Skip to content

re:Virals 386

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of your favorites among the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, proposed by Patricia McGuire, was:

     snow on reeds
     the hush of a barn owl
     across the fen
     — Christopher Jupp
     Poetry Pea Journal 3:22 (Judges Choice) 2022

Introducing this poem, Patricia writes:

This haiku is one of my absolute favourite haiku from 2022. It is a proper haiku, not a short poem masquerading as one. It has a kigo: snow indicates winter. In this case snow is on the reeds. This elevates the kigo and adds another dimension. It has a cut: a short pause, but it’s there, after the first line, creating a hint of juxtaposition. The phrase element has rhythm. Sometimes I think this has gone out of fashion in haiku. The sound is beautiful. All those “s” sounds connect throughout the haiku.

I imagine Christopher watching this scene, walking across the fen, perhaps composing as he goes along. It has authenticity, and a certain melancholic feel. I would like to know whether and how other readers think he has achieved it.

Opening comment:

A haiku well rooted in tradition. Four visual elements, snow, reeds, owl and fen, carefully arranged in subtle juxtaposition. Each is relatable to the others. There is no disruption: the whole arrangement of distinct elements combines in harmony. Toriawase. There is the silence of the snow, the owl’s flight, and the still waters of the marshy fen; the whiteness of snow and owl. These bind the elements together. There is chiaroscuro — I assume it is night, from the owl, and we have the dark waters; there is action. A hint of mystery, a touch of awe. A fragment of a story about to begin, in plain words, without verb or adjective. No direct presence of the poet, no sentimental nor sententious thought, no indeterminate pronoun.

This is an artistic verse in the manner of Buson. I would compare it with the likes of:

mist among grasses,
silent rain,
evening calm
—Buson (tr Rosenstock)

There is a similar, unspoken feeling of faint sadness in Christopher’s haiku. Instead of the acceptance conveyed by Buson’s beautiful haiku, we are left with a sense of haunting expectancy by the snow, the bird of omen, and the still fen.

Well composed and crafted, I’d say.

Jennifer Gurney:

Christopher Jupp’s haiku provides lovely imagery both visually and auditorily. In the winter, when the world is covered in snow, sounds and sights are often muted. Each image in this haiku – snow, reeds, barn, owl, fen – can be seen insularly and also together. The visual of reeds sticking up out of the snowy ground, with snow also capping them above their tubular stems, is a stark contrast. White on brown against white on top of brown. A lovely layered look. The quiet sounds of the barn owl across the fen gives an echo-y feel to the haiku. And another stark visual image of the implied red barn across a snow-ensconced field. The owl is either gently hooting or perhaps just fluttering its wings from afar. Barn owls are pretty magical creatures, with their heart-shaped faces, their swiveling heads and their haunting calls that sound very shriek like. This one is not shrieking, though, because it’s described as the “hush of a barn owl.”

Each image in Jupp’s haiku reminds me of the lake that I walk to almost daily in Colorado. There are barns, owls, reeds, a field and my little lake. It’s not actually mine but it feels that way. For nearly four years now I have journeyed there in every season and have many moments like this one that Jupp describes. One winter day, as I was gazing at a red barn dusted with snow, an owl swooped right in front of me as I hiked on the path. A few moments later, a horse and rider passed me, and the sound of jingle bells danced in my ears. It was just days before Christmas. These magical moments stay with you, just like Jupp’s haiku will.

Harrison Lightwater:

On reading this haiku I thought well, this is a pleasing sketch or composition, which makes no demands. Its parts work together to draw a clear picture. It ticks the boxes of season, cut, and form (2-3-2 beats). The words are uncomplicated. The viewpoint is detached — there’s no ego in it. It reads and sounds well, with its long “reeds” and “owl” satisfyingly closed at the end of the verse by “fen.” The one concession to Byron is the rhapsodic “hush.” For me this isn’t overdoing it and is a good change from worn-to-death “silence,” it’s conveniently shorter, and reads better. It could be used in class.

While the haiku is a sweet description, isn’t it a bit short of insight? Many experts argue that an “aha” moment is another essential in haiku. Where is it in this one? Although silent snowy reeds are put with a mostly white and silent barn owl hunting in winter, which makes a nice little painting, is there anything more? Does the last line add something apart from a wider setting (“reeds” already suggest waterside)? Does the phrase make you see the fragment in a new light? I hope other commentators will help me out in this.

All said, I enjoyed the scenario and don’t want to be a Grinch. There’s a lot of good about it.

Marion Clarke:

I wanted to say aaahhh as soon as I read this, as the focus zooms out from the snow-tipped reeds via the wings of the swooping owl to the vastness of the fen. Beautiful.

Pris Campbell:

I like the visuals in this. Most owls makes their sounds at night whether they be the who who I’m familiar with or the blood curdling scream. Now we see the reeds, that could clatter, held quiet by snow, the owl silenced by either day or lack of prey in this weather. For me, the absence of sound is as loud in its own way as an actual sound. There’s a meditative feel in the silence. The haiku is well written.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

This is a haiku with snow as kigo for winter and L1 setting the scene. The second word depicts silence or death. A significant snow cover leads to starvation of barn owls. This is a major cause of death of the species. Now the image painted is a poignant one. There is rich imagery with a strong juxtaposition. It shows, doesn’t tell. It evokes the feelings in the reader with so many questions in the mind about why and how the described event occurred. This ku also answers three questions – what, when, where. L1 answers to when, L2 to what and L3 to where. A fen is a low and marshy or frequently flooded area of land.

The barn owl is a bird of open country, usually at altitudes below 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). This owl prefers to hunt along the edges of woods or in rough grass strips adjoining pasture.

Lanka Siriwardana:

There are so many windows in a haiku. Through our culture, experiences, and realization capacity we enter it. I personally think the mood we are in when we read the haiku too plays a part. To get the real depth of a haiku we must not go through it in haste. When scanning a haiku you go into meditation for a moment. At that moment you and the poem remain and all the surroundings fade away. For this to happen the poet who writes the haiku should be talented enough. The reader too is open enough.

Now let us look at this poem. The poet draws a picture in front of us. From our five senses, the poem touches the visual perception. By writing the first line as “snow on reeds” he takes us to the place and time where this story happens. It suggests that we are in the latter part of the winter. There is some snow left on the reeds. Misty surroundings. While reading these words we almost feel the chilly weather.

Then we come to the second line: “the hush of a barn owl.” Since owls are nocturnal creatures we know that it is night. In haiku, we say plenty using only a few words. Barn owls are usually seen within the hours on either side of dawn and dusk. But why use the word hush? I assume the keyword in this poem is “hush.” Without making any sound the owl is present. Owls symbolize wisdom, knowledge, and insight into hidden things.

Now we come to the third line: “across the fen.” This completes the picture. In the end, the poet has left us with a vast room to think more and more. A beautiful haiku keeping with the rules. I enjoyed it very much. After writing this I closed my eyes for a moment and the vision I got in my imagination was almost tangible.

Jonathan Epstein – a perfect haiku:

A noiseless winter scene. On its way to a nearby marsh (UK: fen) a heart-faced white barn owl flies in silent pursuit of its prey, possibly sighting a particular small mammal or setting out on a destination known to be a reliable food source.

Christopher Jupp’s haiku is a sumi-e painting in white (snow, owl), black (reeds) and gray (overcast sky). The images engage our senses — sight (snow, owl, fen), sound (the noiseless flapping of owl wings) and touch (cold snow).

We are adjacent to or near a fen, a wetland with a tremendous diversity of water plants and animal life — birds, insects, frogs, voles, shrews… If you are the owl’s prey, you will likely only feel (not hear) a brush of wind just before the owl’s talons sink into you and carry you swiftly back to its hollow in a tree “across the fen.” The softness of the owl’s wing tip feathers make its flight noiseless; hence, “the hush of a barn owl.”

The peaceful, snowy wetlands is soon to be witness to the dramatic death of a small animal as “nature” contributes to its population balancing act.

This is an everyday occurrence in the wilds. It is the calm of “all quiet on the western front.” The “enemy” is on route, the innocent, unknowing prey has been sighted, and a life is about to end. Such is the way of the world. “Nature red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson). Totally natural on the one hand, horrific for the unsuspecting “victim.”

I tally the words that contribute to the quiet beauty of this scene: snow, reeds, hush, barn owl, fen. The final word, “fen,” tips the balance. It references a complex, self-contained world positively teeming with life. It’s a word I associate with 19th century gothic novels— connoting (for me) something mysterious, at least from my American point of view. The poem would lose its subtle ‘yugen’ quality if the synonym “marsh” had been used.

In the quiet, seemingly static world painted in this poem (no verb is used), a scene of winter calm, action is quietly in process — the owl is in flight and one-pointedly fixed on its next meal — and I am in the holy presence of a perfect haiku.

Author Christopher Jupp:

This haiku was written in celebration of a highly memorable bird, place and landscape: a fenscape. For me the fen in question is very specific – having grown up in Cambridge, the fenlands of Cambridgeshire were one of my regular haunts as a budding amateur ornithologist in childhood. I have regularly returned. Though a starkly flat landscape, in compensation the fens offer big skies, an often entirely straight, open horizon line and distinctive lowland and marsh flora and fauna. In the winter they can certainly be bleak but with moments of sometimes unexpected beauty, such as the silent delicacy of snow balanced on the feathery tops of reeds, the hovers and glides of a barn owl in flight…

Around the time of writing I had been experimenting with the re-translation of some classical Japanese haiku into words of only one English syllable each. I tried the same procedure in this haiku and although I didn’t succeed, the exception, ‘across’, I felt, was serendipitous. Like many of my haiku, its form – 3,6,4 – is relatively faithful to classical style and a cutting pause is implied at the end of the first line. This is one of the very few haiku that I’ve written that took very little editing. The main changes after initial conception were 1) using ‘hush’ to replace ‘flight’ – this added an extra sense, audition, on top of the visual parallels and harmonies between snow on reeds and a barn owl’s plumage (it also echoes that unique quietude of a snow-blanketed landscape) – and 2) attention to the spatiality of the imagery in the order of its presentation ‘on’, across’, ‘fen’. After comments in a haiku workshop that both ‘hush’ and ‘across’ were “good”, I was ready to submit to publication without making changes.


Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Jonathan has chosen next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it (either version; or compare the two). It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. All with respect for the poet. Out-takes from the best of these take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the chosen commentary’s author gets to pick the next poem.

Anyone can participate. Simply use the re:Virals commentary form below to enter your commentary on the new week’s poem (“Your text”) by the following Tuesday midnight, Eastern US Time Zone, and then press Submit to send your entry. The Submit button will not be available until Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in. We look forward to seeing your commentary and finding out about your favourite poems!

     deep in
     the tidepool
     a child’s gaze
     — Gregory Longenecker
     Frogpond vol. 43:1 winter 2020 and THF Haiku of the Day 
     May 2022
and an earlier version:
     in the tide pool
     a child’s gaze
     — Gregory Longenecker
     First Place, Haiku Poets of Northern California, San 
     Francisco International Competition 2019

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.


Are there “rules” in haiku? Do we need a handrail of procedure? I prefer to think of principles to strive for, rather than rules to comply with. How about you?…

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. re ‘aha moments’ concerning haiku (& leaving out Archimedes and Newton who famously had ‘aha moments’ related to science)

    Michael Dylan Welch has some very sensible and readable pieces, and some humour as well:

    Though I still don’t know who referred to ‘ haiku aha moments’ first, I think we can attribute the term ‘haiku McMoments’ to Micheal. 😊 There’s insight there as well as humour.

  2. I think this is a great haiku.
    ‘the hush of a barn owl’ made me think of Wallace Stevens too, but a different quote:
    I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.
    from thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird
    for me the poem is its own ah-ha moment. Perhaps it makes us go all Louis Armstrong and we think to ourselves what a wonderful world. That’s good enough for me.

  3. I feel the moment. I get the scene and I am in the scene despite not having been near reeds nor snow. I am surrounded by barn owls however and I experience a connection with walks that I have had in the quiet of night where barn owls appear almost out of nowhere gliding silently across the landscape. Is this the haiku moment?

    1. Hi Sean,

      The architect(s) of ‘the haiku moment’; things that appear as if from nowhere, and ‘presence’


      snow on reeds
      the hush of a barn owl
      across the fen

      — Christopher Jupp
      Poetry Pea Journal 3:22 (Judges Choice) 2022

      The Japanese-American scholar (and poet) Kenneth Yasuda had possibly the greatest influence on haiku outside of Japan seen as a “haiku moment” with his best known book “The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples” published in (1957).

      see: II Basic Principles 3. Haiku Moment pages 31-33
      “When this kind of aesthetic moment does take place, I call it a haiku moment.” Page 32

      I believe via the Beat Poets etc… this aha! moment has stayed with us. Dr Gabi Greve is unsure if it’s R.H. Blyth or Kenneth Yasuda who first coined ‘aha’ as a moment but both scholars greatly influenced the Beat Poets and then possibly the rest of us.

      If Yasuda’s indirect influence was felt through the Beat writers including Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums (1958) with one of its main characters, Japhy Ryder (based on Gary Snyder), writing haiku, and of course his standalone haiku (known under various terms including American Pops, or just Pops etc…) also and often created within seconds and as a fun contest with any fellow poets walking along streets for instance, we might get this idea of a haiku as a moment while we are walking along somewhere.


      BACK TO:

      snow on reeds
      the hush of a barn owl
      across the fen


      Setting aside any perceived notions of a ‘moment’ as the timed length will feel different in certain suspended consequences (great joy, shock, danger, possible death even), my haibun: “Living in a second” Human/kind Issue 1.4 (March 2019) describes ‘moments’ when in great danger:

      There is a palpable presence that seems to almost freeze time and suspense can be cut with a knife (clichéd term) that I experienced, and did not understand, until I heard I was yards from the first St Paul’s Bristol riots (April 1980), the really big one that set off national riots. I personally saw no rioting, just sensed something strongly, of danger, and time acting almost differently.


      Okay, trying to analyse moments, aha! etc…


      “a” hush across the fen


      We know owls are possibly the only instance when the use of silent or silence is not inaccurate and not a tired trope or cliché in haiku and in general. A keen wildlife observer (and author/poet) might well have picked up on the deadly suspense and instinct of an apex predator in its prime, on the hunt.

      A moment, even a single second, is really a long time. Try counting one properly using something like “ONE THOUSAND” slowly: ONE…THOU…SAND pause TWO…THOU…SAND (next second).


      So that…

      “snow on reeds”

      …sets up some context and season (winter or early spring) but commonly assumed as winter. And a row of reeds/reed bed.


      “the hush of a barn owl”

      …was this actually heard or subliminally experienced? Humans are apex predators as well, but we also prey on each other, and recognise other predators, hopefully in time.


      “across the fen”


      That ‘across’ might be a preposition but it feels very strongly like a verbal action even before we reach the noun of ‘fen’.


      “ ‘Across’ means on the other side of something, or from one side to the other of something which has sides or limits such as a city, road or river: We took a boat [PREP]across the river. [PREP]Across the room, she could see some old friends.” Cambridge Dictionary

      “What makes a fen a fen?

      “Fens are an important and unique wetland type. Fens are peat-forming wetlands that rely on groundwater input and require thousands of years to develop and cannot easily be restored once destroyed. Fens are also hotspots of biodiversity. They often are home to rare plants, insects, and small mammals.” –Source: What is a Fen? – USDA Forest Service


      There are differences between fens and reed beds so I don’t see any clash or redundancy. The first line gives a strong indication of Winter, with snow. I immediately get an atmospheric tingle and a box ticked at the same time:

      snow on reeds

      The phrasal part:


      the hush of a barn owl
      across the fen


      Of course other haiku writers can possibly reword the original opening line, though snow on reeds, and the snowiness of the barn owl like a flying snowball with that heart shaped face, is a powerful ‘moment’ or ‘momentary or moment by moment’ experience for myself, and I would leave well along both fragment and phrase. If I’d been a direct witness I would have possibly held my breath or forgotten to breathe almost for a little too long! 🙂


      Snow tends to give its own subdued acoustics to everything, and the quietness of barn owl scoping/hunting and being seen would be a powerful first moment followed by powerful moment after moment.


      I don’t feel haiku should be constrained by a ‘timed’ moment, of either a standard regular breath (Kate Winslet outdid Tom Cruise for holding her breath for an incredibly long time, and no, not Titanic!) but through something, on occasion, where we might feel a healthy “envy of experience” that might have only been ‘a moment’ though that moment might have been several seconds, or minutes.


      Is this haiku re-readable? Is it relevant in today’s technological and idealism-soaked world that seems to want reduce nature to little pockets almost out of sight? Ask Chris Packham who lays his life on the line defending wildlife. he might say that nature is relevant for and in itself, as well as human appreciation.


      I do enjoy the quietness of this haiku which gives off its own sound, and avoids the cliché of ‘silent’/‘silence’. Has it been done before? Does that matter? Didn’t Shakespeare say there were limited plots and yet we are still producing or watching drama unfold time and time again.

      So I’m a huge fan of snow haiku, and wildlife, so I’m biased:

      snow on reeds
      the hush of a barn owl
      across the fen

      I have written hundreds of haiku around snow including this part nature part science one:


      through the blizzard
      particles of me

      Alan Summers
      Earth in Sunrise: A Course for English-Language Haiku Study
      (Kumamoto University, Japan, textbook for teaching university-level English-language education)
      ed. Professor Richard Gilbert and David Ostman (Red Moon Press 2017)

      Snow is a fascinating medium, and I commend Christopher Jupp for creating a terrific haiku, full of ‘moment’ and ‘season’ and ‘wildlife’.

  4. Shiki said that if a poem is too realistic it’s “prone to be commonplace and lacking in surprise”  (Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Poets and the nature of Literature). Sometimes when such criticism is levelled at a piece I wonder if we as readers do not put enough effort into discovering the layers within a poem, but it’s also the case that sometimes a reader just doesn’t connect.

    Even if this is the case we can appreciate the craft of the work. In the case of Jupp’s poem, we can describe as a sketch of life. Shiki used this example of Bashō’s work to show the technique:

    the wild sea
    extending over Sado Isle
    the River of Heaven

    But Jupp has elevated the poem from a simple sketch of life. He has focussed our attention on certain elements within the landscape he is describing, “snow on reeds”, “the fens”, “ a barn owl”. These elements contrast bleakness and beauty (to me). They create an emotional connection with me. Dare I say it, the contrast creates my aha moment.

    1. “In the case of Jupp’s poem, we can describe as a sketch of life. Shiki used this example of Bashō’s work to show the technique:

      the wild sea
      extending over Sado Isle
      the River of Heaven – Bashō
      There is a bit more than “:sketch from life” to this haiku (pre-Shiki, ‘hokku’). If we’re playing around with terms, we could bring in Shirane’s term “vertical axis” here along with the Japanese ‘utamakura’ in its sense of ‘pillow poem places’ to help with our interpretations of the poems Basho wrote on his journey to the far North.

      But I’d love to see what Shiku wrote about this famous haiku by Basho to show “the technique of “sketch from life” .
      This article (from THF Archives) on Shiki & his introduction of ‘shasei’ by the meticulous Charles Trumbull is worthwhile reading (or re-reading) :

      1. Shiki was radical and revolutionary in his time, and wanted to rescue haiku/hokku/haikai (and tanka) from the sterility, banality and loss of vigour into which it had fallen. Just as Basho, and before him Teitoku, had taken up the reins and reinvigorated the genre in their times. As with the evolution of any art, the process didn’t/shouldn’t stop there….

  5. snow on reeds
    the hush of a barn owl
    across the fen
    — Christopher Jupp
    1. The first thing that occurred to me was how familiar and ageless this scene felt, despite the fact that I’ve never seen snow on reeds and had only a very vague idea of what a fen is . . . that vague idea being that I thought I recalled it from something by Shakespeare or by Yeats, a sort of romanticized bog. (So I looked up ‘fen’ … surprised to find there are some fens up in or around the Snowy Mountains. (Victoria, Australia)

    I am familiar with Barn Owls though, that white heart-shaped face on a dark from on a branch beside a country road, silent, motionless, waiting for prey to cross the road or swooping. Or lying by the side of the road, having been hit by a motor vehicle.

    2, The second thing (looking back to lines 1 & 2) I saw was snow on reeds at night (white on black) and Barn Owl (white, heart-shaped face on black) Indeed, as Keith has mentioned: toriawase. And here we have toriawase quietly and expertly done.

    “Basho recommended good toriawase but cautioned against thoughtless and wanton indulgence in this device. Kyoriku and his followers used toriawase excessively and uncritically, making poems thus composed rather monotonous and boring, which is a cautionary tale for haiku poets of today who merrily indulge in careless and excessive use of juxtaposition. ” — Susumu Takiguchi

    3. The third thing that came to me was one of my very favourite poems, Wallace Steven’s ‘The Snow Man’ (which I loved long before I’d even heard of haiku). To me, Christopher Jupp’s haiku quietly allows readers the experience of “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

    To me this is an excellent haiku of its kind. ( I dunno anything about “proper haiku”. The idea is amusing, though.)

    1. ps – considering “proper haiku” (and also its partner, “improper haiku” ?) perhaps it’s a good time to go back a couple of decades and consider Haruo Shirane’s ground-breaking essay : ‘Beyond the Haiku Moment’ ? He busted some popular myths about EL haiku and while “proper” and “improper” haiku are not specifically mentioned, his attitude toward “rules” & “understanding” that were popular then are possibly helpful for those writing or reviewing EL haiku today.

      Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku myths

      Modern Haiku, XXXI:1 (winter-spring 2000)

      Haruo Shirane, Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature, Columbia University

      ” What does North American haiku look like when observed from Japan? What kind of advice might haiku masters such as Basho and Buson give to English haiku poets? What would Basho and Buson say if they were alive today and could read English and could read haiku done by North American poets?

      I think that they would be delighted to find that haiku had managed to cross the Pacific and thrive so far from its place of origin. They would be impressed with the wide variety of haiku composed by North American haiku poets and find their work most innovative. At the same time, however, they would also be struck, as I have been, by the narrow definitions of haiku found in haiku handbooks, magazines, and anthologies. . I was once told that Ezra Pound’s famous metro poem first published in 1913, was not haiku.” . . .

      (bolding mine — Lorin )

      For relative beginners who’re not familiar with this essay, I’d recommend it. For those who have read it, I think it’s worth re-reading.

  6. This is a late-night-Friday comment, with all that that implies…(three whiskies)

    Concerning “aha moments,” I think that as so often, a catchy soundbite comes to obscure something as much as reveal it. I don’t think that the “aha” is like the moment when we work out a crossword clue or a detective story; it’s more that prickly goosebump feeling when we “see” something we had not thought of or been aware of before. Often it is hard to find words for it. How to explain van Gogh’s Starry Night, Cypresses, or Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending? We can go only so far. In poetry, I like Emily Dickinson’s view: “If … it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” That’s not very helpful to professors of poetry; and let’s face it, that extreme of wonder is very rare, occasioned only by the very best works. Fortunate the artist who produces such art (or possibly, unfortunate if the product of being tortured in some way).

    In the beginning, I had considerable difficulty appreciating much of Buson’s work. Issa is easy — he is human, accessible. We all love him and respond because we have the same feelings: the easiest of insights, once they are stated. Basho is subtle, appealing to the mind, to the meditator, to the seeker after truths, after feelings, that go beyond the immediate conscious. For me he is a poet apart. Buson, however…. he was an artist, a painter, and his domain is the visual, the aesthetic. It was not until I looked into other Japanese arts and aesthetics that I began to appreciate how he was painting with word images — arranging them carefully, the ikebana of haiku. And also, often, sharing the fragment of a story.

    I know what Peter means by the word-cloud (and I did some experiments on those lines a couple of years ago), but I don’t think Christopher’s is one of those haiku-by-numbers that we often see. It’s based on a field observation, and I think that it does a fine job of painting a picture and sharing the fragment of a story; and that is the insight (I’m not arguing that it’s as good as the very beautiful Buson verse I quoted). I was delighted with Marion’s comment — another artist: “I wanted to say aaahhh as soon as I read this.” Perhaps an aah moment is as valid an insight as an aha moment?

    Lastly, on the genre and where haiku in the English language fit into it: I think it has to evolve and change, or die out in sterility. We can’t keep recreating the past; and in any case the ground has been so well covered by the greats that it is even harder to produce a fine, original haiku than it was in the days when Basho thought that if you write ten really good ones in a lifetime, you’re a master. All the same, I think that if we are to call our little poems haiku, and maintain the spirit, the way, of haiku, then we should respect its roots as it grows, while we graft on some foliage in the English language.

  7. snow on reeds
    the hush of a barn owl
    across the fen

    I suspect that if you were to insert a hundred haiku into a “word cluster” generator, the words

    snow, reed, hush and owl

    would feature fairly prominently. I’ll admit to having certain filters which slide into place when I read haiku that appear to be built from haiku kits. I’m glad I stuck with this one a bit. I think what elevates it is the author’s choice of the word “reed” which connotes sound, or music, more than other choices might. The word “hush” does a lot of work here, as they say in poetry workshops. It serves to mean, simultaneously, both flight and quieting.

    While “ego” may not be involved here, the writer nonetheless is. While presumably he was aware of snow in more places than one,
    he chose to focus on “reeds.” In poems that rely on observation of nature, two things are needed: attention to what one experiences, and attention to what the poem that derives from it requires to lift it from mere reportage.


    Patricia McGuire, you have drawn a line in the sand that goes somewhat deeper than I would deem necessary. (If it was a line on a
    beach, there would be ocean water seeping up from it.) You say, of this haiku: “It is a proper haiku, not a short poem masquerading as one.” Of course it your absolute right to determine, for yourself, what is or is not a “proper” haiku. I’ll just say this– I am not aware of anyone who is putting haiku masks on the poems they write. I’m not sure what the purpose would be.

    1. Hi Peter, I’m not sure what you mean. From my point of view, I see a lot of poems, even in well known and often revered journals which are published as haiku but are not. I think maybe, to go back to the beaches, I am a little like King Canute, the tide will come in regardless of what I do or say. Over time ELH will be indistinguishable from micro poetry. Perhaps I am wrong to care, but I do.

      1. It would be interesting to hear from editors of haiku journals whether or not they feel that everything they publish is a haiku. Some would likely say “that depends on what you call a haiku.” Is it sufficient that a poem is clearly (only?) influenced by it? I am sure a number of “micro” poems for which that is the case have been published, but I doubt their authors would insist that they are haiku or wish to pass them off as such. That judgment will be for others, over time, to make.

        I for one am happy that places like Modern Haiku will sometimes publish things I have written which, by many standards, would not be considered haiku, and which I would never pretend them to be, but which may nonetheless be of some interest (even friction may generate interest) to some people in the haiku (and I hope, poetry) world. In the play of opposites (or differences) creation happens.

      2. “It is a proper haiku, not a short poem masquerading as one. ” – Patricia, from the Introduction

        “I’ll just say this– I am not aware of anyone who is putting haiku masks on the poems they write. I’m not sure what the purpose would be. ” – Peter

        “Hi Peter, I’m not sure what you mean.” Patricia

        “Proper and improper haiku” ? “Short poems masquerading as haiku?” I can’t help it, Patricia — after all these years ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956 version , the first SF film I ever saw ) suddenly springs to my mind. as a (somewhat wacky, granted) comparison. 🙂

  8. Reichold on ‘rules’: Take your pick, is what she is saying: useful to begin with, but then….

    Jim Kacian: “Definitions are pedagogically useful, but to poets they are retrospective and limiting. There are poems being written outside any definition we currently hold that will one day be seen as essential to any understanding of the genre. That’s a sure indication of haiku’s health.”

    H.F. Noyes : “Re definitions of haiku, I honor Basho’s, ‘Do not follow in the footsteps of the ancients. Seek what they sought.’ If they could speak from beyond the grave, Basho, Buson, and Issa would caution that a haiku is not a product of mind, but of heartmind. The most precious ingredient in a haiku that ingratiates itself with us is likely to be spontaneity . . . an unselfconscious catching of the haiku spirit as it flies. The depth reflected is chiefly through afterthought in readers’ minds. The writer is content to convey a sense of wonder.”

    Jacob Salzer: “There is great danger in having too many fixed ideas on what haiku is or should be.”

    John Stevenson: ““No one has the authority to tell you what an English-language haiku should be, especially not me. This is an open question and still in the process of being answered.”

    Johannes Bjerg: “One of many wondrous things about haiku is that the form has survived numerous definitions. Every time someone said “it’s this” (in the sense of “fencing it in”) it has moved on to become “and that too”.”

    Cor van der Heuvel: “ultimately haiku eludes definition….It may be a good thing . . . if, rather than working towards a restrictive definition, we continue in our present direction, where haiku poets are creating ‘a whole variety of poetics and criticisms, coexisting rather than competing’”

  9. For those puzzling over ‘aha’ moments: how then would you characterise Buson’s:

    mist among grasses
    silent rain
    evening calm

    I am currently interested in this issue….

    1. Another shasei, a relatively recent technique from Japan dating back to the century before last. Where did the aha moment come from?

      1. Mark “Another shasei, a relatively recent technique from Japan dating back to the century before last.”
        Painterly Buson, 1716 – 1784, taken up by Masaoka Noboru aka Shiki (1867 – 1902), who championed him over Basho and in making hokku into haiku favoured a shasei style.

        I think the Jupp verse owes more to Buson than to Shiki.

        “Where did the aha moment come from?:”
        Reichold? But it has been taken up as a shibboleth by many…

        1. I bow to your knowledge of Buson. As for ‘aha’ I did think this was fairly recent, and probably popularised by translators of Japanese masters rather than the masters themselves.

  10. Two comments via the submission form:

    Patricia McGuire comments: “Jonathan, thank you for your commentary. If it were possible I think you’ve made me enjoy this haiku even more. Ciao, Patricia.

    ps. Keith, whether we term them rules or principles, if we want English Language haiku / senryu to be taken seriously by the mainstream then we need them. “

    Hal Campbell comments: “I have to agree with Harrison Lightwater: everything works well, but it’s missing the “aha” moment. That moment is the one that stops the mind and takes a haiku from being a technically artful poem to total stillness. “

    1. If haiku is to be taken seriously by “the mainstream” then perhaps it’s better not to be in an eddy going round and round in circles for hundreds of years? I like owls, snow and reeds as much as anybody, but aren’t they just a dwindling fraction of most people’s present moments today?

      Thank you for the thoughts on “aha moments.”

  11. I do agree with you and Harrison about the aha moment not exactly being present though the haiku is a lovely shasei.
    I also wondered just like Harrison about using reeds and fen when both indicate almost the same thing.

  12. I initially wondered about “hush,” but I eventually came to admire how it can act as both a noun and verb in this poem. I agree with Harrison Lightwater, however, about the “aha,” as he puts it. The colors and sounds and balance are all great: the reader is there in the scene. The three elements add up to a clear picture. But I don’t feel the cut that makes me think of any of these things in a new light relative to each other. What do others think?

  13. To answer Harrison, I agree this is a sketch, or shasei, but surely if every shasei had to include an ah-ha moment then 99% of shasei would never be written?

  14. Following on from Patricia’s comment, it is interesting that in Japan (see the owl is also a kigo for winter, which would in theory produce the dreaded double kigo. They don’t have Barn Owls there, however. And I realise owls are associated with night, but I have mostly seen Barn Owls at dusk or afternoon – including one in direct sunlight on a sweltering summer day.

    1. On kigo: snow and owl are both consistent and I think the convention is that where there is more than one season word one should be clearly dominant (snow in this case). I often quote a haiku by Ryokan that has three kigo in it, all consistent. (“Dear Ryokan Taigu, thank you for your submission,, but…”). Another instance of a principle rather than an inviolable rule?

      1. Japanese kigo are not just season words, and traditional Japanese haiku use kigo in a totally different way to the way they are used in English language haiku.

  15. Like John Dunphy’s haiku last week, this has a very different rhythm in the first line compared to the rest, which helps to define the break at the end of line 1.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top