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HAIKU DIALOGUE – Literary Devices – personification

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: allusion

I’ve heard that we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, building upon the work of those who came before us. One way we can acknowledge this is by alluding to the people and events that have inspired our own writing. Allusion allows us to use the awareness of people, texts, and events – living/happening now, in the distant past, or sometime in-between – to bolster what we want to say.

By alluding to a well-known person, text, or event, we can not only bring a specific image to the reader’s mind, but also raise the ideas represented by that image without having to restate those ideas directly. Then we can make a connection to them, maybe an unexpected or modern take on them. Or we might subvert those ideas, raising them only to refute them, perhaps with a dramatic flair.

Modern music also makes ample use of this device, frequently referring to well-known figures and events to comment on daily life, using musical references to establish credibility, etc. Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” for instance, is composed almost entirely of allusions delivered rapid fire one after the other, dozens upon dozens of references to well-known people, places, events, and works from the ’40s through the ’80s, with the effect of making the weight of that history seem overbearing, crammed with so much incident that it floods the mind to think about it all. The Rolling Stones allude to events from the crucifixion to the assassination of JFK to show the timelessness of evil in their “Sympathy for the Devil.” And in “Yer Blues” when John Lennon shouts that he’s feeling the way Dylan’s Mr. Jones does, any fan of Bob Dylan’s song “Ballad of a Thin Man” knows exactly what he means. This tradition continues today – you can find entire articles written about literary allusions in hip hop, and artists of all types continue to reference the world around them.

I’ve seen several haiku allude to figures of the past. In fact, some submissions I’ve received on other literary devices have already made allusions, especially to Basho’s frog haiku. There have been so many haiku that allude to this particular poem that it has almost become a cliché itself. And yet, many still find a way to make that reference relevant again.

Besides alluding to the greats (I’ve made allusions, myself, to Issa, and I know many others have, as well), I have also seen haiku allude to mythic figures, like Orpheus or Odin. Shakespeare loved alluding to the Greco-Roman myths, as did all of the Romantics, and those still carry a lot of weight today.

Common targets other than authors and mythic gods and heroes tend to be political figures, philosophers, major world events, disasters, organizations.

An allusion can be made by directly naming the person, text, or event, of course, but it can also be made through details specific to the reference, which includes using or modifying a well-known quote.

The best version of this does not simply name the allusion and then define what it is. Instead, it uses the allusion for a more powerful, significant effect. The allusion should add to what the poet wants to say, contributing to our understanding of the fragment/phrase in a new way. In A Field Guide to North American Haiku, Charles Trumbull writes, “Allusion is an essential element of haiku, both Japanese and Western. It is a basic means by which a poet can enhance the meaning of a poem.” He uses Basho’s haiku about “Nara’s Buddhas” as an illustration. You can find his essay here. And you can find many other examples elsewhere online.

For this prompt, please make effective use of allusion in your haiku/senryu. I look forward to seeing which reference points inspire your work.

The deadline is midnight Central Daylight Time, Saturday August 13, 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 personification:

I think these selections show that personification definitely has a place in haiku. We may not want to rely on it too often, but it can certainly be used effectively, especially when applied ambiguously. Many poets chose to write haiku that could be read in two ways, so that the personification is more of a suggestion. For example:

red-aproned
temple statues
silently mourning

Jonathan Epstein
Los Angeles, California

As haiku writers and readers, we are accustomed to the fragment-phrase structure that most of them take. This poem is clever because you can read it straight through as a single-phrase poem, with the statues themselves silently mourning, or you can stop the phrase after “statues” and read the last line as a fragment, implying that the speaker is the one mourning the loss of a child near the Jizo statues. I think that personification may work best in haiku with this method of ambiguity.

autumn rain
quietly crying
into the rocks

C.X. Turner
UK

Turner’s is another example. The straightforward reading is that the rain is the sky’s tears, seeping into the stones. But if the fragment is “autumn rain,” then the phrase could again be read as the speaker crying in some rocky area, perhaps indicative of the hard place they have found themselves in.

lover’s concerto—
two gerberas in the room
leaning on each other

Keiko Izawa
Japan

In Izawa’s lovely haiku, the fragment and phrase work together to create more than the sum of their parts. Two gerberas could be leaning on each other without necessarily being personified, but because of the fragment that precedes this image, we have lovers on the mind, and so we cannot help but see the flowers as choosing to embrace one another.

Other poets were able to use personification to subvert expectations. In this poem, for example, Ranaldi-Adams sets up a common scenario with an unexpected result:

at my door
rose in hand he waits –
a clay gnome

Valentina Ranaldi-Adams
Fairlawn, Ohio

The surprise made me laugh. The personification of the gnome statue as a steadfast suitor works because it doubles as an everyday observation.

Personification also works well with puns:

cloudburst
a tree frog sings
in the shower

Margaret Tau
New Bern, North Carolina

Because of Tau’s play on words, we know the frog is outside croaking in the rain, but we imagine him, if only for a moment, human-sized, singing in the bathtub, perhaps scrubbing himself with soap. It’s a fun way of wording an otherwise common occurrence.

Another clever approach was personifying an object that animals are within, as if the object itself were making the sound:

spring shower
a small-bird feeder
breaks into song

Lori Kiefer
London, UK

The feeder breaking into song is an excellent way of expressing the life within, taking shelter from the rain. I wonder if this might also count as metonymy, referring to the birds with a closely-related object.

And let’s not forget the power that straight personification can have all on its own:

first light haze . . .
even the mountains
wake slowly

Alfred Booth
France

The language and punctuation in Booth’s poem work together to depict a slow, lethargic day. The ellipsis after the fragment slows us down, stuck in the haze a while. The large mountains also give us that heavy, slow feeling, and describing them as waking up slowly makes us fully aware that this morning is going to be exceptionally drawn out.

Here are some other favorite uses of the device:

diet coke
the fly watches
its weight

Deborah Karl-Brandt
Bonn, Germany

 

how the Summer threads its fingers through yellow fields. O children

Sarah Davies
Bedford, UK

 

urban dusk
waiting for the smog
to birth the stars

Ravi Kiran
India

 

Queen Anne’s lace
deep curtsies
to the rain

Caroline Giles Banks
Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

autumn leaves
sunbathing
nude

Amrutha Prabhu
Bengaluru, India

 

Migrant birds
adding new songs
to old playlists

Caroline Ridley-Duff
United Kingdom

 

wind howling
through the knothole
my dead name

Hifsa Ashraf
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

 

unfurling
her flamenco skirt
a village fountain

Paul Callus
Malta

 

fogged mirror
recalling the taste
of chapstick

Pippa Phillips
USA

 

how she spent
her last days…
one lonely quilt

Laurie Greer
Washington, DC

 

apology
the first peony
unclenches its fist

Helen Ogden
Pacific Grove, California

 

night deepens
the river creeps
under the bed

Anthony Rabang
Manila, Philippines

& here are the rest of the selections:

a hammock
beneath apple blossoms
time stretches out

Sarah Metzler
USA

 

afternoon heat
continuous chatter
in the birdbath

Ronald Degler
Harbor City, California

 

stravaging vines
his obituary
goes viral

John Pappas
USA

 

two grackles
sitting on the fence
snubbing each other

Dustin Hackfeld
Ingleside, Texas

 

holding on
when I should have let go
blackberry vines

Stephen A. Peters
Bellingham, Washington

 

waiting
for the wind
tall grasses

marilyn ashbaugh
Edwardsburg, Michigan

 

non-compliant my migraine doesn’t give an inch

Susan Burch
Hagerstown, Maryland

 

spring light …
sun-kissed strawberries
on the dessert

Lakshmi Iyer
India

 

sunset —
the beckoning darkness
one day closer

Alan Peat
Biddulph, United Kingdom

 

a trail of dirt
from the potted plant
delinquent cat

Jackie Chou
USA

 

riprap releasing the song of the stream

Bryan Rickert
Belleville, Illinois

 

ancestral house
the conversations I have
with grandpa’s chair

Mona Bedi
Delhi, India

 

seam of fog
opening the ravine
a hill partridge’s call

Sonam Chhoki
Bhutan

 

summer clouds
even prayer plants
folding their hands

Anna Yin
Ontario, Canada

 

complicit moon . . .
a knowing look
and a smile

Rosa Maria Di Salvatore
Catania, Italy

 

watching clouds gargoyles

Roberta Beach Jacobson
Indianola, Iowa

 

magpie in the garden
dressed for dinner
a bow tie on the bed

Robin Rich
UK

 

rainy season
flowers paint
colorful spots

Tsanka Shishkova
Bulgaria

 

a whisper
of the breeze – grandmother’s
hardness of hearing

Dejan Ivanovic
Lazarevac, Serbia

 

the vanity of
dancing dragonflies
in sun dresses

Dean Okamura
Torrance, CA

 

dandelions
dreams that outlived
their dreamers

Alvin Cruz
Philippines

 

cicada cantata they think they can sing

Anette Chaney
Harrison, Arkansas

 

lightning flash–
gargoyles at the cathedral
awaken

Teiichi Suzuki
Japan

 

getting high . . .
bees in mass
on the lilac bush

Kathleen Trocmet
Texas, USA

 

empty swing
gesturing to and fro
invites me

Chittaluri Satyanarayana
Hyderabad, India

 

a beach –
full Sturgeon Moon reading
the leftover newspapers

Aljoša Vuković
Croatia, Šibenik

 

the wind sometimes she’s kind

Keith Evetts
Thames Ditton UK

 

lazy Sunday
a lizard on the rock
stares at me

Daniela Misso
Italy

 

boxed mementos
my childhood hiding
under the bed

Maurice Nevile
Canberra, Australia

 

moonlight concert
waves sing tirelessly
to the rock

Neena Singh
Chandigarh, India

 

dawn light
releasing the seeds
of freedom

Patricia Hawkhead
United Kingdom

 

fairy lights
strung through the trees
dancing fireflies

John Hawkhead
United Kingdom

 

croaks of to be
or not to be
from a swamp frog

Dan Campbell
Virginia, USA

 

broken vase
gets a fresh start –
kintsugi

Hla Yin Mon
Yangon, Myanmar

 

seducing me
the open-mouthed slot machine
hungers for more

Tracy Davidson
Warwickshire, UK

 

signboard
wishing a happy trip
in faded colours

Subir Ningthouja
Imphal, India

 

detachment
the boulder meditates
under the full moon

Pravat Kumar Padhy
India

 

autumn dragonfly
she has the gift also
of loneliness

Deborah Bennett
Carbondale, Illinois

 

sleeping city
a tremble of aspens
whisper down the street

Ingrid Baluchi
North Macedonia

 

homecoming
the friendly squeaking
of the gate

Mirela Brăilean
Romania

 

river bank herons sharing solitude

Mariangela Canzi
Italy

 

long-term care for free Mother Earth

Ruth Holzer
Herndon, Virginia

 

my obituary-
stars write
and requiem rains sing

Ram Chandran
India

 

a sinuous stream . . .
her golden braid gleaming
in the sun

Bipasha Majumder (De)
India

 

gray clouds kiss
the desert mountain
lightning

Rehn Kovacic
Mesa, Arizona

 

S.O.S.
blinking from the jar
fireflies

Eavonka Ettinger
Long Beach, California

 

early morning
the petunias signal
breakfast is ready

Susan Farner
USA

 

frayed brush the moon left scratching its head

M. R. Defibaugh
USA

 

hospital bed
watching the descent
of grey evening

Gopal Lahiri
Kolkata, India

 

childhood abuse…
I share my runaway plan
with the family dog

Peg Cherrin-Myers
Franklin, Michigan

 

home quarantine
the cawing crow becomes
my doctor

Srini S
India

 

Ganga carries me up—
past the oldest city
in the world

(The general course of the Ganges is southwards or southeast, but at Varanasi she flows upstream, in a northern direction.)

Rupa Anand
New Delhi, India

 

evening
the mirror tells me
to come back

Richa Sharma
India

 

marionette lines
the moon
and me

Louise Hopewell
Australia

 

dripping eaves
a kiln warm coffee can
resounding with joy

simonj
UK

 

moving out …
the attic grudgingly shares
family secrets

Natalia Kuznetsova
Russia

 

quarantine
ocean in the conch
listens back

Padma Rajeswari
Mumbai, India

 

the cuckoo’s song
seconds before
everything screams

Daipayan Nair
Silchar, India

 

wild coastline…
in submission
the manuka bends

(Manuka – a coastal tree in New Zealand … Leptospermum scoparium)

wanda amos
Old Bar, Australia

 

morning prayer
bells and birds
invoke the Sun

Branka Maravić
Zagreb, Croatia

 

rhinestone cowboy Orion wheels west

Cynthia Anderson
Yucca Valley, California

 

spring morning –
a brass band of daffodils
march across my lawn

andrew shimield
UK

 

street hustle
his mournful harmonica
keeps the coins coming

Bona M. Santos
Los Angeles, California

 

giving birth
to a rainbow
the bubble wand

Richard Matta
San Diego, California

 

evening stillness
we let the willows whisper
our sweet nothings

Maxianne Berger
Outremont, Quebec

 

last sayonara
my old maroon truck
gives up the ghost

Mark Meyer
Mercer Island, Washington

 

all-night rain
the thin grass at dawn
blushes green

Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

 

linden avenue
two branches reach out
for each other

Marianne Sahlin
Sweden

 

hidden oak
teach me to live
without hubris

Tiffany Shaw-Diaz
USA

 

between each train
the subway tunnels
breathe

petro c. k.
Seattle, Washington

 

thawing the ice
between them
summer’s breath

Joe Sebastian
Bangalore, India

 

fluttering curtains
the breeze wonders
why she’s alone

Minal Sarosh
Ahmedabad, India

 

bleaching rock
the river’s scars
run deep

Gavin Austin
Australia

 

arctic tundra…
the moon watches
polar bears hunt seals

Nancy Brady
Ohio, USA

 

hint of spring
magnolias show and tell

Carol Reynolds
Australia

 

heat wave
the road and I
sweating

Tom Staudt
Sydney, Australia

 

first lily
her anthers eyelashes
flirting with the sun

Colette Kern
USA

 

bitter notes
the rain and i
fill my diary

James Gaskin
Fukushima, Japan

 

children
the sparkling snow
all laughing together

joan iversen goswell
Valencia, Pennsylvania

 

another death the days march on

Danita Brandt
Michigan, USA

 

riverside terrace
the daffodils sing
hymns and arias…

Adele Evershed
Wilton, Connecticut

 

ebbing tide the ocean waves

Lafcadio
USA

 

Old Masters’ room
the floorboards creaking
with reverence

Ella Aboutboul
West Sussex, England

 

vidaai…
she walks on
crying rose petals

(Vidaai is a ritual in Indian tradition of marriage wherein the bride has to leave her home and settle in the groom’s house as hers.)

Devoshruti Mandal
Varanasi, India

 

the garden unwinds
all its quiet corners
waiting for autumn

Annie Wilson
Shropshire, UK

 

stingy clouds
hiding most of the rainbow
for themselves

Sari Grandstaff
Saugerties, New York

 

I lost my friend foe fog swallowed him

John S Green
Bellingham, Washington

 

and when the sky
dresses in purple
the moon sings

e quando il cielo
si veste di porpora
canta la luna

Giuliana Ravaglia
Bologna, Italy

 

knife in my hand the ripe melon breaks into a cold sweat

Marcia Burton
Salt Spring Island, Canada

 

even
the half-moon
turning a blind eye

P. H. Fischer
Vancouver, Canada

 

rugby game
the rainbow scores
a goal

Sue Courtney
Orewa, New Zealand

 

wharf side
a tethered boat
fighting the rope

Carol Judkins
Carlsbad, California

 

sulking in
through the blinds
Sunday sun

Ruchita Madhok
Mumbai, India

 

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 20 Comments

  1. So many great haiku!
    I do like this one ….

    the garden unwinds
    all its quiet corners
    waiting for autumn

    Annie Wilson
    Shropshire, UK

  2. So many good haiku and senryu this week from all over the world, so I won’t point any out. Thanks Alex for such interesting prompts!!

  3. This is such a lovely set of personification haiku, richer for its international flavour. I’m drawn to the following …

    apology
    the first peony
    unclenches its fist
    Helen Ogden
    Pacific Grove, California

    A strong and powerful haiku (above)

    seam of fog
    opening the ravine
    a hill partridge’s call
    Sonam Choki
    Bhutan

    This beautiful poem with its great pivot, paints a delightful picture for the reader to experience.

    boxed mementos
    my childhood hiding
    under the bed
    Maurice Nevile
    Canberra, Australia

    This one brings back my childhood memories and even nightmares.

    Thank you Alex and all poets for a fine selection. I too wish that all international journals would include country of origin in their publications. Definitely adds an extra depth to reading and understanding.

  4. I am thrilled to have my haiku (first time!) be included amongst so many wonderful examples of personification. Thanks to Alex, Kathy, Lori, and the Haiku Foundation for this excellent series on literary devices. As a former English teacher, it especially delights me.

    Next week should be really fun.

    1. As a current English teacher, I’m happy that I could be the first one to have the opportunity to put your work in print! Keep writing and submitting. Just a few more devices to go before my run ends along with August. I hope they inspire you.

  5. how she spent
    her last days…
    one lonely quilt

    Laurie Greer
    Washington, DC

    I feel for this one, Laurie.
    Some time ago, I wrote something for THF about my father’s ‘comfort’ blanket being binned by staff after his passing, and how hurt I was that he was cremated ‘alone’.

    Thank you, Alex, for including one of mine, and for this brilliant insight into how we move language forward to encompass all possibilities, even beyond the constraints of traditional haiku.

    1. Thank you for the comment. Greer’s poem is a definite highlight. The personification of the quilt says so much about the woman’s “last days.” It’s a beautifully sad way of expressing it.

      1. Thank you, Ingrid and Alex, for noticing this one. My mother was a life-long quilter, and she left us plenty of her warmth.

  6. Thank you Alex for your lovely commentary on my frog haiku! I am truly honored!! And congratulations to everyone here for all of your wonderful haiku!

  7. Thank you Alex for holding back my haiku. Congratulations to all the poets featured here.

  8. Great haiku. Loved the commentary for the featured haiku, helped me in understanding the Personification device which I love and ‘try’ to use very frequently. Excited about next week’s prompt 🙂

  9. I feel honored to be included in this personification haiku dialogue. Thank you Alex! Congratulations to all the poets! So many favorites here for me. As a language poet and as a high school librarian I am enjoying these prompts of poetic literary devices. I also appreciate how this Haiku Dialogue feature is so international. I notice Croatia, North Macedonia, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, Russia, England, Myanmar, Sweden, Bulgaria, Philippines just to mention a few from this week. And many states across the U.S. I am learning from all of you. Thank you Alex, Lori and Kathy for your work on keeping this feature a highlight of my Wednesdays.

    1. Sari,
      I am always impressed with the global community of haiku poets, and I often mention the countries represented in my blog posts. Often there are poets from five continents, showing the global appeal of haiku. Congrats to you and all the other poets.

      1. Dear Sari and Nancy, thank you for mentioning how international Haiku Dialogue is, and we only know because we have our town (and/or State if applicable), and country of origin included, which is a huge plus plus in my opinion. Thank you so much to The Haiku Foundation for including this information that we supply.

        There are so many journals these days that omit this information and I for one, as a newish member of the haiku community, find the country of origin invaluable when reading haiku. I don’t know the poets and I don’t know where they are from so it can help to give a haiku context especially when words can have more than one meaning, and different meanings in different countries, or even in different regions/ states within the same country, and the same word can mean something entirely different in different languages. It is also helpful to know the poet’s origin when different poets have the same or similar names.

    2. Yes, the international scope of this weekly article is truly impressive. It’s a joy to see such incredible work come in from all over the world. Happy to hear from a librarian, too–my wife is an elementary school librarian, and she has also worked as a high school librarian in the past. She is much happier as a librarian than she was as a classroom English teacher ^o^;

  10. Alex, I was so surprised that you chose my haiku for commentary. Thank-you very much. Thank-you Kathy, Lori, and the Haiku Foundation. Congrats to all the poets.

    1. Well done, Valentina. Loved the gnome haiku as would my niece Michelle. There is a gnome statue at Barnes Nursery in Huron. It’s about eight feet tall, and it could easily be a suitor.
      Congratulations to you and all the poets for these personified haiku. I am impressed. Thanks Alex for including one of mine in the mix.

      1. Nancy, I am glad you liked my haiku. Congrats on yours being published.

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