Skip to content

re:Virals 283

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was

     I slide a kigo
     into the gun
          — Alan Summers, tinywords, Issue 20.2 (2020)

Marion Clarke unveils the cinematic:

A fine haiku from Alan Summers that comes with a soundtrack! We are presented with the rumble of thunder in the first line, that also conjures up an image of a threatening sky. Intriguingly, in line two we learn that the speaker is sliding a kigo — but what does this mean? Then we discover that it is being slid into a gun and imagine that action and hear the click of a gun being loaded. Thunder is a summer kigo, so we know the air is very close before a cloudburst and might imagine cool metal against a hot palm. And, who knows, perhaps a hint of gunpowder hangs in the air.

The action of sliding something as abstract as a “kigo” into the barrel of a gun is playful and immediately evokes memories of Spaghetti Westerns. I could picture a gunslinger loading his weapon on a dusty street, and perhaps even see the steely glint of light on metal as the thunderclap signals a sudden downpour, or a rain of bullets…or both.

On a second reading, I wondered if the gun has been loaded with a kigo of more favorable weather, such as “blue skies” or a “burning sun” that will blast away those threatening skies.

Peggy Bilbro reacts as a poet and a warrior:

Odd that Alan used the word slide because that is what my mind wants to do every time I read this poem. It wants to slide away from the gun, the bullet, and the sounds of war that all underlie the words. I try to concentrate on the distant thunder of an approaching storm, the observation of seasons and the idea of a poem as a weapon against the injustices of life, but am constantly pulled back to the chilling vision of impending war. It seems that Alan has caught the perfect balance that forces the reader to exist between the implicit and the explicit, wishes and facts, creation and destruction, poet and warrior. This is a poem that will stay with me for a very long time.

Alan Summers gives us in-depth background on his poem:

I’ve long been fascinated by the use of words or phrases that tightly pin down an aspect of a season (kigo) into a haikai verse (hokku, haiku etc.) as accomplished by Japanese poets. Of course, it may never be possible for those of us who do not come from Japan, but we are all governed by the seasons, even as they change in contemporary times.

This haiku runs through Masaoka Shiki’s three stages and hopefully out of the other side:

1. to copy reality as it is
2. to select carefully from experience (the next stage)
3. to include makoto, internal, psychological reality of what is truthful

Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature
Makoto Ueda (Stanford University Press 1983) 

This haiku starts with a Japanese kigo (see more further below). The Japanese are trained at a very early stage in schools to always add a kigo in their haiku, and this is enforced whenever someone joins an expert’s school of haiku. I attempt, in my own way, to show how potent the use of these seasonal feelings can be. Originally the “seasonal feelings” were said or written, in Japan, in conversations as well as in types of postcards, during the pre-dominant agricultural era, and naturally found their way into haikai verses as “kisetsu no kotoba” (季節の言葉).

Kigo 季語 is a “word” (GO 語) indicating the season (KI 季) in which the haiku takes place. [T]he terms kigo and its partner term kidai are Post-Isolation Japan. After haiku became a fully independent genre, the term “kigo” was coined by Otsuzi Ōsuga (1881-1920) in 1908. “Kigo” is thus a new term for the modern genre approach of “haiku.” So, when we are looking historically at hokku or other haikai verses stemming from the renga tradition, it seems best to use the term “kidai,” although that term was coined in 1907 by Hekigotō Kawahigashi.

Itō, Yūki. The Heart in Season: Sampling the Gendai Haiku Non-season Muki Saijiki
(preface in Simply Haiku vol 4 no 3, 2006)
‘Otsuji’s Collected Essays on Haiku Theory’ (Otsuji Hairon Shu) ed. Yoshida Toyo (Tokyo, 1947)

Let’s look at a pre-haiku era poet (before 1896), the much loved Issa:


小林 一茶

romaji: shoojiki ni tsuyu kaminari no hitotsu kana
(Kobayashi Issa 1763–1828)

English translation (version by Alan Summers):

a roll of thunder
to be accurate, declares
the rainy season

The hokku is from the sixth month (July) of 1820, and Issa is living in his hometown. This is the 135th day after the beginning of lunar spring, the formal first day of the rainy season: A calendar date vitally important for farmers as they begin planting rice paddies, even if the rain doesn’t fall. In the hokku, there is thunder on a humid start to the official rainy season. Most villagers wish the clouds would stop making sounds and start raining. Issa expresses their anxiety and then seems happy that one roll of thunder on this day is accompanied by actual rain. The rainy season begins, and the chances of a drought, and a disastrous rice crop, have gone in that one roll of thunder.

Paraphrased from the thunder topic in haikai literature by Dr. Gabi Greve, World Kigo Database, Daruma Museum, Japan (September 2006)

“…I do not believe that the Japanese have a lock on kigo…”

Patricia J. Machmiller, “Kigo: A Poetic Device in English Too”
Wild Violets, Yuki Teikei Haiku Society Members’ Anthology 2011 
ed. Jerry Ball and J. Zimmerman ISBN 978-0-9745404-9-8

We as a society often use terminology that usually belongs to weaponry without even realizing this. Here, in my haiku, it’s a deliberate use of a device humanity has been using since 1364 A.D. The advent of advanced automatic handguns came about in 1892, four years before Masaoka Shiki (正岡 子規, 1867–1902) took the little-known and rarely used term “haiku” for his revamped idea of hokku, combining Japanese seasonal feelings; the kire device of making a haiku of two halves comes around as a verse larger than the sum of its parts; and Western en plein air painting techniques.

To sum up, for the moment, I find the insertion of something seasonal (natural history and/or poetic) as something very powerful, that should always be an option in our armory.

As this week’s winner, Peggy gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.

Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.

re:Virals 284:

     open page
            shadow of the poem
                     leans forward
                          — Karen DiNobile, Frogpond, volume 36:1 (2013)

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Delighted to be told that this haiku will appear in Haiku 21 (Lee Gurga & Scott Metz, editors (Modern Haiku Press)!

    many thanks to everyone who has seen something in this poem,

    1. Haiku 2021
      ed. Scott Metz & Lee Gurga
      (Modern Haiku Press, 2021)

      100 notable haiku from 2020 selected by the editors of the award-winning Haiku 21.

      With an introductory essay by Philip Rowland, editor of NOON: Journal of the Short Poem (Tokyo).

      “Haiku 2021 unfolds as a series of flashes of insight and facets of language, a remarkable range of minimalist poetic possibilities.”

                                             ~Philip Rowland, from the introduction

      Haiku 2021 (Modern Haiku Press anthology)

  2. Dear Peggy,

    Thank you so much!

    It says “Peggy Bilbro reacts as a poet and a warrior”

    It is true that both Vikings and Samurai both had to know how to write poetry to be a fully rounded warrior.

    I guess I always wrote ditties as a very young child for greetings cards, and was surprised that people kept them beyond the birthday or Christmas they were created. That ten years later I’d be trained to use sub-machine guns and the like, and I was pretty nifty with the sword, imitating Errol Flynn to the consternation of others, as I climbed the rigging of a pirate ship, still fighting off bad’uns.

    I am pleased that my verb choice worked so well. For many years I disliked using verbs in haiku, and felt I had failed if they appeared. Verbs, I felt, were for the longer poems!

    Just as Tohta Kaneko regularly used haiku as a foil to injustice, and haiku techniques to pen protest statements, even in his late nineties, I try to prevail against the injustices most of us allow, sadly. I have felt blood was on my hands from a very early age, and especially as soon as I was required to pay unto Caesar what they felt was due for armed conflict in other lands.

    “Alan has caught the perfect balance that forces the reader to exist between the implicit and the explicit, wishes and facts, creation and destruction, poet and warrior.”

    That’s an amazing statement. I will try to keep up with this high aim. It’s true that the immediate surface level of meaning is just a gate, that’s all, to the “rest of the poem” and you see that, and I thank you for that.

    “This is a poem that will stay with me for a very long time.”

    I am delighted and humbled at the same time that a haiku of mine can do that.

    Thank you!


    1. Dear Peggy,
      I’d love to be able to quote you for a piece I’m writing on kigo and seasonal referencing, if possible.

      warm regards ,

  3. Dear Marion,

    I slide a kigo
    into the gun
    — Alan Summers, tinywords, Issue 20.2 (2020)

    re: “Marion Clarke unveils the cinematic”

    I must admit I was so deep into exploring kigo again, and that the current pandemic (covid-19 & variants) is making more gardeners or window box veg and herb growers than ever, and new seasonal phrases will arise, that I forgot that thunder has long been used as a dramatic device in films!

    “the speaker is sliding a kigo — but what does this mean?”

    Good question! In Japan of course there is no choice in most schools, when younger, and then schools of haiku at an older age, but to incorporate or ‘slide’ a kigo into the gun of haiku. Well, Japan has the most modern and technically advanced military in the world, as a “defence strategy” after all. 🙂

    “And, who knows, perhaps a hint of gunpowder hangs in the air.”


    Especially if the kigo is not inserted as a knee-jerk reaction to haiku dictats, that seasonal ‘burn’ can really fire up a haiku.

    I regularly use seasonal references, and my river walks will bring delightful surprises such as:

    spun spider silk
    the long-tailed titmice
    on a river breeze

    Alan Summers
    Publication credit: Presence #68 (November 2020)
    Season: Spring/March

    or when the postal operative delivers, so do others!


    postman’s whistle the starling’s bill changes to black

    Alan Summers
    Publication credit: Presence #68 (November 2020)
    Season: Autumn

    The starling’s bill changes to yellow in Spring, and to black in Autumn. And yes we had a postie that whistled!

    Perhaps not intended but…starlings are great mimics, and could have started copying this particular postie. Plus Is the “bill” actually a bank statement where it’s gone from being in the “red” to being in the “black” as in credit?

    “I could picture a gunslinger loading his weapon on a dusty street, and perhaps even see the steely glint of light on metal as the thunderclap signals a sudden downpour, or a rain of bullets…or both.”

    Mostly during my river walks, but also pre-covid walks into town, I would be armed with my haiku notebooks that I created, and a pen, rather than a sword or handgun, looking for a strong seasonal incident.

    You must know a proper haiku poet never wishes for blue skies! We want rain, thunder, lightning, hailstones, busy clouds, snow etc… Although during my time in Queensland a cloudless blue sky did not mean it wouldn’t rain, even flash-flood rain! 🙂

    Thank you so much for your wonderful commentary!

    Would it be possible to have permission to quote from you for a piece on kigo and seasonal referencing in haiku?

    warm regards,

  4. re:Virals 284:
    open page
    shadow of the poem
    leans forward
    — Karen DiNobile, Frogpond, volume 36:1 (2013)

    My first impression of Karen DiNobile’s haiku from Frogpond, vol. 36.1.2013 is the visual effect achieved when she indents each line. What appears on the page are the word of the first, second, and third line, but the visual effect is that each line replaces the previous line becoming a shadow of the former line. In this way the poem gains movement, constantly repeating itself ever after the third line is read because the end loops back to the beginning. The effect is mesmerizing and repetitive.

    Secondly, he text speaks of a “shadow of the poem” but not the poem itself. Readers can only guess at the textual content of the poem—an on-going speculation—a dreaming room that lights up the imagination of the reader Is the poem about poetry? Perhaps the poem is about the process of imagination—certainly the external form of the poem suggests the magic of imagination—the magic of the creative process. An intriguing part of the poem is the linguistic use of “leans forward” to suggest a continual process of lengthening and re-occurring. The first line, “open page” invites the reader to supply a specific visual subject—the page is a tabula rasa where there is no preconceived idea or image—an invitation for imaginative readers to create an image in their own minds. Such an open slate allows readers to compose their own haiku.

  5. Thank you Alan Summers for this wonderful haiku:

    I slide a kigo
    into the gun
    — Alan Summers, tinywords, Issue 20.2 (2020)

    And for the explication provided. This reminded me of an episode of Creative Blooms where Dr. Gilbert introduced unpublished translations of the Kon Nichi translation group on quotations of Arashiyama Kōzaburō (Creative Blooms 17: Remystification (Part 3) — “Haiku is for Freedom”). I have copied and pasted a portion of this installment here (but for those interested, recommend reading the entirety):

    Publishing printed books was a weapon, for a poet.… Indeed, in this [Edo] era, a printed book indicated a poet’s value. Even if it was thin [as Kai Oi, his first published book, was], it elevated the poet’s reputation. So, in addition to his literary aspirations, Bashō had a sense of business. Bashō reckoned that with this one [first] book he could “fight it out” in Edo (27). In Kai Ōi, Bashō plied “roppō-kotoba” [lit. “language of the six”; a vulgar language used by youthful gangsters of the samurai class], taken from various ballads sung to shamisen, that were all the rage in the red-light district, or so it is said. He mastered such slang, and applied their phrases and terms humorously [the book is rife with ribald, obscene poetry, which Bashō selected and judged in a novel way—and this caused a sensation]. (28-32).

    1. Here’s the link:
      Creative Blooms 17: Remystification (Part 3) — “Haiku is for Freedom”

      A good point, we forget that Bashō was both a jobbing poet, amidst a lot of competition, but also an astute marketing expert using the latest information technology of the time (mass production printing methods).

      To be constantly ahead of his competitors, as a jobbing poet meant he had no other full-time job or main income, he had to push out his pamphlets and books via his students to the wider paying public, and renga party organisers.

      That’s also why he must have travelled at great risk to far flung haikai groups who were coming up with interesting new ideas and methods of writing. Combine what he picked up from those distant and isolated groups with mass marketing and publications, and he was the most well-known ‘renga master’ knowing the complex rules of renga, as well as composing both excellent starting verses (hokku), and giving prestige to the renga poem when it was completed by the renga group.

      We do tend to default to terms used in weaponry from magic bullets in medicine to supermarket pricing guns to construction/DIY glue guns, and bazooka bubblegum!


  6. This haiku by Alan Summers is beautifully explored. I like the deceptive nature of certain words such as ‘slide’ and the intended weight that comes from ‘gun’ and its overall juxtaposition against ‘thunder’. The act itself of sliding a ‘kigo’ makes an allusion to the gun being a poem that has an impact as big as ‘thunder’.

    1. Dear Shalini,

      “The act itself of sliding a ‘kigo’ makes an allusion to the gun being a poem that has an impact as big as ‘thunder’.”

      Thank you! We often use the term ‘gun’ in civilian practices such as a glue gun for DIY or hobbies, as well as pricing guns are used by supermarkets, and we used to see employees rapidly re-price goods on the shelves.

      I guess that when we create a poem and ‘release’ it, it’s perhaps designed to ‘point right at a person’ and thankfully a flag comes out of the barrel saying kigo, or season, or at the very least, hopefully haiku, or poem! 🙂

      warm regards

  7. re:Virals 283:

    I slide a kigo
    into the gun
    — Alan Summers, tinywords, Issue 20.2 (2020)

    Renowned poet and President of the United Haiku and Tanka Society Alan Summers, needs no introduction. I had the privilege of undergoing senryu workshop under the expert guidance of Alan and Karen, whose
    insightful exercises -always an impetus for me. Also delighted to view thoughtful selection by Cezar – Florin.

    This write starts with a powerful word “ thunder”, denotes a sound, loud blast, a word pertaining to winter, seasonal reference, making the reader feel and hear loud roar or series of deafening noise, accompanying lightening; The second line beginning in the first person, “ I slide a kigo” veering round the significance of “kigo”, takes us along the mood, intended purport; establishing an appropriate link, connectivity with the third line “into the gun” augmenting a wider space. Poet, the verbal artist, the persona, gently pushes the appropriate word, could also signify a haiku, composition into the gun of his imagination, powerful write.
    From the start, viewing in a different perspective, “ thunder” a potential thundering image of voluminous sound. The ebullient artist, carefully pushes or accommodates into the poetic gun; the image of thunder, so much so, it explodes, explores into Variegated perceptions.

    Again in its overall perspective, reading over again, the write,

    “ thunder
    I slide a kigo
    into the gun”
    it can be interpreted thus, for the noun sound, “thunder” showing an appropriate form ,the easy path is gently sliding a poetic image, into the gun of poetic warp.The word “ gun” also alludes, various forms of poetic shots, sounds, images, meanings, thereby leaving the options to the readers.

    1. Dear Radhamani sarma,

      Thank you so much for your kind words!. I must consider asking Karen whether we could do another senryu workshop at some point. In 2022, there will be a senryu only issue of Blo͞o Outlier Journal. There are always amazing results from those who on that course. It would be wonderful to ask if I could a few for the journal!

      Blo͞o Outlier Journal

      “augmenting a wider space”
      That’s a great phrase!!!

      That is definitely a key aspect of many haiku isn’t it?

      I didn’t know Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă had selected the poem and why until he contacted me a few days later on Facebook. I must ask him what he thinks of all our responses! 🙂

      Radhamani sarma, may I elicit some of your comments for a forthcoming piece on kigo and the seasons?

      warm regards,

  8. Dear esteemed poet Alan Summers,
    Greetings. A pleasure always eagerly awaiting haiku foundations ‘ feature and going through all comments. Your in-depth analysis, through, mention of names such as through Masaoka Shiki’s , also very interesting to know more about ‘kigo’ etc., all the more to know about weaponry, incorporation into haiku etc., – a rewarding and learning experience. More and more from you.

    1. Dear Radhamani sarma,

      It is fascinating that we unconsciously use, as individuals, terms to do with weapons, without knowing we do this in general conversation. In fact many of us have not discharged a weapon in war or peacetime. I’ve only discharged (fired) a number of weapons in training. Thankfully I’ve never had to use a weapon outside of training.

      warm regards,

  9. Dear Peggy Bilbro
    Greetings. Your short, crisp observation underlying this haiku, balance between destruction and creation, poet and warrior, etc. make us re read into the observation.

  10. Dear Marian Clarke, Greetings
    A new idea had been wonderfully drawn in the following quotes, with a “favorable weather” Appreciate.

    “On a second reading, I wondered if the gun has been loaded with a kigo of more favorable weather, such as “blue skies” or a “burning sun” that will blast away those threatening skies.”

Comments are closed.

Back To Top