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Montage #28


Montage #28,
presented by Allan Burns,
is now up HERE
on The Haiku Foundation website.

#28’s theme is “Fall Migration” and features the work of Allan Burns, Martin Lucas and Carole MacRury.

this paper crane . . .
a death poem released
on the wind


greener than autumn light
on wind-bent reeds
the teal’s wing


mountain glade
dusky grouse fade
into wilderness


Some questions from Allan on this week’s installment:
• How do readers unfamiliar with bird names respond to these poems?
• Do you feel alienated from the haiku?
• Are the names evocative even if no precise image comes to mind?
• Do the poems get you to look up birds you don’t know?

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. vincent’s haiku was spaced differently than above and I’m sure he would be upset if he saw the spacing above. So it’s not exactly like his haiku. He’s very sensative to these things.
    But the computer is not.

  2. I just got this amazing haiku from vincent tripi this morning:

    Exactly when
    to pop the jewelweed pod

    Hope he doesn’t mine me posting it. I’m sort of posting it without his permission…so I’m sort of taking my head in my hands doing this. But it fits so amazingly in this discussion.

    I am so very thankful for every person’s point of view on these things. I am glad for Gabi’s history and great learning. I am thankful for Paul’s understanding and his intuitive poetry.

  3. Please do not misunderstand me, Gabi. I value highly your website and appreciate the presentation of fine dragonfly haiku… with pictures and URLs to take one in all directions on the topic. It is well for Westerners to realize the national traditions of Japan (vis-a-vis dragonfly in this case). My point to Merrill Ann, attempted, was to be true to her own geography and traditions. For example, Japanese kigo tradition has the bird species of “swallow” as Spring. Certainly fine, although they are prevalent here in summer as well. But, they do appear and build nests in spring. They also are among the first to migrate south in the fall to more insect-infested areas. They arrive here in the north-central part of Maine just in time to have a profusion of daytime insects to feed their young. Amazing hunters (here are mostly Tree Swallows, locally) their aerobatic displays catch one’s attention. Sitting quietly near a nest (often on a building near the water, protected from rain) one sees parents continually swooping out and returning with a bug. And a favorite food for the bird is dragonflies! Catching one is not easy — swallows do succeed often. They fly from high to low, and can turn quickly. Dragonflies are usually in a more horizontal plane. The catch happens so quickly it is hard to see. Spring bugs for the dragonflies; spring dragonflies for the baby swallows of spring. And all summer, and into fall. With no cultural tradition of 1,000 years or 1,300 years, most N. Americans will see several seasons represented by dragonflies. Gabi, they are much loved here, too. Even by non-poets, and non-naturalists. Folks realize they eat mosquitoes… and that is a good thing. Seeing one fly? More than simply inspiring.

  4. Dragonfly as kigo …

    Most dragonflies are of course seen during other seasons too here in Japan, but they are at their best, so to say (shun), in autumn, therefore this is their use as a code word for haiku poetry (kigo) .

    Japan was once called Akitsushima meaning “The Island of the Dragon-fly”. So this animal is very dear to the Japanese heart!


  5. What a delight you guys are! I love all the information. I also have to add that the thought of Paul Miller’s “wintering harlequins” to me – just the phrase alone – is a poem in itself.
    What I have to do is to get the language right…words that will hold the image that I’ve seen. That’s where I have so much trouble, and where all of your help is so important to me.
    Many thanks – Merrill

  6. And, Gabi, many other differences. Both damsel- and dragonflies are Odonates and are “cousins.” Damsels are always smaller, but all have similar behaviors and life histories as predators in their underwater larval stages. About 80-85 %, I think it was, of damsels fold their wings when perched. No dragonflies do this. Damselfly bodies are very slender. They seem to be all eyes. Both cousins can often be sexed by color alone — males usually brighter, more intense. Your picture of mating damsels shows this, but mostly on their head colors. The male is impregnating to a spot behind the female’s head. Hey, to each (species) his own!

    This is an example where I tend to rebel, for local geographic and weather reasons against the traditional Kyoto saijiki. In North America we had both dragonflies and damselflies in most of three seasons (parts of 4 in the south). The larval stage ends, they crawl up to land and hatch shortly after their prey does. Gnats, small flies, mosquitos, etc. Any small day-flying bugs near water are chased and eaten on the fly, so to speak. Dragonflies may stray away from water to feed, as they can live a pretty long time, but the females lay eggs only to drop into water. You have photos of at least two species of dragonflies. Wing markings and body color are good ID points. The US had hundreds of species and dozens of dragonflies. They hatch, feed, breed — are seen — in many seasons.

    Somehow, in the Heian??, the red wing-stripe dragonflies got to be featured as autumn kigo. The color paired with falling leaves, perhaps? It makes no sense in much of the world to have them as autumn only. I saw dragonflies today — mid-September, and a damselfly two days ago. Both present all summer and a lot of spring, depending on what calendar one uses. It is always a matter of tradition vs. what is actually seen, and when. In North America, Merrill Ann, I’d write of what you actually saw… regardless of season elsewhere. The other commenters are right, the different words have different connotations. There is artistic license, sometimes depending upon the haiku itself. Although tiny, damsels are just as ferocious — on a different scale. Dragonflies eat them, too, if they can catch them.
    – Paul

  7. There is one more difference between the dragonfly and the damselfly,
    they are kigo for different seasons in Japan.

    Check the World Kigo Database
    (or click my name for details)

    The more details in haiku, the better … would be my advise!
    Either give a footnote if you think the reader of a differenct culture will not know what it is or hope for the reader to GOOGLE his way to understanding.


  8. I think you would have two very different poems depending if you used ‘dragonfly’ vs. ‘damselfly’. And not so much because of the details of the species, but more because a word like ‘dragon’ is an aggressive word while ‘damsel’ is more subdued, courtly. I can’t wait to read the poem. It is a very nice contrast.

  9. Hi, Carole and all: Yesterday I saw a dragonfly. It had landed on a blighted tomato branch but there was something quite lovely about this dragonfly. It had rich golden orange glowing from the base of its transparent wings. I was tempted to sit right down and right a haiku about it…the contrast between the beauty and the blight. But something was not quite right. I wanted to know more about this lovely creature so I looked it up and found that it was a Hetaerina – a subfamily of dragonflies known as damsel flies. Do you think it would make a difference if I write a haiku about a dragonfly or if I write it about a damsel fly? You word people ought to know what kinds of connotations each would leave in such a short poem. For me the added information about the damsel fly just enriches the experience.
    Shall I dumb that down for others? It seems that too much of our education is dumbed down these days. But that’s just my own feeling. We each have to answer these questions for ourselves.

  10. Thank you Merrill. And I agree with you about Paul’s poem. Harlequins are not just any ducks. We have a flock
    that linger in my area and they are most distinctive from say, the mallards that also swim in our waters. One hates to get too generic with haiku.

  11. I have to tell you that there is a great NPR piece: THE CROW PARADOX (July 27,2009)… When I saw this I thought of Carole’s book. Do get it. Carole’s book is great. “In The Company of Crows”….with great sumi-e by Ion Codrescu.

  12. Paul, I am so glad you used “harlequins” since they are such a gorgeous species that the whole picture was a delight for me.
    I guess we can’t please everyone, can we? But I know that if you’re writing about the mystery of a grebe, and I do believe it is fair game for haiku, you have to understand why the grebe has a mystery at all? I’d suggest starting a “Natural History”
    haiku journal, but then I thought haiku was supposed to be nature based. And I don’t understand why anyone should be penalized for adding the information that makes a haiku work.
    If you had used the word “ducks” the whole haiku would have been meaningless…as the history and “nature” is revealed in the species name.

  13. Another fine collection! To add a few thoughts from both sides. My poem:

    a tide pool
    warmed by the sun
    wintering harlequins

    has been mentioned by Allan in past posts. I didn’t use the more generic “ducks” because I wanted the reader to see the birds’ seeming playfulness among the waves. They swim and dive where the waves crash by the rocks, yet from watching you wouldn’t know that they were in any danger. In fact, it is rare for them to hurt themselves.

    Yet… at HNA a presenter singled this poem out as a ‘jeweled finger’ poem, one that was unnecessarily distracting by my use of “harlequin.” He saw circus clowns at the beach in his reading and was thus confused. I think if you didn’t know the duck species that is a fair reading. And with so many poems out there it is understandable that a reader might jump to the next poem in frustration. Personally I don’t know all the species of flowers (or birds, trees, etc..) so I probably miss out on many poems.

    I don’t know where you draw the line in poetry, between what we expect our readers to know, and what confusion we might inadvertently cause. But it is worth at least acknowledging that possibility when we write a poem.

  14. Hi, Allan, It might behoove bird haiku poets to use the actual names of birds more (and all haiku poets dealing in nature) as it does give a great deal more information about what’s happening in the haiku. One example I learned the hard way is that some people just consider all water birds as ducks, yet to know the habits of various water birds such as grebes, herons, sanderlings, etc. give as much information to a haiku in some instances as a kigo can. You get the whole history, natural history, myth etc. all held in the name of the species.

  15. Thanks to Ron and Merrill for the encouraging remarks. A few quick notes:

    * The fact that you’re from Tasmania, Ron, opens up another dimension of this issue, I think, as there are, of course, completely different species of birds (and other organisms) in various regions of the English-speaking world.

    * Ron and I once wrote a bird rengay, he using Tasmanian birds and I using American ones. I had to look up some of the species he referenced, such as flame robins and so forth, and it was a great learning experience. (I think he felt the same way.)

    * It’s worth noting that this current gallery features work by haikuists from Canada (Carole MacRury), the UK (Martin Lucas), and the US (me), so the regional factor is definitely in play here, even though the birds of Canada and the US are essentially the same.

    * The questions can equally be applied to the earlier “Spring Migration” gallery (#6), to which the present one is kind of a sequel. It features bird haiku by one American poet (Peggy Willis Lyles) and two British poets (Matthew Paul and John Barlow). For easy access to it, you can just click on my name.

    * Some references in these galleries are obviously a lot more universal than others. Crows and gulls might top the list, with herons, loons, cranes, pigeons, blackbirds, kingfishers, etc. not much behind (although regional differences do come into play for all these birds), then such things as teal, killdeer, bitterns, stonechats, painted buntings, and mistle thrushes a bit further down.

    * And of course some birds are referred in a general way (“crow”) and some by specific species names (“painted bunting” and “dusky grouse”).

    * What I was really hoping to get at through the questions goes well beyond birds to other animals, plants, place names, etc. in haiku. It’s really about thinking through how to balance specificity, precision, and regionalism against accessibility. And I realize this is a difficult topic, with many dimensions….

    * Personally, I kind of “went to school” early on in the haiku of Robert Spiess, who often doesn’t say “fish” or “flower” or “owl” but “muskellunge” and “harebell” and “short-eared owl” (which is not just a description but a particular species). So I’ve probably always “erred” in the direction of specificity and embraced the dictionary or “Google” theory for things outside common (or personal) knowledge.

    * Last thing: “murder” as applied to crows (and as used in one of Martin’s haiku) is what’s known as a “collective noun” — in other words, a “murder of crows” is just a flock of crows (but Martin uses the sinister connotations of the word for all they’re worth!).

  16. To answer the questions posed: With the internet making so many things available to us…there are so many sources of information that it seems that to “word” people, a strange word might just be the inducement to enter the world that word poses. For “image” people like me, the words of the haiku open up atmosphere, and understanding. Look at how differently each of these poets come to birds.

  17. I agree with Ron, it’s great to see Allan’s haiku in this group.
    “the flycatcher’s wheep” He does have the knack of transporting you to the spot, doesn’t he?
    Birds do have a psychological effect on some of us, at least. During my episodes of paralysis the lift of their wings, the tenacity and good nature through brutal winters, their scrappy nature seemed to inform my subconscious that it was possible…just possible to get through this.
    Also, when I came to this haiku by Martin Lucas I was so glad it was included. I love this one:

    twilight: across the lake
    distant reeds take the shape
    of a bittern

    I love the reclusive nature of that haiku, how it receeds away from us and yet is sharp and clear as all of a sudden “seeing” the bittern – which is so hard to see in the reeds. Nature watching sometimes calls for accustoming our eyes to what we are seeing before we can see it. I remember being taken to a vernal pool one night just as the snow was melting and in the darkness getting my eyes accustomed to the fact that the salamanders were gathering and swimming in the most amazing ballet in the moonlight as they mated. We miss so much when we can not get out and see these things. I’m so thankful for the haiku poets who can bring them to us.

  18. What a wonderful collection by three outstanding writers of bird haiku. Great to see Allan’s work up there on the Montage.

    In answer to the questions….

    I have always felt if I do not recognise a name or word it is my responsibility to find out the answer, with search engines it is an easy process and one learns so much. I don’t feel it reduces my enjoyment of the haiku if I have to do this, the opposite in fact. I see Martin has used ‘a Murder of Crows’ and it’s such a wonderful accepted description of crows, and I have used it myself in haiku.

    Ron Moss

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