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?
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
Bottle Rockets #26, 2012
the next Olympics
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:
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):
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
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!
Use imagination, as I’ve said in the beginning of this essay:
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!
the rise and fall
of oos and aahs
Moonset, the newspaper, Spring 2010
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.