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HAIKU DIALOGUE – Times of Transition – The last frontier / Poems of dying and death (2) & Introduction to Facial Expressions

Times of Transition & Introduction to Facial Expressions

Thanks to Guest Editor Deborah Karl-Brandt for inviting us to explore the transitions of our lives. Now we welcome Co-Guest Editors Hifsa Ashraf & Arvinder Kaur with a look at our expressions – happy writing! kj

Introduction to Facial Expressions with Co-Guest Editors Hifsa Ashraf & Arvinder Kaur

Facial expression as non-verbal communication is the most significant way to express emotions. Darwin also considered facial expressions as a significant part of the evolution of communication. We may run short of words, but our face symbolically says a lot. It is said that a person’s eyes can lead us to their heart and soul, something that poets and writers have used to the hilt. Apart from the movement of facial muscles, facial expressions have their own language that varies from culture to culture in terms of their understanding and interpretation. In this era of technology, emoticons are used to convey a range of emotions. In fact, one can safely say that emoticons have softened and lent a personal touch to messages that might otherwise seem dull and drab.

In literature, and especially in poetry, facial expressions have a special place. One can immediately understand the import of the moment if the poet says that her large eyes filled with wonder, a tremulous smile played on her lips and the moon appeared pale. In micropoetry, many famous haiku poets have used facial expressions in their poetry in an interesting way. Some examples from Basho’s poetry:

A sense of terror, fear, or surprise in both poems:

an old river
making big eyes
at the willow

stars in my eyes
wishing to see blossoms
on weeping cherries

Translator: Jane Reichhold
Basho: The Complete Haiku

And Kobayashi Issa used facial expressions in a different way:

autumn wind—
the face of the man
who planted pines

Translator: David Lanoue
Used with permission, Haiku

Many facial expressions have been identified now but we will stick to the basic six facial expressions. And these are happiness, surprise, contempt/disgust, sadness, fear, and anger. You can let your imagination run wild and share some personal experiences or stories, or your observations related to these facial expressions in the weeks to come.

next week’s theme: happiness

Happiness as a facial expression is wide in terms of facial movement and interpretations. One can express happiness simply by a smile and others may crack up in laughter. Whether it is a child’s giggle or a granny’s coughing while laughing, nothing can surpass the simple act of joy and excitement. Let us know – how do you express your happiness without uttering a word? We may see some poems around deep dimples, laughing out loud, teary eyes while smiling, a child’s giggle, or simply a selfie with a smile showing your teeth.

The deadline is midnight Eastern Daylight Time, Saturday October 14, 2023.

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 Deborah’s commentary for The last frontier / Poems of dying and death:

stone-cold night
i start my next sketchbook
with wilted flowers

Amoolya Kamalnath

The death of a loved one is the ultimate caesura. The days of our existence are divided into a before and an after. This poem asks how to begin anew, for we must make a new beginning. But even if we do, our loss will affect the days to come. Even if the sketchbook is a fresh one, the first thing to be drawn are the wilted flowers. Because in the end, our life is a continuum, not a sequence.

biopsy results
in-person call
to soften the blow

Caroline Giles Banks
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

I don’t think anything can soften the blow when you suddenly receive such a diagnosis. Knowing theoretically that one’s time is limited and being confronted with the prognosis of how short one’s remaining time will be are two fundamentally different things.

Knowing what this diagnosis also means for the people who are connected to the lyrical self in love is a pain all its own.

mystery novel
with a surprise ending
I’m almost finished

Cindy Putnam Guentherman
Illinois, USA

I confess that I can’t resist crime and mystery novels. This haiku, to be read metaphorically, links two images in a humorous and surprising way. Our lives turn out to be a page-turner. The somewhat mundane, exceedingly secular novel has to do with life and the sacred. This poem made me smile.

stoic snowman
standing in a puddle
of his tears

Dan Campbell

This so stoic snowman, his humanity surprises. Instead of coldness and insensitivity, we are confronted with deep feelings. The warm heart of the snowman leaves him lonely and suffering in a whole puddle of his tears. The question this haiku raises for me is: do we really always judge another person correctly? Don’t we only get to know each other properly when we are willing to look deeply and see what is really there? Shouldn’t we face each other in this way so that we can stand by each other? How often do we behave in this way?

pink lotus—
peering into dark water
opening into heaven

Jonathan English
Washington, DC

Between the earthly and the heavenly, man lives his life. But like the lotus, man has the possibility to rise. He is not only firmly rooted in the mud, he can blossom and become aware of the sacred within himself. We all have the abilities of the lotus, we are all as precious as the lotus. I like this thought.

. . .
in the white space
to be continued

Lakshmi Iyer

This poem is a statement. Even after death we will be there, in whatever form or energy we will appear. There is a certainty in this poem that leaves no room for fear. We will continue our journey. Nothing could be more natural than this.

deathbed reading…
still wanting to see
what happens next

Laurie Greer
Washington, DC

Curiosity is one of the most exciting human qualities. Einstein simply called himself a curious man. I sense no regret, sadness, or fear in this poem. There is a lyrical I who remains curious like a child even on the deathbed. Curious about the end of the novel, but I think the lyrical I is also very curious about what will happen after death. Is there an afterlife, is there a next life … so many questions about what comes after.

a bag each hand
the family leaves
her hospice room

Maurice Nevile
Canberra, Australia

After the death of a loved one, often the only thing left behind is the material burden he or she has accumulated. None of our possessions, so precious to us, can be taken with us on our last journey, and our loved ones have to struggle not only with their grief but also with our belongings. On the other hand, mementos can be comforting. They are proof that the person lived and continues to hold a place in our hearts. Despite everything, they cannot compensate for the loss of a loved one.

her funeral
meeting her twin
for the first time

Ravi Kiran

When my mother-in-law and her four siblings buried their mother, another brother showed up at the funeral completely out of the blue. Surprise, pain, disbelief, and many questions as to why decisions were made the way they were are what the funeral holds for the family. And perhaps also in the end, joy about being able to get to know another very close relative after all. Sometimes the loss of a person brings a new beginning.

old frog
leaps into pond-
his last echo

Ruth Happel

The most famous haiku is the one about the frog, the old pond and the sound of water. We have all written our own reference poem to Basho’s (like I did a few years ago). But this poem is more than just a reference to an old master. We are asked to think about what will be remembered of us and our work, and what echoes we ourselves will create when our time comes to move on. How will we be remembered? Will we be remembered at all? Does it really matter? Even of Basho’s existence, only a faint echo remains. But then again: the frog jumps into the old pond. Even now! We all let the frog jump, again and again!

Every journey will find its natural end. With this last comment, it is time for me to say goodbye as guest editor.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to read all of your beautiful work. Reading your poems deepens my understanding of love and grief, of connection and what makes us human. Thank you all for your support, for your kind comments, and for reaching out to each other and to me.


Join us next week for Hifsa’s & Arvinder’s selection of poems on the theme of happiness…


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.

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 14 Comments

  1. Thank you Deborah gaaru for profound and inspiring commentaries on selected haikus. If permits time and other things.. try to add some more haikus in commentery section so that it’s very useful to upcoming haiku poet’s like me. Once again thanks and congratulations to all poets.

  2. Thank you so much Deborah for your thought-provoking prompts and insightful commentary as guest editor. It’s been a joy to share this microcosm of life through these themes with you. I appreciate how you drew us all into so many experiences and emotions. Thanks for your reflections on my poem. You are right- we all let the frog jump, again and again!

  3. Thank you, Deborah, for a fine collection of poems all these weeks!

    This is the first time my poem was selected for commentary here, so, grateful to you.

    Just like Nancy, I could strongly identify with Caroline’s poignant ku, both as a Palliative care specialist and as a recent patient.

    biopsy results
    in-person call
    to soften the blow

    Caroline Giles Banks

    The other poem I very much identified with is Lakshmi’s ku, having learnt about afterlife etc in more detail only recently.

    . . .
    in the white space
    to be continued

    Lakshmi Iyer

    1. Thanks Amoolya. Somehow it all fit in and as I was pondering over line 1, the ellipsis struck me to show that after all, we are mere dots in space..they say, a spark of the divine.

  4. Thank you dear Deborah for your very impressive choice of descriptions, I learned a lot in this group. Thank you

  5. Thanks, Deborah, for another week of poems of death and dying. The whole sequence of transitions has been enlightening.

    Caroline’s haiku really struck a chord with me because I know the feeling. I received one of those calls. Because it was the physician/practitioner who called (and not a nurse or receptionist), I knew the results were not good. Even though I was expecting it, it was still a shock.

    biopsy results
    in-person call
    to soften the blow

    Caroline Giles Banks
    What a poignant haiku.

  6. Thank you Deborah for this wonderful series. Your commentaries were so profound and thoughtful.

  7. Thank you Deborah for commenting on my poem, a first time for me, and for your work and selections on these themes.

  8. I am forever grateful, Deborah, for the remarkable journey you’ve taken us on. I have been so incredibly inspired by your selections and your heartfelt commentary. Thank you so much!

  9. Thank you Deborah, it has been an intense and enjoyable experience to participate in your sessions, I wish you the very best.

  10. Thank you, Deborah. You’ve taken us through the fascinating journey that is Life, and allowed us the opportunity to reflect upon the experiences of others as well as of our own. All the best.

  11. Your commentary on each poem is so deep, beautiful, and compassionate, Deborah. Thank you.
    Congratulations to all the featured poets.

  12. Thank you for such an interesting and inspiring sequence of transitional themes Deborah. It has produced some memorable haiku and senryu. All the best, John

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