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Quicksilver Hg3: Learning About Seasonal Words

Quicksilver: the chronicles of a newcomer to the art of haiku



Learning About Seasonal Words
By Laura Sherman

One of the first things I learned about haiku is that each poem must contain a seasonal word. Sounded easy enough. I assumed that this was open to interpretation and that I could pick words that evoked different seasons for me.

As I studied further, I ran across the term “kigo.” Kigo is a Japanese seasonal word. These are set in stone. Students of haiku in Japan study a kigo dictionary, called a “saijiki,” to learn which words represent which seasons.

As I continued to explore this area I saw that some haiku poets branched from the kigo concept and sought seasonal words appropriate for their area. In a different discussion on Young Leaf #2 (here on troutswirl), I was intrigued by how seasonal words could vary depending on where you live in this world.

Lorin Ford pointed out that July is winter in Australia. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t considered that before. Since I live in Florida, I never thought of it as anything but a summer word (a very hot, humid, sticky seasonal word).

I see there is a debate between the traditional kigo approach and the seasonal word concept (which is a bit more open to interpretation). I plan to study both approaches more and learn from each.

I do have trouble sometimes finding an appropriate kigo or seasonal word for my haiku. I know it isn’t a haiku without one.

I have been working on two haiku that have stumped me. For me “sandy” speaks of summer, but I know it isn’t a kigo. Does it work as a seasonal word?

my sandy footprints erased
webbed ones remain

Then the other has been with me for a while. I love going to the beach and watching the sun touch the horizon. It’s a special moment for me. It is also a little sad when the moment is gone and the sun has set.

red sun touches
distant aqua line—

So, for me both haiku speak of summer, but I suspect neither has a seasonal word. How does one “insert” a seasonal word without losing the poetry? I could make Line 1 of the second haiku: “red summer sun touches.” Or perhaps, “august sun touches,” which might infer that summer vacation is over as well. I prefer the original, but suspect it isn’t a haiku.

Can you help me sort this out?

What do you do when you write a haiku, which doesn’t contain a seasonal word?

Quicksilver is a column on troutswirl, the blog for The Haiku Foundation, devoted to showcasing the questions, ideas, and evolution of a beginner to the art of haiku, Laura Sherman. Each installment will feature some of Laura’s new work as well as her ideas and thought-processes concerning them. It is hoped that readers will respond with reactions, ideas, and advice on her work and provide feedback on how she might develop and improve her craft.

This Post Has 103 Comments

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  3. I think it was Hoshinaga Fumio who mentioned that, having invented the seasons, kigo!

    Here, in the West, we still have many folk traditions with deep responses to seasonal and historical events. But, nothing to compare with the depth of cultural resonance and nuance of Japan’s inherent cultural search engine, which is kigo.

    In Japan, as in Asia generally, mythic realism (or, more actively referenced: ‘magical realism’) is still alive and well, though struggling against an ever increasing, endless tsunami of crass consumerism and it’s non-stop conveyor belts of enervating junk. The West already has succumbed to this, profoundly disturbing, state of affairs.

    In the social scientific laboratory of Western humanism’s end-game dystopia, we simply do not have (anymore) the deep connotations of Japanese nature adoring, historically respectful and mystically nuanced, traditional kigo.

    The best we can do is subscribe to Modernism’s minimalist, stripped down austerity (carefully avoiding reactionary boroque frills) and cite a seasonal reference. By doing this we approach the existential archetypes of our haiku subjects more closely (yes we do) than Japan, and this is the edge we have. This is what we can give back, with gratitude.

    This use of seasonal reference (in place of kigo) can work very well for us. We (literally) address a special moment’s brief enlightenment and this avoids our haiku becoming total disembodied ghosts in some abstract and timeless void, neither here nor there.

    Essentially, our Western challenge is to reawaken magical realism (mythic consciousness) to counterbalance and integrate the well established scientific realism that has insulated us from the natural cycles, the living ecosphere and the mystery of being. We need to heal this schism in our somewhat wan, collective souls.

    This is why we, in the West, have totally misunderstood much of haiku’s intrinsic and sublime purpose and transcendental utility. Why we have fallen into endless years of fruitless, narrow minded and petty dialectical debate (instead of direct common knowledge) – like a rabid dog chasing it’s swift tail.

    In summery, if we’re not Japanese. haiku, with a seasonal reference (as surrogate kigo,) is better than nothing.


    — jp

  4. Hi Laura,
    here is a new saijiki you might enjoy:

    San Francisco Bay Area Nature Guide and Saijiki

    Patrick Gallagher , Anne M. Homan, Patricia J. Machmiller

    A combination of field guide and haiku;
    beautiful photographs and art accompany descriptions of seasonal occurances of natural phenomena and human activities in the San
    Francisco Bay Area. Each element is accompanied by haiku that evoke an emotional or spiritual aspect of the human interaction with the natural world.

    More is HERE, and you can browse through many pages

    Young Leaves
    web presence of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society

  5. Not at all, Jack. Your posts here at THF are a constant source of interest to me.

    And I understand your reluctance to become embroiled in argument / argumentative debate. I don’t much enjoy it either!

    I also look forward to exchanging ideas in the not too distant future.


  6. Thank you so much, Chris. Your words mean a lot to me. I’m deeply touched. I’m always a bit reluctant to communicate my views, as I retract from argumentative exchanges. I’m always willing to engage in dialogue; that’s something different. Yes, I recall some time back your offer to engage in dialogue together and I look forward to exchanging ideas with you.

  7. Jack, what a fantastic series of comments you have posted here. Perhaps the best comments posted thus far in the Quicksilver experiment.

    You offer a vital and clear reminder of the varying views on haiku, and of how these are often borne out of opinion as much as either knowledge / study or actual practice.

    Wonderful also to hear a bit more about your background with Ban’ya too. And also insightful to hear of your approach and movement from ‘traditional’ into a freer style.

    By the way, you may have forgotten this by now, but a while ago on here we exchanged a comment or two and agreed to discuss our ideas further at some point. I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten, and that when the time is right I’d love to converse further with you on our shared ideas.

    All the best,


  8. Thank you, Mariu. It was influenced slightly by a poem of Ezra Pound’s where he narrates as a young girl experiencing a tree and the confusion of identity that a young girl has in distinguishing herself from all things around her. Pound’s poem, of course, is unspeakably beautiful, as are all his poems.
    I looked up your blog and found the poems brilliant: you were right, though, the translation is not adequate. It would be wonderful if you could translate some of them for me, so I can have them posted for all to experience. You can find my email address at the registry here; just go to Resources above and you’ll find it.

  9. Thanks Jack, I’ll follow your advice and look up Richard Gilbert’s work. I found some of your extensive your work. Your haiku are breathtaking.

    I felt specially sensitive to this one:

    I am a tree
    catching the first snowflakes
    of this evening

  10. You’re quite welcome Maria. I meant every word, of course. I don’t often give any advice, but in your case I think your strength comes from the Spanish poetry tradition, rich in love and surrealism. Stick to it. As for “kigo” and “seasonal references,” these are only necessities for those who believe they are; all haiku poets do not share this view and it is becoming less and less manifest in modern Japanese haiku. I would suggest you search Richard Gilbert haiku online (if your English is up to it); he is demonstrably a true scholar of modern haiku and should be required reading. Some others positions were gained in the American tradition over decades, but don’t reach the level of understanding you will find in Prof. Gilbert’s essays. Then, again, Spanish poetry is yours and it is an esteemed poetry that should always inform your work, regardless of what form you write in.

  11. Well… I’m speechless! Jack your critic is overwhelming! Thanks a lot for the detail with which you explain your point of view and I can’t tell you enough how happy I am that you liked my poem.

    I wrote it the first day I started with haiku, it describes the feeling I had that night, waiting for my boyfriend to come back home from a journey.

    Frankly the translation I made is not accurate. “Te espero llena como un cazo vacío” is precisely “I wait for you full like an empty bowl” but “plena” de sueños is not precisely “filled” with dreams. Plena is more than full, is radiant, more than complete, like rich. I’m sorry, I could only think of “filled” to translate it.

    My name is Maria Eugenia, which spoken quickly sounds like Mariugenia, that’s why Mariu, or Mariuqui, that’s how they call me.

    My literary work is on http://elultimoversohamuerto.blogspot,com
    “el último verso ha muerto” means “the last verse is dead”, meaning no verse is ever the last. Everything there is in Spanish… you can put it all under google translator but I cannot assure you read the same I wrote… :S

    Thanks again!

  12. Jack,

    Thank you for reminding me of the importance of retaining me in all of this. I do recognize that there are differing opinions and so I try to absorb it all and use what I can and what I agree with (which changes over time as I progress).

    The writers here have been very generous and patient with me, as well as encouraging. It has been an amazing experience for me.

    Ultimately I hope that this article series inspires others to learn about haiku. I think some get intimidated by the rules and as a result they may never try to write haiku. Perhaps if they see my attempts and hear the advice, they may venture forward and create!

  13. Thank you, Laura. That was a poem written about 10 years ago. I write differently now, less “traditionally.”
    You are right that personal feedback is helpful.
    For me, there is a problem with it, though, and it explains why I have not been an active participant in this blog.
    As you’ve well seen, there are as many views of what is expected in haiku as there are haiku writers. There is some overlapping and similarities in views, but what you get for the most part is the personal taste, opinion, belief, knowledge of the person giving the feedback. And, it is not presented that way, but is more often than not presented as a set of rules, as a list of what is forbidden, as a testament.
    In Japan, there are thousands of haiku groups, each led by an experienced practitioner. However, I assume that those who join each group do so either because of geographical proximity or more importantly because of a shared view of what constitutes haiku.
    As I wrote haiku from the beginning 11 years ago, I had no mentor, only the available books on the subject and a limited contact with the few editors of the available journals.
    I wrote essentially according to the models presented until I felt that they were constraining and based themselves on tidbits picked up from Japanese writers who had been translated on the subject; certainly, not all of the understanding available on it.
    I then moved away from the ELH groups and spent a good 7 years working with Ban’ya Natsuishi. I learned a good deal from him indirectly, mostly by polishing haiku written by him, his wife, and others of the Ginyu group.
    But, I always retained a personal style, regardless of what anyone said (unless, of course, I agreed with them). My best work, if I can speak of it as best, was created from out of myself, as I was more interested in the interrelationship between subject/object then in any idea of an “objective” outside world.
    I start each poem from nothing, from no preconceived idea of what a haiku should be;it makes it harder to write this way, but writing by a matrix doesn’t suit me.
    I certainly hope that many of the helpful suggestions you have received on this blog have expanded your knowledge and practice; I’m sure they have. On the other hand, I certainly hope that your work hasn’t been stymied by any axiom put forth by anyone; that would be a terrible shame.
    I wish you well in your pursuit of your own style of haiku; may it turn out brilliantly!

  14. Jack,

    I understand your concerns. This particular article series is quite an experiment and experience! I can tell you that for me it is helpful to get feedback. There is really only so much one can grow with pure study and practice and no outside input. Hearing your thoughts should help Mariu.

    By the way, I love you haiku:

    Sunday afternoon—
    a rake strikes a shard
    in the stillness

  15. No need to apologize, Laura. If she goes by the name Maria on Linkedin perhaps you were right about it being a typo. I had no way of knowing. Since she said in her post that she wrote poetry and fiction before writing haiku, I tried to find her work online, but failed. So, I only went with what knowledge I had.

  16. Hi, Jack! Yes, that would seem rather presumptuous of me, now wouldn’t it. Actually I met her on Linkedin, where she goes by “Maria,” so I did make the assumption it was a typo, but perhaps I was in error. I see that perhaps I was. I apologize.

  17. And, as an aside, Mariu is a Spanish name, so it might not be a typo at all. I only realized it might be a woman’s name by searching on the internet and finding a couple of references to Mariu described as she. So, I wouldn’t change her name, assuming it is a woman, without her permission. It is her name, after all.

  18. Well, Laura, your point is well taken. However, I’m not sure it is possible to teach anyone how to create a poem with so much suggestiveness, overtones, symmetry, and emotion.
    Firstly, there is a paucity of poems in our tradition that speak of romantic love,particularly of a love at the cusp of becoming. To say, for instance, that to choose the right words to express the emotion one wishes to evoke goes without saying, yet to create the line “I wait for you full” manages to combine an active passivity with pregnancy of meaning (“full”), of seeming discordance, since we usually associate waiting for something, not having, and yet the word “full” suggests completion (a completion that is subjectively there). Then, to allure the reader to the comparison of this state of being to an empty bowl filled with dreams is a singular achievement; the narrator is filled with phantasmagoria, real yet not real, empty but not empty. The narrator awaits the fulfillment of her state of being filled with dreams, anticipating, in love, that the reality will conform to the dreams.
    One could say that one should find objective correlatives for states of being expressed in haiku/poetry, but we already know this; one could say we don’t use words like “like,” as juxtaposition already implies this, but there are so many exceptions to this that I, for one, would never tell a writer that, as it depends on the individual poem.
    How would you teach someone to contrast full and filled in the way this haiku does, so that they relate so well and are not redundant?
    While teaching or recommending is valuable, I generally avoid it, for fear of impeding the real development of a writer.

  19. Jack, her name is actually Maria (the “u” is a typo). (It is an error that will continue if you don’t correct it, as the name field will stay filled in on the blog comment section for each participant)

    Although you’re right that no one needs to justify their response to a work, I believe Michael was requesting your thoughts so that we can all learn. After all Quicksilver is all about the journey of learning to write haiku.

  20. I think I might also have confused the gender of the poet; Mariu may be a woman’s name, whereas I thought it was a man’s name.
    Nevertheless, the poem still stands well, only from another perspective.
    Now, I would be reminded of a young woman’s psyche, somewhat like how Jung described the woman’s counterpart, the dream lover, or ghostly lover. A different take, but still a beautiful poem.

  21. Excuse my error; the poem begins with “wait” not “comes.” I think comes would be a better choice, would strengthen the contrasts in the poem. Still, the waiting is an active word as it suggests anticipation, breathlessness, a state not of passivity so much as agitation.
    But to say, as I’m sure we all have at one time or another, that’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, is to be taken
    by something, enraptured, and the poem has this quality for me.

  22. I don’t know that I agree with you, Michael, that praise without explanation is empty. Or, put another way, the praise lavished on the haiku is the kind of praise the haiku exemplifies: the love of a young man for a woman, the kind of love that finds her the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. It’s a response to a set of features that if the lover had to examine them might seem general, to apply to other beautiful women, but a common enough experience we have all had in our youth.
    This is what I appreciate about the poem: the feeling of the contrast of “coming” to the beloved, an assertive, bold enough word, “full” being bulging, complete, assured, with the passivity of an “empty bowl.” The young man is filled with contents and feelings towards the beloved that he cannot enumerate or pin down precisely, but they are real, yet as real as dreams. Dreams are filled with shifting, endless imagery and meanings and yet they are empty of solidity and certainty. But, this is what such a young man’s feelings of love would be like: full and coming (sexual imagery, romantic imagery) that are only, at the moment fleeting, phantasms, empty of realization, like an empty bowl that one can imagine filled with anything one wishes, but not yet realized.
    The poem has the feel to me of the Spanish Surrealists, Neruda, Borges, Lorca, Machado, to name a few. The haiku manages in such a few words to carry the weight of the Spanish poets’ love of love poems.
    Anyway, that’s just an early morning take on it. Love cannot be explained and sometimes when it is it disappears; so that is what I conside the excellence of the haiku; it conjures much, it suggests much, and explanations just point and if looked at too closely would destroy what beauty is.

  23. Jack, perhaps you could explain why you praise the poem? Such praise seems empty without explanation.

  24. Thanks Jack and Laura for your kind compliments!
    You are very nice!
    Laura, you are so generous in bringing your dedication, experience and encouragement to this blog-workplace. In a selfish world like ours, you are one of a kind.

  25. Maria, I am so glad you came to visit! There are so many amazing poets here.

    You are absolutely right about capturing a moment. I have been focusing on that, too.

    Thank you for sharing your haiku! I hope you continue to post more.

  26. Mariu:
    You might receive different responses regarding your haiku, but to me it is one of the finest, most beautiful haiku I have read in years. Has a touch of Borges to it.

  27. Hi Laura! I’m a newcomer from Argentina.

    I bumped into a Haiku compilation book of a Haiku contest conducted some years ago in schools in Argentina by Maria Kodama (argentinian but with japanese parents), writer and professor of literature, wife of famous argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, and I was sudden and powerfully atracted by the haikus.

    I’ve been writing poetry and short stories for a long time but I have never had the haiku experience.

    I couldn’d help relating haikus with Twitter micropoetry, perhaps a postmodern version of ancient haikus.

    Since I read the Kodama book, I started to write some Haikus myself, only in Spanish.

    I have been thinking about the kigos. Just as we can break the 5-7-5 metric, for the purpose of poetry, I think we can also be excused for not using a kigo.

    For what I have learned so far what really matters about haikus is the poetry of a moment, an instant.

    Am I right is there something that I’m missing here?

    Here is one of the haikus I’ve written:

    Te espero llena,
    como un cazo vacío
    pleno de sueños.

    It means something like, “I wait for you full, like an empty bowl filled with dreams.”

  28. Michael, I think I’ll just “aim” for 5-7-5 and not be too concerned with hitting it exactly. I appreciate your voicing your thoughts. It helps me.

    Karen, thank you for sharing this site!

    I’m in NC now and we went for a swim in a beautiful lake. I thought of you all as I swam out to the middle. I wrote this haiku:

    pine trees line an arm
    of Lake Hiawatha
    breast stroke echoes

  29. Thanks Michael for the time spent on the syllable question. I’m fascinated by the question for several reasons.

    I’ve many syllable counts utterly wrong, even with obvious one syllable words simply because of local/regional dialects both in Britain and the States.

    Even I’m not impervious to it! ;-)

    I’ve deliberately attempted a small number of 575ers just to try to show it can be done without padding and/or inversions or Dalekspeak etc…

    Of course it’s the writing that always counts which is why I’m collecting a small number of “clean” 575s.

    It’s a useful challenge to have a small handful of examples for workshops for teachers, children, and adults.

    I can now use that haiku to show that even I got caught out.

    The “form” of haiku isn’t the “form” which is why it’s frustrating to some “form conquerors”.

    You add an interesting dimension to the argument that constantly prevails.

    So many students caught at a young enough stage (years or attitude) are often relieved it isn’t a number crunching syllabic challenge: is that an oxymoron, number crunching syllables?

    To know, for a student, that they know they can be free of this red herring is often palpable and releasing for their creative longterm adventure.

    all my best, and appreciation for the care and thought for the discussion.

  30. Alan, your Wicktionary reference is pointing to a diaphoneme (see an explanation at, and also at A hyphen is typically used to indicate the syllable breaks, and no hyphen occurs in the example you cite. Instead, it’s a diaphoneme.

    My understanding of such phonemes is that they are distinct from what is defined as a syllable (albeit in a slightly grey area). A syllable is defined as a sound, of course (not how a word is spelled, which is why “spelled” is just one syllable and “troubled” is two). In particular, Webster’s New World Dictionary (for a handy reference) defines a syllable as “a word or part of a word pronounced with a single, uninterrupted sounding of the voice.” Uninterrupted is key. Consanant sounds generally interrupt, vowel sounds generally don’t. Thus words such as “fire” and “field” and many others are correctly defined, in standard English, as single-syllable words. Sure, you CAN pronounce them as “fie urr” or “fee uld” but my understanding is that linguists would still count them each as single-syllable words.

    Let’s assume, though, that they could be counted as either one or two syllables (for example, I don’t hear much difference between the typical pronunciations of “flower” vs. “flour,” presumably two and one syllables, respectively). If a given word can be pronounced as either one or two syllables, that goes to show, sharply unlike Japanese, how one’s intent or belief in counting syllables doesn’t necessarily match how others see it. Japanese, by contrast, is much more absolute and clear-cut on this point, in that all consonants are pronounced with a vowel sound, with a significant exception of the “n” sound at the end of a word, but even there it counts as a separate syllable (Japanese linguist Koji Kawamoto, in *The Poetics of Japanese Verse* uses the English word “sign” as an example — it would be counted in Japanese as THREE sounds (sigh-ya-n), whereas of course we count it as just one syllable).

    I wish I knew more about linguistics, but really the point is that English isn’t as simple as syllable counters might think it is, and to me that’s another reason to steer clear of syllable counting for English-language haiku. Whatever discipline it might offer (or that might be offered by any other arbitrary syllable pattern) is, to me, purly a game. I believe there are bigger fish to fry in haiku.


  31. Hi Laura,

    I didnt exactly “stick with 5-7-5” for ten years. A syllable count, and nothing more (at all) was all I knew of haiku and so that’s how I wrote them. No conscious choice to stick with that at all! :-) Rather, just ignorance that other options were possible, and especially ignorance that haiku had so many other vital strategies that I was never taught.

    As for merit in English, I assert that 5-7-5 has no more merit than choosing another pattern, such as 3-5-3 or 4-6-4, or something less symmertrical. Consider it this way: Is 100 dollars equal to 100 yen? Well of course (a 5-7-5 person might say), because they’re both “100.” The problem is that merely the number is the same, without thinking about what is being counted (sounds in Japanese, which counts “haiku” as three sounds, or syllables in English, which counts “haiku” as two syllables). So to me there is ZERO virtue in choosing to write only 5-7-5 in English because it’s simply not the same as 5-7-5 in Japanese. The virtue, if any, lies in choosing ANY arbitrary syllable count and trying that out as a discipline. I heard Koko Kato in Japan use the metaphor of the dojo (sumo ring) for haiku — it’s what you do within the confines of the restriction that makes it art. Because of differences in language, our “dojo” can’t be the same size simply by counting out the same number of syllables to match their sounds. Instead, we can aim at other targets that are actually a much more stringent discipline, such as season words, cutting word equivalents, employing primarily objective sensory imagery, and organic form.

    I think nearly all non-5-7-5 haiku writers have gone through their own periods of writing 5-7-5 first (I do mean practically all of us) — and overwhelmingly the progression is through or beyond 5-7-5 to other approaches — and I would say better approaches. Perhaps 5-7-5 might be thought of as training wheels. This doesn’t mean that anyone writing 5-7-5 is necessarily a beginner, of course, but 5-7-5 does seem to have functioned like training wheels for the great majority of haiku writers writing in English.


  32. I honestly feel that I am making forward progress now. I can’t thank you all enough!

    I need to get better at keeping single lines in my notebook. I tend to want to complete the haiku quickly, but see the value in letting it sit for a while.

  33. “our shirts’ purple smudges”

    Hang on to this, Laura. ;-) You’ll find it of use later on. Note how ‘smudges’ might be either verb or noun here. (Think of it in terms of ink or anything else as well as shirts)

  34. Laura,

    Your latest revision has a good, clear caesura (end of L1) and Ls 2 & 3 flow in a natural, unforced way. I’d say you’re coming on in leaps and bounds.

    There’ll be lots of inspiration on your vacation, too. Enjoy. ;-)

    Arlene, I just want to clear up a point about English grammar with you. You’re by far not the first, so I hope you don’t mind. I wouldn’t like Laura or any other beginner to be confused on the subject.

    “I would like the poems even better if they could be expressed without using the gerund form. Somehow (for me) the gerund seems to weaken the haiku.”

    I think you’re referring to ‘circling’?

    Unfortunately, I’ve found, many people learning haiku use the term gerund as if it were not a formal ‘part of speech’, like noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, pronoun. But it is. They have formed some kind of consensus that just about any word ending with ‘-ing’ is a gerund. But that doesn’t make it so.

    It’s easy to spot a gerund.If a word looks like a verb participle (eg: the 2nd word here- ‘ is circling’) but does the work of a noun in a sentence, it’s a gerund:

    ‘I asked my son to hang out the washing.’

    ‘Typing with a sore finger is difficult.’

    ‘He said he was a human being.’

    ‘The earth’s circling of the sun has continued for millions of years.’

    Similarly, the following sentences ,which are in the continuous present tense, contain verb participles :

    ‘ I’m waiting for the mail.’

    ‘The seagulls are circling the pier.’

    ‘Circling’, in Laura’s ku, is an adjective, qualifying ‘seagull’. Like a gerund, it *looks* like a verb participle, but in context, it can’t be.. We know the parts of speech by their context in speech or written language.

    So, to your point: do you mean that all words (gerunds, verb participles, nouns) ending with -ing weaken haiku? Or do you mean that using the present continuous tense weakens haiku?

    An example of a ku in present continuous tense (though ‘listening’ should be centred, which it won’t be here once it’s posted):

    sitting by the brisbane river
    to your muddy confessions

    -Agniesza Niemira , from ‘haiku dreaming australia ‘

  35. Hi Laura! :-)

    the house that we rent
    has wild blackberries

    With a new image first line (no kigo needed) is already half a haiku! :-)

    Maybe just the NC locale is required to complete it?

    Enjoy the vacation!


  36. Hi, Arlene! Thanks for writing. I appreciate your encouragement and your suggestions. I am learning all the rules and am attempting to navigate through.

    In addition Alan inspired me to write a new haiku about my local beach. It has been workshopped (you can see the progression through the last few pages of comments), which has been very helpful to me. Here is my latest version:

    a cry rends the air
    the circling seagull snags
    her last cookie

    Peter, I leave for a vacation to NC tomorrow. The house that we rent (but won’t rend) has wild blackberries all around it. I love the poem that you shared and will think of it as I splurge.

  37. Hi Laura,

    Re learning about “season words”, I like your two poems very much. I don’t believe they need season words to be first class haiku.

    I would like the poems even better if they could be expressed without using the gerund form. Somehow (for me) the gerund seems to weaken the haiku.
    I might express your poems like this:

    next tide
    my sandy footprints erased
    webbed ones remain

    The phrase “next tide” implies the seashore, and that you have been there recently and are now returning. The word “sandy” implies beach.

    red sky at night
    at a distant aqua line
    the sun deflates

    The phrase “red sky at night” is from old weather lore in the northeast USA. The original poem says:

    Red sky at night
    Sailors delight
    Red sky in the morning
    Sailors take warning

    Season words not needed for these particular haiku, and gerunds gone.

    Let’s see some more of your work!

  38. When I think of syllables and English I think of Galway Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating”.

    I love to go out in late September
    among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
    to eat blackberries for breakfast,
    the stalks very prickly, a penalty
    they earn for knowing the black art
    of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
    lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
    fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
    as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
    like strengths or squinched,
    many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
    which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
    in the silent, startled, icy, black language
    of blackberry — eating in late September.

  39. Michael Dylan Welch says:
    “Alan, you offer the following poem as 5-7-5:

    yellowing fields
    hovering not hovering
    the nankeen kestrels

    I would suggest that the first line is just four syllables, however. ”

    Interesting. Wikionary has it as:


    * IPA: /fiːld/
    * Rhymes: -iːld

    I always pronounce it with two distinctive sounds yet it’s one syllable? Shows up the vagaries of the syllable system in English quite nicely, and how keeping within a numbercrunching syllable count (surely an oxymoron in itself) can rarely work. ;-)

    A lot of good points as to why trying to “do” a 575 haiku construct in the English-language to match a 575 haiku construct in a non-alphabet/non-syllablic multi-language system such as Japanese isn’t as Mr Spock might say “logical”.


  40. Peter, yes, “rends” is correct. Thanks for pointing that out! (How does one create an embarrassed smilie here?)

    I love your analogy of the scaffold. I can see that in some of my constructions and get frustrated by it. It’s a bit like playing Jenga, isn’t it?

    I tore it all apart, took Alan’s advice about going back to prose and came up with this version:

    a cry rends the air
    the circling seagull snags
    her last cookie

    Michael, I go back and forth on what I should do as a beginner. It is very interesting to me that you started with 5-7-5 and stuck with it for 10 years. Jim Kacian recently commented on the Facebook Question and Answer Session ( that his first 1000 haiku were all 5-7-5 as well.

    Peter, you encouraged me to continue with 5-7-5 when I started on this adventure. I am taking this all in and can’t help but think there is merit to this structure.

  41. My goodness, reading too quickly, I missed that ‘rents the air’ ;-) Well, capitalist seagulls, now!

    Michael, my dear but now departed next door neighbour used to say ‘umberella’ and ‘Arthuritus’, bless her. No, it’s not standard English. She added a syllable to many words.

  42. Alan, you offer the following poem as 5-7-5:

    yellowing fields
    hovering not hovering
    the nankeen kestrels

    I would suggest that the first line is just four syllables, however. Technically, linguistically, it’s just four (“field” being just one syllable, not two, even though you can make it sound like two). If you look the word up at, the pronunciation is given as “feeld” (think of the word “feel” with a d added). There’s no hyphen provided to indicate a separate syllable. Also look up “flour” at There you will see two pronunciations, one with one syllable, and the other with two, indicated by the hyphen. Without my getting into the linguistics of the matter, the point is that “field” is technically just one syllable.

    However, this is not a problem (I’m no longer directing these comments just at Alan). The fact that some words can legitimately be counted as one or two syllables, and the fact that some words technically can’t, but some people think they can, well, both of these situations underscore the fact the counting syllables for haiku in English is problematic (I continue to be surprised by how often people whose native language is English don’t actually know how to count the syllables in common English words). I’ve written in more detail about this issue at (an essay titled “What Is a Syllable”).

    Now, I realize that there are regional pronunciation differences, and that vowels in certain words are often elided to sound like a second syllable, but that, to me, points AWAY from the virtue of counting syllables for haiku — because it’s not as simple as some people think. (In contrast, once you understand that certain vowels, indicated by macrons in romaji, and the “n” sound at the end of a word counts as a separate sound, Japanese is much more cut and dried — which is why writing to a set syllable pattern is so much easier there, and so much more logical than it is here). The point, too, is that, because of the variability in pronunciation in English (and whether some people will count a word one way or another), counting syllables in English is fairly meaningless and unhelpful.

    (Aside: In Japanese, “nankeen” would count as four sounds at least, just as the word “haiku” counts as three sounds rather than the two syllables we would ascribe to it, indicating further reasons that the 5-7-5 “rule” is misguided and inappropriate for English-language haiku.)

    I wrote haiku as a 5-7-5 poem for ten years. That’s all i was taught, and all I knew (such a shame). But in 1987 or 88 when I encountered the second edition of Cor van den Heuvel’s *Haiku Anthology*, I was confronted with the fact that the majority of the poems were not 5-7-5 (something like 86 percent in the second edition, and yes, I counted them all — I’d have to look up the exact percentage, but that’s pretty close). I had to understand why. That, finally, was when I saw that haiku had many other techniques. As a result, my own haiku dramatically improved in quality. And so, thank goodness, my focus shifted away from form onto content, and it made a world of difference.

    Not only is the 5-7-5 pretty much the wrong target to shoot for in English-language haiku (resulting in a poem that’s significantly longer, with much more content, than a Japanese haiku of 17 sounds), it’s also the most superficial of disciplines. Far greater disciplines need the poet’s attention, as have been written about extensively elsewhere. (That being said, there are still some nice 5-7-5 haiku out there, but they are careful to hit the other targets carefully, and avoid sounding wordy, padded, or chopped.)

    It’s always good to explore and experiment, and trying a return to 5-7-5 might well be fruitful, for a while. If it were me trying such a thing, it would be with the consciousness of the poems being significantly longer than Japanese haiku. For reference, the Japan Tanka Poets Club has all but dictated that haiku in English should be about 21 syllables, signficantly shorter than the 31 sounds of Japanese tanka. Applying the same percentage (67.74%) to the 17 sounds of haiku, their rule would suggest that we should aim at about 11.5 syllables for our haiku.


  43. Coupla things an editor would note. One, should be “rends”, no? Present tense. Also, I’d say a *cry* is sufficiently sudden in/of itself and does not require the adjective… sudden.

    Personally, I feel that wherever an article would naturally appear, as in speech, it is good to use it in writing. I’m talking about the practice of omitting an article for no apparent reason.

    Frankly, if I were an editor of a “mainstream” poetry mag with some openness to haiku, I would not get past the first line “circling seagull”. My impression would be that the author was too attached to bad translations from the Japanese.

    Many people, including some editors, do not object to this practice. It’s somewhat the norm. Funny word that– “norm”. I tried putting the word “poetry” right next to it once and both words turned into little inky pit bulls… it was a mess, but poetry won the battle, just barely. I got arrested for cruelty to words, but that’s another matter.

    If you use the English language in your first line, and eliminate the word “sudden” from the next, a major restructuring would be required. A number of writers have used the analogy of a scaffold when talking about what helped to give (temporary) structure to a poem. The poem right now has a lot of scaffolding showing. It’s helped you build it, but what remains when the scaffolding comes down?. Seems like it could be a swifter poem, a sudden poem.

    Well, mine is not the final word in these matters.

  44. Wow, I love the feedback. Thank you!

    Lorin, ah yes, it isn’t as pleasing to end with an article. Ack, another thing to consider. I appreciate your pointing that out to me.

    How about:

    circling seagull –
    a sudden cry rents the air
    as a cookie is snatched

    Alan, I did like the idea of leaving the option open that it could be the cry of the gull or the cry of my 3-year-old daughter that rents the air. Or a combination of both. We’ve all learned to eat carefully on the beach. The seagulls aren’t intimidated by anyone.

    Lorin, our seagulls will snatch ice cream cones too! I had a friend who was visiting from Mass tell me all about how the seagull swiped her cone in one shot!

    We have egrets who will snag a hamburger gracefully as well.

    Alan, I really did want to say “chocolate chip cookie,” but I couldn’t make it fit. I also considered “Keebler cookie,” but I went long on syllables as it stands.

  45. “I’ve never been witness to a seagull snatch so fascinated.” – Alan

    They snatch off each other all the time, here, and will do the same to humans they’re not intimidated by…toddlers, eg, or anyone who happens to be looking the other way.

    Not as scary to a kid as the very professional emu snatch though… a whole ice-cream, a whole hot dog taken by a bird which towers over you.

    I don’t mind the generic ‘seagull’ in Laura’s ku at all. It’s a matter of common speech rather than specialist speech. I wouldn’t use, eg, ‘Silver Gull’ in this sort of ku, since we refer to them as ‘seagulls’. Each reader will imagine the most common seagull in their locality.

  46. Laura said:
    “Alan, OK, I have an experience that I have been sitting on from our many Honeymoon Island visits.

    seagull circles –
    cry pierces beach air as
    cookie is snatched


    “PS: A revision on my last haiku:

    a seagull circles –
    a cry rents the air as a
    cookie is snatched”

    Hi Laura,

    I’ve never been witness to a seagull snatch so fascinated. ;-)

    The revised draft has good natural syntax. Now do you know what kind of seagull or kind of cookie. ;-)

    A cry from the bird or the human victim?

    Zoom in when you explode this into plain text account, and let’s see what extra information we get, and what to keep and what to leave out.

    I’m really pleased, this could be a start to a nice series of haiku from this area. ;-)

    all my best,


  47. A revision on my last haiku:

    a seagull circles –
    a cry rents the air as a
    cookie is snatched

    yes, good revision of your ‘Tonto’ version. … you can google Tontoisim in haiku ;-)

    Have a think about the effect of the ‘dangling article’ at the end of L2. There is really only one line break (as such) that’s important in a 3 line haiku, and that’s the one between the 2 parts of the ‘phrase’ part ( if we can use Jane R’s terms, ‘fragment and phrase’ to designate the two parts of a 3 line haiku.)

    Here’s another version for you… freely rendered though, not 5-7-5:

    a seagull’s cry
    circles the boardwalk –
    snatched cookie











  49. Lorin, what a great reference. Thank you!

    Alan, OK, I have an experience that I have been sitting on from our many Honeymoon Island visits.

    seagull circles –
    cry pierces beach air as
    cookie is snatched

    The rules that I’m attempted to follow are: (1) L2 and L3 should flow together, (2) going from the wide angle, to a medium shot and down to a close up (ok I used to be a filmmaker), (3) draw from personal experience, (4) use a seasonal word or kigo, (5) 6 second rule, (6) two images and a few others.

  50. Yes, the menu of haiku rules, choose your own. :-) If you scroll up the page, you’ll find some common-sense haiku techniques written in plain language that might be handy to get you started, as well.

  51. Laura said:
    “I didn’t know about the 6 second length. That goes along with “Write what can be said in one breath.” I’m sure I’ve violated this rule a few times.”

    I tried to get away from the syllable definition often given out with no understanding, plus the difficulties over ‘one breath haiku’.

    One breath might mean only the intake or exhalation to one person, and both to another person, but we all take different times over our breath at different times. ;-)

    Because I’ve done hundreds of open mic poetry events as well as a named reader, I started to do timings over all my types of poems.

    I noticed that most of my haiku clocked in at six seconds, and started timing other people’s haiku. I also noticed that both Westerners and Japanese female haiku poets (re BBC) appeared to last an average of six seconds.

    This isn’t nuclear fission level science, but my stop watch often stopped at six seconds plus or minus a handful of seconds.

    The six second timing was also a way to get people away from the notice of number crunching syllables which always seemed an oxymoron to me.

    It was also fun to get children to count “one thousand, two thousand etc…” for seconds, and it can also be done as “one mississippi, two mississippi etc…” of course. ;-)

    all my best,



    thank you for enjoying those two haiku. They are written from direct experience/observation, plus observing both on numerous occasions over the years.

    I feel you could do that with Honeymoon Beach and just one or two more locales maybe?

  52. Laura said:
    “Alan, you mention, “and preferably avoiding the long EL single syllable words.” This is an area that I struggle with. How do I avoid sounding mundane, but stay away from the “big” words?”

    I think this is a challenge for all creative writers, so you are not alone. There is a time and place for complex “polysyllablic” words, including a few successful haiku of course. ;-)

    There’s a huge gulf between plain language that is just “plain”, and plain language that opens up the often conceived mundane ordinariness of life and what happens between our markers i.e. the dash between dates on our gravestones.

    Haiku is a great adventure: we can never conquer it, and that’s what keeps some writers alive, rather than go for a safe template every time.

    Enjoy the ride, I know you’ll be a worthy passenger.

    all my best,


  53. Lorin, wow that article is exactly what I needed. Although it is humorous in its contradictions, it is extraordinarily helpful in helping me to understand exactly what the rules are supposed to be. I’ve been guessing, but this has clarified it for me.

    It helps to see them all side by side. A la carte rules of haiku.

    One rule that I have been struggling to really understand is, “Study the order in which the images are presented. First the wide-angle view, medium range and zoomed in close-up.”

    Alan, your two poems are perfect examples of this. I’ve seen other examples, but looking at the rule clearly stated, along with your beautiful examples, has crystallized this point for me.

    I also see how you really make use of a knowledge of local traditions and wildlife. It drives me to search out my own area.

    I didn’t know about the 6 second length. That goes along with “Write what can be said in one breath.” I’m sure I’ve violated this rule a few times.

    Alan, you mention, “and preferably avoiding the long EL single syllable words.” This is an area that I struggle with. How do I avoid sounding mundane, but stay away from the “big” words?

    Lorin, I picked up The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa when I started this adventure. I agree that this is the best way to study traditional haiku.

    I did want to clarify that I didn’t feel that going back to 5-7-5 was a step backwards. Rather I felt that I had personally taken a step backwards in my poetry. I think that is part of the process though and probably the only way to learn – try things out, see if they work and use that which does.

    With this list of rules I can really experiment with what works best for me. Reading through everyone’s advice I realize that there is really no one right way to go about writing haiku.

    I thank everyone for their input, guidance and feedback. The tricky part for me as a beginner is to know when I have created a haiku that others can enjoy and achieve that ah ha moment.

  54. …and a ps. re ” I want to understand traditional haiku and follow the rules until I know enough to break them.”

    To understand traditional haiku, by far the best way is to read (translations of, if you don’t have Japanese) the old Japanese masters, to begin with. Basho, Issa , Buson, then Shiki and others.

    As far as ELH goes, understand that there really are *no rules*, only guidelines. You are free to adopt rules for yourself, and to change to different rules when you so choose.

    Jane Reichhold’s list of ‘Haiku Rules That Have Come and Gone’ was liberating for me when I first began, and had people telling me ‘haiku is this, haiku is that, haiku is the other,’ to my huge confusion. It gave me a good laugh as I imagined trying to follow all the conflicting ‘rules’ at once and helped me put haiku ‘rules’ in perspective.

  55. Hi Laura, there is no ‘backwards’ in choosing to write haiku in 5-7-5 form, for a while or forever. I have a friend, who is a very good poet (she doesn’t write haiku), a ‘New Formalist’, who finds a security (her word) in strict form from which she can explore other challenges. Many people choose to write haiku in 5-7-5 syllables to this day.

    The current issues about the 5-7-5 form arose because ELH at one stage seemed to be *defined* by that form, or there were those who spoke about ELH *as if* it were and insisted that if it didn’t have 5-7-5 syllables, it wasn’t haiku. The 5-7-5 haiku in English derived from a misunderstanding of Japanese sound units which made them into the equivalent of English syllables, which they are not. The concise nature of the Japanese haiku was this lost in EL 5-7-5. But this doesn’t make 5-7-5 invalid: it is one variation of ELH.

    Alan’s advice to you is good.

    Many older translations of the Japanese haiku masters into 5-7-5 are available, should you want to have a look and them. Here is one from the oldest haiku book that I have, ‘A Haiku Garland’ (1968)

    The sea darkening. . .
    Oh voices of the wild ducks
    Crying, whirling, white

    Basho – translated by Peter Beilenson

    You could compare it with other translations that you can find on the web.

  56. First post didn’t seem to go up, but…

    Laura said:
    “For me, on my particular journey, I want to understand traditional haiku and follow the rules until I know enough to break them. I am considering returning to 5-7-5. I stopped counting or caring about syllables in an effort to focus on the images, but I feel that I may have taken a step backwards.”

    Nothing wrong with going back to 575 constructs as long as the syntax stays natural, with good line breaks, no padding, and preferably avoiding the long EL single syllable words, and trying to keep within a six second length.

    Here’s one in the current month of August, Snapshot Press Haiku Calendar 2010:

    yellowing fields
    hovering not hovering
    the nankeen kestrels

    Alan Summers

    1. Snapshot Calendar 2010 ISBN 978-1-903543-27-6
    2. Haiku Dreaming
    3. ‘sundog haiku journal: an australian year’
    sunfast press 1997 reprinted 1998
    California State Library – Main Catalog Call Number :
    HAIKU S852su 1997

    Another one, where conkers used to be an important time for both children and parents in Britain:

    indian summer
    around the horsechestnut trees
    a sheen of conkers

    Alan Summers
    Blithe Spirit, British Haiku Society magazine
    September 1999

  57. Laura said:
    “For me, on my particular journey, I want to understand traditional haiku and follow the rules until I know enough to break them. I am considering returning to 5-7-5. I stopped counting or caring about syllables in an effort to focus on the images, but I feel that I may have taken a step backwards.”

    Nothing wrong with 575 constructs as long as natural syntax, and good line breaks are incorporated with no padding.

    I try to do a few 575s but keep them within the six second time frame, so avoiding long single syllable words that the English language contains.

    Here’s a 575er that is on the current month of Snapshot Press Haiku Calendar:

    yellowing fields
    hovering not hovering
    the nankeen kestrels

    1. Snapshot Calendar 2010 ISBN 978-1-903543-27-6

    2. Haiku Dreaming

    3. sundog haiku journal: an australian year
    sunfast press 1997 reprinted 1998
    California State Library – Main Catalog Call Number :
    HAIKU S852su 1997

    all my best for your 575ers! ;-)


  58. Alan, thank you for your guidance and encouragement. It means a lot to me. I am looking forward to tackling this project, as kigo is a weakness for me. You’re right that it can only improve my writing in general, which is a great bonus. I will search out the books you mentioned.

    Thank you for sharing your exciting stories. I visited Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree Rainforest many years ago. They had a wallaby nursery there, which we’d visit each night on the way to our dinner. We would dine in the restaurant level with the tree tops, overlooking the Mossman river.

    I remember being in awe over the fight for survival that I could feel within the rainforest. Even the vines would struggle for sunlight, sometimes squeezing the life out of trees to gain their goal. I would love to return there one day!

    Peter, that is a good question! As I study and learn about haiku, I am really breaking down, what is haiku. I had originally thought it was 5-7-5 with a seasonal word, speaking of nature. If we take out all these components, then how does one define haiku?

    I suppose it can be defined more by the three line structure, but then again that doesn’t hold true either. Perhaps a haiku comes simply from that ah ha moment of completely understanding the poet’s intention and catching the nuances he or she is expressing.

    For me, on my particular journey, I want to understand traditional haiku and follow the rules until I know enough to break them. I am considering returning to 5-7-5. I stopped counting or caring about syllables in an effort to focus on the images, but I feel that I may have taken a step backwards.

  59. Peter, thanks for your thoughtful post.

    Having grown up in two places, one across the road from a bay beach and one in a small, remote timber town I was immersed in the natural world. I *knew* the year, the seasons, by what happened around me, not by the official ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’, which are rather oddly superimposed on the yearly cycle here anyway.

    This local seasonality is how the Kooris organised their year, too. One event in nature was a sign connected to other events. An easy one I learnt very early was that when the foreshore ti-tree bloomed all shapes and sizes of fishing boats could be seen early in the morning. Why? It was the annual snapper run, and all the locals would be out there on the bay before dawn. The sweet scent of ti-tree blossom, the scent of salty air and peaty leaf compost, undisturbed for centuries, and the scent of fresh fish fried in butter for breakfast are still connected in me.

    The lives and the poetry (story, art, dance) of hunter-gatherer people is immersed in the world and the cycles of everything in it. ‘Season word’ is an essential part of the language. ‘Few leopard orchids’ or ‘Many leopard orchids’, for a particular region, say things about season way beyond what month it is. It says what happens connected with what other things happen, and that includes what groups of people do or prepare to do in order to live. ‘Season word’ is the world ‘read’, is specific to region.

    I suppose this is what has drawn me to haiku, away, for the time being, from writing other kinds of poems. Not ‘deep spiritual insight’, just the more authentic feeling of awareness of being part of this world, of living in it, with it., with the other things.

    But kigo, as I understand it (and I wish I’d understood it earlier than I did) is a Japanese literary convention, based on ancient literary interpretations of what were once real season words and assigned a place in a saijiki by an authority on kigo. The trick is to study these authorised literary signs and understand their nuances, then to flip through the saijiki to find one that will suit the poem one is about to write. Or so I gather. The benefits, when writing collaboratively, in renga or renku, are apparent. We agree on the nominal time and place of composition. Can’t have gum-trees blossoming when it’s a Winter verse one has to write because blossoms happen in ‘Spring’ in Japan. Can’t have, for a verse designated ‘Autumn’, a moon (an Autumn kigo, if unqualified) rising from an eternally snow-capped mountain, even if one does live in sight of the Himalayas, because ‘snow’ indicates ‘Winter’ in Japan, and there’s no reference to any sort of snow, eternal or not, under ‘Autumn’ in the saijiki . Haiku, as we know, derive from renga.

    I suppose that there are many approaches to writing poetry, and kigo as a formal rule is no more a bar to poetry than any other formal rule, whether traditional or self-imposed. But is kigo the *essence* of haiku (Japanese haiku) ? Is it what makes *some* haiku poetry? I don’t think that can be honestly claimed.

    Since kigo as such is not part of ELH (though season word is) it certainly isn’t the essence of ELH.. Is season word/ seasonal reference the essence of ELH? It may be a formal rule/ guideline, which we adopt or not, in place of kigo. But things like the sea, the bay, the river, the estuary which are not seasonal, or fire (bushfire) or drought, which don’t occur on an annual cycle basis, but are their own ‘seasons’, are as much of the world as season words, as are the mass migrations of birds to the inland overflow in the unpredictable years that happens. I like some sort of interface with the things of the broader natural world in haiku, to situate my thoughts and feelings within it’s context, but it doesn’t seem to me that season words are the essence of haiku.

    Last night, reading a SF reprint of the 1970s, as far as I could get from thinking about haiku, what turned up towards the end but a haiku!

    “….for the first time in years a haiku formed itself spontaneously in his mind, calming and ordering his thoughts…

    In a whale’s eye
    The glaze of a T’ang bowl —

    ‘The Jonah Kit’ – Ian Watson © 1975

  60. I want, very respectfully, to ask Laura and all, why do you value season words? I mean, really? What’s at the heart of it for you, personally? Personally, I have little interest in them, which is not the same thing as saying I reject them; certainly not those who value them. They occur in what I write sometimes, for sure, but inevitably, because as a Vermonter, I inhabit hundreds of seasons. Or they inhabit me. Probably truer to say, as much as I could make a habit of Summer, Autumn ex-habits me. Winter undoes me.

    My sense is that in the early days of poetry in the East, a deep spiritual insight was explored, in a fresh and living way, around transience. Like many spiritual insights, the freshness—the living quality- was lost and in a wish to make it available again, a “way” was found, a “rule” if you wish, which many adhered to, and which took on its own significance, which may or may not connect to the living quality of transience. It may connect more to a sense of community, which has its own value. How this relates to *poetry* is another matter, a different discussion.

    This is perhaps harsh, but it speaks to what often happens, in small or large ways: the wish to recapture something original by various means which can be repeated. Odd, to try to capture the nature of transience.

    My faith, I guess, is that what is original can be experienced at any moment, but probably not when one wishes to grasp it and make it repeatable.

    In Robert Hass’ essay “Images”, he says:

    “Often enough, when a thing is seen clearly, there is a sense of absence about it… as if, the more palpable it is, the more some immense subterranean displacement seems to be working in it: as if at the point of truest observation the visible and invisible exerted enormous counterpressure. Some of Buson’s poems seem on comment on this directly…”

    Is it possible to see something this clearly, which means submitting oneself to a deep insecurity, a powerful not-knowing?

    Cid Corman, introducing *Little Enough*, says:

    “Making haiku… is no more a business or a hobby than making love or making life should be. It is form of poetry—which means—if the word means anything—precisely where each word is a matter of life and death.”

    If the use of season words helps you to write *poetry*, I bow to them, and to you.

  61. Hi Lorin,

    I was mostly in Queensland, although I did visit the Territory (and Uluru) for around four years, and was lucky enough to be involved in landcare of a 2000 acre plot. Quite small I know, but being there just after sunrise to well after sundown I immersed myself in nature. You can’t really help it when you’re living in farm country. ;-)

    I’d get up every morning around 4am to feed the horses at the place I was renting, and catch every single sunrise with ‘Spot’ the dog, a mad terrier in the nicest sense.

    Spot would accompany me on bicycle rides around the area so I’d see the roads covered with birds before the traffic started; telegraph poles filled with galahs; trees and skies filled with every imaginable australian parrot.

    Now it turns out I do have rellies in Oz, and hope to plan a visit next year. ;-)

    The fruit bats or flying foxes took literally hours to pass over our Ipswich part of the sky near Brisbane, it was a once in a lifetime experience for me, I never saw so many again, and also moved into farm country.

    The tawny frogmouth experience was in the Churchill district of Ipswich (Queensland) where the golf course was open to locals just walking across its greens. It’s probably a lot busier now, but then there was a deep recession, and most people seemed to use the club.

    The original poem about the bird wasn’t a haiku, and attempts at haiku I’m glad can’t be seen anywhere. It took six months to work on that haiku, to bring it to bare bones, a neutral state.

    I couldn’t have been more surprised when I pulled it out to look at a couple of months later as a possible candidate for a competition submission. It looked okay. ;-) I didn’t expect it to win though! ;-)

    I was lucky to be able to immerse myself into Queensland, both at poetry events, but more importantly, into its nature.

    I was also happy on days off to sit on my verandah for five hours plus just writing, and watching the birds come and go into the garden. Because I was so still the birds got braver and braver.

    Alas, there were no witnesses to one afternoon, when it seemed several genus of bird just wanted to strike up a band and play being an orchestra. One bird, a willywagtail I think, even took up a tin foil tray and played a sort of tamborine. Lock me up why don’t you, but I saw it!

    The other amazing thing that happened was when I became father and mother to two mudpie larks when they fell out of one very tall tree.

    I even had a willywagtail help me out when the farm fences had kookaburras everywhere looking forward to a tidy little snack.

    There’s a few photos in my sundog collection which I hope to re-release for a third printing, but as an ebook this time. It also has a nice foreword from Janice (Bostok), and a nice quote from Duncan Richardson. Watch this space!

    The trick with quality seasonal words and phrases is immersion in my opinion. Nowadays I travel up and down Britain and I’m not so up on regional ‘kigo’ as I used to be.

    Although Hull (North England U.K.) appears to be hot and sunny almost all the time, with rain showers barely lasting a minute or two. Sounds divine, but like Queensland, I longed for a day full of rain, not sun. ;-)

    I love the development of local saijiki, so I was very excited when the Alaska one started, as that State is so unique to all other U.S. States. And I am equally excited about a potential Florida saijiki eventually evolving from notebook observations. I wonder if Lee Gurga could be of help, he loves the tropics! ;-)


  62. Alan, your short years in Australia seem to have been very fruitful! ( and am so pleased you call a certain creature a ‘fruit bat’ and not a ‘flying fox’, though this is regional of me, because of course it is neither a fox nor a bat) If I’d heard of haiku in those days we might have met, but I hadn’t. I’ll be contacting you about your haiku experiences here.

    I definitely agree with you about the value of keeping notes of observations in the way you mention, and I find Bill Higginson’s books allow me invaluable insights, too.

  63. Hi Laura!

    First of all, when I hold haiku workshops I always like to tell the writers (whether createive or non-creative writers) that writing haiku is an incredible discipline for all kinds of writing.

    Writing and studying haiku go hand in hand.

    Plus making notes about special characteristics of Florida’s natural history, festivals, special days, and human history peculiar to Florida will give you a very useful indepth knowledge of both your State, region, and immediate locale.

    Those notes will prove invaluable not only for your haiku, but any work of fiction or non-fiction from novels to non-fiction books etc… etc…

    It will sharpen up your observational skills, and you will be surprised by how much. Even if you are a highly observant writer, those skills will be doubled at the very least.

    Of course you won’t be able to do a full-on authentic saijiki in a few months. Bill’s project took years. I remember the call out for haiku around 1992/1993. All my haiku had just been submitted to magazines! ;-)

    Boy, was I lucky. Pretty much the following day, or day after, was a flood of fruit bats, possibly close to a million, flying across Brisbane/Ipswich skies which were blood red – very “Hammer Horror”. ;-)

    Bill loved the fruit bat haiku and selected two of them for Haiku World:

    Out of Bill’s The Haiku Seasons Project came two books: Haiku World (above, used copies from $20; and The Haiku Seasons:

    Both are invaluable, and Haiku World in particular, is never further than six feet away from me at all times! ;-)

    Basically you never know what you will come across as soon as you get involved with a saijiki. It’s an adventure in itself. Take your time, note everything down. It will be a fantastic source book for novels; short stories; other poetry; as well as haiku! ;-)

    all my best,


  64. Gabi, you yourself make a distinction between KIGO (all upper case), by which you indicate Japanese kigo, the real thing, and kigo (lower case) by which you indicate ‘kigo’, seasonal references from anywhere else in the world.

    – – –

    ” `I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”

    `But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

    `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    `The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ”

    – from ‘Through the Looking Glass’, Lewis Carrol

  65. Bill Higginson always encouraged haiku poets to compile their own regional saijiki.
    We would not have the ALASKA SAIJIKI if it was not for him and Cindy and Billie.

    It is a work “In progress”.
    We all learn as we go, dear Laura.

    Bill also encouraged the World Kigo Database at a time in the beginning when most voices said “It can’t be done” (way back in 2004).

    There are many approaches to season words (kigo) in a worldwide context.
    I hope the THF encourages the collection of season words from Florida in its own regional saijiki.

    All the best, Laura !

  66. Lorin, yes, I did read this article. And yes, I have been studying. I will continue to do so.

    I think that writing a journal of seasonal words for my area would help me to learn more about kigo. I didn’t intend to imply that I would actually write an actual saijiki for others to read. It would be meant as a learning experience for me, my own personal “saijiki”.

  67. “It has been suggested that I write a Florida saijiki. Although the thought is a tad overwhelming, it will give me experience and a better understan
    ding of kigo, so I’m game.” – Laura

    Freefall from a very tall building would give you experience and a better understanding of gravity. Is it a matter of being game?

    Your subtitle for this issue of ‘Quicksilver’ is ‘Learning About Seasonal Words’.Do you think it might be good idea to learn something about seasonal words and seasonal references and how they differ from kigo before you commit yourself to writing a ‘saikiji’, a dictionary of ‘kigo’?

    I know this is confusing, I found it so myself because I naively accepted the view that because kigo translates into English as season word, then kigo correlates with seasonal observations of nature. Simple as that! Well, it’s not at all as simple as that.

    Many, many people have been ‘invited to write a saijiki’ for their region, myself included. If I were you, I’d think about why a total beginner would be invited to ‘write a saijiki’. I’d think about who had asked me and whether they might have an agenda. I’d try to educate myself a little and use my powers of discernment before I committed myself.

    Might it not be more profitable for you to keep a diary of your own seasonal observations and develop a list of season words from that than ‘write a saijiki’? Have you even done the research/ reading to find out what a saijiki is, what a kigo is?

    Karen gave you a link to a good starting place earlier. Have you read it and understood it?

    Kigo and Seasonal Reference:
    Cross‑cultural Issues in Anglo‑American Haiku
    By Richard Gilbert

  68. Lorin, This area is confusing to me as a newcomer. My questions are not an attempt to question your viewpoint, but rather to understand it fully.

    I was aware that this area was controversial from the previous discussions, but I tackled it none-the-less, because I truly want to learn and understand.

    The thing that I am learning here is that there is more depth to kigo. Reading your posts and Gabi’s articles I see that there is culture and emotion behind these words (kigo). Before this discussion I didn’t understand that. I saw it on a two dimensional level. Words. I am realizing that saijiki evoke a passion in people.

    It has been suggested that I write a Florida saijiki. Although the thought is a tad overwhelming, it will give me experience and a better understanding of kigo, so I’m game.

  69. “Is “instant kigo” someone’s idea of what a seasonal word might be, one that hasn’t been tried out before?” – Laura

    I thought ‘instant kigo’, as I used it within my post, would be clear in context. If kigo (Japanese) as we’ve discussed it in these threads is the real thing, what would you call a word or phrase that has none of the cultural, literary or developmental background, none of the history, from a world region where there is no tradition of a centralized authority which can say yea or nay for writers, yet is produced and labeled kigo, claimed to be kigo, by an individual or a group? ‘Kigo’, even ‘instant kigo’ is kinder than pseudo-kigo, I would’ve thought.

    You queried why, in earlier posts, I’d written kigo and ‘kigo’. I attempted to answer you. It is simply that I like to distinguish between things which are different, even if they are named the same. I prefer to use the terms seasonal reference, keyword, season word and the like for words and phrases from world regions which do not have a kigo culture, such as all of the world regions which speak the English language. If Joe Blow, coordinator of the Black Stump Ginko Group or Dr. Nelly Kelly, with a PHD in Japanese Studies and chairperson of the Australasian Haiku Club declares that ‘Wattle Day’ is a kigo, I will call it a ‘kigo’. It hasn’t had time to accrue the attributes of real kigo, the Japanese kigo, for a start. It *may*, over centuries, if Australia really does develop a kigo culture in the future. I might also call it a ‘Clayton’s kigo’, but I’d probably be understood only by Australians and Kiwis. (a term originally from an advertisement for a non-alcoholic beverage which tasted somewhat like beer : ” Clayton’s: the beer you’re having when you’re not having a beer” )

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither were kigo.

  70. Sandra, Wow, I love the word “obliterating” here. It has so much depth. And I love the way you used punctuation to add to the meaning. Beautiful and inspiring.

    Early on, one of the comments lead me to believe that I needed to avoid all large words in haiku. I’m seeing now that I probably took that too far.

    I am realizing that If one cuts one’s vocabulary too much, one runs into the problem of being bland and trite. It is all a balance, isn’t it? That is what I am striving to learn, to fully understand.

    Lorin, thank you for your explanation. So “kigo” is simply a seasonal word for another location, right? Is “instant kigo” someone’s idea of what a seasonal word might be, one that hasn’t been tried out before? I hope you don’t mind all my questions, but I am struggling a little with the haiku vocabulary.

    Alan, I LOVE your tawny frogmouth haiku! And the judges comments helped me to understand it more fully.

    I could definitely write and write about our beach experiences. I love the idea!

  71. Laura said:

    “Alan, that’s the one! I didn’t know that about my little beach. :-) I like the concept of the footprint taken over by the gulls. I’d like to write a haiku about the aggressiveness of the gulls here. They will grab food from my children’s hands!”

    It might be you could a series of haiku from experiences at the beach, maybe even incorporate some pyschogeography too?

    My tawny frogmouth haiku plus Judge’s comments from Janice Bostok can be found at:

    all my best,


  72. “Lorin…What is the difference between “kigo” and kigo? ”

    Laura, in respect for Japanese haiku culture and its development over centuries, I use kigo to mean only the kigo that appear in Japanese saijiki, in Japanese or translated into English. Kigo are complex symbols.

    I use ‘kigo’ when referring to words or phrases that various non-Japanese groups present as and designate kigo for their world region, eg someone in America might present ‘Fourth of July’, ‘hunger moon’ and ‘chokecherry blossoms’ as kigo. The first might work similarly to a Japanese kigo, the second is from the Native American and may well have been something like a kigo to the native American cultures and I know that chokecherry is a native, perfumed blossom that blooms in Missouri, perhaps elsewhere.

    What we may call a season word or seasonal reference or keyword may one day, far in the future, take on a depth of resonance which would make it comparable with the Japanese kigo. One day, all Americans might agree as to which week in which month the chokecherry blooms and what the emotional nuances and historical and literary associations of chokecherry blossoms is. One day, all American writers might choose to or be forced to submit to a single authority as to what social events and natural occurrences have which significance and emotional nuance. There is a small precedent in the pre-modern English ‘language of flowers’ : pansies are for thought, violets for modesty, etc.

    Simply, I have reservations about ‘instant kigo’. I try to make it clear that this is my view, at this stage of my learning about haiku. It is only one view, among others.

  73. I won’t add to any of the great advice you’ve been given, Laura, but just share a couple of haiku of my own that also tackle the “footprints on the beach” theme. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how successful they are!

    our footprints
    the dotterel’s

    pub Kokako 6, 2007

    “dotterel” makes it a sea-shore poem, and the “obliterating” comments on the endangered status of the birds and just which species has caused that status:

    BTW, although this may sound contrived, it was written on the spot – a beach where I spend summer holidays has resident dotterels that trot across the sand. I chose the words carefully to try and give extra layers of meaning.

    on the sandbar …
    my footprints
    going the other way

    pub Simply Haiku, vol3:1, 2005

    Also written from an experienced moment. The ellipses is used to try and add a visual element to the poem.

  74. John, I went for writing about what I saw at that moment, but was concerned about writing about subjects that have been so well covered. It is interesting, though, if you go too far off the beaten track it doesn’t seem to work. I need to find that balance. And yes, I need a lot more practice!

    Karen, thank you so much for sharing your process. It really helps! I love seeing a haiku transform like that. The final poem definitely has that ah ha moment. I will study those articles!

    Lorin, thank you for your thoughts and suggestions. I didn’t know that the L2 and L3 should flow together, but it makes sense. What is the difference between “kigo” and kigo? Is “kigo” simply a seasonal word, which isn’t necessarily Japanese? I thought kigo could only mean Japanese kigo. I’ll admit it is all a little confusing. I refer to Gabi’s site often and will continue to do so.

    Alan, that’s the one! I didn’t know that about my little beach. :-) I like the concept of the footprint taken over by the gulls. I’d like to write a haiku about the aggressiveness of the gulls here. They will grab food from my children’s hands!

    Jack, I really like your version. It brings in the element of tide, which wasn’t there that day, but it paints a better picture. Thanks!

    Gabi, I’m afraid I’ve never been terribly patient. I know, I should be as a mother of three and a business owner. Still your analogy of chess is perfect for me. I’ll admit to you (shh, it is a secret) that this was a downfall for me in my chess tournament life. I was an expert in the attacking, bloodbath style of chess, but would get bored with the slower, more positional games. Still I have improved on this in life and will remember your sage words when I get too hard on myself while learning to write haiku.

  75. “How does one “insert” a seasonal word without losing the poetry?

    To “bring the kigo alive” is one of the important pieces of advise given by a Japanese haiku sensei. To do that can not be learned in one week …

    If you learn to play chess, do you remember all the steps in one day
    and master them completely on the next day?


    …Once you master the basics of chess,
    are you allowed to move the horses freely as the mood drives you at this moment?
    Are you allowed to move the figures as you plesase, because you find it better to “forget the rules” and follow your feelings?

    Think of kigo as a vocabulary of the new haiku language you are about to learn, that takes TIME to sink in and be used naturally.

    Haiku is only three lines … so each word counts and must be used skillfully.
    Skill comes with study, study study
    and practise, practise, practise …

    All the best to your efforts, Laura !

  76. Hi Laura,

    Laura said: “Alan, the beach is called Honeymoon Island. I’m not sure if it is famous, but it is a highly rated beach. My attention was only fixed on the one footprint, but I changed it in the haiku to reflect more, as I felt the reader would ask, “What happened to the other footprints?” I see I wasn’t far off. ”

    Is this beach formerly known as Hog Island then supported by the Wizard of Oz cast when it was renamed “Honeymoon Island”?

    “Many of the popular cast members of the Wizard of Oz (1939), including the “Lollipop Guild” midgets (dwarfs) vacationed in these facilities to help to publicize their availability.”

    Maybe it is good to focus on one footprint being “taken over” by gull prints?

    With permission from Faber and Faber and Society of Authors to use an extract from Philip Larkin’s “Here” poem for my Hull Global Renga, a special commission by Hull Libraries and Larkin25:

    shining gull marked mud
    gathers to the surprise
    of a large town

    Philip Larkin

    I’m a fan of gulls and other ‘seaside’ birds. ;-)

    Also, although my tawny frogmouth haiku isn’t strictly one with kigo or a seasonal reference, their breeding season is August to December (Australia). Janice Bostok gives an interesting Judge’s report on my poem.


  77. :-) Barracuda in the pool world! A dangerous name, indeed.

    As a child, I liked to trail my fingers or toes over the side of the boat when it was moving fast, until my father told me not to, explaining that barracuda were attracted to fast-moving bait.

    o, well.

    “Students of haiku in Japan study a kigo dictionary, called a “saijiki,” to learn which words represent which seasons.”

    It’s not only that kigo represent seasons. I do recommend that you read through all that Gabi has put together on kigo (by which I mean the Japanese, kigo, not ‘kigo’).whilst keeping an open mind about ‘kigo’. Kigo are nuanced with mood, tone, allusions to classic Japanese and Chinese literature. It took many centuries for kigo to evolve. There is a very good reason that Japanese haiku students (and haiku experts and renku sabaki) use a saijiki. That’s because each of those thousands of kigo are differently nuanced, sifted from previous poems or other literature. I’ve gathered that in Japan there are correct and incorrect ways of using kigo, just as there are correct and incorrect ways of speaking French.

    One thoughtful take on kigo as it might apply to ELH, by John Bird, here:

    But to your ku:

    my sandy footprints erased
    webbed ones remain

    I suggest that you try various ways of writing Ls 2 &3, forgetting about L1 in the meanwhile, or keeping it on ‘mute’ in a corner of your mind. Also, write Ls 2 & 3 out as one line. This is a good way of checking that the lines actually convey what you want them to. eg:

    my sandy footprints erased /webbed ones remain


    my sandy footprints / erased webbed ones remain

    In my view, it is usually better if the 2nd & 3rd lines of a three-line ku such as this one flow without a grammatical break between them.

    gull’s footprints erase mine

    gull’s webbed footprints where mine were

    …not too much of a stretch to:

    my footprints fill with gulls

    Now, not a serious attempt but an example nevertheless:

    ham sandwich –
    my footprints fill
    with gulls

    No ‘kigo’ here, though, and I doubt there’s a kigo either…not even a season word.

  78. I like the insertion of the seasonal word, but not being much of a purist, I enjoy the ones you have written without. Living in Florida, they don’t particularly evoke summer for me, but they might for those living elsewhere.

  79. Hi Laura,

    By way of example:

    My Italian greyhound, Shadow, loves to chase rabbits, yet he knows he must stay in the yard. So, he chases rabbits, but only as far as the property line. When I first noticed him doing this, I had the last two lines of a haiku:

    the hound chases a rabbit
    to the property line

    My initial haiku attempt was something like this:

    summer morning
    the hound chases a rabbit
    to the property line

    Notice that the kigo ‘gets the job done’ but adds little to the verse. It functions somewhat as what Lee Gurga refers to as ‘a date stamp.’

    What ultimately was published was this:

    hunting season
    the hound chases a rabbit
    to the property line

    Karen Cesar
    Frogpond Vol. XXI # 1
    Winter 2008

    See the difference?

    Below are two excellent articles concerning kigo that may interest you:

    Beyond the Haiku Moment:
    Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku myths
    Modern Haiku, XXXI:1 (winter-spring 2000)
    By Haruo Shirane


    Kigo and Seasonal Reference:
    Cross‑cultural Issues in Anglo‑American Haiku
    By Richard Gilbert

  80. Laura,

    “How does one “insert” a seasonal word without losing the poetry?”

    Perhaps this is a matter of practice making something that has to be learned into something that comes naturally. I certainly see a lot of ELH in which it seems obvious that the poet has “inserted” a kigo/seasonal reference. With practice, this can become more seamless but I don’t think there is an “instant” means of becoming adept at it. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

    While the use of kigo is the main focus of discussion here, I would like to offer you a related but otherwise directed consideration. You are attempting, in both of your poems, to make something out images that have been mined exhaustively by your predecessors. I’d love to have a penny for every ELH I’ve seen about footprints on the beach or the sun meeting the ocean (or prairie) horizon. I don’t mean that these are unworthy subjects. The fact that they occur so often is testimony to their potential. But your poems will have to be quite extraordinary in order to avoid suffering by comparison to others featuring similar images. One thing that would make them better is becoming familiar, in time, with the other poems. We’re all in the process of doing just this. Japanese haiku have millennia of reference points. ELH is just getting started in this area.

    An interesting sideline here might be to discuss the distinction between “kigo” and “cliché.” There is such a distinction and having a sense of it is often part of the journey from western poetics to some version of “haiku.”

    With best wishes, always,

  81. Gabi, I did actually review these sections (I often visit your site to learn) and considered “hot sand”, but couldn’t make it fit. I also strongly considered making it an “august sun,” but felt it was too forced. These dilemmas inspired me to write this article, as I think others probably have a similar issue.

    Lorin, please don’t go anywhere! Keep those toes in. I need you! (I have a friend who goes by “Barracuda” in the pool world. She’s very good!)

    Alan, the beach is called Honeymoon Island. I’m not sure if it is famous, but it is a highly rated beach. My attention was only fixed on the one footprint, but I changed it in the haiku to reflect more, as I felt the reader would ask, “What happened to the other footprints?” I see I wasn’t far off. :-)

    Robert, I understand that you are frustrated, but remember I am new to haiku and am trying to learn. The point of this series is to help answer some of the basic questions that a newcomer might have. I know this topic is controversial, but I don’t believe that most of the English-language haiku are junk.

    Montage is full of wonderful examples of ELH.

  82. Laura said: “I was on at the beach and saw one of my footprints that I had made earlier that day had disappeared. It was covered by little web-prints from sea gulls. (I had various variations of this haiku and actually really liked the coined word “web-print”, but didn’t use it) I was fascinated by the concept of the footprint being erased by other prints.”

    Could you say which beach it was? Some beaches are famous, so it could be something to include.

    When you say ‘one’ of your footprints disappeared, were the others still visible? DId this one footprint only disappear, not by the action of the sea, but of numerous birds overprinting your footprint?

    all my best,


  83. ‘Kai Hasekawa [Hasegawa] in Japan calls most of today’s English haiku “junk poetry.”’ It might be helpful to add that he was speaking also, or primarily, of Japanese haiku. Hasegawa: “In a nutshell, modern haiku after Masaoka Shiki (circa 1900) has been influenced by Western realism, and as a result haiku has become an art of realism. And the outcome of haiku compositions based only upon those things you have directly seen has been – can I coin the term, “junk haiku (garakuta-haiku). Haiku that contain only objective material have created a nearly stagnant situation.” – Gilbert, Poems of Consciousness, p. 71. It may also be worth noting that in the passage below, from your own interview with Hasegawa, he’s quoting your comments on Western, English-language haiku:

    ‘It seems to me that the current state in which “a lot of haiku written today in the English language by Western practitioners fall short of memorability and depth, and appear to be formula based” has occurred just because they have become the “victim of realism.” I think that there are deeper underlying problems even before that, for example, the problem of the fundamental understanding of what a haiku is [which has to do with cutting (kire) and ma, and “for the working of ma to convey feeling (kokoro)”].’

    It seems, from Hasegawa’s comments in that interview, that he’s more open-minded about Western adaptation of haiku than you are (in your post):

    “However, it is interesting that not only correct understandings of one’s counterpart bear good fruit, but a mistaken understanding can also bear splendid fruit. … In any case, various cultures each have their own soil, and only meaningful seeds will survive in the counterpart’s soil. By “meaningful” seed, I do not mean those limited only to correct understandings. Misunderstandings also can be meaningful seeds. … Therefore, when we think about the problems of haiku in the West, I think that the important thing is to consider what within haiku will be meaningful seeds in Western soil.”

    Robert, you say: “Some so-called haiku theorist and editors are inadvertently bastardizing Japanese haiku to suit their personal writing styles and theories.” It could be helpful if you told us which theories and editorial or writing styles you are referring to, and if you discussed them more specifically. Or if you could point to a place online where you do so…

  84. Hi Laura,
    here is an interview with Robert Wilson and myself,
    Kigo, a Key to Japanese Culture

    I think

    Japanese Kigo are a Key to Japanese Culture.
    Worldwide Season Words are a Key to Worldwide Cultures.

    My basic views on this most debated subject are here

    I would advise any beginner to make herself/himself well aquainted with the function, structure and use of Japanese kigo.

    The World Kigo Database is a step to help with this basic understanding.

    If you look for “sunset” and “beach” you might find some ideas to improve your haiku, dear Laura.


  85. Everybody has a definition for haiku but are their opinions based on fact. Some so-called haiku theorist and editors are inadvertently bastardizing Japanese haiku to suit their personal writing styles and theories. Are they qualified to do so. Kigo is essential to haiku, regardless of nationality. One doesn’t call hip hop music classical. Haiku in English is in a state of confusion without any given guidelines. The public school systems teaches haiku without knowing what they are talking about. I should know, I am a retired American public school teacher. Those editing journals,e-zines, and chairing haiku committees are a minority in North America in regards to those writing haiku on this continent.

    Some say:

    1. no metaphors
    2. no personification
    3. no S/L/S schemata
    4. Kigo references aren’t necessary
    5. one, two, even three word poems are acceptable
    6. We are not Japanese and use a different meter

    I have yet to see agreement on any of the above theories, especially based upon sound academic study and references by recognized authorities with decades of experience.

    Kai Hasekawa in Japan calls most of today’s English haiku “junk poetry.” Why?

    I see everyday exquisite haiku making use of aesthetics, quality minimalism, room for interpretation, S/L/S metric schemata, kigo, and oops, the big no no’s that even Basho, Buson, and Issa made use of in some of their haiku: personification, metaphors, and emotion.

    English language haiku is evolving into a genre more closely related to Amy Lowell’s free another name since it is becoming less and less like what Basho wrote. It that a sin? When we dissemble and rearrange haiku has defined and originated by the Japanese we change the genre and by who’s authority? And we must not forget that English language haiku as written by Eastern Europeans have a different sense of metric poetic history and conceptualization. North America cannot speak for the international haiku community. Show me academically why the Japanese way of writing haiku other than syllable length is not appropriate for English language haiku and then explain to me why there are so many exquisite haiku written by English language haiku poets that follow the Japanese way of understanding and writing haiku? And please, Site more than one expert. What does Donald Keene have to say? Makoto Ueda, Steven D. Carter, Etc. Or are they considered has beens?

  86. Hi Julia and all,

    I don’t know so much about the season word, but….
    “season words (kigo) appy to haiku on nature or in relation to nature,
    However, in my country, haiku is defined as “seizing an instant of life”, “capturing its essence”,, that’s how it works, generally speaking. Poetry is rather rejected in the haiku form. One could say that each moment, even each instant is a haiku in itself.
    As haiku doesn’t only speak of nature as in the traaditionnal haiku of Japanese masters, but can touch any reality such as the haiku-message, the season word is not compulsory or even necessary. Try to think of the philosophical haiku…

    right in front of me
    the oil spill’s shots on the sand
    are frustrating

    >> no season there, the sand is seen as an entity.

    alguae smell
    running on the sand
    to… the sea waves

    no season word either ;it can just be in winter… In Cannes… Nice, the tradition wants people to begin the yeat with sea bathing.

    our bath towels
    on the sand
    … sun-bathing

    sun-bathing can be considered as a season word and not the bath towels if in winter in the cupboard !

  87. Mark, I like the approach you took. I am curious about the comma in the middle and hope you don’t mind my asking. Doesn’t that break create almost another line? There are times when I’d like to add a comma, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that.

    Lorin, ah, thank you! Yes, the footprint would be the absence of sand, wouldn’t it? Your examples really make perfect sense.

    Interesting poem! It seems that we are in winter, longing for the days of lazy sandy afternoons.

    OK, here is another attempt at my first haiku:

    beach day –
    my footprints vanish
    web-prints remain

  88. Hi Laura,
    This is going to be an interesting thread to follow ;-) You’ve realised that there are various schools of thought in ELH about kigo, ‘kigo’, season words, keywords etc. Considering that, there’s clearly no correct answer and you will need to work with whatever attracts you and arrive at your point of view as you go. It’s good, though, I think, to become adept at writing haiku which include a season word or other reference to the observable, tangible world of nature. A sense of season can add so much. Seeing that you live in Florida, though, I imagine ‘snow shovelling’ would be as alien to your usual Winter experience as to mine, and you’re more likely to come across a palm tree than a blueberry thicket and a treefrog than a herd of deer. Which doesn’t mean you’re banned from writing about snow shoveling, but may mean that your ku or mine on the topic might be less plausible or natural sounding than someone from inland Canada.

    So, dipping my toes very gingerly into the water…’beach towels’, ‘sandy towels’, and even ‘beach’ unqualified would suggest Summer to me. ‘Sandy footprints’ *might*, but I would expect ‘sandy footprints’ to be something a mother might find tracking over her newly washed floor (in Summer) after the kids return from the beach,rather than something one’d find at a beach, where the footprints would be inprinted *in* sand. Your feet might be sandy, but would the footprints?

    Here’s a haiku where there seem to be two seasonal references (some might say ‘kigo’ or even kigo)

    all the beach sand
    still in the car

    Beverly A. Tift – USA

    Which season do you think the ‘now of the poem’ is? Why?
    (I’m not trying to be tricky. I’m ninty-nine percent certain you’ll understand this ku without knowing about the …often disputed… ‘rules’ or guidelines for season words/kigo in EL haiku.)

  89. Hi, Alan! I actually did try to write the prose first before writing the haiku (remembering your words from last time). I wrote exactly what I saw, just using prose and then created these.

    OK here is the prose version for the first one:

    I was on at the beach and saw one of my footprints that I had made earlier that day had disappeared. It was covered by little web-prints from sea gulls. (I had various variations of this haiku and actually really liked the coined word “web-print”, but didn’t use it) I was fascinated by the concept of the footprint being erased by other prints.

  90. Hi Laura, Hi Julia,

    There are quite a large number of Japanese haiku poets who don’t use ‘kigo’ or even seasonal references.

    I think using kigo where possible adds a dimension to haiku, even in our non-Japanese models.


    my sandy footprints erased
    webbed ones remain

    red sun touches
    distant aqua line—

    These don’t feel they have natural syntax yet.

    Could you explode the haiku into prose as an exercise?

    all my best,


  91. I didn’t know that Haiku had to have a seasonal word. I think I would need to learn more before commenting. Are there different kinds of Haiku that doesnt have seasonal words/

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