• Grant Caldwell

This paper is an exploration of the validity of the writing of haiku by non-Japanese poets (NJP), addressing the question of the extent to which it is possible or necessary for NJP to maintain the haiku spirit of its Japanese origins. Commentary from various Japanese scholars and poets, recent and past, as well as Western writers, will be examined as part of an argument positing that the essential nature of haiku, going back as far as Matsuo Bashō, has always been about change and development, and that the taking up of the form across the globe is a natural and valid part of this development.

Keywords: Haiku – non-Japanese haiku – haiku spirit

The question of haiku written by non-Japanese poets (hereafter NJP) is a vexed one because of the perceived problem of ‘migrating’ the cultural and linguistic substance of haiku beyond Japan. As arguably the most popular formal poetry written worldwide today, this practice beyond Japan deserves attention, for its manner of adoption and its implications.

The practice of writing haiku1 has flourished worldwide over the past fifty years or so, with the proliferation of numerous magazines and anthologies beyond Japan. To some, however, this migration has resulted in poetry that misunderstands the essence of haiku. The uptake of the genre, ‘has been burdened by the proliferation of thousands of uninspired, yet published, examples that reinforce the negative stereotypes to which haiku has been subjected’ (Kacian 2013: 369).

This article will not address the question of the differences between languages and how these differences hinder (or not) the writing of haiku in languages other than Japanese; or indeed the questions around ‘syllable count’ and ‘free-style haiku’: I want to focus on NJP, and the question of their ability to capture the spirit of haiku in their particular language and culture. The quotation below on this subject by the Japanese poet, Keiko Imaoka, suggests advantages of the Japanese language for Japanese haiku poets, but goes on to express a concern and support for the validity of free-form English haiku and the general need to go beyond the traditional form:

… writing within the rigid structure of Japanese haiku is made possible by the remarkable malleability and redundancy of the Japanese language that allows for a multitude of options in expressing a single thought. In languages such as English and its relatives whose grammars depend heavily on word order, haiku must and will take a much different form from haiku in Japanese. By concerning ourselves too much with the outward form of haiku, we can lose sight of its essence … [What] I … was concerned with was to convince Shiki folks of the validity of the ‘free-form’ [that is, non-5-7-5] English haiku. It quadruples my joy if my article could contribute in a small way towards freeing the mainstream haiku poets of excessive concern over form. (Imaoka 2014)

It could equally be said that English too has a ‘remarkable malleability and redundancy’ that allows for ‘a multitude of options’ from a single word or phrase, despite its dependence on ‘word order’. However, Imaoka’s point about haiku taking a different or relaxed form in English is pertinent to the intention of this article. It is worth noting here that the taking up of haiku has happened in many other languages besides English, and the manner in which this has been done will have been influenced by the particular language and culture concerned. Nevertheless, irrespective of these language differences and their effects, Imaoka welcomes the freeing of poets from excessive concern over form: in other words, freeing them to focus on their own language, and indeed their own cultures. Imaoka goes on to explain the huge influence of Western culture on her generation, suggesting that the writing of haiku in Japan, as elsewhere, has itself changed and continues to change:

For most of us high school kids and other lay readers, haiku and tanka were poems to be appreciated only by reading the accompanying translations and interpretations. These traditional verses seemed boring, irrelevant, and hopelessly old-fashioned to the kids of my generation who were immersed, however unconsciously, in Western culture.

Some Japanese scholars and poets have expressed more specific misgivings about the manner in which haiku has been taken up by NJP. The Japanese haiku poet and critic, Hasegawa Kai, in a 2008 interview discussing how ‘to root this traditional form of literature indigenous to Japan in the cultural soil of the West’, states that modern haiku, even including some Japanese haiku, are ‘realism haiku’, which he explains as haiku about things, but which are lacking in kokoro (feeling, heart, spirit). As he explains it, the earliest Japanese haiku always invested in mono (things) but with kokoro, ‘Even when they appear to be written only about things, there is definitely kokoro beneath the surface’ (Hasegawa 2008). According to Hasegawa, the problem with a lot of haiku written in the English language today is that they demonstrate a lack of ‘fundamental understanding of what a haiku is.’ (Hasegawa 2008). Hasegawa concedes that such ‘misunderstandings’ can ‘bear splendid fruit’. However, he emphasises the need to consider what will be ‘meaningful seeds in Western soil’:

The basic element he discusses in this context is ma which, can have a spatial meaning, as in ‘empty space’ or ‘blank space’, a temporal meaning (silence), a psychological meaning, and so on … The ‘cutting” (kire) of haiku is there to create ma, and ma is more eloquent than words. That is because even though a superior haiku may appear to be simply describing a ‘thing,’ the working of ma conveys feeling (kokoro). (Hasegawa 2008)

Hasegawa claims that ‘Western culture does not recognise this thing called ma. In the literary arts, everything must be expressed by words’. I would assert however that these notions of space or silence, and ‘feeling, heart, spirit’ are indeed very much a part of poetry in Western and other cultures, including NJP haiku, that not everything must be expressed only by words. This notion of the kire or cutting word could be likened to the western caesura (Latin: ‘cutting off’), or ellipsis, or by line endings, more commonly in contemporary verse by the use of enjambment, as well as forms of punctuation such as dashes, colons, exclamation marks and question marks, to create space or silence or ma.

Any misconceptions that Hasegawa may have of Western poetry does not undermine the value of what he says about haiku itself. What may be conceded is that many haiku written by NJP do not contain ma or kokoro, and this may be due to the fact that these poets are not concerned with or aware of these elements, whether in the Japanese context or their own poetics. My position, and the basis of this article, is that NJP can and do write haiku with ma and kokoro. Although we do need to acknowledge the essential requirement for all haiku poets to have knowledge of these and other traditional elements of haiku if they are to successfully write haiku, be it in a new context and/or language. This idea connects with Matsuo Bash’s dictum that haiku poets need to work along two axes, the perpendicular and the horizontal.

Bashō’s two axes

In addressing the fundamental approach to the writing of haiku, Bashō referred to the essential need for all haiku poets to work along two axes. The academic and scholar, Haruo Shirane writes that Bashō believed that:

the poet had to work along both axes. To work only in the present would result in poetry that was fleeting. To work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haiku, which was rooted in the everyday world. Haikai2 was by definition, anti-traditional, anti-classical, anti-establishment, but that did not mean that it rejected the past. (Shirane, 2000)

The suggestion here is that it is the vertical axis, or working from the past, that provides a lasting element to the poem. This aspect implies knowledge or study of the history of haiku and its practice, and perhaps the continuation of its cultural and linguistic history. According to Shirane, during the Tokugawa period, from early 17th century to mid 19th century, popular culture evoked this ‘constant interaction of a vertical axis, based on a perceived notion of a cultural past … with a horizontal axis, based on contemporary, urban commoner life and a new social order’ (Shirane 1998: 5). The obvious danger, as perceived and read by some Japanese scholars, is that many NJP will not and do not have an adequate ‘vertical axis’ to work from. That is, they will not have engaged adequately with the history and practice of haiku through sufficient reading and understanding, resulting in poetry that is, in Basho’s words, ‘fleeting’.

Shirane takes up this notion of the lack of the vertical axis among NJP when he writes, ‘If Bashō and Buson were to look at American haiku today … they would probably feel that the vertical axis, the movement across time, was largely missing’ (Shirane, 2000). This ‘movement across time’ reflects the basic tradition that the poet needs to be aware of. In other words, the NJP need to learn the fundamentals of haiku from reading the haiku poets of the past, and the manner in which the poetry has changed over time. However, it is also possible that NJP have equally rich vertical cultural and linguistic sources in their own poetic traditions, which they can temper and enrich with their knowledge of Japanese poetry. Any claim by scholars whose native language is Japanese that NJP lack kokoro or feeling, heart, spirit, needs to be regarded conditionally, as it seems reasonable to suggest that this kind of judgment requires a complete or at least a thorough understanding of the linguistic nuances and cultural and historical and environmental aspects of the language of the poet in question.

Later in his interview, Hasegawa claims that: ‘Western languages are thought ultimately to belong to God, but in Japan, from ancient times, language has been considered exceedingly private’ (Hasegawa 2008). The dubiousness of this statement demonstrates the perils of such judgment. I am not aware of many (or any) contemporary Western poets or thinkers who have indicated, explicitly or implicitly, that their language is thought ultimately to belong to God. Indeed, I would suggest that they have considered their languages, at least in the modern era, ‘exceedingly private’. However, this questionable statement does not in any way refute the basic issues that Hasegawa has highlighted.

Kenneth Yasuda, a Japanese-American scholar and translator, makes an interesting parallel with Bashō’s two axes dictum in quoting TS Eliot on the poetic process, as fusing ‘the old and obliterated and trite, the current and the new and surprising, the most ancient and the most civilized mentality’ (1957: 72). This seems to suggest that Eliot, who along with Ezra Pound, moved Western poetry into the twentieth century, is reiterating Bashō’s dictum, consciously or not. Pound was a student of Chinese and Japanese poetry. I make this observation partly for its interesting parallel but also as it raises the possibility that there exist already many of the elements of haiku in Western poetics.

Bashō’s horizontal axis could be said to represent the current, the new, the imminent world, the here and now of today. However, it is important to suggest that the two axes are not seen as binaries, but as complimentary opposites, a term fundamental to Daoism and Zen Buddhism. In his early years Basho studied the Chinese classics, and Zen meditation.

From the recorded words of Bashō3, he refers to the axes as the unchanging (fueki) for the vertical, and the fluid (ryūkō) for the horizontal: ‘If one does not understand the unchanging, his poetry has no base; if one does not learn the fluid, his poetry has no novelty. He who truly understands the fluid will never stop moving forward’ (recorded by Mukai Kyorai, quoted in Qiu 2005: 136). This notion of the ‘unchanging’ refers to the aspects of nature that have been captured in the culture and poetry of the past. In a further discussion, recorded by Hattori Dohō, another follower of Bashō’s, it is explained that ‘The Master’s poetry has both the unchanging (fueki) that remains for thousands of years and the ever-changing (henka) that lasts only momentarily. These two, in the final analysis, are one at the base’ (Qiu 2005: 136). These complimentary opposites exist together, as equally important, representing the two axes along which the poet must work. But if the poet’s work is without the understanding of the unchanging, or vertical axis, it will not have ‘the sincerity of poetry’. As Bashō explained it:

This ‘one at the base’ is the sincerity of poetry (fūga no makoto). If one does not understand what the unchanging is, one cannot understand the sincerity of poetry. The unchanging does not depend on the old or the new, nor is it affected by changes and fashions; it is firmly rooted in the sincerity of poetry. (Qiu 2005: 136)

In other words, this loaded term ‘the sincerity of poetry’ refers to the unchanging that is understood through the vertical axis: the foundation of the history and practice of poetry, before and beyond but including Basho, without which, it would lack the fundamental basis. This is the ‘one at base’: the fundamental that underlies ‘the sincerity of the poetry’.

The sense of ‘newness’, or the horizonal axis, then, ‘lay not so much in the departure from or rejection of the perceived tradition as in the reworking of established practices and conventions, in creating new counterpoints to the past’ (Shirane 1998: 5). In other words, the sincerity of poetry comes from the understanding of the unchanging, but the completeness of the poetry also requires acknowledgment of the everchanging or fluid (or new), the horizontal axis, creating new counterpoints to the past, in complementary praxis: that is, acknowledging both aspects or axes, and I might add here, in no matter which language or culture.

The key element of kigo
As part of this discussion of the key elements and understanding of haiku and its transition and execution by NJP the question of kigo or ‘season word’ needs to be addressed. Indeed, if there is one element of Japanese haiku that may sometimes be lacking or compromised by NJP it is kigo.

The kigo is central to traditional haiku, central to its origins in the haikai no renga (‘comic linked verse’), a collaborative linked verse. Indeed, it remains so for many poets today, especially in Japan.

From as early as the eleventh century, the poet of classical poetry was expected to compose on the poetic essence (honi) of a set topic. The poetic essence was the established associations at the core of the seasonal word … [representing] the culmination and experience of generations of poets over many years. By composing on the poetic essence, the poet could partake of this communal experience, inherit it, and carry it on. (Shirane 2000)

One of the roles of the opening verse, or hokku (‘opening verse’) of the haikai no renga, a collaborative poem, was to establish the setting and season for the poem that followed, taken up in turn by the participants in the collaboration. American poet and scholar Robert Hass points out that ‘The insistence on time and place was crucial for writers of haiku [in Japan] … and haiku was thought to be incomplete without [a seasonal reference]’ (1994: xii). Hass adds that the seasonal references were conventional and widely available to all:

They were the first way readers of the poems had of locating themselves in the haiku. Its traditional themes – deep autumn, a sudden summer shower, the image of rice seedlings and plum blossoms, of spring and summer migrants like the mountain cuckoo and the bush warbler, of cormorant-fishermen in summer, and the apprentices on holiday in the spring – gave a powerful sense of a human place in the ritual and cyclical movement of the world. (xiii)

After he attended the First International Haiku Symposium in Tokyo in 1999, American poet and scholar, Jim Kacian wrote that, ‘kigo are bound up with the very nature of what a haiku is … [they] carry the cargo of the cultural perception of Japan … [they] are an evocation of the way Japanese people perceive the universe’ (2000). The problem is that with the proliferation of the writing of haiku outside of Japan, particularly with the advent of the internet in the last twenty years or so, the relevance of the Japanese saijiki, or list of terms used to indicate certain seasons, is no longer necessarily relevant to those outside cultures and lands. Indeed, this may be the reason that to some extent the seasonal reference has lost its central or required place in the writing of haiku by NJP. It may also be seen as a fundamental rationale in the need for change or development of haiku in a worldly context.

As with many traditions there have been for many poets, significant changes as to what is or is not essential to the haiku form over the years. Toshio Kimura, the Japanese poet and academic, writes that the history of haiku,

… could be thought to be built on reformation. Bashō broke away from Danrin… and established his own aesthetics; Shiki rejected the old common place style of Tsukinami haiku and proposed Shasei (a sketch); and in the early twentieth century Santok Taneda and Hosai Ozaki of Jiyuritsu (Free Form) haiku aimed the abolition [sic] of conventional seasonal themes and even fixed form of haiku. (Kimura 2009: 74)

Even if we take the conservative view, and accept that kigo is an essential, even the essential element of haiku, viewed in the international context any seasonal references are going to differ from country to country, indeed from region to region. For large landmass countries such as Australia, China and USA this variation is likely to be significant within the country itself. But as Shirane’s explanation suggests, the kigo is not limited to seasonal references, but includes cultural roots.

In Japan, the seasonal word triggers a series of cultural associations which have been developed, refined and carefully transmitted for over a thousand years... [it] anchors the poem in not only some aspect of nature but in the vertical axis, in a larger communal body of poetic cultural associations. (Shirane 2000)

It seems reasonable to suggest that most cultures have developed in line with the natural forces and conditions that the people have had to work with, and significantly, that this development is contained in the languages of these cultures.
Shirane rightly advises that:

… while haiku in English is inspired by Japanese haiku, it cannot and should not try to duplicate the rules of Japanese haiku because of significant differences in language, culture and history. (Shirane 2000)

The spirit of haiku
The question that arises here is, how are the NJP to develop and write their local haiku without this communal body of cultural and poetic associations? One response could be that these exist already, in the language, culture and history of all regions. What the Japanese haiku has provided is the basis of a form that is unique and immediate, that has captured the imagination not only of the Japanese, but of many other cultures, and that for many it has continued to change and develop according to the linguistic and cultural changes of the region of the poet concerned. The influences and connections or ‘communal body of poetic cultural associations’ are available to all poets and poetics to grow and develop, in the spirit of haikai imagination (see below), in the constant search for ‘newness’.

In other words, and to reiterate what has previously been said regarding Bashō’s two axes, NJP need to learn from and acknowledge the traditions of haiku, but at the same time, ‘make it new’: working from the horizontal axis, observing the natural and cultural environments of their present day. The symbolism in, for example, American haiku, may not be as regimented or obvious as it is or has been in Japan, but it doesn't mean that it is not there. If we can take the spirit of haikai on board it should welcome, if not demand, a transition to the present, including the ‘migration’ of the form to all parts of the globe.

Shirane alludes to the horizontal axis in detail when he writes,

style and approach to haikai changed significantly from period to period and from movement to movement, but certain characteristics recur. First, haikai implied the interaction of diverse languages and subcultures, particularly between the new popular cultures and the elite traditions … Second, haikai imagination meant taking pleasure in recontextualization: in defamiliarization, in disclocating habitual, conventionalized perceptions; and in refamiliarization, in recasting established poetic topics into new languages and material cultures. Haikai imagination was also marked by a constant search for ‘newness,’ for both new perspectives and new sociolinguistic frontiers in contemporary Japan as well as in reconstructed versions of the Japanese and Chinese past. (Shirane 1998: 7-8)

The changes in poetics are not always driven by internal influences. Seamus Heaney suggested in 2000 that the changes in Japan around the end of the nineteenth century were influenced by the publication of a selection of European poets in Japan in the late nineteenth century:

… when native traditions are rejuvenated by what we now call ‘the shock of the new’, it is often through contact with a foreign culture that the new possibilities suggest themselves. This, after all, is what happened in Japanese poetry at the end of the 19th century, when the so called shintaishi or New-Style Poetry began to be written. The introduction to The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse attributes this radical shift of style to the publication in 1882 of a volume of translations of miscellaneous English verse … [and] seven years later by another such anthology entitled Omokage (Semblances) which again featured translations of work by Shakespeare and several figures from the European Romantic movement including Byron, Goethe and Heine (Heaney 2000).

It is possible, especially given the proliferation of transnational publication today, that NJP can influence the writing of haiku by Japanese poets, just as the writing of haiku by Japanese poets can continue to influence the poetics of NJP poets.

Bashō advised young poets: ‘Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets but seek what they sought’ (Hass 1994: 233). In order to ‘seek what they sought’ it seems it is important for Japanese and NJP alike to not only study the work of the Japanese masters in relation to Japanese culture and language, but to also study from where they sourced the underlying ontology of their seeking, from which these historical writings and philosophies came. There is not sufficient space in this article to go into these latter areas, but it could be said in brief that it is evident that chief among these influences are the Tang poets of China and the ideas inherent in Daoism and Buddhism that crossed from China to Japan and contributed to the development of Zen Buddhism in combination with the indigenous Japanese religious practice of Shinto.

Of course, the degree to which these principles pertaining to the horizontal axis in combination with the vertical axis are applied will and does vary greatly across the world4 and between poets. Many poems that are written in the haiku form, in all its allowable variations, including those by Japanese poets, may indeed lack the spirit of haiku, may lack kokoro, may fail to grasp the essence of haiku. Kimura attempted to define modern haiku in Japan and around the world as ‘a short verse form with the haiku spirit, preserving its poetic tradition and at the same time pursuing new haiku spirits … Haiku then, dwells in the quest for the haiku spirit, not in its form’ (Kimura 2017: 80). His explanation as to what that spirit of haiku might be is both short and not entirely satisfactory, although he does allude to the difficulty of describing it: ‘a sense that the haiku form acquires from its origin and that haiku poets can feel unconsciously. After all, haiku can include both the tradition and the innovative spirits’ (Kimura 2017: 81).

It may be the case that much of non-Japanese haiku tend to follow the Free Form Japanese poets of the early twentieth century, excluding the seasonal reference, although many may still observe natural phenomenon. Otherwise, they may in fact be senryu, or poems about human nature in the haiku format, and yet often still referred to as haiku.

Shirane observes that late in the 17th Century:

Bashō and other Genroku haiku5 poets [of that time] who followed the landscape (keiki) style stressed the need both to describe nature and places as they were in the external world and to be haikai-esque, to work against the established associations and seek new perspectives. (Shirane 1998: 191)

The suggestion of this article is that for the ‘migration’ of the form to take root it requires writing along both axes, as complimentary opposites: the learning from ‘unchanging’ or the history and writings of the form, along with the ‘changing’, the creation of ‘new counterpoints with the past’, breaking with tradition, attitudes, defamiliarisation and recasting into new languages and material cultures. It might be said that the world of haiku is experiencing this phenomenon once again, or it has been doing so this past fifty to one hundred years, with the taking up of haiku world-wide, that this is the next step in the further development of the form. Non-Japanese (as well as Japanese) haiku poets are continuing with this transformation, as they ‘seek what [the old poets] sought’. This is what Bashō and subsequent masters did.

An indicator of the brave new world of haiku might be taken from Indian poet Santosh Kumar, quoting the editor of the World Haiku Anthology, Ban’ya Natsuishi:

… there are muki haiku, non-seasonal poem[s], whose keywords are not connected to seasonal aspects. It is a new style of expression in contemporary haiku. Freed from seasonal limitations, contemporary muki haiku have been enriched and expanded with keywords that indicate all living things (animals, plants, and any natural phenomenon), human beings themselves and the culture created by human beings (the body, human relations, family, culture). (2017: 14)

Whether or not NJP use seasonal references, the spirit of haiku can be maintained within the context of the language and culture of the individual poets, reflecting their land and culture. Citing a handful individual poems does not necessarily sustain such a point but it might give an indication of its possibility. I offer here a small selection of recent poems by Australian NJP as example:

in the river, and then
the log blinks
           Martina Taeker

we shelter
beneath our sunhats
spring rain
           Jo McInerney

midday hush
sound of the cow

bush track
my puppy runs towards
a lyre bird’s whistle
           Nathalie Buckland
           (Reeves 2007)

swimming beyond the mangroves                full moon
           Graham Nunn

pleasure cruise
an insect crosses the bay
on my neck

Little Nippers –
siblings practice rescuing
each other
           Quendryth Young

steps down
to grandpa’s basement…
           Andrew Phillips

shadow larger than itself
a wandering bull-ant
          Petrus Heyligers

passing the cemetery –
just the verge between
me and theses graves
          Lesley Walter
          (Reeves 2012: 3-9)

These poems use particular referents that could be seen as peculiar to Australia and could even be said to exhibit certain qualities of the broad Australian multi-cultural character, reflecting the nature of the land and its climate: irony, laconism, directness, dryness. But equally they have borrowed or reflect essential qualities of past Japanese masters of haiku, by acknowledging principles and qualities such as wabi sabi, haii, karumi, kireji and batsuga ichinyo (see the glossary of these terms and others in the Appendix below). On the other hand, as Ban’ya Natsuishi has suggested, there may be developing in NJP haiku a broader symbolic lexicon, whereby the particular seasons have become less prominent and the inferences of weather and climate and aspects of human nature and the way people deal with them are becoming the focus. It may even be said that the peculiarities of seasons or climate and land evince a universal lore that all writers and readers can identify with more or less. It is this that NJP may be said to be exploring.

There is a substantial degree of cultural and natural reference in the language of any area or region, as well as in the observation of nature in those regions that, importantly, may not necessarily be obvious to readers from other areas or regions and languages. It is the translator’s task to cross this divide, but that is an issue for another paper. If we can take up the spirit of haikai it should accept or at least not reject any kind of change, even including the migration of the form to different parts of the globe, where it has and is taking on its own work along both axes.

The question as to the validity and usefulness of a saijiki, or list of terms used to indicate certain seasons, for Australia or other non-Japanese lands, while relevant, is a large question that might be taken up in another essay. The intention of this paper has been to examine the phenomenon and validity of NJP writing of haiku in the recent past and present times.

In summary, when asking what form might non-Japanese haiku take, to say it should reside solely in the knowledge and reading of Japanese poetry and culture (in translation or not) seems to be in direct variance with Bashō’s notion: ‘Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets but seek what they sought’ (Hass 1994: 233). It would also be at variance with his dictum of writing along the two axes. Of course, in order to ‘seek what they sought’ it is important that NJP study the work of the Japanese masters in relation to Japanese culture and language, but to apply this study to their own region, culture and language, in a way that reflects the contemporary, the here and now. It could equally be said that in order to ‘seek what they sought’ the NJP need not be limited to the ethos of Japan or Japanese traditional poets; they could or should equally more broadly seek ‘qualities that transcend time’.

I finish with a quote from Bashō:

The basis of art is change in the universe. What’s still has changeless form. Moving things change, and because we cannot put a stop to time, it continues unarrested. To stop a thing would be to halve a sight or sound in our heart. (Hass 1994: 233).

(much of the following taken from Shirane 1998: 293-299)

ada: A humorous, ingenuous, seemingly artless poetic mood or style that emerges from a childish, un-self-conscious approach or attitude.

batsuga ichinyo: Object and self as one. Poetic idea in which the poet becomes selfless in order to enter into the object and become one with it’ [This aligns with Bashō’s well-known dictum: ‘Learn about the pine from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo’ (Hass 233). It may even be linked to T. S. Eliot’s notion that poetry is not the expression of personality but an escape from it].

fueki ryūkō: The unchanging and the everchanging… haikai must constantly change (ryūkō), find the new (atarashimi), shed its own past, even as it seeks qualities that transcend time.

haii: Haiku spirit… used by Bashō.. to mean the antitraditional, anticonventional character of haiku, including its freedom and unceasing search for new worlds, languages, and perspectives.

karumi: Lightness… Stress on the everyday, commoner subject matter; on the use of familiar, vernacular language; and on relaxed, rhythmical, seemingly artless expression.

kireji: Cutting word in hokku. Kireji are like punctuation or add grammatical structure, and cuts the poem into two parts. In Japanese, a kireji may indicate a question, emphasis, surprise, completion, probability, cause, or interrelationship. In English, it is punctuation, such as colons, dashes, commas, ellipsis, exclamation marks, or question marks that equate to the kireji. Kireji link two ideas, and the best haiku have more depth than a simple observation.

mitate: A visual or an iconographic allusion. Double vision. Often a witty, contemporary twist on a familiar image from the classical or medieval world.

shiori: Implying a sensitivity toward weak or delicate objects, particularly a feeling of pathos (aware). Mono no aware: literally "the pathos of things", and also translated as "an empathy toward things", or "a sensitivity to ephemera", is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

wabi:* Rejects external sensory beauty and finds spiritual and poetic depth in material poverty, in modest, simple, unadorned objects, in an ascetic lifestyle.

sabi:* A sense of beauty and spiritual depth in loneliness and tranquility, especially in natural images, generating a subtle sentiment that emerges quietly in the overtones of the poem.
*(often linked as wabi sabi)

yosei or  yojō: Overtones. A poetic style that suggests emotional overtones or sentiment without directly expressing them.


  • 1. A great number of haiku produced by NJP could be said to be senryu a similar form that eludes the kigo (seasonal reference) and reflects human nature, often in a comical manner. For simplicity’s sake I will for the most part avoid this distinction in this discussion.
  • 2. Haikai (comic, unorthodox) refers to the original form of linked verse Haikai no Renga, whereby the hokku (opening verse) which Bashō developed into a separate art form was renamed haiku (light verse) by Masaoka Shiki in the 19th Century. Haikai is also used more broadly to describe genres deriving from haikai or reflecting the haikai spirit, such as haiku, haibun, etc.
  • 3. Although Bashō produced a number of prose works wherein he outlined his ideas on the writing of poetry, his spoken ideas were also recorded by his followers and friends.
  • 4. The 2016 World Haiku Anthology (which is published in hard copy print, and has been published annually in association with Meiji University, Tokyo since 2006) contained 461 haiku from 164 poets in 33 languages from 48 countries. Haiku in English (Editor-in-Chief, Jim Kacian, New York: WW Norton 2013) contains 800 poems from 200 poets from 18 countries.
  • 5. It should be noted that these poets were not known as ‘haiku poets’ at that time.
Works cited: 

Hasegawa, K 2008 ‘An Interview with Hasegawa Kai’, interviewer: Robert D. Wilson, translators: Tanaka Kimiyo and Patricia Lyons, in Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry 6: 3, at http://simplyhaiku.com/SHv6n3/features/Kai.html (accessed 30 November 2016)

Hass, R 1994 The essential haiku – Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa, New York: Ecco: Harper Collins

Heaney, S 2000 Lafcadio Hearn Lecture, at
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/nov/24/featuresreviews.guardianreview21 (accessed 13 September 2017)

Imaoka, K 2014 ‘Forms in English haiku’, in Graceguts online journal, at
http://www.graceguts.com/further-reading/forms-in-english-haiku (accessed 3 July 2017)

Kacian, J 2000 ‘Beyond Kigo: Haiku in the next millenium’ at
http://www.gendaihaiku.com/kacian/beyondkigo.html (accessed 5 September 2017)

Kacian, J 2013 ‘An Overview of Haiku in English’, in Haiku in English: The first hundred years, Jim Kacian (editor-in-chief), New York and London: WW Norton, 305-377

Kimura, T 2009 ‘The missing link: From classic to modern’, in World Haiku Association anthology (No. 5), Tokyo: Shichigatsudo, 72-77

Kimura, T 2017 ‘The poetics of modern haiku: Verse form as the world poetry’, in World Haiku Association anthology (No. 13), Tokyo: Shichigatsudo, 75-81

Kumar, S 2017 ‘The promise of ginyu’, in Ginyu (no. 76), Tokyo: Shichigatsudo, 14

Lacan, J 2004 ‘The instance of the letter in the unconscious or reason since Freud’, in Literary theory: An anthology, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 447-461

Qiu, P 2005 Bashō and the Dao, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press

Reeves, L 2007 Famous Reporter, Hobart: Walleah Press 1: 35 (June), at
http://walleahpress.com.au/FR35haiku.html (accessed 1 August 2018)

Reeves, L 2012 Famous Reporter, Hobart: Walleah Press 1: 43 (May), 3-9

Shirane, H 1998 Traces of dreams; Landscape, cultural memory, and the poetry of Bashō, Stanford USA: Stanford University Press

Shirane, H 2000 ‘Beyond the haiku moment: Bashô, Buson, and modern haiku myths’, in Modern Haiku, I, XXXI, at
http://www.haikupoet.com/definitions/beyond_the_haiku_moment.html (accessed 3 August 2017)

Yasuda, K 1957 The Japanese haiku: Its essential nature, history, and possibilities in English, Rutland, Vermont (USA) and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company