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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Kala Ramesh, Part 3

When you are New to Haiku, you may not know anyone who shares your interest in this little poetry form. We asked established haiku poets to share a little about themselves so that you can meet them and learn more about their writing journeys. We, too, wanted to learn what advice they would give to beginning haiku poets.

This week, we complete our interview with Kala Ramesh, the notable Indian haiku poet. Thanks for sharing your words with us, Kala! You can meet Kala and learn more about her in the first and second parts of our interview.

This week’s question for Kala is: For those just starting out with haiku, what advice would you give?

Kala Ramesh reading haiku during the dance charades event at the 2019 HNA conference.

I feel the one thing that is most essential when writing haiku and allied genres is emotional austerity.

In haiku, we don’t overstate things. We leave it as we see it, not padding it to make an impression. We use the approach known as show, don’t tell. Adjectives are hardly used.  James W. Hackett said in his 1969 anthology: “Remember that haiku is a finger pointing at the moon, and if the hand is bejeweled, we no longer see that to which it points.” In short, this means restraining our desire to embellish our work. 

The “hai” in haiku comes from haikai no renga, a humorous or comic linked poetry, which was a very old art form then prevalent in Japan; “ku” means verse.

The cut, known as the kire in haiku, is the most important technique and aesthetic nuance we use when writing a haiku.

What does the kire do? It creates space between images. In a minimalistic poem, how can one tell a story – where is the place for narration? The cut or kire does this magic! It helps the poet link one image to the next.  The bridge between the juxtaposed images creates a feeling of narrative.

 

          in a grain of sand
          the lashing of waves
          on rocks

          Bottle Rockets #26, 2012

 

the next Olympics
a firefly
wheels into the night

A Hundred Gourds 3.3, 2014

 

We can also skillfully fold the kire inside the haiku:

 

                          I dip my feet
                           in a river the river
                           joins the sea

                          Moongarlic #4, 2016

 

There are three places where kire (cut) can be read in the ku above:

 

I dip my feet in a river

in a river the river

the river joins the sea

 

Kigo, or seasonal reference, creates a backdrop against which an action takes place.

Kigo can be the name of a season (autumn, spring) or it can be a word specific to a season, such as blanket, suggesting winter, or blossom, suggesting spring. By tradition, the moon refers to autumn. A book of seasonal references is called a “saijiki.”

For example, kigo can be simple and clear:

 

spring breeze
      I catch the tune
she leaves behind

The Heron’s Nest, Vol. VIII, No. 3, 2006

 

Or kigo can be folded into the haiku (honeybee refers to spring):

 

morning raga…
a honeybee attempts
to waken the bud

Shreve Memorial Library, July 2010

 

Instead of using a kigo, a keyword can be used effectively too. A keyword situates your poem in a particular place. A muki haiku, non-seasonal poem, is one where the keywords are not connected to seasonal aspects:  

 

             deep in raga
                  sudden applause
              startles the singer

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, 2013

 

In this muki haiku, non-seasonal poem, applause is the keyword  – it shows us that the singer is on the stage, performing!

 

Kala Ramesh at the BOB book launch at Auroville

 

Use imagination, as I’ve said in the beginning of this essay:

 

thunderclap
the darkening sky splits
into liquid night

Presence #37, 2008

 

 

an eagle shadows a wheat field’s yellow whisper

Sonic Boom, Issue 11, 2019

 

 

mountain shadow robs the tree of its

Roadrunner Haiku Journal 9.3, August 2009

 

Haiku defies attempts to define or ‘box’ it. To say this is what haiku is or is not would be simply foolish, yet we still keep attempting to define it!

Master Bashō, near the end of his life, told his students, that to him “karumi” is the most important aesthetic nuance to incorporate in what he called “haiku writing”. He compared karumi to “seeing a shallow stream rippling lightly on a sandy bed”. Karumi is a combination of characteristics including being natural, effortless, smooth, simple, and clear.

A final Statutory Warning: Haiku is addictive!

 

                  kite contest…
                        the rise and fall
                   of oos and aahs

 Moonset, the newspaper, Spring 2010

 

Pune Biennale haikuWALL with a poem by Kala Ramesh

 

For further study, Kala’s nine-part essay series, the heart of a haiku: a space for a little poem to weave its magic!, can be found through The British Haiku Society.

 

Poet, editor, anthologist, and festival director Kala Ramesh has been the foremost advocate and practitioner of haiku and allied Japanese poetry forms in India, including tanka, haibun, and renku. Kala, who is also an Indian classical singer, has created magic in the world of Japanese poetry by not only authoring critically acclaimed books and poems but also cultivating hundreds of Indians to immortalize the spirit of Japanese short forms of poetry.

Kala has organized six haiku festivals and conducted countless workshops in haikai literature all over her country. Kala’s initiatives culminated in founding “INhaiku” in 2013, the umbrella organization of Indian haiku poets. As an external faculty member, Kala has been teaching haikai poetry to undergraduates at the Symbiosis International University Pune and to school children at the Katha Creative Writers’ Workshop since 2012.

Julie Bloss Kelsey

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. This is lovely, Kala.
    I can feel your spirit in it much like Basho’s “Karumi,” teaching done with a deft and light touch. With a fine haijin like yourself & your included poetry examples, even an old dog (at haiku) can learn new tricks!

  2. Thank you for your insights Kala. It’s strange isn’t it, how the simplest haiku can be the most evocative, while those with embellishment limit the understanding. These insightful interviews are really helpful.

  3. These lessons from Kala are excellent and her haiku are fine examples to enjoy and learn from. Thanks Kala.

    1. Thanks a lot, Carole.
      I’m really happy this write-up is helpful to you.
      Here’s to many more haiku for many more years from you!
      _()_

  4. I’m enjoying these articles and interviews. Even though I’ve been writing haiku for several years I still consider myself a beginner.

    1. Thanks, Peggy.
      I’m in the same boat with you! I consider myself a beginner too.
      I’m happy you like this interview.
      _()_

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