June 9: 2-4: The Technique of the Sketch or Shiki’s Shasei

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)


“Though this technique is often given Shiki’s term shasei (sketch from life) or shajitsu (reality) it had been in use since the beginning of poetry in the Orient. The poetic principle is ‘to depict as is.’ The reason he took it up as a ’cause’ and thus, made it famous, was his own rebellion against the many other techniques used in haiku. Shiki was, by nature it seemed, against whatever was the status quo. If poets had over-used any idea or method his personal goal was to point this out and suggest something else. … Thus, Shiki hated word-plays, puns, riddles – all the things you are learning here! He favored the quiet simplicity of just stating what he saw without anything else having to happen in the ku.


come into the cove

one at a time”

– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques



wind in the maples
gray seeds spin
against gray sky

after the storm
fallen branch
dries to gray

Mississippi source
tiptoe across

8 thoughts on “June 9: 2-4: The Technique of the Sketch or Shiki’s Shasei

  1. I can relate to Shiki’s emphasis on shasei as a corrective to the haiku of his time. So much western poetry, including some English language haiku, seems to be in hot pursuit of the clever, often to the detriment of poetry itself, which increasingly throws up barriers to understanding and renders itself inaccessible to all but a few of the initiated. Part of what I enjoy about haiku is how accessible it seems, even while demanding craftsmanship of the highest order.

    • K — Yes, and I admit to frequently being one of those infuriating cleverness-pursuers. 🙂 I hope not to the point of inaccessibility, though. I do admit to getting a little bored with Shiki-ish haiku; I tend to want something more than just a pretty picture — I’m more of a Basho/Issa fan myself. But yeah, sometimes it’s nice to just take a deep breath and describe something amazing in simple words.

  2. at one time i had a lot of fun telling people that i had thrown a rock across the mississippi river. of course i was at the head waters and i could have jumped across it too.

    your photo is fun:

    wet feet
    in the water
    a dance

    • OH, nice one, Wrick!
      You are so great at syllable minimization. (I, in contrast, excel at extending the syllable count past all reasonable bounds, frequently into the upper reaches of the stratosphere. 🙂 )

      • aloha Melissa – i think one of the things that helped me (after getting over that shock of 5-7-5 as a minor detail) was to listen in my skull – or out loud – to how i speak. if the phrase is awkward to speak/say then it doesnt flow off my tongue – even if it is a flowery, poetic and beautiful phrase. if i can make it flow by working at it… that too may be an indication that i have extra words/syllables that i really dont need.

        it seems to me that the less i tell a reader what to think, the more options the reader has for how they read the haiku. the haiku can then engage their mind with their own inner dialogue – and of course they may come to a very different opinion or feeling than my own. that’s okay because i’m not trying to tell them what to think, i’m just trying to say what is there. okay, okay i miss that mark a lot sometimes. …which is why we keep trying, yes. fun.

        …now if i could only listen to and do what i say. (does it ever seem to you that we give our best advise away but often forget to listen to it our self? bwahahahaha).

        i tried yesterday afternoon to find one of my haiku that i felt good enough about to put into Jane’s Shell Game. ..i couldnt find any. bwahahahahaha. …that’s not going to stop me from trying to write them tho. . .

        leaf clatter
        this island breeze
        in the dark

        aloha – Wrick

    • Thanks. There really are so many ways of writing good haiku … I try to read as many different styles of haiku as possible to remind myself not to get too caught up in any one set of “rules.”

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