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HAIKU DIALOGUE – Ekphrasti-ku… Hell Courtesan

Ekphrasti-ku with Guest Editor Pippa Phillips

Once upon a time, under the dubious influence of Nietzsche, I grew despairing of the undeniable fact that I wasn’t a cool Dionysian at all, but a nerdy and visually fixated Apollinian. Once I got over myself, I leaned into it. There’s nothing I like more than taking a sketchbook to a museum on one of its free days. This time, I’d like to take you with me, to visit some of my favorite paintings, and the stories behind them, on a kind of digital ginko walk. These paintings are rich with detail and all are open to metatextual rumination. I look forward to seeing how they inspire you.

next week’s theme“Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies”

The link to “Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies,” from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which houses Wangechi Mutu’s painting, is here.

Of her work, Wangechi Mutu notes that a common motif in her work are splotches that could pass for either blood or blossoms. It is this quality – the sublimation of the grotesque into the beautiful, the artificial into a monstrous divine – that drew me to “Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies” as a source of inspiration.

Mutu created the collage as a response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I was an undergrad at the time, and I remember how the country changed overnight, how easily people’s anger over 9/11 was manipulated into an impetus for a misguided war whose miscarriage led only to more terror. People forget that millions of Americans protested the war before its inception. I went to every protest I could and ended up losing my job over it, as well as a great deal of my faith in my country. The piece speaks to a number of illegitimate hierarchies – the U.S. over the rest of the world, the government over its people, white America over non-white America, men over women, rich over poor, the religious over the secular.

Another common theme to Mutu’s work is the boundary between the animal and the human – humans think of themselves as fundamentally other than animal – but the notion that we are not our biology, that we are not simply another kind of animal is, I think, a fiction.

I find political haiku particularly difficult to write – it can so easily become a slogan better suited to a cardboard sign at a rally. The political is so often of the moment, yet there is an eternal aspect to it, the cyclicity of history. I hope this piece inspires you to turn blood into blossoms.

I highly recommend reading this interview with the artist, which you can find here.

Wangechi Mutu also worked with the musician Santigold to create an animated art piece, which you can find here.

The deadline is midnight Central Time, Saturday January 22, 2022.

Please use the Haiku Dialogue submission form below to enter one or two original unpublished haiku inspired by the week’s theme, and then press Submit to send your entry. (The Submit button will not be available until the Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in.) With your poem, please include any special formatting requirements & your name as you would like it to appear in the column. A few haiku will be selected for commentary each week. Please note that by submitting, you agree that your work may appear in the column – neither acknowledgment nor acceptance emails will be sent. All communication about the poems that are posted in the column will be added as blog comments.

below is Pippa’s commentary for Hell Courtesan:

scent of pine trees
a monk sweeping
his shadow and the snow

Anna Yin
Ontario, Canada

I wrote this poem into my little “all-time favorite haiku” notebook when I read it. It’s so striking – you see it immediately – the smell transports you viscerally to the scene, and there’s the parallel image of the needles that compose the trees’ foliage and the bristles that compose the broom, which supports the parallel objects in the final line. A perfect poem.

window sill cat
all seven lucky gods
knocked off

Kristen Lindquist
Camden, ME, USA

I crowed in delight when I received this poem. It is a perfect senryu, cutting the gods down to the size of figurines so the poet – and the cat – can toy with them. A delightful example of karumi, or the lightness of haiku – with the additional punnery of “knocked off,” which can be read literally, or in the sense of being an illegitimate copy.

tainted moon
why is it that only
my sin counts

Ravi Kiran

The combination of a coined kigo word paired with a plaintive cry is striking, creating an emotional gong of a poem. This is the sentiment of the black sheep, the woman, the queer, the outsider – all those who society unfairly penalizes – all those who challenge and define the society that rejects them.

the line between this world and that shoji screen

Marcie Wessels
San Diego, CA, USA

An aesthetic that governs much of Japanese art is ma (間), or the aesthetic use of the space between things. That space is directly referenced here, creating a metatextual space – and the alternate parsings of the poem work almost like a shoji screen does. There is a space between this world and that, between worlds and a shoji screen, between a world over here and a screen over there.

the lingering A
of tuning forks

Ingrid Baluchi
North Macedonia

The poet undermines her premise with the conclusion of her poem – a soundwave doesn’t last forever. It forces the reader to re-evaluate the word – although we tend to see the word as implying endurance, it can simply serve to measure. Moreover, the plurality of tuning forks suggests that one way to endure is to continue hitting notes.

she left her story
rewilding her life
in ink

Adele Evershed
Wilton, Connecticut

There is something so compelling about the idea of leaving one’s story – there is an ambiguity here between starting one’s life over, and rewriting one’s past – “rewilding” is an interesting connection to the natural, suggesting that even nature is subject to the human hand. An incredible power is thus ascribed to the protagonist of this poem.

& here are the rest of the selections:

sleepwalking all my skeletons out of the closet

Susan Burch
Hagerstown, MD, USA


ginko walk
scent of lotus lingers
on her robe

John Zheng
Itta Bena, Mississippi


asking why
with a swirl of her skirt
power play

Peggy Hale Bilbro


full moon
I wear the truth
on my sleeve

Marianne Sahlin


heaven and hell
beneath her kimono
this floating world

Mark Meyer
Mercer Island WA USA


our sins
on full display
social media

Jenn Ryan-Jauregui
Tucson, Arizona USA


passing clouds
the hell courtesan
chooses heaven

Cynthia Anderson
Yucca Valley, California


her parted lips
a pause before
their final journey

Mark Gilbert


plucking a lotus
off her robe, I give in…
silk on silk

Baisali Chatterjee Dutt
Kolkata, India


courtesan’s robe
all the gods

jubah selir
semua dewa

Christopher Calvin
Kota Mojokerto, Indonesia


patchwork robe
she wears the streets

Mariel Herbert
California, USA


lotus blooms
on silk
the Buddha smiles

Susan Farner
United States


winter storm the upside down nuthatch quests with both claws

John S Green
Bellingham, WA USA


Hell Courtesan
shelling rainbows
in the painter’s bristle

Robert Kingston
Chelmsford, United Kingdom


taste of temptation
first mango
of the season

Margaret Mahoney


the clownfish hides
behind its anemone

Cristina Monica Moldoveanu


always on our heels day of reckoning

Bona M. Santos
Los Angeles, CA


clouds blinking
with the wind
passing on

C.X. Turner
United Kingdom


the wild daisies
on her path

Madhuri Pillai


im(mortal) gods of lost civilizations

Valentina Ranaldi-Adams
Fairlawn, Ohio USA


a moth
to your flame
the allure of sin

Jackie Chou
United States


fading in emptiness
at the end of the day
even shadows

Melanie Vance


impermanence –
her photoshopped figure
on my bedroom wall

Milan Rajkumar


coral extends
to other lives

Kathleen Mazurowski
Chicago, IL


D-Day …
her robes
speak her heart

Devoshruti Mandal


folding screen
from the past

Nancy Brady
Huron, Ohio, USA


layers and folds
the courtesan’s
inner life

Pat Davis


that made-up portrait
with fetishes on fetish
she snaps her fingers

Clysta Seney
California, USA


it makes
a heaven of hell!
courtesan’s kimono

Bill Waters
Pennington, NY USA


skeleton crew-
never enough to
feed my desires



Hell Courtesan
your flowing jet hair
poisons the moon

Lev Hart
Calgary, Canada


after the last
note of koto
the silence of silk

Susan Rogers
Los Angeles, California


now she can
finally see

Sherry Grant
Auckland, New Zealand


the shared thread
between fairy tales

Jonathan Roman
Yonkers, New York


skeleton eyes
her old lovers
appraise her new man

Greer Woodward
Waimea, HI


beggar’s cup —
the heavens offer

James Lindley


divine comedy
the rustle of silk
falls silent

Arvinder Kaur
Chandigarh, India


threads of gold
nothing broken
to mend

Tia Haynes
Lakewood, Ohio


spring breeze –
the mannequin in the window
awaits the new collection

Daniela Lăcrămioara Capotă


the temptation of outer appearances frost tracery

Eva Limbach


background screening
all my past transgressions
on display

Sari Grandstaff
Saugerties, NY, USA


in the folds
of her kimono
all my sins

Bryan Rickert
Belleville, Illinois USA


forever clinking
the afterlife filled
with bones and jewels

Richard Matta
San Diego, California


household solution–
what grandfather wrote
in his bible

Helga Stania


winter pleasure
all the layers
of her kimono

James Gaskin
Fukushima, Japan


faraway lover
she turns to the god
on her sleeve

Rehn Kovacic
Mesa, Arizona


dew grasping the hem on the hand of Zen master Ikkyū

裾握る 一休禅師に 蓮の露

Yoshika Miyakono


memento mori –
to turn the lights off

Paul Millar
Bedford, United Kingdom


he tells me in a thousand ways
the same thing

Ian Ruitenberg
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory


in the mirror her femininity translucent

Richa Sharma


parallel universe–
the lives I led
or didn’t lead

Mona Bedi
Delhi, India


the path to enlightenment skeleton-strewn

Neena Singh
Chandigarh, India


Hell Courtesan—
each fold of her obi
unfolds sufferings

Hifsa Ashraf
Rawalpindi, Pakistan


adding color
to her wrath

Teiichi Suzuki


fried neckbones …
sharing a dance
by a fire pot

(“Fried Neck Bones and Some Homefries” – lyrics by Santana)

Daniela Misso


debt hell…
slowly approaching
the devil on tiptoe

Keiko Izawa
Yokohama, Japan


gibbous moon
draped in hell’s coral
is it Benzaiten?

Firdaus Parvez


night lily
each little death
a little death

Keith Evetts
Thames Ditton UK


night whore
breastfeeding first
before work

Nani Mariani
Melbourne, Australia


only her eyes
are silent

Deborah Beachboard
Adna WA United States


enlightenment –
gathering one more coin
on my way

Ana Drobot


the kimono
wrapped loosely around
my memories of her

M. R. Defibaugh
Chesterfield, VA


abandoned well echoes from the depths

Roberta Beach Jacobson
Indianola, Iowa, USA


a girl wearing hell
on her sleeve

Alan Peat
Biddulph, United Kingdom


peeling off
the layers of silk

Teji Sethi


on cobblestones –
red light district

Dan Campbell


her lips smacking
a half-eaten apple

R. Suresh Babu


her wish to rest
at the feet of the Buddha…
white lotus

Deborah Karl-Brandt
Bonn, Germany


lucky moon
hell’s courtesan catches
a comet’s tail

Annette Chaney
Harrison, Arkansas


blue tone glass
how the bones play Go

Alan Summers


the rustle
of her robes night blooming

Kris Lindbeck
United States


looking back-
the path
paved with good intentions

Ram Chandran


courtesan girl
the temptation of
her naked toes

Sue Courtney
Orewa, New Zealand


a pipe in one pocket
matches from another



courtesan’s patrons
who are they to count
her sins

Vandana Parashar


long life
man’s pursuit


shou ru song he chang
ren sheng zi gu shui wu qiu
zen nai ru yuan nan

Xiaoou Chen
Kunming, China


in a lull
in the storm..
sound of a feather falling

Neera Kashyap


on the grass of my lawn
come close

Luciana Moretto
Treviso, Italy


not the first
to find nirvana
within a woman’s robe

Tracy Davidson
Warwickshire, UK


left over right…
making the Hell Courtesan
a life model

Laurie Greer
Washington, D.C.


her origami robes
fold hell
into paradise

Vicki Vogt
Watertown, MA United States


imaginary sins under kimono’s folds

Mirela Brăilean


fasting day
a ripe mango
in the crow’s beak

Manoj Sharma


Hell Courtesan
saving the last dance
for my bones

Minal Sarosh
Ahmedabad, India


Guest Editor Pippa Phillips is a recovering academic who hails from Cape Cod. Her micropoetry has been published in a variety of publications, including Cold Moon Journal, Frogpond, Failed Haiku, Modern Haiku, and The Asahi Shimbun. She also writes long and short-form fiction. She is interested in the intersection of ethics and aesthetics and walking the line between the populist and the experimental. You can find her on Twitter @IpsaHerself and Instagram @pheaganesque.

Lori Zajkowski is the Post Manager for Haiku Dialogue. A novice haiku poet, she lives in New York City.

Managing Editor Katherine Munro lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and publishes under the name kjmunro. She is Membership Secretary for Haiku Canada, and her debut poetry collection is contractions (Red Moon Press, 2019). Find her at:

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.

Please note that all poems & images appearing in Haiku Dialogue may not be used elsewhere without express permission – copyright is retained by the creators. Please see our Copyright Policies.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Delighted to have one of my poems selected. Thank you Pippa. The art works you have selected are so deep … so thought provoking …

  2. I love the karumi in Kristen’s senryu! Thanks, Pippa, for including my poem with this week’s selections.

  3. I love the karumi in Kristen’s senryu! Thanks, Pippa, for including my poem with this week’s selections. Ekphrasti-ku is not new to me, but this is the first successful one I’ve written.

  4. Congratulations to all the poets here and thank you for including my haiku! Very unique prompts. I enjoy all the interpretations of the theme.

  5. One of the thing this poem reminds me of is Lewis’s conception of modal realism, in which there is a possible world for every truth, even those truths inconsistent with the world we live in…

  6. Thank you Pippa for including my attempt to capture the tone of Kyosai’s image. Again I feel all of these selections work together very well. There’s a sad undertone. I particularly liked Eva Limbach’s

    the temptation of outer appearances frost tracery

    and Richard Matta’s

    forever clinking
    the afterlife filled
    with bones and jewels

    1. Yes, I adore Limbach’s poem; I love it when haiku incorporate the natural in novel phrases, and the juxtaposition of this poem just sings. And I enjoyed Matta’s description of the afterlife.

  7. Thank you Pippa for commenting on my haiku. So touching! I enjoy all the selections. A wonderful read. Congratulations to a all poets.

    1. Very happy to include your poem, it really is striking and I wish I could speak more articulately to its virtues…

  8. Thank you Pippa for including my haiku. This weeks poems were a wonderful read. Congratulations to a all poets.

  9. Another wonderful collection. Congratulations to all! Thank you Pippa, KJ and Lori for collating and posting a great response.

  10. parallel universe–
    the lives I led
    or didn’t lead
    Mona Bedi
    Delhi, India
    The existence of parallel universes is a topic often portrayed in science fiction movies and books. This haiku nicely brings to mind whether or not life would be better or worse in such a universe.

  11. Thank you, Pippa, for commenting on my poem; I like the way you have interpreted it. I had other ideas based on looking at the translated word ‘longevity’ depicted on her robe, purely from the shape of the topmost character. Your ‘endurance’ brings far more depth . . . sigh . . .

    Among several others, this gave pause for thought:

    courtesan’s patrons
    who are they to count
    her sins

    Vandana Parashar

    So true, and so sad.

    1. Yes, there is a plaintive tone to this poem reminiscent of Ravi Kiran’s poem above, I enjoyed this one as well!

  12. Thank you for commenting on my cat ku, Pippa! Love the thread of eroticism that runs through many of this week’s offerings. As always, I really appreciate, too, the diversity of responses to the same image–it’s very inspiring and encourages me to keep pushing the envelope.

    1. I almost want a second round of poems– reading the poems each week makes me re-evaluate the piece, and often inspires me to write a couple of ku, I’d love to see ku inspired by the ku that comes up each week…

        1. Good points Mark and Pippa. I rewrite mine many times after the deadline. Continuous improvement I hope. Thank you Pippa for your provocative prompts.

  13. Such evocative haiku this week. Some remind me that like love/hate, heaven and hell live nearly side by side, and that we should remember to live as Ian Ruitenberg says. Alan Summers has the color blue like so many he mentioned in his comments last week. Kristen Lindquist’s haiku about the cat knocking off the statues, so appropriate as I have never known a cat who didn’t understand physics (gravity) or the joy of batting an object to the ground. Great use of parentheses seen on Valentina’s haiku of morality/immorality, too. Tia Haynes’ haiku speaks to me as an example that original sin should be ignored/not worth considering. Just a few I noticed with a quick reading before heading to do PT exercises (which may be their own hell).
    Congrats to all the poets. I am thrilled to have one included…thanks Pippa.

  14. Thank-you Pippa for publishing mine. Thank-you Kathy and Lori for your efforts. Congrats to my fellow Ohioans Nancy Brady and Tia Haynes.

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