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HAIKU DIALOGUE – Literary Devices – alliteration

Literary Devices with Guest Editor Alex Fyffe

For this series, I’d like to focus on the use of various literary devices in haiku. We tend to think of these techniques as applicable to longer lyric poetry – haiku is often taught to be a form without literary trappings, a simple breath of a poem, honest and straightforward, without ornament. Of course, this is a misconception, as the best haiku tend to be very carefully crafted, with one good poem often going through several revisions. And just like their longer cousins, haiku are capable of tackling metaphor, simile (despite what you might have heard), personification, symbolism, allusion, and any number of other techniques. Each week, we will take an in-depth look at a different technique and apply it to our haiku.

next week’s theme: personification

The darkness waited. The cat danced. George Harrison’s guitar gently wept. The wind moaned. Or did it howl?

I find personification to be a wonderful illustration of our capacity for empathy. It is easier to connect with nonhuman animals, things and ideas when we place human characteristics on them. Of course, there is the danger of over-romanticizing the world, of giving false impressions of events, of forcing a human perspective on things that cannot care about us one way or another. Some would argue that this kind of device has no place in haiku. And yet all of the masters, including Basho, Buson, Issa, and Chiyo-ni (among many others), made use of it. For more on this, see the forum on personification and anthropomorphism here on The Haiku Foundation’s site.

Despite the debate in the haiku world, personification remains a highly popular poetic device. It’s satisfying to find human qualities in the behavior of animals and plants and describe nonliving things and ideas as though they had their own will. Personification can bring an entire city to life. There’s something animistic about it; Japan’s traditional beliefs are filled with stories of personified objects, too. It is extraordinary to see the inanimate world as a breathing thing, filled with the same spark as us, to see animals as our peers and not as things simply to be used. Personifying the things in our daily lives can help us feel a deeper kinship with them. Emily Dickinson famously personified Death, not as some terrible reaper but as a kindly gentleman and a supple suitor. In this way, ideas, too, can become knowable, familiar, and comfortable.

For this prompt, write a haiku or senryu that makes use of personification – attributing human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or ideas. I look forward to seeing your submissions!

The deadline is midnight Central Daylight Time, Saturday August 06, 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 & residence 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 Alex’s commentary for alliteration:

One thing I noticed while reading through the alliteration submissions is that the amount of alliteration acceptable in a haiku varies from writer to writer and topic to topic. At first, I found myself rejecting submissions for relying too heavily on alliteration – repeating the same sound five, six times or more – but then I would read a haiku that used just as many repetitions and still managed to work somehow. I think the difference mostly came down to the topic and mood of the poem. Some could effectively convey a sense of fun and rhythm:

be-bopping bluebirds in the birdbath

Susan Burch
Hagerstown, Maryland

 

a banjo busker’s ballad bobbing in the breeze

Dan Campbell
Virginia, USA

These two use the musicality of their subjects to keep the beat, the double-B sounds of Burch’s bluebirds and the iambic hexameter of Campell’s street performer both earning all of those B-words along the way.

Others were successful at using so much repetition to create a sense of magical wonder:

shooting star
my sister stirs
in her sleep

Roberta Beary
County Mayo, Ireland

Beary’s poem shakes things up, as well, by switching between types of S-words: the soft “sh” of “shooting,” the way “stirs” acts as both a slant rhyme to “star” and an echo of the “ster” in “sister,” and finally the slow lullaby “sl” of “sleep.” Everything clicks together so well, the repetition doesn’t bother us but carries us further into the poet’s world.

However, generally speaking, the poems with slightly more subdued alliteration tended to feel fresher, less overbearing. One way of doing this was by varying the sounds being repeated.

rush hour in the rain –
London library lends
shelter and silence

Cristina Povero
Italy

Povero moves us from the rumbly outside R-words of “rush (hour)” and “rain” inside to the pleasant L-words of “London library lends” where we find the hushed S-words of “shelter” and “silence,” each set adding to the poem’s meaning and feeling, similar to this poem by Matta:

beachside birds
the moonlit movements
of hurried hatchlings

Richard Matta
San Diego, California

He takes us from the bombastic birds to the soft shuffling night movements that they’re presumably watching, which come from newborns hurrying away toward safety.

Some of the subtlest submissions used little or no alliteration, mostly using assonance and consonance to tie their lines together:

long afternoon
a glossy drongo
whoops me out

Neena Singh
Chandigarh, India

 

wild violets…
her eyes no longer
entwined with mine

Ana Growl
Surrey, UK

In Singh’s poem, the short “O” in “long” follows through in “glossy” and “drongo,” and the “oo” in “afternoon” connects to the last line’s “whoops.” The E-sounds in “glossy” and “me” also help to connect lines two and three together. Growl’s poem repeats the long “I” sound in “wild violets” in the second line’s “eyes” and the third line’s “entwined” and “mine,” an internal rhyme that works because of its proximity. I also love the image/metaphor in this poem, with the other person’s eyes having gone “wild,” no longer attached to the speaker’s.

Here are some other favorite examples:

abelia blossoms
the buzz around
my hospital bed

Sue Courtney
Orewa, New Zealand

 

a pas de deux
upon the pond
lone dragonfly

Annie Wilson
Shropshire, UK

Rarely do we get a strong reflection haiku that is so subtly sketched as this one by Wilson. In fact, it might take a second for the brain to connect that the lone dragonfly is having a pas de deux with herself. (Especially those like me who know nothing about ballet and have to look up “pas de deux”… Shh, don’t tell anyone!)

overnight love letter
the loops in her script
filled with moonlight

Barrie Levine
Massachusetts, USA

One of the more romantic haiku I’ve seen in a while. Beautiful detail.

summer’s last swallows sweep the sky

Ingrid Baluchi
North Macedonia

 

lace drapes
lift in the breeze . . .
lingering over tea

Kathleen Trocmet
Texas, USA

 

dawn moon
he moans my name
in his sleep

Minerva Pendleton
Ohio, USA

 

Unspoken words
burst like blackberries
on my tongue

Caroline Ridley-Duff
England

Although we often hear “Don’t use simile in haiku,” this is one of those “rules” that isn’t always followed, even by Japanese masters, many of whom have used similes in their work. And like all poetic devices, I think it can work well when done right, as we see here with Ridley-Duff’s poem. We could imagine a version of this without “like,” of course, but I like it just the way it is.

pine needles
drop on the page …
I pause

Daniela Misso
Italy

 

koi carp…
cedillas softening hard cs

Tony Williams
Scotland, UK

Williams made me look up a word, and when I did, the cleverness of his poem shone brightly. By commenting on the hard sounds of “koi carp,” and using the soft sounds in “cedillas,” “softening,” and “cs” itself, he illustrates the image of koi tails swishing through the water, gracefully antithetical to the harsh sounds in their names.

flooded corn fields
crows call out
the subconscious

Bryan Rickert
Belleville, Illinois

 

rinsing my dad’s hair
in the hospital . . .
broken bones bonding

Geoff Pope
Paducah, Kentucky

& here are the rest of the selections:

slow xylophone
rain beads
beams of sun

Dustin Hackfeld
Ingleside, Texas

 

heatwave
honeydew melon cooling
her skin

Deborah Karl-Brandt
Bonn, Germany

 

psithurism…
the swish of my skirt
in the summer breeze

Jackie Chou
USA

 

journey
a rivulet joins
the river

Subir Ningthouja
Imphal, India

 

getting acquainted
behind the smile
the bite

Stephen A. Peters
Bellingham, Washington

 

light rain
mother sings
a tajik song

Bakhtiyar Amini
Germany

 

a gaggle of goosebumps
taking wing

Alan Peat
Biddulph, UK

 

river’s edge —
rounding a ridge
to roaring rapids

Ronald Degler
Harbor City, California

 

it rains. . .
The grass grows greener
in my mother’s garden

Vincenzo Adamo
Italy

 

gnarly gnats gnawing
incessantly …
tundra buzz

Bonnie J Scherer
Palmer, Alaska

 

thundering through
the thorns and thistles
prey and predator

Ravi Kiran
India

 

windless day
the woods whispering
with a tiger’s howl

Chen Xiaoou
Kunming, China

 

busy bee
furls and unfurls
petal by petal

Chittaluri Satyanarayana
Hyderabad, India

 

one stall over
someone rolls the R
in “mierda”

Joel Dias-Porter
Atlantic City, New Jersey

 

sister’s scrapbook
wishes written with
peacock plume

Nitu Yumnam
India

 

winter gray
wondering again
where you’ve gone

Maurice Nevile
Canberra, Australia

 

a seriography
of blot shots . . .
leaving the dark room

Kati Mohr
Germany

 

a shower in April
sparrows spill rainbows
in sparkling sun

Keith Evetts
Thames Ditton, UK

 

daylight –
the light flight
of a dragonfly

luce del giorno –
il volo leggero
di una libellula

Dennys Cambarau
Sardinia, Italy

 

suddenly
among the shades
a slender snake

Luciana Moretto
Treviso, Italy

 

crinkled sky—
the crisp crackle of starch
Mom’s cotton saris

(Cotton garments are often starched in India to reduce wrinkling.)

Rupa Anand
New Delhi, India

 

now the mountain of no more

Richa Sharma
India

 

pink-footed pigeon
picks a path
through fallen leaves

andrew shimield
UK

 

crayon moons
loose their loops
empty nest

Daya Bhat
India

 

my will like a willow bending in the breeze

Vandana Parashar
India

 

morning mist
in the mountain meadows
cowbells melody

Natalia Kuznetsova
Russia

 

sultry day—
the smell of straws
from a scarecrow

Hifsa Ashraf
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

 

forget-me-nots…
faces fade
into the far faraway

Tracy Davidson
Warwickshire, UK

 

top of the moor –
a scatter of turbines
turning turning

Ann Rawson
Scotland, UK

 

marsh reeds
waving with the wind
the sea’s long horizon

Herbert Shippey
Tifton, Georgia

 

cicadas sing-song chant

Peggy Hale Bilbro
Alabama, USA

 

stippled light
spiders spin sun strands
between the borders

John Hawkhead
Bradford on Avon, UK

 

year by year
these flocks of cranes
coming and going

Ram Chandran
India

 

state fair–
the poetry tent
unattended

Ruth Holzer
Herndon, Virginia

 

summer blizzard
the shepherd herds his flock
towards shelter

Bruce H Feingold
Berkeley, California

 

backyard blues
the hungry jay blurs
raspberry bushes

M. R. Defibaugh
USA

 

dusk death dislocates the meaning

Vijay Prasad
Patna, India

 

the night
of fireflies. . .
missing him

Meera Rehm
UK

 

crowdedcablecar—standingontheedgeforcoolbreeze

John Zheng
Mississippi, USA

 

sweet tea
honeybee and me
in clover

Caroline Giles Banks
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

dreamcatcher in breeze
—a spider
weaving its web

Keiko Izawa
Japan

 

a revolving door–
cicadas’ chorus
dawn to dusk

Teiichi Suzuki
Japan

 

magenta a melodic stream

Tiffany Shaw-Diaz
USA

 

silent sunshine
sand grains slip
in the hourglass

Arvinder Kaur
Chandigarh, India

 

farewell
his ashes floating
with flowers

Minal Sarosh
Ahmedabad, India

 

how many more?
black and beaten
begging to breathe

Peg Cherrin-Myers
Franklin, Michigan

 

red roses
the simplest of regrets

Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
The Hague, Netherlands

 

her howls drowned
by the pounding surf
smashed sandcastle

Louise Hopewell
Australia

 

the puppy
paws
in my pumpkin patch

Margaret Mahony
Australia

 

the sand castle
slips into the receding tide
real estate sea change

Sari Grandstaff
Saugerties, New York

 

crakesticks
an underfoot crunch
in the rime

simonj
UK

 

orb web
the death spiral
of a fairy moth

Laurie Greer
Washington, DC

 

haiku morning
sunshine and silhouettes
on the windowsill

Danita Brandt
Michigan, USA

 

whistle stop
rain drizzles
on a thistle

Bona M. Santos
Los Angeles, California

 

tea leaves . . .
a tale
I tell myself

petro c. k.
Seattle, Washington

 

working watermill
haunts the hotel lobby
check in/check out

ron scully
Burien, Washington

 

tuning the radio …
bees buzz
around the bass

Daipayan Nair
Silchar, India

 

a monk meditates
in the misty morning …
mountain monastery

Milan Rajkumar
Imphal, India

 

Shinto shrine
the shelves overflowing
with shoes

Maxianne Berger
Outremont, Quebec

 

white flowered vines
weave a trellis
sweet breeze

Susan Lee Roberts
Montesano, Washington

 

summer sizzle
the postcards
from my lover

Cynthia Anderson
Yucca Valley, California

 

sinking sunset
gold tipped tail
of the cedar waxwing

John Pappas
USA

 

nightfall
far from home
on foot

Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

 

the sun shows
to the lonely shadows
the way home

il sole indica
all’ombra solitaria
la via di casa

Maria Cezza
Italy

 

trembling memories
all my ancestors
carved in stone

Vjekoslav Romich
Croatia

 

wintry train station
the wisp of steam
with your whisper

Marianne Sahlin
Sweden

 

sand dollars
a seagull plunders
the wrack line

Lorraine A Padden
San Diego, California

 

drought gardening
the outcomes
much in doubt

Susan Farner
USA

 

skipping stones leaping away from questions

batu melompat jauh dari pertanyaan

Christopher Calvin
Kota Mojokerto, Indonesia

 

empty platform–
how long you lingered
before leaving

Pippa Phillips
Kansas City, Missouri

 

following
freshly fallen snow
a flame robin’s song

Gavin Austin
Australia

 

full laundry line
the lilies of the valley
lend their scent

Mona Iordan
Romania

 

watching windswept
only a woman
can be an island

Kath Abela Wilson
Pasadena, California

 

it creeps cautiously
from room to room to room…
moon shadow

kris moon kondo
Kiyokawa, Kanagawa, Japan

 

door after door
discovering the universe
restless heart

Stoianka Boianova
Bulgaria

 

my sister’s silent steps –
the slow movement of clouds

Los pasos silenciosos
de mi hermana…
El lento movimiento de las nubes

Julia Guzmán
Córdoba, Argentina

 

dew drops
stretching the strength
of spider silk

C.X. Turner
UK

 

the soft soft smell
of Sunday—
wild mint

Adele Evershed
Wilton, Connecticut

 

their old bones
grow together
bent birches

James Gaskin
Fukushima, Japan

 

the click click
of the ticket taker
Grand Central Station

John S Green
Bellingham, Washington

 

quake-toppled temple
how the wind lingers
in the broken bronze bell

Sonam Chhoki
Bhutan

 

ribbon candy
a row of rippled icicles
on the roof

Valentina Ranaldi-Adams
Fairlawn, Ohio

 

summer heat
Queen Anne’s lace leaning
over an empty birdhouse

Anna Yin
Ontario, Canada

 

tea for two
the tinkling of
introductions

Lori Kiefer
London, UK

 

winter solstice –
so wide a womb
in her shortening skirt

Luisa Santoro
Rome, Italy

 

State fair
cotton candy clouds
lead the way

Carol Judkins
Carlsbad, California

 

gin sick
bringing up blood
in the snow

Ash Evan Lippert
South Carolina, USA

 

night train–
crying babies lulled
by the clickety-clack

Lafcadio
USA

 

after
the action flick
the silent screen

P. H. Fischer
Vancouver, Canada

 

pixel-peeping…
sweating
the small stuff

Nancy Brady
Ohio, USA

 

Guest Editor Alex Fyffe teaches high school English in the Houston area. Although he has been writing haiku off and on for a decade, he only started submitting his work during the Global Event known as 2020. Since then his haiku and senryu have been published in various journals, including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Failed Haiku, Akitsu Quarterly, and the Asahi Haikuist Network. Alex’s first glimpse of haiku was in a collection of writings by Jack Kerouac, and he found the work of Issa while studying abroad in Japan, but he didn’t fall in love with the haiku until he discovered the free-form work of Santoka Taneda. Currently, Alex uses haiku in the classroom to ease students into poetry and build their confidence as readers and writers. Alex also posts haiku on Twitter @AsurasHaiku.

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: kjmunro1560.wordpress.com.

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 13 Comments

  1. these two poems were favorites of mine.
    I am just realizing as I write, that they both have s
    sounds~

    Roberta’s haIku has a simplicity and power,
    but beyond that– a mystery! I

    thinkin writing these
    poems for the prompt– we are most successful when
    we are writing from a deep place, of experience or memory of experience !
    nor just word play… even when it has to do with
    words and sounds1 we wonder… what makes Roberta’s sister
    still… is it a coincidence or is she stirred by the stars…

    in Jackie, rooted in the unusual word discovery… A word many of us don’t know…
    Once known it continues to inspire… and speak to us in real time
    like a tree rustling with its mysterious voice. Love both of these
    poems and poets.

    shooting star
    my sister stirs
    in her sleep

    Roberta Beary
    County Mayo, Ireland

    psithurism…
    the swish of my skirt
    in the summer breeze

    Jackie Chou
    USA

  2. Thank you for feeling the resonance Alex and inspiring me
    to write

    watching windswept
    only a woman
    can be an island

    it always amazes me that a prompt involving sound can bring back
    experience open it and deepen the associations. And bring a moment alive.
    In this case, the windswept islands in the Susquehanna, near Harrisburg
    and the poignant moment I saw them swept into my mind.
    I had gone there to show to my father, my first child. My father had left our family. My mother had become an island indeed. –back in the NYC area nurturing my four younger siblings.
    And I also a woman now– knew an island life without him.
    Somehow the use of alliteration was natural to this lonely windswept feeling.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Kath. I found your poem to be a bold assertion and a counter to Paul Simon’s claim of islandhood. I could feel the emotion behind saying it, the deep loneliness tinged with resentment (perhaps with some societal exhaustion) that would make someone feel that way. I am happy to hear that the prompt was able to draw this out of you.

  3. Thank you, Alex, for including my haiku in the Dialogue this week. Congratulations to all the poets! Wednesday is a highlight of the week with this feature (continuing the theme).

  4. Thank you, Alex, for choosing one of my haiku; it’s always a pleasure to be included with all the wonderful haiku written by poets from across the globe. So many wonderful examples of alliteration including Carlsbad, California’s Carol Judkins’ ‘cotton candy clouds’ (even her name and residence is alliteration). Thanks to Lori and KJ who keep this column going each week.

    Now, back to reading more.

  5. Thank you Alex for including my haiku
    It is a pleasure each week to participate and read, a wonderful collection.

  6. wild violets…
    her eyes no longer
    entwined with mine
    /
    Ana Growl
    Surrey, UK
    /
    This haiku has a haunting, bittersweet quality to it. Perhaps a child has grown and left the nest. Perhaps a romance has ended. Perhaps someone has passed away. Perhaps . . .

    1. I agree entirely. The poem is open enough to apply to many different situations but specific enough to capture how all of those things feel. A definite standout for me this week.

  7. Thank-you Alex for once again choosing one of my haiku. Always a pleasure to be published. Thank-you Kathy, Lori, and the others at the Haiku Foundation who do their part weekly on this column. Congrats to all the poets.

  8. Many thanks Alex for these weekly challenges, one of my favorites this week is:

    Unspoken words
    burst like blackberries
    on my tongue

    Caroline Ridley-Duff
    England

  9. Thank you Alex for choosing my love letter poem for comment. And your prompt has yielded a crop of so many delightful and creative uses of alliteration. Thanks also to kj and Lori for keeping this amazing feature on track each week. The weekly prompt and deadline are an integral aspect of my practice.

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