to them. People will only write nature-oriented haiku if they want to–and if they value and have meaningful contact with nature.

    I’m just one voice in the wilderness, but this is one way I choose to use that voice. As Thoreau said: “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness…. there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.”

    And to return to the question of definition: I, personally, would distinguish between “materiality” (which covers all matter) and “nature” (materiality unmodified or relatively unmodified by humans).

    Well, it’s high time I got away from this infernal machine and out into the realm of nature…. I’m sure the conversation, which I hope will prove productive, will continue.

  38. Allan,

    Your reminder of different artistic models is wonderful. A great reminder. And many of the names you mention are favorites of mine. Especially Goya.

    Since you are much more knowledgeable on academia than I am, Allan, why is it do you think that elh hasn’t entered that arena yet? I totally agree that we will become lost, as poets, if that’s our main concern or goal. We should all just do what we want and need to do. I’m trying to think of and get at the reasons why though. and also why elh can not find more homes in non-haiku poetry journals. the fault does not seem one-sided.

    I’m the last person on earth that would tell someone not to follow their passion or interest, or to specifically not write bird haiku. Go for it. I just don’t think they should necessarily be published simply because they have a bird or flower or baseball in them—I think the danger of the profusion of this kind of topicality, which goes for baseball haiku as well, especially anthologies, is that it has a way of representing to the mainstream what they’re supposed to be writing about and what is accepted, what will get them in print. There are great examples of bird ku, more so, i would say, than something like baseball which i find perversely nostalgic. though i still think they’re more for bird watcher/lovers than they are for poets or non-birders.

    Allan, i think your best piece in New Resonance 6 is this one:

    source of the creek
    a kinglet’s
    breeding song

    without even knowing what the darn thing looks like, the wordplay and inventiveness of the name is interesting: king; let. and the overall effect is remarkable. the kk’s and the eeee’s.

    (just a side note: David G. Lanoue in his recent Modern Haiku [40.2] article mentioned that the first time he was asked to translate some of Ban’ya Natsuishi’s “flying pope” ku he thought they were referring to the local name of a bird, not about a Flying Pope, an imaginative, mythological creation. to me, this says a tremendous amount about elh i think. if this is David’s reaction. . . . I had the complete opposite reaction the other day when I read Paul M.’s:

    a tide pool
    warmed by the sun
    wintering harlequins

    I thought he meant harlequins as in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel *Look at the Harlequins!*; far from it).

    i wish there were a thousand if not thousands of elh journals and magazines. as it stands though, there are really only a few, and they seem to mostly have the same or very very similar criteria, and, for the most part, for me, become one big blur. little stands out. too much of the same kinds of work gets through the filters it seems to me. and so i don’t think those thousands of elh journals could ever be properly filled. as it stands, i think too much elh are being published and we need to have higher standards for what gets in, my own journal included.

    sure, in Japan an unbelievable amount of haiku are written and published. that doesn’t mean they *should be* published though, or that they’re any good (which brings up: just cause they do, we should too?). it’s mostly just hobbyists. which is nice. same could be argued for what’s published in the west: mostly hobbyists. and the very same can be said for work that’s “radical”, “new”, “different”, outhere, avant-garde, gendai: “weird”. just because it’s “weird” doesn’t mean it should be published either. who does the pigeonholing, the poets or the editors/judges?

    i much prefer a wilderness area to an L.A. but blackholes naturally exist everywhere in our universe. those L.A.s are a different kind of wilderness for sure. concrete jungles that require different personas, different masks on our part. i don’t really see anthropocentrism in haiku though bringing about the radical changes that are needed to avoid those political implications. i might be inclined to say even that by ignoring our inner nature (“nature” more widely defined) and only concentrating on outer, “objective” nature/wilderness that we are being artificial and ignoring a vast part of human consciousness and reality. hasn’t the struggle always been to find the balance a
    nd find equality between the two?

  39. But a great deal less hinges on that distinction. If the products of human creativity resist easy classification–as is often the case–then there are no resulting consequences detrimental to nonhuman life on this planet.

    I’m a utilitarian in these matters: It’s okay until it infringes on the rights of other beings. The detrimental consequences to pedantry I actually enjoy and encourage.

  40. “To say that both downtown L.A. and a wilderness area are both “nature” just isn’t helpful. We need a distinction here.

    Oh dear, Allan, now you tempt me to think the following:

    To say that haiku and senryu are both “poems” (or KU) just is not helpful. We need a distinction here.

    But this is just me thinking … grin … o)


  41. Some artists crystallize a style early on and spend their careers exploring its implications. I think of figures such as Vermeer, Chopin, Robert Frost, and Bill Evans.

    Others keep digging deeper into a thing, becoming ever more complex, ever more themselves and ever less like anyone else: Goya, Scriabin, James Joyce, John Coltrane.

    Still others are truly protean, chameleons who constantly change with the times: Picasso, Stravinsky, Miles Davis.

    So there are many models. Artists have, thankfully, a wide range of temperaments and goals.

    It’s probably not important that I detail every point where I agree or disagree with Scott. I like it that he has strong opinions; so do I. Quickly, I’ll just throw out the following points:

    * I was in academia for 12 yrs (beyond the undergrad level), so I know something about that and have no illusions. If the goal of our writing is to be recognized by academia, then we’ve become lost.

    * I’m a serious birder and took up haiku and birding at approximately the same time. Writing bird haiku is essential for me, as it is for others who share a passion for both birds & haiku.

    * Publishing decisions are, thankfully, decentralized and made by many different editors with different criteria. No authority save those who set up shop. No one person gets to decide what gets published–that would be a dictatorship we would instantly rebel against.

    * In Japan an unbelievable number of haiku get published. I’ve seen estimates that there are between 1 and 10 million haikuists currently in Japan.

    * The definition of “nature” has political implications. I want haiku to be aligned with environmental consciousness and not with anthropocentrism and the ongoing Sixth Great Extinction caused principally by human population growth and destruction of habitat. To say that both downtown L.A. and a wilderness area are both “nature” just isn’t helpful. We need a distinction here.

  42. Peter,

    Just to clarify: I don’t object to your personal tastes at all. I can only assume they are a sincere expression of where you are. But I did feel the need to make a counter-statement to the viewpoint that you attributed to “academe and many [presumably, non-haiku] poets”–and that you also seemingly endorsed. My goal is to discourage passive acceptance of notions such as that haiku is merely a trivial pastime and can be nothing more.

    An old friend of mine who is not a haiku poet himself recently wrote to me: “contemporary English-language haiku has gotten me more fired up about poetry and literature than, well, pretty much anything else I can think of”. It should go w/o saying that I feel the same way.

    If some say that we cling too much to Japanese models, it’s also true–as we’ve seen in this forum very clearly–that others claim we veer too far from Japanese haiku.

    Haiku will continue to evolve–of course. Personally, I would not express that idea in terms of a need to “grow up”. Nonetheless, your goal, Peter, “to absorb, digest, and expand”: I hope we all share that. It certainly jibes with ideas I’ve expressed in various ways on this website.

  43. i like the jazz comparison.

    when i was in elementary school a man performed in our cafeteria/auditorium. he played something on each instrument so that we could hear what each one could do. what it was about. what it was capable of.

    when i heard the trumpet i totally lost it. i went home and asked for one.

    i took lessons and played as a kid. don’t anymore (ku is my outlet). since that instant though i’ve been a jazz trumpet fan: king oliver, louis armstrong, dizzy gillespie, clifford brown, bix, hobart dotson, miles davis, jon hassell.

    miles davis is my favorite artist. not trumpet player, but artist. he was a chameleon, and a great painter and drawer as well.

    what inspires me about davis’ work, and why i am particularly drawn to it (all of it, all periods), is that he was constantly changing and open to various ideas and possibilities—anything that would improve his art, or draw (and draw out) his soul.

    in the late 60s he started putting “directions in jazz” at the top of his lps. the idea of “directions in haiku” has occurred to me a few times for different projects.

    in his last years he said in an interview that he doesn’t like the term “jazz”. he prefers “social music”. he takes what he likes from what he hears and lets the rest fall to the side. that’s what informs his music, his art. you can see this mindset from the very beginning of his career to his last performance, and everywhere in between: always changing, morphing, taking chances, always adding things on and letting things go.

    the last thing he wanted to do was to repeat himself, or just play the clichés, or play the definitions. i think this is a major issue when it comes to english language haiku and senryu. too many clichés. too much mimicking. too much relying on our laurels.

    jazz, just like haiku, or pornography even, is hard to define. though, subjectively, we know it when we see/hear it. and many, clearly, have differing thresholds. different needs. different fears (it seems).

    at so many points in davis’ career did critics, fans and musicians make strange eyes at him and say he wasn’t playing or creating “jazz”: when he went electric, used rock and soul beats and rhythms, 3 guitars, got ambient, included indian and south american instrumentation, pop music, hip-hop. no doubt he would have continued to break new ground and create new fusions.

    of course, not everyone can be miles davis.

    just because definitions become harder for us doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. just because it might not resemble what we were suckled on means it’s a bad thing, or that it’s *not* jazz or *not* haiku. and because of what we’ve been suckled on, we want haiku/senryu to be what we, personally, want or need it to be. not what is actually is or can be. that’s really unfair and narrow-minded. unartistic. and unimaginative.

    more than anything, i learned about the essence of haiku not through definitions but through examples. by reading as much as i could, and from those readings taking what i felt was the essence, and taking what i liked, and applying it to my own work. i didn’t double check to make sure it aligned with a definition. or that it had a kigo.

    this is why definitions, even for beginners, i think, is a poor way to start things (unless there is a thorough discussion about the clear dangers and problems that arise when one defines something, especially an artform). i would prefer to present to students as wide a variety of haiku/senryu as possible before they even pick up a pen, and intensely study those first. look at what’s been done and how it’s been done. . . . now: what can you do? where can you take it? are you going to mimic and copy and write clichés and be lazy? or are you going to try to create something different, something new, something that rings true to your voice and your soul?

    what’s wrong with presenting a challenge from the get go?

    as a beginner though, i think a certain amount of mimicking and cliche is probably necessary, if not a given. it gets the juices flowing.

    ***but that doesn’t mean those efforts should be published***

    perhaps academics though, and those who critically analyze poetry, have not yet taken to haiku/senryu not because they are naive or unaware of its history and foundation in the west, but simply because so much of it, and so many of the haiku journals and magazines in circulation, are mostly packed with cliches and mimickry and laziness (Hallmark haiku, “Martha Stewart haiku”, birdies and flowers haiku). there is so little difference between them, and so little difference within them (The Heron’s Nest doesn’t even accept anything that strays from the three line mold). six of one a half a dozen of the other.

    it’s a nice thought to think that each voice is sharing their experiences, and we should certainly welcome that. but that doesn’t mean we should publish them (just because they’re real doesn’t mean they’re interesting, or artistic, to paraphrase Stanley Kubrick). i really don’t think what we are seeing is genuine work. i think most people just want to be published (how genuine is that?). in order to do that when it comes to haiku, it’s clear that mimicky and imitativeness (laziness) will get you far, and that by altering one’s true voice one will be in print (oftentimes that means slapping on an artificial kigo). if birdy haiku weren’t published would people really write them? really? if short-long-short, three lines, aligned to the left weren’t accepted most often, would everyone be doing it? if 99% of the english senryu we see published weren’t simply ironic, bad, lead-shoe dropping jokes, would people be writing them and sending them in?

    do we really think academics are that naive or uniformed? even if many don’t, perhaps, want or need their attention?

    i think the last thing we should be doing is making students or beginners be tied to the idea of having to use artificial kigo, especially when so many kigo are entrenched in Japanese culture, history and language. it will only make their work more mimicky and cliche. and rather lazy and empty. a word that opens the world up to its readers is essential, be it a season word or a non-season word. if our definition of nature (which, again, i think is central to this conversation) is all-inclusive instead of only about outer nature and seasons, then haiku and senryu, essentially become one. perhaps that is simply the result of time and the progression of haiku and senryu over centuries of time and as it travels across oceans and other continents and becomes more global and universal.

    To quote Jack Kerouac:

    “[Neal] Cassady also began his early youthful writing with attempts at slow, painstaking, and all-that-crap craft business, but got sick of it like I did, seeing it wasn’t getting out his guts and heart the way it *felt* coming out.” (The Paris Review)

    And to quote from “Technique used in Modern Japanese Haiku: Vocabulary and Structure” by Ban’ya Natsuishi (and from my comment on the Periplum #3 post):

    “Ichiro Fukumoto (1943 – ), who specializes in haiku and literature, explains the difference between senryu and haiku, both of which are usually written in five-seven-five syllables. He denies the common belief that senryu doesn’t use season words whereas haiku does, and that senryu sets the theme on human beings whereas haiku focuses on nature. According to Fukumoto, such a simplistic interpretation became invalid ever since muki-haiku, seasonless poems, appeared. Fukumoto’s assertion is that the real difference is that senryu doesn’t have kire, whereas haiku does.”

  44. “question: haiku … senryu
    how important is it for newer students to learn the distinctions and to practice them? ”

    Well, here is part of my daily life of teaching it …

    Take this for example (I make it up for this purpose)

    winter night –
    the neighbours quarrel

    If you ask me to comment on this, I will fisrt ask back
    Did you want to write a haiku or a senryu?

    if you say HAIKU
    I might have this to say:

    Go for a better kigo to fit the situation. In winter most windows are closed and you might not hear the neighbours.

    sultry night –
    the neigbhours quarrel

    if you say SENRYU
    I might have this to say:

    forget about the season and tell us more about the human condition.

    thin walls –
    the neigbhours quarrel


    trailor park –
    the neigbhours quarrel

    So there is a difference in the response!

    if your answer is

    I do not care, call it what you like !

    then this is the end of my commenting.

    So I think it is important to have some understanding of the difference between the two traditional Japanese genres.


  45. I did not wish to imply that I agree with those who demean or diminish the art of haiku. John Brandi thankfully got out from under his professor’s soggy blanket.

    Citing Gilbert may be dangerous, as he has been critical in ways that many find objectionable. Having posted the above I wondered if I had been an unwise host of this Sailing in bringing this out. Perhaps.

    But if haiku is going to grow up, it needs to subject itself to scrutiny, some of which will make us uncomfortable. I quoted Gilbert in response to what Merrill Ann broached, that, at least in the view of some “American writers try too hard to ‘cling’ to the Japanese…”. Gilbert is saying, I believe, that we have yet to come to a time when Elh will no longer be clinging, but can stand on its own.

    I’ll try to be clear: personally, I am working toward that time. It does not mean I need to reject anything. It means I seek to absorb, digest, and expand.

    Allan, you may not like it that I say there are only a handful of poems which truly engage me and keep me going. It doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy other work, or that I don’t value it or those who present it.

    To bring this back to the actual question proposed for this 3rd Sailing, at the risk of preaching to the converted, I will say that I feel it is of incalculable benefit to study Japanese haiku and aesthetics, not only, obviously, to haiku poets, but to artists in general. This includes being able to make and explore distinctions between haiku and senryu as they are regarded both historically and currently. Doing so raises essential questions around nature, human nature, mind, language, etc. which to me is the miraculous thing about haiku, that it can invite so much.

    And this exploration, which means inviting as much of the experience of haiku/senryu and related arts as possible, makes growth, and change, possible.

    I do hope that others will offer their considered views about all or any of this.

  46. Thanks for the input. Sorry I went off-base, but I had never come across this view before, and it puzzled me.

  47. Well, some of us do actually like haiku in general and elh in particular. Not that we imagine or expect that every attempt will be a masterpiece by any means. But if one avoids cynicism, there is still some pleasure to be extracted from each genuine, informed effort and from the sharing of experiences and visions.

    Also, haiku for a lot of us is quite a bit more than a mere “pastime”. And the condescending views of academics and “mainstream” poets who have little grasp of the history, character, richness, or peculiar angle of vision of elh are, to my way of thinking, beside the point. This thing–it’s happening now, with or without approval.

    It’s like jazz musicians in the bad old days being judged by snooty music scholars and concert musicians who hadn’t grasped the essence of jazz itself and weren’t sympathetic to it either. My view is that we need to go our way, do our thing to the best of our ability, and not be hindered in any way by the views of those uncommitted to our goals. Haiku in the final analysis is interesting to those interested in such things.

  48. 3rd sailing off topic. I’m reluctant to speak to what Merrill Ann brings up in this forum, primarily because it feels like a subject for another Sailing, but I will briefly jump ship and hope to return…

    In *The Unswept Path* John Brandi writes about having been initially discouraged from writing haiku by a professor who characterized haiku as “an over-imitated Japanese pastime”. That’s a harsh view, but probably one shared by much of academe and many poets. My feeling is, and I’ve stated it elsewhere, that as evidenced by much of what one sees, haiku *is* “over-imitated”. What keeps me going, and I’ve heard others say something similar, is the handful of poems that appear every year which transcend all notions of “pastime” and “Japanese” and even “haiku”.

    In his essay “The Disjunctive Dragonfly”, Richard Gilbert writes: “The era when the English (language) haiku itself might provide an effective, autonomous aesthetic basis for critical judgement has arguably yet to arrive”.

    I would like to take this up in a future “Sailing”, but the whale is out of the water…

  49. William Cullen brings up an interesting point of view on the comments section of his entry in Tobacco Road Blog. I’m not sure if I’m saying this right but it seems to be his feeling that American haiku writers try too hard to “cling” to the Japanese when in fact that Japanese have clearly given their poetry up to the international community. I’m not too sure of his facts though as I’ve yet to meet a Japanese haiku poet who does not feel haiku is essentially Japanese…no matter how many variations the nations come up with.

    I see no harm in exploring the culture and back ground of these ancient poems and learning from them a little bit about human nature. I think by trying to understand the Japanese it broadens our own world view.

    I do feel though, that even though Basho did sometimes write about emotional things…things that touched him deeply, I feel he did so to try to understand those emotions better…to put them down and look at them objectively to see what is “nature” and what is caused by something else, and if there is something else, what is it and why did it have such an effect on him.

    A lot to think about…

  50. With so many depths of context unavailable to us, it is difficult, impossible probably, to know what to make of this poem. It seems to go contrary to what we generally consider fundamental to haiku in that it *directs* our experience. It makes me think of advertisements one sees appealing to (manipulating some might say) our sense of compassion for impoverished children. It certainly does not, for me at any rate, open up the soulspace of some of Basho’s best work. But I don’t think that was his intention, to be fair.

  51. Thanks for sharing those examples. For all our intelligence, we also abandon our children. A sad way to connect to the animal world.

    As for deviant syllable counts, I think the Basho poem (haiku?) is 7-7-5.

    The tone also interests me. I don’t know Japanese, but if the translations above are faithful, that poem written today might be dismissed as melodramatic.

  52. reminds me of a tanka that I wrote for Katherine Cudney,
    I think in 2002/3? Ribbon’s may have published it in ’08, maybe?

    the sound
    of a broken bottle swept
    across asphalt
    like the cry of a child
    you have given away

    This is a good example why I have a problem with Japanese to English translations, besides other issues.

    If 17 sound syllables equal to somewhere between 9 & 11
    syllable count, then why doesn’t this work.
    Am 100% sure that I never wrote a haiku about being abandoned, placed into the foster system and the likes.

    It’s difficult to imagine how anyone can give up a child let alone abandon one. let alone find an abandoned child or baby, then continue on your way. You can feel the author’s remorse and I would imagine that it would have been haunting for a very long time, even at a time, when
    this image could have been common?

    I believe that there is a video on the Net based on this poem and/or in part?

  53. I think it’s indeed a good ex. of how the form of classic haiku often goes well beyond simplified models.

    I also see it very much as a poem that connects human nature and nature. It really does so in both parts of the haiku: the people who have heard the monkey’s cry and then the child abandoned in the autumn wind.

    It meets the classic structural requirements for haiku (and hokku), with a cut (albeit a somewhat atypical-looking one in translation) and a kigo.

    Btw, the indigenous Japanese macaque or snow monkey is famous for its intelligence. Its cries are learned (rather than simply inherited) and exhibit regional dialects. Also, along with humans and raccoons, it’s the only animal known to wash its food before eating. All these things probably serve to enhance the identification between the monkey and the child.

    The business of washing food made me think of this haiku by Garry Gay:

    Hunter’s moon;
    a raccoon washing something
    in the river

  54. those who have heard a monkey’s cry:
    how about this abandoned child
    in the autumn wind?

    That’s Basho translated by Makoto Ueda in his book, “Basho And His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary”. It can be found in Hass’s “Essential Haiku” translated like this:

    You’ve heard the monkey crying-
    listen to this child
    abandoned in the autumn wind.

    How do we categorize this poem? It begins with not an observation but a reference to nature. While the child’s implied cry is compared to and has the feel of nature, it is human behavior, as is the act of abandonment committed by the child’s parents or whoever might have cared to help after they were gone.

    The form of the poem, with its plea or challenge or cry of anguish, is so different from most of what we see published today. I’m curious what you all have to say about it.

  55. Gabi, “The changing of heaven and earth is the heart of the nature spirit of haiku.” When I read that line it made me wonder if the changing of heaven and earth are also the changing of a human being in his/her progression through life and as we come across these evidences of ourselves in nature, if these subjective/objective “moments” lie at the core of the spirit as it binds up the emotional/intellectual/sensibility of the person.
    Sometimes I come up with some haiku that are probably better haiku than the ones I keep, but they are not true to my own changing nature.
    Like Gene, I have to be true to the spirit of the poem – but that has to be true to my own nature.
    Does any of this make any sense? It probably lies at the reason I find that more often then not I end up breaking rules right and left.

  56. Hi, Guys, I can’t help but respond to jazz. I married a jazz of the purists before 1925…he was amazing. He played and arranged for some of the greats…Fats Waller, Benny Goodwin, etc. etc. etc. Many of the great jazz men had classical training. This classical training had a great affect on the base upon which they stood. But jazz progressed as it grew beyond that classical training. It was exploration into the unknown. It was alive and it was wonderful for them as they watched a world open up for them.
    John always told me that the mark of the artist was to know when to break the rules. (By the way he was a fine artist also and won many awards for his work.)
    When I became engaged in haiku, I was drawn to the great comradery among haiku poets. One day John asked me what the attraction was for me and I told him…”It’s my jazz band!” It is not unlike jazz at all.
    As an artist I come to it from the same well-spring. We learn, we learn from the rules, we learn from the art , we learn from each other, and we learn when we listen to our own song. It’s a wonderful place to be, and to watch it in it’s becoming.

  57. while I am at it:

    Monday morning —
    a flaw in the shadow
    of the sugarbowl

    H. F. Noyes

    Vol: 5:5, The Heron’s Nest

  58. to me the entire issue becomes personal, and both Japanese
    Traditional poems and English Launguage poems are different.

    I’ve already give you folks Kacian’s “family album” as an example, and here is another poem published by The Heron’s Nest, vol.4:4, April 2002, by Tom Noyes.

    religion aside
    there are plum blossoms
    and pussywillows

    H. F. Noyes

    I would include a poem of my own, Berlin Wall, but personally, Berlin Wall, can also be an event, so, I
    will withdraw my poem.

    I am not going to get into the “haiku spirit,” since this
    too can be personal, emotional, etc., and I tend to write
    by feel; emotionally feeling an image in my mind. If that makes sense?

  59. Hi Gabi,

    Judging from the quotes you provide, it is also true that haikai no makota is an item of Japanese language haiku that is hard to put an objective finger on.

    It is a sensiblity we find and respond to in the body of haiku (and hokku) produced over the years. Can we define it? Should we define it? Perhaps it is better left undefined.

  60. “I do care about the haiku spirit.
    I’m not sure I can define it, but I care about it.
    Mark Harris ”

    Dear Mark,

    1. Haikai no makoto (sincerity of haiku)

    A haiku poet needs to feel inspiration from the varied emotions and impressions inspired by nature via looking and listening. It is the haiku true mind. Without sincerity, there is no haiku spirit. And without the spirit, a haiku is not a haiku.

    The changing of heaven and earth is the heart of the nature spirit in haiku.

    more is here

    I find the HAIKU SPIRIT another item of the English Language haiku theory that is hard to put an objective finger on.


  61. Thank you, Mr. Burns. We must have posted nearly at the same time. I wasn’t responding to what you said. I’m a fan of both men you mentioned. Both trendsetters who knew their traditions well. I saw Schuller conduct a few of his compositions last year. Awesome.

  62. If your remarks, Mr. Harris, were prompted by what I posted, I just want to clarify that I of course agree with all of the following:

    “I think it is crucial for students to learn haiku/senryu/renku traditions…. We need to learn the concept of the cutting word and the concept of a cut without one. We need to understand season words…. Our haiku should be able to comment intelligently on the long history of haiku….”

    In order to be a good artist in any field one obviously needs to immerse oneself as deeply as possible in the history, technique, and traditions of that art. The point I was making (or Schuller rather) wasn’t about beginners, though, but about advanced practitioners. The point is that creative artists needn’t be limited to what has already been done, esp. not if they want to write the next chapter of their art.

    And none of that is to say artists won’t find great strength in pursuing traditional continuities either. Sometimes a major “conservative” figure follows more “radical” ones: Brahms after Liszt and Wagner; Wyeth after modernism; Marsalis after free jazz; etc.

  63. I think it is crucial for students to learn haiku/senryu/renku traditions. Also hokku, and waka. We need to learn the concept of the cutting word and the concept of a cut without one. We need to understand season words, and the proper use of them. Our haiku should be able to comment intelligently on the long history of haiku and hokku. If not, why call a poem a haiku? All of the above continue to be crucial to me.

    Having said that, if season is best expressed without a season word, that will be my choice. If I fail to express season at all, then I will risk writing a haiku-like poem. If I write a haiku/senryu hybrid I won’t kill it if I think it works. I can’t take the arguments about syllable counts seriously. English is too different from Japanese to allow for a good approximation. And if that’s true, why write in three lines rather than any other combination? Am I helping to undermine a noble tradition? I don’t think so. I hope not. To the purists out there, I wouldn’t worry; if you are right, the rest of us will be forgotten in time. I do care about the haiku spirit. I’m not sure I can define it, but I care about it.

  64. Bill Evans is one of my all-time favorite musicians. I find the atmosphere of his music to be akin, in a vague way, to that of my favorite haiku. (The same thing holds for the music of, e.g., Delius, Debussy, and Mompou.) Here are some thoughts from the liner notes to an Evans CD I just want to throw out there:

    “…jazz aficionados in particular, seem to have an irrepressible urge to pigeonhole their favorites into neat little category packages. And thus such and such is jazz, such and such is not. We all know the purist to whom anything after 1925 is no longer jazz…. It just so happens, however, that creative musicians since the beginning of music–not to speak only of jazz–have never concerned themselves too much about what their product would be called or whether it would fit certain established categories.

    “The truly creative artist has always–to the extent of his talents and artistic sincerity–followed the demands of his creative personality, and it has been the job of the historian and theoretician to explain and categorize artistic events after they occurred…..

    “As a matter of fact, the entire history of the arts was, and still is, precipitated by precisely those glorious moments in which the innovator of genius defies the established patterns and rules, thereby opening up new vistas for him and others to develop until the next big breakthrough occurs.”

    The notes are by Gunther Schuller, the famous composer, French horn virtuoso, band leader, critic, and music historian whose life’s work straddles the divide between the classical and jazz genres (what he calls the “Third Stream”). The notes are from the CD “Bill Evans and Orchestra, Conducted by Gunther Schuller & George Russell, Brandeis Jazz Festival” (1957). Just some food for thought.

    I can’t resist adding my Bill Evans ku (haiku? senryu? does it matter? perhaps it will conveniently help illustrate the point):

    city lights
    the pianist bows
    lower to the keys

    (South by Southeast 16.1, 2009; click on my name for an image of Evans playing)

  65. Christopher, I think you are giving this a good perspective. I understand that you need rules in order to educate just what “quintessential ‘haikuness'” is, in order as Gabi says for anyone to understand what a haiku is or a senryu or a zappai…and once you have been able to communicate that “haikuness” in a poem so that other poets can feel and understand what that “haikuness” is in their own terms, that it is more important to follow what the poem is telling you what to do in order to make that connection. It must communicate. I’m not against rules at all…in fact the more I learn about them the better I appreciate the depth of their nature… But it is not just essential to understand that rules can be brokn, but how…
    The next step after the rules is playing with the rules. I think it was Jim Kacian who was talking about 4 levels of understanding haiku.
    So I’m very glad for your post this time as I find us coming closer and closer together … I’m watching to see if our paths cross! 🙂

  66. I find that these distinctions help my enjoyment and understanding of haiku and senryu broadly (but not on an individual basis): as I prefer haiku on the whole I can consult a collection of haiku in the knowledge that there won’t be much in the way of senryu contained there also. Likewise a preferrer of senryu would benefit the same.

    I am perfectly satisfied with the idea that a poem cannot be categorised as predominantly one or the other in some cases, and am likely to enjoy such a poem as much as any other haiku. Provided that it has that quintessential “haikuness” to it (of course, that is a loaded term) I am content to find it amongst poems termed haiku.

    I think it’s important for newer students to have a grasp of the possible distinctions in order that they are able to say to which tradition their poem responds. For me, this is the only real reason for categorisation: providing an aid to communication. If I know what I am writing is chiefly haiku, then I can present it to others who may wish to receive haiku-like communication as apposed to senryu-like communication. Similarly, in seeking out poetry which I prefer I am able to more easily get to what I am looking for if a poem is called a haiku rather than a senryu.

    On both grounds it all boils down to communication for me, and communication is important.

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