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HAIKU DIALOGUE – Going for a Walk – rivers and clouds – commentary

Going for a Walk with Guest Editor Deborah Karl-Brandt

The late Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh could see water in all its transformations. Water in the form of a cloud would soon become rain, a river, the sea, and it would help grow plants and trees. The trees would flourish and become paper on which the haijin would write their poetry, so that the cloud (water) would eventually be contained within the poetry itself. Nothing can exist by itself. Let’s take a walk together to follow the different paths of water and see where they will lead us.

Below is Deborah’s commentary for rivers and clouds:

such downpour
pulling up the hem knee-high
her wet ivory legs

Ibohal Kshetrimayum
Mawpat, Shillong, Meghalaya, India

The rain is forgotten. Soaked to the bone, he suddenly has an unexpected encounter with a lady. She wants to protect her robe and reveals her beautiful legs. And the observer is enchanted. There is more than just a little eroticism in this poem. When we delve deeper into this work, new layers of meaning reveal themselves to us. Even a situation that makes us feel many negative emotions can change in the blink of an eye and our feelings change as quickly as the clouds in the sky. Is it really necessary to become so attached to them? Is it really wise to identify with them?

cloud menagerie
our late Shih-Tzu
now riding a dragon

Jackie Chou
United States

The contrasts between the tiny real animal and the huge mythological beast create the tension that this poem tries to live. But what makes this poem truly exceptional is the creativity of the contrasting images chosen and the many levels that can be explored in this poem. Even though this poem is about a sad experience, there is also a kind of humor in it. The little dog is now riding a majestic divine animal. The pet has not disappeared. It has only transformed into a new form, which turns out to be a cloud. The love and connection between the dog, the clouds, the human, worldly affairs and the supernatural world is still there.

shaped and polished
by the sea i give back
bird bear dragon me

Kathabela Wilson
United States

Don’t think with this extraordinary poem. Just feel it. That’s all you have to do. There is a hidden truth in it. Nothing really belongs to us. Not the bird, the bear, the dragon, the animals closely associated with the shamans, not even the “I” that I used to identify with so much does not really belong to me, is me. In truth, there is nothing like that. The bear, the bird, the dragon is what it is. It is me and the day will come when a different transformation is all that is required.

sunset clouds —
the narrow riverbank path
among thistles

Keiko Izawa

It is not an easy walk through these thistles. For me this haiku perfectly describes the challenges of growing older. We will all get older, get sick and our bodies will get weaker and slower, but there is no choice and we must walk the narrow path through the thistles until it is dark. A beautifully written haiku.

flowing for aeons
the river & me

Rupa Anand
New Delhi, India

Benares, the city where religious sites of Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism are located on the Ganges, is a wonderful starting point for this profound haiku. Of course, the haiku is about the cycle of rebirths and the effects of karma. The transcendent nature of all things is perfectly expressed in it. But let’s take a closer look at this exciting contrast between the eternally unchanging river and the transient human being. First of all, it creates tension in this poem. But there is something else. Even things like a river, which is seemingly unchanging, is born at some point and disappears again in eons of years. Just like it happens to people (only much faster). And yet something of it and of us will remain, even if it is molecules. So, as it turns out, there are no contrasts between the river and humans. Ultimately, they are exactly the same.


Sarbani Sengupta

A one-word haiku. Clearly influenced by the excellent haiku by Cor van den Heuvel. There are many themes with it. Is it permissible to write such a haiku that borders on plagiarism? Yes! Why? Have you ever experienced the monsoon? Been caught in that downpour? Waited for it to appear and give its water, its life-giving power to an entire continent? Seen what happens when it fails to materialize? The monsoon is India. The monsoon is as important, as impressive, as all-consuming as – the tundra. An authentic poem. Definitely worth reading!

stories in the clouds
two children tell their future
in dried grass whispers

Shannon Blood
United States

This poem is a beautiful game, isn’t it? Children, a summer’s day, pure idyll. The future is painted in bright colors. It could even be a shared future. And yet, and yet…there is a hint, something that turns your stomach…You can hear this whisper in the dried, dead grass. Something sinister is approaching. And suddenly the feeling. It’s not just the clouds that are shifting, losing their shape, taking on a different form. There is more than a chance that the happy future they have imagined will never come true. It could be war, death or something else entirely, but in any case there is a sense of impending disaster in the air.

the past tense
of a river

Srini S

Even without a seasonal reference or two contrasting images, I don’t think this poem is a short poem, but a real haiku. And why? Because it contains a strong play on words (the old Japanese masters of waka and haiku used them frequently), but above all because it contains a lot of ma. This is the space into which the reader of a haiku fits in order to grasp the meaning of the work. In short, this is written in the spirit of haikai and has become a highly effective poem about the meaning of water. What the lack of water means for the river and ultimately for all of us. Without fresh, clean water, we would all be lost. Unfortunately, there are many people who suffer from droughts or have no access to fresh water.

the dragon cloud
spits out an airplane

Tracy Davidson
Warwickshire, UK

Since time immemorial, people have turned their gaze to the sky to make contact with the spiritual. Then the sky was conquered by humans using technical aids. Spiritual and scientific worldviews seem to collide in this haiku. But do they have to? Even if the dragon does not really seem to welcome the modern addition, they now share the sky. A beautiful multi-layered haiku.

a cloud of angel wings
in the swollen river the devil

Zdenka Mlinar

This two-line haiku juxtaposes two images in a very successful way. This poem plays with our perception and shows that everything that happens is a story that our mind tells us. We interpret and create our own reality from our own point of view. So is there an objective reality? There are the clouds and a river that could cause a devastating flood. They are part of the water cycle. A neutral, natural phenomenon. There is no good and evil. It is what it is. Water becoming clouds, becoming the river, becoming the clouds again.


Join us next week for our next prompt…


Guest Editor Deborah Karl-Brandt lives in Bonn, Germany, with her husband, two rabbits and numerous books. After her PhD studies in Scandinavian languages and literatures, she now works as a freelance author and poet. One of her poems won 2nd place in the 2021 Pula Film Festival Haiku Contest. Her poems have most recently appeared in Prune Juice, Kingfisher, First Frost, Frogpond, Failed Haiku and Tsuridoro. If she is not outside for a long stroll or to do some birdwatching, she is an avid reader who is currently exploring Chinese Xianxia Webnovels.

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.

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Photo Credits:

Banner photo credit: Andreas Brandt

Haiku Dialogue offers a triweekly prompt for practicing your haiku. Posts appear each Wednesday with a prompt or a selection of poems from a previous week.

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. Hello everyone,
    this week the discussion about haiku and the comments gave a very insightful look into what haiku is and can be. I want to thank everyone who left a comment and shared their thoughts. Thank you very much!

  2. Great discussion. Thanks everyone for chiming in on my comment about one line poems. In a sense we are talking about “conceptualism” in haiku. This a different kink of poem than the “moment” haiku.
    I found one definition which isn’t exactly what I mean. “Conceptual poetry is an early twenty-first century literary movement, self-described by its practitioners as an act of “uncreative writing.” In conceptual poetry, appropriation is often used as a means to create new work, focused more on the initial concept rather than the final product of the poem.” I disagree with the term, uncreative writing” as it see it more as another way of looking a creativity in writing but I agree that the focus is on the concept.
    John Hawkweed’s approach to “Monsoon” also reminds me of what is called “concrete” poetry: ” A concrete poem makes active use of typography, color, spacing, and the arrangement of words and symbols to create a visual art object. The use of graphic space along with the use of language combine to create the overall meaning of the poem.” Tunda” does both. It speaks to a larger concept and is deliberately place on the page to create the environment of vast white.. I think John’s rewrite of “Monsoon” with the use of
    ! monsoon ! monsoon ! mimics the rain and creates an environment for the word and concept in a “concrete” way. So fun to explore these ideas! Thanks everyone.

    1. Hawkweed is a new one on me but I had a good laugh about it, so thanks for that Seretta! ;-)

  3. This discussion is so rich with creativity and knowledge. Thank you all for expressing your thoughts. And thank you Deborah, for your insightful commentary that adds to the experience of each poem. It would be interesting to have a discussion about what makes one word poems work or not work. There will always be the comparison to “tundra” but is it plagiarism if someone writes their own one word poem? I don’t think so. What are the elements that bring it out of that stigmatism and into its own originality? On another note, I saw a sweet emotion and deep sadness in Jackie’s poem about her little dog, and in Kathabella’s poem, beautiful acceptance of the naturalness of death and transformation with man and all of nature.

    1. Agreeing with Seretta Martin :-)

      Regarding single words:

      Well if we are plagiarists using certain one word poems, this makes us all “that kind of poet”! :-)

      Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978), US poet and critic.
      His major book of poems is A.

      Aram Saroyan

      Did this ione above nspire this one:


      Allan Burns
      SxSE 16.2, 2009
      (collected in ‘Distant Virga’, Red Moon Press, 2011, featured in ‘Haiku in English -The First Hundred Years, W.W. Norton and Co., 2013 and “Where the River Goes”, Snapshot Press, 2013.



      Aram Saroyan


      Aram Saroyan


      Aram Saroyan


      George Swede (haiku poet)

      George Swede (haiku poet)

      Jonathan Brannen

      Jonathan Brannen

      Glenn Ingersoll

      Greg Wolos

      Geof Huth

      Crag Hill



      Matthew Moffett (haiku poet)

      And this one would be centred:


      Marlene Mountain
      (The Haiku Anthology, 2nd Edition ed. Cor Van den Heuvel)


      Alan Summers


      is it fireflies by Alan Summers, one word, or one word plus



      Alan Summers
      fox dreams (April 2012) ed. Aubrie Cox




      Alan Summers
      New to Haiku: An Introduction to Two-Line Haiku
      October 8, 2023 Julie Bloss Kelsey


      Imbolc is a celtic holiday that welcomes the first signs of spring. The sun seems brighter and the leaves of the daffodil are breaking through the ground here. Write or share a one word poem that speaks of the welcoming joy of this time of year.

      My one word, although it’s hyphenated!





      Is it lambing
      I am being

      Original was L-lowercase l
      revision was i-uppercase I = identical somehow!

      Iamb Definition & Meaning Merriam-Webster
      iamb The meaning of IAMB is a metrical foot consisting of one short syllable followed by one long syllable or of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed.

      I created multiple one-word poems, even haiku, as an internet challenge though long lost on another computer now. :-)


        1. Monsoon is as emotive in places such as India, and other places. It has a place in non-Japanese seasonal markers as anything in Japanese kiyose, and saijiki.

          Monsoon in Bangla literature
          Ashif Ahmed Rudro
          Mon Jun 19, 2023 05:41 PM
          Last update on: Tue Jun 20, 2023 05:23 PM

          A Book on the Rains That’s Brimming With Emotions and Feelings
          Rana Safvi

          It usually happens between April and September. As winter ends, warm, moist air from the southwest Indian Ocean blows toward countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The summer monsoon brings a humid climate and torrential rainfall to these areas. India and Southeast Asia depend on the summer monsoon
          .19 Oct 2023
          Monsoon – National Geographic Education

          What is the meaning of monsoon season?
          /mɑnˈsun/ the season of heavy rain, the wind that brings rain, or the heavy rain that falls during the summer in hot Asian countries. (Definition of monsoon from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

        2. One-Word Poem
          David R. Slavitt
          1935 –


          Discussion questions:

          David R. Slavitt was born in White Plains, New York, in 1935, and educated at Andover, Yale, and Columbia University.

          A poet, translator, novelist, critic, and journalist, he is the author of more than seventy works of fiction, poetry, and poetry and drama in translation.

          He is also coeditor of the Johns Hopkins Complete Roman Drama in Translation series and the Penn Greek Drama Series.

          His most recent collections of original poetry are Falling from Silence: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2001) and PS3569.L3 (1998).

          His latest translations are Sonnets of Love and Death by Jean de Sponde (Northwestern University Press, 2001), The Latin Odes of Jean Dorat (2000), The Book of the Twelve Prophets (1999), Voyage of the Argo: The Argonautica of Gaius Valerius Flaccus (1999), Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s A Crown for the King (1998), Joao Pinto Delgado’s Poem of Queen Esther (1998), and Ausonius: Three Amusements (1998).

          David Slavitt’s other recent works include The Book of Lamentations: A Meditation and Translation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001) and Get Thee to a Nunnery: A Pair of Shakespearean Divertimentos (1999).

          His honors include a Pennsylvania Council on Arts award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in translation, an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Rockefeller Foundation Artist’s Residence.

          He lives in Philadelphia and is on the faculties of Bennington and Yale.

    2. Eccentricity alone is not enough. Only “literary” criticism can transform a single word into a haiku.
      These lexical items – tundra, taiga, monsoon, etc. are just a step away from cases like Shed Simovе. But without the profit.

    3. Hi Seretta – my main point wasn’t about plagiarism but about poetry. I do think it’s possible to make successful one-word poems – Alan has supplied some interesting examples – but the writer has to do some work and not leave everything to the reader’s imagination. My issue is when we apply the ‘so what’ test to the one word being set out as a poem – does it really work as a poem? So, for instance, if I were to submit ‘chinook’ to an editor where the theme was ‘weather’ would it be a poem?
      The art world has been through all this with piles of bricks, urinals and unpainted canvases so maybe the answer is yes. But once the unpainted canvas has been placed on a gallery wall I can’t turn up with another unpainted canvas of a different size and claim to be making new art (I could but with little success). I fear we are in real danger of becoming ‘navel-gazers’ where only this community knows what on earth is going on. ‘Monsoon’ does bring out emotions and sensations and memories for those who have experienced it, but you could equally write ‘flood’ or ‘sleet’ or ‘spring’ or ‘glacier’.

  4. I am ill but reading these haiku give me peace and help me take one moment to another moment with such ease thank you poets for sharing blessings reign upon all

    1. Thank you for leaving such a nice comment. Haiku is also calles the healing poem and I like the thought that it helps ease illness. Get better soon!

        1. Thank you, Richard, for sharing the link. This is a very interesting topic and I haven’t read the book yet. So I have downloaded it. Today is Friday, so I have two days to read it.
          Have a nice weekend!

  5. Great selections and commentary, Deborah!

    I especially liked Kathabela Wilson‘s

    shaped and polished
    by the sea i give back
    bird bear dragon me

    I involuntarily read it as if it were a rhyming couplet:

    shaped and polished by the sea
    i give back bird bear dragon me

    It reminds me of a poem by Samuel Menashe:

    Pity us
    By the sea
    On the sands
    So briefly

    (Page 21 of the 2005 Library of America edition of the poet’s new and selected poems edited by Christopher Ricks)

    Michael Dylan Welch has written about the haiku elements found in Samuel Menashe’s brief poems:

    ”Amen to Life: Learning from the Haiku Mind of Samuel Menashe”

    1. Hi Richard,
      thank you for leaving your comment. I will definitely check out the link and explore this poet I’m not familiar with yet!
      Have a nice weekend!

  6. Dear Editors, very interesting selections, thank you very much.

    Regarding Monsoon, I do agree with the views of John Hawkhead. Am aware readers’ perceptions vary and do respect your selection as the editor, however, am not sure it conveys much to me. Since it is selected for commentary, I could make an attempt to fill it with meaning, however, it does not come naturally to me, in my reading.

  7. Hello Kati, hello John,
    these are interesting topics. When Cor van den Heuvel wrote Tundra, he saw the vastness of the land, but when I read Tundra decades later, all I see is an amazing part of the earth full of (animal) life. A womb of life for so many species of birds, plants and other species. So the common interpretation of tundra doesn’t work for me. This does not mean that this interpretation is not right (or is wrong), but it means that there can be more than one interpretation and that the reader is part of the poem and creates the meaning together with the author. In this way, the tundra and the monsoon are very similar for me: a force of nature, too great to be controlled by humans. They can stand for themselves.
    Have a nice day!

    1. Tundra and monsoon are different categories – in the first case it is about (almost) permafrost, permanence and immensity, in the other about seasonality, impermanence and transience. In a sense, they are opposites and cannot have identical connotative and poetic potential.

      1. Thank you for leaving a comment on Haiku Dialogue. I appreciate your comment. There are new aspects you mentioned that I hadn’t thought about, and so I have something new to think about. For me, haiku is about reaching out, about connectedness, and so I look for things we all have in common. I have a dear haiku friend who puts more emphasis on the differences in haiku around the world, I focus more on the things that are similar and what we all have in common. In my eyes, even the permafrost environment is constantly changing and unfortunately faster than ever in times of climate change. So I see the differences, but also the similarities in both poems.
        Have a nice weekend!

          1. Dear Ivan,
            thank you for sharing this link. It was very enlightening to read all the poems, especially Lori’s comment on Taiga. Five years later the same problems only become more pressing matters than ever.
            Have a great weekend!
            Have a nice weekend!

          2. although it is not very clear in that post (we’ve made many improvements to this feature over the years, in my view!) the Guest Editor of that 04 December 2019 post was a different ‘Lori’ who now goes by the name Rowan Beckett… thanks, kj

  8. a cloud of angel wings
    in the swollen river the devil

    Zdenka Mlinar

    pulled me immediately in. How we humans bring judgement and morals into what we perceive, very effective <3.

    John, my first reaction to


    Sarbani Sengupta

    was similar to yours, the longer I sit with it, the more sides come to it for me. The capitalisation is very effective, it is almost as if the monsoon comes suddenly, enters the 'room' like an entity, and by this everything else moves into the background or out of the room, gets less important (invisible?). Just that remains, the Monsoon.

    Lovely selection with thoughtful commentary.

  9. I’m really not sure about Sarbani Sengupta’s ‘Monsoon’ not least because of the existence of ‘tundra’. With all these things I ask myself if the work is truly original or, if not, is it recognisable as a poem? Personally I’d have liked to have seen an attempt at representation of the deluge of water in a monsoon. One the key aspects of ‘tundra’ is in its bleakness – ‘tundra’ – that’s it. But with a monsoon all the senses are assaulted so I don’t think a single word does the experience full justice unless it fully expresses it. Otherwise, why not have myriad haiku such as ‘rain’ or ‘snow’ or ‘wind’ etcetera. It might have been better to do something like this:

    ! monsoon ! monsoon !
    ! monsoon ! monsoon !
    ! monsoon ! monsoon !

    My apologies to Sarbani, but I think one-word haiku have to push writing boundaries into new understandings or insights to really stand out as poetry. I understand your selection Deborah – you are the editor – but as a writing community we ought to discuss these things.

    1. Yes please. I would greatly appreciate to discus things like that, because only so we can learn more about haiku and explore new things.

    2. John, I had a similar reaction/response to yours. Although Alan Summers makes a strong defense of the one-word poem, almost all of his examples do something with the word that makes it feel new or interesting — Saroyan’s famous “lighght” and “eyeye,” for example, which force us to think about sound, image, language, etc. I applaud the desire to call attention to important world events/phenomena, but “Monsoon” as a one-word poem doesn’t work effectively for me. As you put forward an example, I’m sure others can think of ways to present the word in a fresh way.


      This example may be over-the-top, but I would find it more compelling to look at than the plain word. This is not to criticize the poet or the editor for their choices — respect to both the artist for trying something out and the editor for taking risks on experiments! — but simply to explain why I agree that this particular experiment doesn’t work for me; unlike “tundra,” which appeared centered on a blank white page to emphasize the frozen waste of blank space surrounding it, and unlike the Alan Summers examples, which play with language and appearance in unique ways (outside of “the”), “Monsoon” did not register as a particularly poetic choice when I read it.

    3. Oh – i like what you have done here – in three lines – the repetition of –
      ! monsoon ! monsoon !
      ! monsoon ! monsoon !
      ! monsoon ! monsoon !

      — brings the water gushing in!

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