young leaf #2
haiku presented with commentary by the Yuki Teikei Society for discussion
young leaf #2
By Patricia Machmiller & Jerry Ball
Fourth of July—
a line of ants
along the parade route
Michael Dylan Welch
jb: A shasei haiku. There is no comment; the mention of the visual phenomena is all that’s needed. Of course this must be done in the context of the kigo, and this shows why a kigo is of such central importance. In itself a line of ants can bring an emotional effect, but on the Fourth of July ? and on a parade route? Ah, the kigo!
pjm: A little ryeness to make us smile. The poet has come to the Fourth of July parade and finds, paralleling the human parade, an ant parade. I am enjoying the light-hearted take on the ants that the poet has offered, and I could stop here. But if the poet wanted to move the writing from a light, humorous observation of ants to something that asked the reader to cogitate more, then I would offer this:
The central idea of the haiku plays with a natural behavior of ants (a summer kigo), their parade-like formations. And using the Fourth of July (also a summer kigo), which is a traditional parade venue, immediately sets the stage for the haiku. However, consider the weight of the “Fourth of July” versus the “ants.” The “ants” are totally overwhelmed by that huge fire-cracking, band-playing “Fourth of July” imagery. Also the interplay between the ants and the Fourth of July stops with the similarity of the parade aspect. But consider a march of veterans or a protest march or a gay-pride march or a marathon run. Suddenly the ants take on additional meaning. We are confronted with more than the parade-like quality; we think of how small they are, how persistent they are in the face of great odds, how unified they are, how defiant, etc. By making the ants the central and only kigo and bringing the image they are compared to into a more balanced perspective, does the possibility for additional meaning open up? What do you think?
graphic by Patricia Machmiller
This Post Has 85 Comments
haiku ain’t a poem
rr ee ff ll ee tt ii nn gg pp oo nn dd
mm yy ff aa cc ee
aa nn oo ii ll ss ll ii cc kk
haiku be history
“Desk haiku.” Would you care to elaborate or explain how this comment relates to the discussion? Thanks.
Philip, I can appreciate how other aspects of haiku may have greater appeal or importance to you and others. All I’ve been trying to say is that the name after a poem can make a difference in how we appreciate and understand the poem, in any of various ways, such as through gender, geography, location, “branding” (reputation/expectation), and more. It’s there, and I believe it has some degree of effect on haiku poems even if readers don’t explicitly pay attention to it.
Michael, thanks for the further explanation and example. I can see how the “context” that you associate with (in this case) Randy Brooks adds to your reading of his poem. I would perhaps disagree that it makes the poem “even better”, since there is nothing in the poem itself to suggest the circumstances that you imagine (good guesswork, but still, a kind of speculation) – for example, if it said something about the way the wind blew or the surrounding snow, or if there were a location note. As you say, “we can picture” the context of Randy’s haiku “how we will”. I’m not disputing that the “fourth line” can affect our reading in the ways you indicate, only that it makes the poem better or “rounds it out”. “Fourth line” reading may lend itself more to haiku in the “young leaf” vein than more experimental (linguistically innovative or disjunctive) varieties of haiku. It does not tend to relate to the ways the words work as poetry, their complex interplay, only to the poem as a concise form of anecdote. (Which is not, of course, to suggest that you don’t value closer reading also.) There seems to be more need for other kinds of haiku criticism. Which may be another reason for my reluctance to “embrace” the “fourth line”. But I appreciate the points you’ve made, and probably should pay more attention to “the fourth line” (or “rebirth of the author”, as I’ve started to think of it), even while being more interested in other aspects of haiku.
Philip, I have taken it that some people were not sure that they liked the *concept* behind the term “fourth line” (whatever it might be called), so that’s why I said I’m not concerned about whether anyone likes the term or not. Whatever it’s called, you generally can’t escape the effect (indeed, the benefit) of the name of the poet associated with each poem.
Also, I agree that there’s a difference, as a result of the name connected with a poem, between a) our expectations and b) any additional meaning we can gain from a poem because of what we know about the poet. The expectations can be good and bad, and a skilled poet could even play with those expectations by deliberately doing something out of character. Expectations are the effect of the name before we read the poem, and the additional meaning we get from the name comes after we read the poem, and both may have their pros and cons (the cons mostly, I think, being in producing inappropriate or unhelpful expectations).
Philip, you say you’ve mostly been questioning the idea that “we can gain more out of a haiku when we associate it with a name.” Perhaps that’s not true for you, but it certainly is for me. And of course it varies with each poem. Let’s try a “dip test” — to randomly dip into a poem. I just opened http://www.hsa-haiku.org/hendersonawards/henderson.htm and scrolled down randomly and landed on this poem by Randy Brooks (Henderson first place winner for 1998):
funeral procession . . .
into the headlights
We can all picture this how we will, but how Randy’s name affects me, and affects this poem for me, is that I know Randy lives in small town in central Illinois. Not all haiku are autobiographical, nor do they need to be, so I interpret this poem both with what I know about Randy and his environs AND with the possibility that it’s set somewhere else. Central Illinois is a relatively flat prairie sort of landscape, so the scene, for me, is a flat and rural. If you’ve ever driven across the prairie in winter, as I have many times, you will know how the snow blows endlessly across the fields, and how the uninterrupted wind can be relentless. The snow sometimes piles up at roads and intersections because little else stops the blowing snow. There are more trees in Illinois than, say, Nebraska or Saskatchewan, but still, it’s pretty flat. Just that image alone of the blowing snow can be very lonely and even foreboding, so the feeling is deeper for me by associating it with a prairie landscape (if it were by an ocean, as a contrast, the feeling would be different for me). Is that in the poem? Well, not directly in the poem itself, no! But it is part of the *context* of the poem, at least for me, because Randy himself is part of the poem’s context. That, to me, is one simple way that the name influences the poem — and I think the poem is even better because of it.
Now imagine if the name under the poem were Vladimir Shostokov (I’m making this up). Even if we didn’t know where Vlad lived, we might picture Siberia — an even colder and more foreboding place (or so I would guess — it certainly has that reputation). And imagine the great distances people might have to travel to come to a funeral. And now imagine that the name was Oksana Shostokov. Oksana is a female name, and imagine the affect of that detail on the poem — but also imagine if you didn’t know it was female. In this particular poem, I don’t think gender makes much difference, but I think you could imagine a poem where gender made a difference. And what if Vlad or Oksana (or Randy) actually lived in Malta or New Jersey or Newfoundland or Uganda? Wouldn’t that affect your reading of the poem, at least slightly? I really think it does. And think too of the author’s age. What if we know the poet is just 16? Or 96? Or whatever Randy’s actual age is? Those details have a subtle potential affect on the poem. I’m happy to embrace these effects.
How important is this? Well, it’s secondary to the poem itself, of course. The effect will vary depending on the poem, the poet, and the reader, but my main point is that I believe the effect is, for the most part, inescapable, even if it’s subtle. And again, I wouldn’t want to escape the effect at all, but embrace it — or at least to be conscious of the effect.
And to return to my original poem about ants and the Fourth of July, some people might know that although I live in the United States, I’m a British and Canadian citizen, and what effect does that have on a poem about the Fourth of July? And even if all someone knew about me was that I lived in the United States, that would create a different effect than if I lived in Sri Lanka or Uruguay or Easter Island, wouldn’t it?
P.S. I don’t know about you but I’ve found the following happen to me sometimes: I’m reading a haiku journal, and my eyes read over a particular poem, and then, when I read the poet’s name, I stop to think — oh, so-and-so wrote that?!? (And this reaction could be because the poem is really good and I might not have liked much by that poet before, or perhaps the opposite, or perhaps it’s simply different from what I expect, in terms of subject matter or tone — for example a few poets write fairly strictly about nature, so a poem with a heavy human focus would probably make me notice the poem a bit more than usual, at least for that particular poet.) Or I might have been reading in a slightly catatonic state (you know how that happens sometimes), but the name, especially if it’s by a favourite writer, will jog me awake and I’ll reread the poem, a little more carefully the second time. Those are both cases where the name affects the reading, in ways that are different from affecting the meaning of the poem itself (which may also happen).
Hi again Michael! Perhaps there have been one or two spots of confusion in our exchanges. You wrote: “I’m not concerned about whether anyone likes the term “fourth line” for the name appearing under a haiku.” But I thought that the appropriateness of the term (however lightly meant) was partly what was under discussion here (even if I did ‘start it’!). Second, it may be necessary to distinguish the point that our personal association or knowledge of the poet can “change our expectations of a poem” (which is of course the case) from the idea that “we can gain more out of a haiku when we associate it with a name”. It’s the latter point, as a general rule, that I’ve been questioning, partly because none of the examples given in this thread seem to have shown that knowledge of the author’s nationality/age/gender etc. significantly added to or allowed me to “gain more from the poem” – including the most recent example (Spring– / mother has become / a child again”) which, itself, implies an elderly mother, as that is the reading which makes most (powerful, poetic) sense. I take your point, am just not quite convinced of its importance. But that is largely a subjective matter, and I think we agree that there is a case to be made, at least in collections of poems by various poets, for deemphasizing the “brand” factor, as there is, too, for seeking to gain from it.
Yes, Lorin, I’ve said before that one function of the “fourth line” is that the name under a poem functions as a sort of “brand.” If we see a Ban’ya Natsuishi poem, we’re likely to expect something different than, say, a poem by Peggy Willis Lyles. In fact, if the styles were different from what we expected for these poets, we’d probably sit up and take special notice. In such a case, the “brand” expectation can be effectively challenged — or fulfilled — and either way can be good. Now, it’s still poetry, and all this talk of branding might be a turn-off to some people who associate it with commercialism, but that isn’t the point of referring to the “fourth line” as a sort of brand. The point, I think, is that our personal associates or knowledge of the poet (to whatever degree that might be the case) changes our expectations of a poem (in nearly always good ways). If I know you live in Australia, I’ll approach your poems with that geographical perspective, as best as I can manage. The only downside of this effect is that perhaps we might more readily publish a so-so haiku by someone who’s a “celebrity poet” — because the “big name” gives a journal some sort of perceived prestige. But even though that may be a bad thing, it underscores the effect of the “fourth line.”
Jack, your comments about unknown or anonymous authors have nothing to do with my point about the effect of the person’s name under a haiku when it IS there. There are lots of anonymous haiku out there, But I do think we can gain more out of a haiku when we associate it with a name. Your example of knowing the age of “mother” in your example “Spring– / mother has become / a child again” is a case in point, although the effect of the name can manifest itself in many other ways. Glad to know you’ve come around! The effect is different and to varying degrees depending on the poem and what you know about the author, but the name under the poem does have a potential effect on how the poem is interpreted or apprehended.
“True, many poems speak for themselves, but some pieces are nearly indecipherable apart from a larger context and familiarity with the poet’s vision, approach, vocabulary.” Chris
This is so in relation to some of the ‘gendai’ pieces, at least, I think. It rather throws the idea of a haiku as a poem which must hold up in and of itself, ‘stand alone’ as it’s commonly referred to, up for scrutiny, doesn’t it?
I hesitate to bring it up, but it’s related: the ‘fourth line’ also can act as a kind of ‘branding’ of a couple of words used together. Consider Ban’ya Natsuishi’s ‘flying pope’ series or Michael Dylan Welch’s, ‘after’ Natsuishi’s, ‘neon budda’ series.
I doubt that anyone could use ‘flying pope’ or a ‘neon buddha’ in a ku and have it published without being considered a ‘claim-jumper’.
But a trend has begun, and other Americans are beginning to claim a word or two in this way. I can’t & won’t give examples, since ‘Notes From the Gean’ doesn’t publish sequences or series as such.
This trend seems to mark a different approach than that of the ‘commonwealth’ of kigo , season words or keywords: the establishment of keywords as property which the reader grows to automatically associate with a particular ‘fourth line’, and in doing so act as a ‘fourth line’ in themselves.
“And, thinking about it some more, an argument can be made for knowing something about the author when reading a haiku.” Jack G.
Not to mention the meaning that can be derived from reading a poem in the context of the author’s larger body of work (which I’m sure was mentioned earlier only I haven’t been following). True, many poems speak for themselves, but some pieces are nearly indecipherable apart from a larger context and familiarity with the poet’s vision, approach, vocabulary.
One of the reasons I ‘sign’ my work Christopher is that gender can make a difference in how certain poems are understood.
I always liked the tongue-in-cheekness of “fourth line” or at least that’s how I took it.
One of my poems was once misattributed to Christopher Herold which was a rather humorous experience for me since it received attention I seldom get for my work, and was even used in an essay/presentation, the errata correction having gone unnoticed.
And, thinking about it some more, an argument can be made for knowing something about the author when reading a haiku.
I give you a personal example:
mother has become
a child again
If the reader knows that the author is nearing 60 year’s old, then the poem takes on another meaning than it would without that knowledge. We all become “young” again in spring; but the aged mother of this poem shares a different fate: there is a pathos in it, a reference to senility-that comes with knowing the author’s age.
So, having thought about it more deeply, I think there is justification for considering who the author of a haiku is and knowledge of that person could influence the reading of the poem.
Having said this, something certainly can be said for biographical criticism of literary works. Milton’s Paradise Lost comes to mind. Milton’s allignment with Cromwell’s Republicanism certainly can be found in his depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost and therefore the author’s name does add a dimension to the poem.
And Beowulf, dear Beowulf, how could I forget you?
Who wrote the Norse Sagas, The Epic of Gilgamesh, did Homer really exist as an individual or was Homer actually a collective epic written by unknown authors, etc. I’m sure someone can think of many other examples of works that are either not attributed at all to particular authors or the authorship of a great work of literature is questioned by scholars. While these may be academic questions, the question of authorship doesn’t seem to significantly alter the works involved in the least. At least not to me.
Did Shakespeare write the dramas associated with his name? Does it make a difference?
I’m not concerned about whether anyone likes the term “fourth line” for the name appearing under a haiku. It presumes a three-line poem, but by calling it a “fourth line” (even after a one-liner), it is a metaphorical reference to whatever name appears after whatever poem (even longer poems, although I think the effect is stronger in such a brief form as haiku). My point is that the name associated with a haiku frequently has the potential to add context and additional overtones to a poem. That’s a good thing — even while the poem should speak for itself. After it speaks for itself, low and behold, the name may make you think about the poem again or differently or more deeply. That’s good.
Jack, my comments about the name under the poem acting as a sort of “fourth line” have nothing to do with proprietary rights, nothing to do with ownership or authorship. What I’m talking about is the effect on the *reader*, where who “owns” the poem doesn’t matter. And again, yes, the poem should always speak for itself (I keep repeating that). BUT, the name has the potential to always add MORE meaning as well.
“And, I’m not sure referring to the author’s name as the “fourth line” is the best term to use.
I have also wondered, why not just call it
“signature” (or whatever appropriate word for signing one’s piece of art is suitable).
a “fourth line” for an EL haiku with only one, two or even four lines … would this still make sense?
but “last line/ final line / additional line” would also sound strange to me, since I do not see the name of the poet as a line (a necessary part) of the haiku.
And, I’m not sure referring to the author’s name as the “fourth line” is the best term to use. Obviously, it is not meant literally, but as is it would mean that every haiku ended in a non-sequitor.
should read than is being suggested.
I think this idea of a fourth line is a matter of proprietary rights, much like a signature on a painting. It’s importance comes into existence with the notion of ownership and the rights associated with it.
In earlier, mostly Asian cultures, there was art, magnificent temples, friezes, frescoes, sculputures, that had no “artist,” as the idea of ownership of communal, religious objects of art were not conceived to be owned by the makers, so the works were never attributed to their artisans and artists.
I’m not sure that the signature influences the poem to a significant degree. Gender, ethnicity, etc., in my opinion, are not identities, certainly not fixed identities, and while I like to know who wrote a poem, their name affixed to the product has less impact that is being suggested. The poem speaks itself.
Philip you write that “When reading collections of haiku by various authors, as in journals, I’d rather have my attention drawn to connections between poems.” I think that’s wonderful, and a free choice for any reader. However, my point is that the “fourth line” CAN still affect how you read the poem, if you’re aware of anything about the poet — and even affect your reading of the poem if you know nothing about the poet but can still discern gender or possible ethnic or cultural attributes associated with a name. I also believe that whatever you do know DOES affect you, even if you might choose to think more about connections between poems. The extent of that effect will vary depending on the poem, of course, and obviously vary depending on what you know about the poet (of any era). To repeat, my point is that the name under the poem does have a potential effect on each poem, regardless of whether anyone likes that or not. I should also add that in practically all cases I would not think of that effect as being negative.
“What if we knew the poet lived in Antarctica, and knew how difficult it would be to get a bone scan if one lived there? What if we do know the poet’s medical history? Then I do think we feel a real person behind the poem and it rounds out the poem.”
Possibly, but then, the very “incompleteness” of haiku, which would leave such questions unresolved, is more to the point, poetically. “Rounding out” the poem with knowledge of the poet (assuming the poem is straightforwardly autobiographical) doesn’t seem as important as “the fourth line” implies. When reading collections of haiku by various authors, as in journals, I’d rather have my attention drawn to connections between poems: the editorial approach enabling them to be seen in a new light, rather than promoting each poem as the product of a “brand”. A collection by a single author seems more the place for assessing his or her larger body of work, with more of a view, perhaps, to the “person behind the poem”.
The humorous blokeishness of your grocery shopping senryu is easily enough inferred, as Lorin has pointed out. And the Fourth of July haiku isn’t significantly clarified or “rounded out” (for me) by knowing that you live in the US, having previously lived elsewhere. My impression is that if there are interesting questions of gender, ethnicity, nationality etc. to be raised, the haiku itself will (should?) hint at them sufficiently. I hope this doesn’t seem too pernickety!
oops, senryu, I mean…I often use haiku to mean both, but know I shouldn’t.
I’m enjoying and learning from this discussion of the ‘fourth line’. Thanks to all involved.
I had to smile at Michael’s haiku,
pushing my cart faster
through feminine protection
…and just want to say that as far as this particular haiku goes, without knowing the author’s name I would guess or assume two things: that a bloke had written it (even if the persona in the poem wasn’t a true representation of the real author, and there is no need to assume that it is, since the ‘joke’ part is about a stereotyped image of blokes) and that it was written from America…from the USA or Canada, because of ‘cart’ and ‘feminine protection’.
What a delightfully funny euphemism ‘feminine protection’ is! 🙂
And this is what takes this senryu further than just the ‘bloke joke’.
Once upon a time, perhaps only in fairy tales, there were handsome knights who went out of their way to protect women and honour the feminine. It was a role some men liked to cast themselves in, too. Then things changed. Our knight, no longer in shining armour, no longer riding high on a white steed, pushes a cart (trolley) through a supermarket where ‘feminine protection’ is just another commodity for sale. No wonder if he feels a tad diminished!
Nicely done, Michael!
Philip, I continue to put “fourth line” in quotation marks because of course it isn’t a fourth line of a haiku. But it’s a term that emphasizes the potential effect of the poet’s name on the poem — almost as if it were a fourth line.
And yes, the effect of the poet’s name after the poem is really no different than it is after any poem, of any length (except, because haiku is so short, the potential for the name after a haiku might be greater than it is with a longer poem simply because of proportions). In longer poetry, of course, the name wouldn’t necessarily be a “fourth” line, just as it isn’t after a one-liner. But I use “fourth line” to play on the norm of haiku most often having three lines in English, and because I’ve chosen to focus these comments on haiku rather than longer poems. (But I do believe the name can affect the reading of longer poems as well.)
Your example of the poem by Ken Jones is a case in point — yes, both the poem and its author gain something by their association together. What if we knew the poet lived in Antarctica, and knew how difficult it would be to get a bone scan if one lived there? What if we do know the poet’s medical history? Then I do think we feel a real person behind the poem and it rounds out the poem.
There are no end of details that we add to the poem because of the name after it — think simply of gender and perceived ethnicity, if nothing more. As we all know, haiku is often referred to as an “unfinished” poem — and the name after the poem plays a potential part in “finishing” the poem, adding details, sometimes subtle, about the persona who is sharing the experience, among many other possible ways we might “finish” each poem in our minds.
I suppose it’s possible in one’s reading habits to routinely ignore the name, and not engage with it to enable it to have an effect on the poem, or to minimize that effect. However, when it’s possible to get even more out of the poem because of the name after it, why deny the extra moment to think of the effect of the name on the poem as you (re)read each poem?
Even without this conscious effort on the reader’s part, I think the name under the poems can still affect our appreciation and understanding of the poem, as with gender, just for starters. The following senryu of mine, for example, is a “guy” poem, and would take on a different meaning if a woman had written it rather than a man:
pushing my cart faster
through feminine protection
Yes, Patricia, I agree — haiku should stand on its own. I’ve never ever said that I shouldn’t stand on its own. What I’ve said is that after the haiku stands on its own, I believe that the name under the poem (what I call “the fourth line”), has the *potential* to add even more to the poem. It happens over and over again, and even you can’t escape it when you read poems if the names are present. And you can’t really escape it even if you don’t know the poet, because the name will still typically provide information such as gender (or gender neutralness), or perhaps even ethnic associations. The difference in how you apprehend a poem may be subtle sometimes, but it’s often still going to be affected in some way by the name under the poem. I know you were a longtime friend of Pat Shelley. If you suddenly learned that an “anonymous” poem was hers, wouldn’t you read it again, more closely? And perhaps also read it differently?
Never have I said that any good haiku *required* the added information that goes with the poet’s name. My comments have nothing to do with the need or potential to add headnotes or footnotes to any poem. And obviously, yes, the name is always subordinate to the poem, but whenever the name is present, you can and frequently will get information (if you happen to know anything about the poet) that can sometimes add MORE to the poem, whether the idea “appeals” to you or not.
All I’m saying is that the name under the poem “acts like” a fourth line, providing additional potential meaning and context. When I read a poem by Dee Evetts, and know that he is a carpenter, I get more out of his poem about woodshavings rolling across the veranda than I would if it were by someone who is not a carpenter. I get more out of your poems, Patricia, knowing where you live, and knowing other poems you’ve written, and the style in which you often write. I tend to expect certain kinds of poems from certain people, and if they fulfill that expectation, that can be perfectly wonderful. And if they do something unexpected (unlike what I know the person mostly to do), that can be perfectly wonderful for its contrast to my expectations. And biography and geography play into the picture too. The point of the “fourth line” (even if you don’t like that term) is that the name after the poem CAN (and probably frequently DOES) affect the reading of many haiku — and I’m certain, Patricia, that it affects how you read certain haiku, whether you like it or not.
Thanks for the response and clarification of “the fourth line”, Michael. I suppose I’m really taking issue with the term itself, which, despite the quotes, does seem rather emphatic. At least, it seems to do more than “merely say” that the author’s name “obviously can have an effect on how we read the poem” (which, as you say, hardly needs stating). Perhaps mistakenly, I took the phrase to mean that the author’s name may be particularly significant with respect to haiku, as compared to other forms of poetry. But I can’t easily think of examples of English-language haiku where what I know of the authors adds significantly to my understanding or appreciation of the poems. Of course that could just be down to ignorance or lack of thought on my part; or it may go to show merely that we have different preferred ‘approaches’ to poems. A poem that has been shown in the slide show on this site just came to mind: “Bone scan / the length / of a Brandenburg concerto”. Would it “add” to this marvellous and moving poem to know more of Ken Jones’s medical history? I’m not sure that it would (or should particularly).
Michael—I am of the opinion that a haiku should ultimately stand on its own. If context is necessary to appreciation of a haiku, there is a respected tradition of writing a headnote. There are also footnotes usually used in translations, but also an acceptable way of adding information. And in all poetry the biography and criticism written about a poet and his or her work provides opportunity for a reader to deepen his or her understanding of a particular writer. But aesthetically the notion of the name and address of the poet being the fourth line of the haiku is not appealing to me at all. I much prefer Philip’s idea that authors’ names be separate from their poems or at least subordinate to the presentation of the haiku; certainly they should not be given the status of a fourth line.
In response to your comments, Philip: Can the “fourth line” of a haiku get in the way? Sure. We (readers and editors) might respond more kindly to a haiku written by Billy Collins than to Joe Schmoe down the street, because we’re pleased that some of Collins’ poetic renown is “doing haiku” — perhaps with lessened regard for the quality of the poem itself. Likewise, if we’re already predisposed to like the haiku of a particular poet (if he or she has built a good “brand” with poems next to his or her name), that may blind us to the real value of the poem, probably unfairly in favour of weak poems by well-known poets, and probably unfairly against stronger poems by lesser-known poets.
My point with the idea of the “fourth line” in haiku is that it has the *potential* to add more to the poem, if we happen to know something about the poet and his or her background or proclivities. Please understand that I’m not *stressing* the importance of the author’s name, but merely saying that it obviously can have an effect on how we read the poem. I suppose if you want to drag the larger scene of poetic criticism into the discussion, it’s merely an aspect of “contextualizing” the poem. And that truth can’t be escaped — no poem exists in a vacuum . . . unless of course you write it on a scrap of paper and leave it on the floor when the cleaning lady comes by.
Speaking of the “fourth line”, perhaps it’s also worth looking at the other side of the coin. Agreed, sometimes it is helpful to know something about the poet, such as where s/he is from (though I’m not convinced that this is so in most cases, and it certainly doesn’t seem essential to an appreciation of Michael’s poem: Fourth of July is hardly an obscure cultural reference!). But there is also a case to be made for not knowing who the author of a poem is, that having the name right there, above or beneath the poem, can get in the way. That is: focussing attention on the potential for interaction (‘resonance’) between poems – a mode of reading to which poems as brief as haiku naturally lend themselves – is more likely to enhance or deepen appreciation of each poem than having background information about each author in mind. Of course, it depends what an editor’s main aim is, in presenting a group of poems, and I’m biased towards an approach that separates authors’ names from their poems, from having edited NOON. But it seems only a small step from stressing the importance of the author’s name as “fourth line” to a notion of the poem as the product of a brand, possibly even biasing expectation as to quality. How one feels about that may partly come down to political sentiment; likewise, poetry contests towards which poets pay a fee. Anyway, thought I’d throw this ball into court, in case anyone wants to bounce it about, or smash it out of the stands…
Patricia, I heartily agree that if “ants” overpowers “Fourth of July” and becomes the functioning kigo for some readers, that’s fine. That would still make it a summer poem. That agrees, too, with my point — that (at least in this case) just one of the potential season references actually takes on the kigo function in the poem. The fact that “ants” could overpower “Fourth of July” as the functioning kigo for some readers (although perhaps not most) would seem to prove my point. But yes, these things are ultimately in the hands of readers. My intent, though, was that “Fourth of July” be dominant as the kigo, and I do suspect that for most readers this is the case, even while I recognize that for some readers “Fourth of July” could be just any old day and carry no meaning as the day to celebrate American independence.
Here, though, is where the “fourth line” of the poem (the poet’s name) comes into play, where knowing where I live becomes helpful in apprehending the poem (for those who know that I live in the United States — even though originally a British citizen, and then a Canadian).
“Patricia, you wrote the following in response to Jack and his mention of the Indra story: ‘What a great story. This association adds a dimension to the haiku that I was unaware of; in my mind, it moves the haiku to a deeper place and makes a strong justification for the use of the two kigo, ants and the Fourth of July.’
“I appreciate that this deepens the poem for you, but even without this story, others have said how they find depth in the poem (thanks to all). More importantly, though, I would argue that the poem does not actually have two kigo, and does not need the Indra story to ‘justify’ them. One of the two terms that are potentially kigo is acting as the kigo (Fourth of July), and so clearly dominates the other word (ants) that ‘ants’ is not functioning as a kigo.”
Michael–Perhaps in my delight at learning of the cautionary tale on pomposity, I overstated the case for two kigo by saying that the tale “strongly justified” their use. Let me make a hasty retreat lest, in my next reincarnation, I should be destined to return as an ant. Maybe I should have just said “justified.”
I do, however, still hold that whether there are two kigo or one (and if one, which one?) in the poem is determined by your readers. Might I say, humbly, that it may have been your intention as the writer for ants to “not function . . . as a kigo,” but because in EL kigo are more fluid, less structured, and more democratic (forgive me for repeating myself), the ultimate determination of how they are working in the poem rests with your readers. My opening comment about your poem asserted, as you do, that the expression, Fourth of July, overpowered the ants. However, the people writing in response to your poem opened my eyes to other ways of reading the poem—so much so that I can now imagine a reader for whom the Fourth of July is just another day, but for whom ants have meaning of huge consequence. All this does not diminish your poem; in fact, I think it expands it.
Michael, thank you for responding to my query about the ‘fourth line’.
Yes, it’s useful to know where a writer comes from, at least. The differences in cultures and cultural values in the background can allow insight and of course the specific names and terms for things vary from place to place (sports, species, terrain, climate, celebrations, history etc. ) and the way words sound (are pronounced) varies from country to country (consider English, from the various regions of the UK, from the USA, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – a lot of difference! )
Patricia, you wrote the following in response to Jack and his mention of the Indra story: “What a great story. This association adds a dimension to the haiku that I was unaware of; in my mind, it moves the haiku to a deeper place and makes a strong justification for the use of two the kigo, ants and the Fourth of July.”
I appreciate that this deepens the poem for you, but even without this story, others have said how they find depth in the poem (thanks to all). More importantly, though, I would argue that the poem does not actually have two kigo, and does not need the Indra story to “justify” them. One of the two terms that are potentially kigo is acting as the kigo (Fourth of July), and so clearly dominates the other word (ants) that “ants” is not functioning as a kigo. Bill Higginson has talked about this distinction (didn’t I quote that earlier?). There are numerous examples of haiku by the masters where this happens. I recall a Basho poem that goes something like this:
first day of spring–
I keep thinking about
the end of autumn
In this poem the kigo is “first day of spring”. “Autumn,” while it could be a kigo in another context, is not *functioning* as a kigo (in this case, too, it’s just an idea of autumn, not autumn itself, but there are also examples of good haiku where the second seasonal reference is not just an idea).
To me, words in haiku don’t have the property of always being kigo, but can take on the *function* of being kigo in particular poems — and may not always do so (even while they usually do). Even if this is not the case, “ants” is so clearly dominated by “Fourth of July” as a North American kigo that it doesn’t matter that another word might also suggest the same (or even a different season). I reject the notion that you cannot talk about two things in a single poem because they both happen to be season words (I have written haiku about a blizzard in June — very unsual for the northern hemisphere, but I’ve experienced exactly that in Alberta — poets should use kigo, rather than let kigo use them, or excessively limit their poetry).
Indeed, I would use the notion to generally avoid having two season words in a haiku to promote the removal of redundancy, where possible. My ants/parade poem does not have the redundancy of two season words, or it certainly doesn’t strike me that way.
Similarly, “first day of spring” could appear in a *senryu*, but because senryu do not require kigo, the phrase is not *functioning* as a kigo in such a poem. (Also, the inclusion of a seasonal reference does not necessarily make the poem a haiku rather than a senryu — it depends on the whole poem as to whether it might be a haiku or senryu. But rather than get off on that tangent, my point is to show that seasonal references in haiku may or may not be functioning as kigo).
Lorin, you asked about my reference to the “fourth line” in haiku. I haven’t published any essays about it, but have talked about it in many other contexts over the years.
You also say this: “It seems to me that the information implied in the ‘fourth line’ would only come into play once a haiku writer became well-known and ‘everyone’ knew where they were writing from. It can’t apply at all, of course, in kukai or other competitions where the haiku are read without knowledge of who wrote them.” I’d like to comment on this.
First, I think if someone is *unknown* to you, the fact that they’re unknown is part of the function of the fourth line. In Tundra, I always put the poets city/state, city/ province, or city/country after each person’s name, which I think is helpful, and Frogpond has recently been putting the state, province, or country after each name. But yes, the “fourth line” gains more power if you know more about the person — whether it’s just you who knows someone who lives in the same town as you, or many people who know a lot about the background of a particular poet who has become well-known over the years. In other words, I don’t think *everyone* has to know the poet. The “fourth line” of each particular poem/poet is going to be more powerful for some people than others, and it’s going to vary. My point is that whatever you DO know about the poet might add even more to the poem, and that’s valuable. Think of how we read poems by Shiki, knowing he wrote so many of them on his deathbed, dying of tuberculosis at a very young age. If he’d written many of the same poems at the same age, but if he’d never been sick and lived an extra fifty years, I do believe we’d read the poems a little differently.
And of course you’re right that the “fourth line” doesn’t apply in a kukai or competition where poems are anonymous. I should emphasize, too, that the poem should still work on its own, without the name, as much as possible. I’m saying that the “fourth line” always has the potential to add even more to the poem — even affected by whether we happen to *like* that person or not (if we’ve ever met them), or if we happened to be with them when they wrote a particular poem. Just as we as readers bring a lot of our own interpretation to the poem itself (which is why haiku is often referred to as an “unfinished” poem), so too do we bring additional meaning or overtone or expectation to know who wrote particular poems — the poetry and its meaning need not be *just* in the poem.
“At any rate, what makes the name of a month a season word comes from knowing something about where it was written or the biography/geography of the poet (which is another reason why the poet’s name under a poem acts as what I’ve called the poem’s “fourth line” — and usefully so).” – Michael
Michael, I’ve tried to find your essay (?) on the ‘fourth line’, but can only find a reference to “. . .informative panel discussions on the “fourth line” of haiku (about gender, biography, geography, and context in haiku), . . .” on the HSA website. Is there such an essay or your comments anywhere on-line, and if so, could you direct me to where they are, please?
It seems to me that the information implied in the ‘fourth line’ would only come into play once a haiku writer became well-known and ‘everyone’ knew where they were writing from. It can’t apply at all, of course, in kukai or other competitions where the haiku are read without knowledge of who wrote them.
Gabi–I have visited your blog/website and really appreciate what you are doing. Last March I had a friend who was vacationing in Hawaii e-mail me and ask what kigo were relevant to that season there. I did a web search and came across your site. It is very useful, and I appreciate the commentaries and essays on kigo that you post there as well.
“. . . to me kigo is more than a season word, even in English. It is a poetic device that has been developed to a high degree through the Japanese haikai tradition.
But its power is available in every language.
It is a latent power that can be tapped by the haiku writer even without the codification or authorization that comes from an official saijiki.
I would agree that that Japanese have a highly structured kigo culture whereas we English-language writers find both the concept and the actual operation of kigo to be more fluid, less structured, more democratic.
Ultimately the way the kigo operates in languages other than Japanese, its effectiveness as a poetic device, is determined not by a saijiki, but by readers.”
Thanks for your statement, I really agree with this.
“. . . to me kigo is more than a season word, even in English. It is a poetic device that has been developed to a high degree through the Japanese haikai tradition.
But its power is available in every language. It is a latent power that can be tapped by the haiku writer even without the codification or authorization that comes from an official saijiki.
I would agree that that Japanese have a highly structured kigo culture whereas we English-language writers find both the concept and the actual operation of kigo to be more fluid, less structured, more democratic. Ultimately the way the kigo operates in languages other than Japanese, its effectiveness as a poetic device, is determined not by a saijiki, but by readers. ”
Thanks for your clarification, Patricia.
My apologies to all for joining the conversation so late: I’ve been vacationing with family and enjoying the Fourth of July, fireworks and all. Ants, too. I encountered a giant one (a half inch long, I swear!) when I dropped a piece of cheese while having lunch on a hike in the Grand Teton National Forest. Before I could pick it up, he was lugging it off. I could only marvel at his prowess. A buddy of his came along seeming to offer to help, but he apparently said in ant language that he was able to handle it by himself.
we are filled with awe
at its power
But on to the discussion Michael’s poem. I have learned so much from all of the comments made here.
Jack Gamitz wrote: “ I’m reminded of the story of Indra and the parade of ants as retold by Heinrich Zimmer in his book the King and the Corpse. A Brahman child, in conversation with Indra, saw a parade of ants and laughed and explained to Indra that due to the law of karma, all of the ants had once been Indras; that over the creations and dissolutions of the universal systems, those who had arisen to the ranks of the gods had in turn, due to misdeeds, later reincarnated as ants.
“It was, of course, a cautionary tale and one meant to remind us that our individual splendors and achievements are only temporary and if made too much of will lead to our being no more than what we may and probably will become: a parade of ants.
“Sobering, but important for the Fourth of July.”
What a great story. This association adds a dimension to the haiku that I was unaware of; in my mind, it moves the haiku to a deeper place and makes a strong justification for the use of two the kigo, ants and the Fourth of July.
Lorin has asked: “I’m not at all sure that we should be using the Japanese word, kigo, though, for English-language haiku. Might the Fourth of July be a likely time to evaluate the use of the term?”
Lorin, you are right. I have used the word kigo both here and in my opening comments knowing that there exists a school of thought that kigo are appropriate only to Japanese haiku, and that we who write in English should use the phrase season words. I have a different view: to me kigo is more than a season word, even in English. It is a poetic device that has been developed to a high degree through the Japanese haikai tradition. But its power is available in every language. It is a latent power that can be tapped by the haiku writer even without the codification or authorization that comes from an official saijiki. I would agree that that Japanese have a highly structured kigo culture whereas we English-language writers find both the concept and the actual operation of kigo to be more fluid, less structured, more democratic. Ultimately the way the kigo operates in languages other than Japanese, its effectiveness as a poetic device, is determined not by a saijiki, but by readers. For example, the Fourth of July I said in my opening remarks is a summer kigo. As an American, the Fourth (Americans sometimes refer to it as that, and everyone in the U.S. knows we are referring to July—not March or September or December) is a summer holiday with picnics (including ants), parades, fireworks, heat, outdoor concerts, family get-togethers, and patriotic hoopla.
But how parochial of me! For readers outside the United States, the idea of the Fourth of July might be accessible intellectually by a local comparison: for example, a Frenchman might make the association to Bastille Day or a Mexican to Cinco de Mayo, and in this way gain an appreciation for the phrase. The Frenchman’s intuitive feel for “the Fourth of July,” I suspect, will be closer to the American experience than, say, the Mexican’s because while Bastille Day and Cinco de Mayo are both patriotic celebrations with fireworks and parades, Bastille Day is in July while Cinco de Mayo is in early May, not yet the height of the summer heat. Those in the southern hemisphere have a bigger intellectual adjustment to make since the fourth of July is a winter day of not much significance. Clearly, the more a reader has to come to a haiku through the intellect (as opposed to the gut) to understand the haiku’s meaning, the less effective the kigo is. But we as readers can bridge the gap. If the haiku is good enough, then we will find that our intellectual work is worth it, and we will be pleased that our effort has been rewarded. If, however, we do the work (of understanding, for example what the Fourth of July in capital letters means) and there is no pay-off, we are disappointed and feel cheated. I would say from the responses to Michael’s haiku that I’ve read here, he has served his readers not only well, but very well.
Thanks for nudging me into a clearer, more appreciative sense of the scope and mechanics of the poem.
“L” and long “I” of “July” and “line”
“Joo” of “July” and “Roo” of “route”
“a line” “along”
repetition of “of”
“r” of “Fourth,” “parade,” and “route”
I would say that this vehicle has wheels, lots of them.
The parade honors, among other things, people who have risked and, in some instances, given their lives for their country. In the immediate moment, however, it is the ants whose lives are in danger.
Thanks, Jack, for helping me find more of interest in the poem. Do you or anyone else have any comments on the formal properties of the poem, including sound and rhythm, and how those mesh with or enhance the sense or associations triggered? Lineation immediately catches the attention, with the line of ants being, in a sense, just what it says, but beyond that?
should read “and did so.”
So what I’m suggesting, without belaboring it, is that a reading of comparing ants in line with a human parade can actually turn our accustomed views on their heads; that ants produced society millions of years before we did, they communicate,albeit in a less sophisticated way, they created a colony (commonwealth) and having achieved this survival system do so without the pomp and circumstance of human beings.
Or, from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied–not one is demented with the mania of owning
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me, and I accept them;
They bring me tokens of myself–they evince them plainly in their
first line should read “their,” not “there.”
Actually, if you think about it, ants have highly organized societies and ant hills and they “achieved” there state of social cohension 100 to 130 million years ago.
Besides, to think of the adoption of a nation as anything other than the beginning of labor would seem to be contrary to fact; the organization of the country didn’t come until the drafting and adoption of the Constitution.
And all those “laborers” marching so proudly in a July Fourth parade are indeed, like ants, assigned a place in a system.
It is not so uninteresting to think of the comparison and contrast between ants and human beings and the drive of their purposes and organization.
Yes, to an extent, it might, if looked upon this way, be humorous and as old as Chaplin’s montage of human beings exiting a subway station and cutting to a flock of sheep, but still there is something to think about in such a reading.
John Stevenson’s earlier interpretation points in that direction and it doesn’t seem to me to weaken the poem at all.
I had my own associations to Indra and the Parade of Ants and I believe this also added dimension or found dimensions in the poem that awaken and do not put to sleep.
To put into question the “difference” of labor and achievement is already an interesting one, in my opinion.
Paul wrote: “I think Michael’s poem works for a number of reasons. One being that it contrasts the celebration of a job well done (our country) with ants who are still working. That reading wouldn’t be possible without a seasonal sense of accomplishment. Without it, it would only be a comparison of people in a parade and ants in a row. A rather less interesting poem.”
Even so, what makes this poem more than a witty observation, lightly deflating the patriotic sense of accomplishment? I ask, not to criticize Michael’s poem, which, I agree, works in the way Paul indicates (though still I wonder whether the contrast between the “celebration of a job well done” and “the ants who are still working” isn’t just a little too straightforward), but to reopen the question of the scope of ‘shasei’ haiku in English. As Paul says, a season word may concisely “add a larger context”. On the other hand, the habitual use of season words can all too easily become a form of poetic laziness (speaking, at least, for myself), which a good poem avoids through its verbal inventiveness as a whole. (One way or another, however plain its language, a poem needs to have a lot going on – a complex play of words, rich in ‘information’ – to be profoundly interesting.)
I’m playing devil’s advocate to some extent, because there are so many haiku in the same mould, many of whose authors seem content to write nothing but… so it seems important to keep questioning, with an eye to keeping things fresh.
Thanks, by the way Michael, for the background of “young leaves”! And please forgive if I’m barking up the wrong tree.
Jack Frost, I like your ‘clear night’ ku.
(…but never let yr shadow choose for you 😉 )
um…spello…Manley, a suburb of Sydney.
” Likewise, Christmas is winter for the Northern Hemisphere, but not for the Southern, although I hear that folks in Australia sometimes put up snow-related decorations for Christmas, don’t they? ” – Michael
🙂 yes, we do.
the malls are decked
with plastic holly
(kangaroo-apple month would only apply to Southern Australia)
And New Year’s Eve wouldn’t seem right without ‘Auld lang Syne’ and the bagpipes. There’s a whole Anglo-Celtic-European culture transposed here and it doesn’t really help a connection with the ‘things as they are’ of nature, but that’s how it is and we juggle the disparate balls..
Manly, eh? I guess you would’ve learned to swim early, then, Michael. 😉
If you draw a line straight across the pacific from Manly, you’ll be at Valparaiso, in Chile… where they probably use Santa Snow on the stable roof in the Christmas creche, too. Traditions are interesting, as can be the tensions, the odd connections and disconnections, between nature and culture, and different cultures.
Lorin, when I said “”4th of July” is a summer kigo in North America,” and you said you wished I could have said that without saying “kigo,” you’re right. I could easily have said “season word” instead of kigo — in keeping, too, with my own advice in *Up with Season Words* (thanks for the kind words on the essay). However, I said kigo because the context here is to discuss the phenomenon, whether called kigo or season words. I believe the words *can* by synonymous in a very general sense (the sense I intended), although, speaking more purely, “kigo” are really Japanese season words in.
For what it’s worth, if I didn’t know about “Melbourne Cup” being a spring season word in Australia, I’d be happy to know that if I encountered a poem with such a season word — and similarly, I would hope someone from outside North America would be happy to know that “4th of July” is a season word in North America (if they didn’t already know that). That’s one of the beauties of season words worldwide — they give us an opportunity to learn something new about the location in question, although, alas, we may only learn the seasonality of certain terms (such as “Melbourne Cup”) *outside* the poem itself.
FYI, as a child I used to live in Manley, near Sydney. But I was too young to know about the Melbourne Cup.
As for the names of months, I *do* believe they act as season words — without question. However, unlike “cherry blossoms,” which surely cannot help but be spring wherever and however it is used, the names of months are “changeable” season words. November means spring in Australia and fall in North America and I believe winter in Japan (traditionally). Likewise, Christmas is winter for the Northern Hemisphere, but not for the Southern, although I hear that folks in Australia sometimes put up snow-related decorations for Christmas, don’t they? (That would show the seemingly unfair dominance of Northern Hemisphere influence on the association of Christmas with winter.) At any rate, what makes the name of a month a season word comes from knowing something about where it was written or the biography/geography of the poet (which is another reason why the poet’s name under a poem acts as what I’ve called the poem’s “fourth line” — and usefully so). In your example poem, Lorin, the two season words are not contradictory if one knows where you live.
And do give a read of Gabi’s link to the Higginson quotation on two season words. Very useful reading in the context of haiku usually having one season word, but still being able to accommodate two if one is clearly dominant (even if this is rare).
As for Adam’s question of why to use season words at all, well, here’s why:
a) it’s the haiku tradition (and an attractive challenge to this art)
b) they deepen each poem by giving it an archetypal reference to the ages of human life
c) they deepen each poem by alluding to other prominent haiku that use the same season word
d) they often demonstrate a connection with nature (although not all season words are about nature — thus haiku should be understood as being a *seasonal* poem, not a *nature* poem)
e) they cultivate a greater sensitivity to the world around you, with both its subtle and more dramatic changes
f) there are probably many more good reasons too!
The above being said, I do not believe *every* haiku has to use a kigo — each poem has to do what it needs to do for its own needs. That’s why I consider Jack Cain’s “an empty elevator / opens / closes” to be haiku rather than senryu, and a fine one at that. And it also helps show the difference between haiku with season words and haiku without, each of which can succeed for different reasons.
I’m going to take a shot at answering Adam’s question about why some writers use season words.
One of the biggest problems a short poem has is how to transmit information to the reader given the obvious limitations on space and word count. For me (and that’s all I can speak for) a season word adds a larger context without having to waste words on it. In Michael’s poem, “Fourth of July” is a summer season word. As such, it brings into the poem a sense of expansiveness, restfulness, emotional warmth, success, etc… Things are typically accomplished by summer time.
I would argue that our emotional interior state tends to mirror the natural seasons. For example, when spring arrives and we can start getting outdoors (and of course I’m thinking of the traditional full seasonal landscape) we tend to be energetic after being indoors so long. We’re optimistic, hopeful. The natural landscape is beginning to grow. All things seem possible. We begin planning things. Dreaming. So poems with a ‘spring’ season word automatically bring those associations into the poem. Additionally, in summer, much of those spring plans and activities have borne fruit. So it is a time to rest a bit on our laurels. A time to celebrate. In autumn, as things start to decline and the weather begins to turn we begin to notice the mortality of the world, the changes, including our own. In winter, its starkness brings a whole other set of emotions into play.
I think Michael’s poem works for a number of reasons. One being that it contrasts the celebration of a job well done (our country) with ants who are still working. That reading wouldn’t be possible without a seasonal sense of accomplishment. Without it, it would only be a comparison of people in a parade and ants in a row. A rather less interesting poem.
Michael, your essay on ‘season words vs kigo’ is honest and excellent, covering many of the questions that might occur to all of us who think about the ‘kigo problem’ in EL haiku. I’d recommend it as essential reading to everyone. Also your ‘spring breeze/ pet store’ haiku quoted in the essay is one of my favourites.
““4th of July” is a summer kigo in North America — and also for anyone who knows that it’s a key American holiday.” – Michael
If only you could find a way of saying this without using the word ‘kigo’! It’s a can of worms!
Of course ‘the Fourth of July’ denotes a Summer celebration/ commemoration for the U.S.A. (I’m not sure about Canada, which is part of North America, though) And ‘Melbourne Cup’ denotes a day in November and a Spring event for Australia. If readers don’t know these things, they can find out easily enough. And of course regional season words, both those that refer to things of nature and those that refer to regional cultural/human events and activities, are to be encouraged.
But the names of the months alone, on their own without qualification, are used world-wide, and though they are kigo in Japan, I don’t believe they act as season words (season words referring either to nature or season words referring to cultural/ human events and activities) unless the world region of the author of a haiku is known. Say you’d written ‘a day in July’ instead of ‘Fourth of July’ in this haiku…
Or, in the case of this of mine:
silent night (in italics)
the shrill counterpoint
What if I’d written:
the shrill counterpoint (or something)
and submitted it somewhere beyond the Southern hemisphere anonymously? Even with ‘silent night’, some otherwise knowledgeable haiku readers might toss it aside, thinking there were contradictory season words in it.
One the subject of two (non-contradictory) season words in a haiku, my view is ‘whyever not?’ if it works as poetry. I don’t know where that ‘rule’ came from, but it doesn’t appear to have originated from Japan, or if it does, it’s a ‘rule’ that seems often honoured in the breach.
Thanks, Jack– but I think what I’m asking for is a sense of a writer’s personal connection to seasonality. In what way, for example, does it help with a sense of creativity and discovery?
“the question of two kigo”
William Higginson in Haiku World has some remarks on this:
POEMS WITH TWO SEASON WORDS
“In Japanese as well as English and other languages, one occasionally encounters a poem with two season words.”
The rest of the rather long quote is here in my BLOG
Well I thought this was relevant in
Ottawa then I lost my chain..
There are many takes on the subject of kigo and its correlative in English known commonly as seasonal reference.
I recommend you search on the internet under Richard Gilbert and Kigo and you’ll thereby get a scholar’s erudition on the subject.
The subject of “kigo” comes up in a number of places on the blog, as it did here. I have a question some may believe is impertinent, but I would be interested to hear what those who have seriously thought about this subject have to say…
Why do you use kigo, or even season words, at all?
It sounds from what some have said that their poems are centered on, or derive from this use.
Personally I have no interest in kigo or seasonal words or reference. Some sense of seasonality will sometimes occur, but for me it’s not a requirement.
I can see, though, that it may be important for some, and Iwould not argue against it. But to be honest, the impression I sometimes have, as someone new to all this (and maybe it shows) is that for some it’s a requirement, part of the game. Sorry to be so blunt.
I come to this because a lot of what I’m inspired by,
such as some of these posted by Philip https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/2010/06/08/2nd-position/
seem free of restriction and definition and requirement. They just seem free.
But please, despite my personal bias,
why do you use any kind of seasonal reference?
Michael, I’m glad you brought up the question of two kigos…as I can’t tell you how many haiku I’ve discarded because of the need to use a major and lessor kigo in order to write the haiku. And often these lessor kigo end up not being kigo at all. Gabi’s site has been very helpful here. Many thanks for the haiku.
Philip, you ask why this blog section is called “young leaf.” The website for the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society is youngleaves.org, and that name comes from the title of a book published by the society in 2000 (I believe) to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The society used to have another domain name, but it wasn’t renewed in time, and was taken over by a porn site (!). Rather embarrasing, obviously. So the group’s site was reborn with a new name, and youngleaves.org was chosen (poetic, but not terribly informative as a site name, though). And now this blog is called Young Leaf, too, for whatever it may mean.
Also, it may be helpful to know that the commentary from Patricia and Jerry in this blog seems (so far) to be reprints of comments made in
Geppo on poems submitted anonymously for each bimonthly issue. The comments are for poems selected by Jerry or Patricia for comment in their “Dojin’s Corner,” and are thus “dojin” selections as being the best poems in the previous issue (loosely, a dojin is a senior member of a group). So my poem here is one of the poems I happened to submit to Geppo, which was selected as one of the best of the issue and thus chosen for commentary. Jerry and Patricia each pick their selections independently, and Jerry chose this particular poem of mine, but both offered comments.
It has been noted that my haiku has two season words. I have no problem with this in this particular haiku, and feel that a rigid application of such a rule stiffles the natural presentation of objects that one encounters in real life, whether the objects are typically associated with the same season or even different seasons. The point here is that “4th of July” trumps any other season word that might be in the poem. In fact, I would argue that the word “ants” is NOT acting as the season word in my poem. If there were no other season word, then it would. Terms ACT as season words (and sometimes don’t), which is different from always BEING season words. Remember, too, that Japanese masters had poems with two season words occasionally, and current masters do occasionally too (I think of a Kato Shuson poem about frost on plum blossoms). It seems absurd and unpoetic not to be able to write about ants on the 4th of July because of an overly narrow interpretation of a perceived rule for haiku. I have deep respect for season words in haiku, and it’s a cornerstone of how I teach haiku — and I value how season words can allude to other haiku and also stand as archetypes for the human condition. But I think it’s vital to understand the difference between “acting” as season words (which is what I think they do) and always “being” season words (which I don’t think is always the case).
“4th of July” is a summer kigo in North America — and also for anyone who knows that it’s a key American holiday. It’s no different from Tanabata being an early autumn season word in Japan — or for everyone elsewhere who also know it. I don’t think season words need to be “universal.” This is one of the key points Higginson makes in *Haiku World* (just consider the oppositeness of seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres to prove this point). In fact, I would say a season word can sometimes be defined by its audience, which could be as small as a group of friends or as large as a hemisphere.
Lorin wrote that “I’m not at all sure that we should be using the Japanese word, kigo, though, for English-language haiku.” I support the use of “season word” where possible. I believe we should use English-language terms where possible, except where there isn’t an equivalent to the Japanese (as in the word “haiku” itself). For a fuller explanation of reasons for this, see my “Up with Season Words” essay at http://sites.google.com/site/graceguts/essays/up-with-season-words.
Without addressing your question as it directly relates to the poem used in this blog, I would agree that in such a short poetic form as haiku that often deals with “small” subjects, there is always present a possibility of producing poems that are precious, cute, sentimental. This is something I feel that should be recognized by writers and resisted.
I tend to think Richard is right (in the thread that Philip, in his post, has provided the link for) –
“That “kigo” are equated in English with “season word(s)” remains perhaps the most painful misapprehension of literal translation in haiku scholarship. . . Season words are fine, why not? Nothing wrong with a seasonal indication (kidai). An indicative sense of environment is often desired in haiku. “ – R.G.
I don’t think that kigo exist, in any true and full sense of the meaning of kigo, in the English language.
🙂 EL haiku is a great way to learn about this world we live in, Laura. Those of us who write it come from all over the place!
I am so grateful to be able to listen to you all talk about this subject. It is very enlightening.
I am struck that I never considered that July would be winter in some parts of the world. Shame on me! I can see how that would be a confusing seasonal word (although it does seem to be a kigo).
To make up for my oversight:
fourth of july –
“Like my texbook when studying the English language, it [the saijiki] is my best friend and adviser, it helps me see the subtle differences in phrases like “spring rain” and “rain in spring” and the choice of an apropriate kigo helps me give more meaning to the few words used in a haiku.” – Gabi
But Gabi, you are writing Japanese haiku, in Japan and in Japanese, and subsequently translating them into English and other languages, which is another matter entirely to writing haiku directly in English and from your experiences and reflections in a country other than Japan.
By your own admittance, you never write haiku when you visit Germany, even.
I have never felt the Japanese saijiki as something that forces me to “conform to the dictates of a central authority”.
Like my texbook when studying the English language, it is my best friend and adviser, it helps me see the subtle differences in phrases like “spring rain” and “rain in spring” and the choice of an apropriate kigo helps me give more meaning to the few words used in a haiku.
I would like to hear (or read) more about the opinions of Patricia and Jerry about the use of kigo in ELH.
yuuki 有季, if I read this correctly, means “with a season word”.
Hello, Philip. The ‘kigo’ question has haunted me from my haiku beginnings: obviously statements like “July *is* Summer” strike me as making as much sense as ‘morning *is* night’.
There is no such thing as ‘Australian kigo’. ‘Australian kigo’ would indicate some sort of agreement had been arrived at, formulated and declared by Australian writers. This has not happened. Yet I have been dogged by claims that ‘such-and-such is an Australian kigo’ over and over again, even recently. Asking by whose authority whatever is mentioned an ‘Australian kigo’ doesn’t bring any light to the subject, either. The answer is usually along the lines of “because Joe Bloggs of Scrubby Creek wrote this haiku & he said so.”
I’m not even coming from a particularly ‘gendai haiku’ basis, as Richard is, either, just a general interest in the development of all the kinds of EL haiku, and renku as well. It certainly becomes apparent in a renku with participants from both hemispheres that July *isn’t* Summer, nor ‘windchimes’, unless, for the purposes of a particular renku, the participants agree or the sabaki declares that it is so.
I am in agreement with John Bird when he says, “For me ‘Australian kigo’ is an oxymoron.” In fact, ‘English-language kigo’ seems as much an oxymoron to me.
John’s clear and pragmatic essays on the subject of ‘Australian kigo’ may be found here:
“The reason that I doubt that it will is that history shows that people from Western cultures are less likely to accept and conform to the dictates of a central authority.
I think you have an important point here, Lorin !
PS. I hadn’t seen Lorin’s latest post when I submitted mine. Thanks, Lorin, for raising the useful questions re kigo.
Reading Jerry Ball’s and Patricia Machmiller’s opening comments, then Laura’s “I am struggling a bit with kigo…” and Lorin’s “I’m not at all sure that we should be using the Japanese word, kigo … for English-language haiku. Might the Fourth of July be a likely time to evaluate the use of the term?” I thought it might be helpful to post a link to Richard Gilbert’s reasons (including links to more detailed articles on the subject) for wanting to “remov[e] ‘kigo’ from our Japanese loan-word vocabulary” as a reductive “misnomer”. Or is there a counter-argument that I’ve missed? Otherwise, it seems most are content simply to ignore the issue. See below for the link in 2nd Position (scroll down a bit).
To be honest, reading the poem under discussion, I can’t help wondering whether, while humorous, it borders a little too much on the cute or sentimental. Or perhaps I was biased by the comment: “we think of how small they are [the ants], how persistent they are in the face of great odds, how unified they are, how defiant, etc.” Regardless of whether my doubts about this particular poem are justified, would others agree that this kind of question is important to ask, particularly of poems as brief, and often simple, as haiku. I’d be interested to hear whether others find this, in general, a concern.
Incidentally, why is this section titled “young leaf”?
“Wouldn’t “July” be a kigo all on its own?” – Laura
I believe that ‘July’ is a kigo all on its own in Japan, Laura. The concept of kigo is Japanese, of Japanese culture, based on very old poems and developed through Japanese literature over centuries. Kigo is a Japanese literary convention.
No other nation in the world has this ‘kigo culture’. Whilst English-language haiku might develop something like it, over centuries, will it take the same shape as kigo? (by kigo without scare quotes I mean Japanese kigo, not ‘seasonal reference’ and the like that are developing in the various regions of the English-speaking world)
The reason that I doubt that it will is that history shows that people from Western cultures are less likely to accept and conform to the dictates of a central authority. 😉 Is not the Fourth of July a commemoration of this?
We all know (or can find out if we don’t) that the Fourth of July is a day of cultural celebration in the U.S.A., so it’s a good example of a successful transference of the ‘cultural’ side of kigo from Japanese to English. Every region has its special celebrations. We have a horse race that the whole Australian nation stops for 😉 … and would expect the mention of that to be accepted as denoting a time in November, but do you feel that November itself is a *seasonal* reference in itself? (season being the other aspect of Japanese kigo) If you did, what season would you place a haiku in which mentioned the Melbourne Cup, but no *seasonal* indicator ?
Notice that Michael, a very experienced and knowledgeable haiku writer, has both the cultural/calendar reference (4th of July) and a season reference (ants) in this haiku. This places it firmly in the American Summer, for readers anywhere in the world. A Japanese haiku might use only the one kigo. It is a bit more complex in the case of English-language haiku, even across the regions of one large nation, such as the U.S.A., where Summer in Alaska might bring different seasonal experiences to that of Summer in Florida.
Lorin, I am now really exploring kigo and am intrigued by your posting. Wouldn’t “July” be a kigo all on its own? Or does it change meaning because it is Fourth of July?
I would love to hear more about your thoughts on this. I am struggling a bit with kigo… (Gabi has been extremely helpful to me. Very patient.)
John, I love your interpretation! I may steal it as my own now (don’t worry, I’ll credit you, even on a purely internal level).
I have to say that it is very helpful to read all the different viewpoints on this haiku. It helps those of us who are new to haiku to learn.
Many enjoyable readings are possible.
One that is mine (and not likely to be the author’s intent) is that this is the view from a penthouse apartment, high above the street. The people in the Independence Day parade are like ants. And later, these rich people can also look down on the fireworks display that so amuses the little people.
I’m reminded of the story of Indra and the parade of ants as retold by Heinrich Zimmer in his book the King and the Corpse.
To summarize, Indra, king of the gods, saved mankind and the earth and in return had a magnificent palace built for him in return for his gift and majesty.
A Brahman child, in conversation with Indra, saw a parade of ants and laughed and explained to Indra that due to the law of karma, all of the ants had once been Indras; that over the creations and dissolutions of the universal systems, those who had arisen to the ranks of the gods had in turn, due to misdeeds, later reincarnated as ants.
It was, of course, a cautionary tale and one meant to remind us that our individual splendors and achievements are only temporary and if made too much of will lead to our being no more than what we may and probably will become: a parade of ants.
Sobering, but important for the Fourth of July.
Perhaps the ants were celebrating their declaration of independence from their ant colony queen? 🙂
I’m not at all sure that we should be using the Japanese word, kigo, though, for English-language haiku. Might the Fourth of July be a likely time to evaluate the use of the term?
Ex-pat Americans celebrate the Fourth of July on the fourth of July, whether it’s Winter or dry season or whatever it is wherever in the world they are, so it is debatable, imo, that it’s a universal ‘Summer kigo’. It is certainly a ‘kigo’ in terms of culture, though less universal than eg Christmas or Buddha Day (which can hardly be said to be a ‘kigo-as-season-word’, except regionally)
It is a lovely haiku! It makes me think about how we share this planet with other life forms, who have their own goals and purposes. I wonder if the ants even notice the parade of humans.
fourth of july
was just another date in summer for me … coming from Europe, I am very bad at American history.
Only through my work with haiku did I come to learn more about it … so indeed, keeping an eye on regional kigo is a great way to learn about other areas of the world.
The ants of course are more familiar friends, they parade around my home during many months.
Thanks for introducing this one !
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