Across the Haikuverse, No. 7: Please Don’t Make Me Go Christmas Shopping Edition

Yes, it’s that time again — time to check your booster rockets, lay in a supply of freeze-dried sushi, and climb into the shuttle for a whirlwind tour of the Haikuverse.

I am going to try to make this snappy since, in anticipation of the Holiday of Boundless Capitalist Delight, I’m planning to swing back by Earth later this afternoon in an attempt to observe this planet’s December ritual of purchasing an overabundance of material goods to honor the birth of someone who spent a lot of time talking about how stupid money was. If you joined me, we could amuse ourselves by trading senryu about the foibles of our holiday-crazed fellow human beings and then repairing to a tea shop to eat cookies and regain a Zenlike state of tranquility. Wouldn’t that be fun? Oh, well, maybe next year.


If you’re as stressed out by Chrismukkwanzaa as I am, you should go check out The Haiku Foundation’s new user forums. They have kind and helpful moderators, interesting discussion topics, opportunities to get feedback on your haiku from wiser and more experienced poets, and a generally happy, relaxed atmosphere, which we can all use this time of year.


Chris Gordon from ant ant ant ant ant stopped by here this week and left a brilliant comment that made me very happy, which reminded me that I hadn’t visited his wonderful blog in a while. Lots of great poetry there, including this lovely one-liner of Chris’s from his 2007 book Echoes:

the rain warmer than the air around it I find your scar

— Chris Gordon


Fiona Robyn, who posts her own lovely writing at a small stone and other peoples’ at a handful of stones, has gotten on the “write a whole bunch of stuff in a month in the company of other people” bandwagon (see: NaNoWriMo, NaHaiWriMo).

Her version is called “International Small Stones Writing Month,” and it’s headquartered at a river of stones. In a nutshell, the idea is to sign up to write one of the tiny poems Fiona calls “small stones” every day in the month of January. This seems like it would be a lot of fun for someone who, unlike me, had some extra time on his or her hands in the month of January. So if you’re one of those people, go make Fiona happy and hop on her bandwagon.

And speaking of a handful of stones, here’s one of my favorite posts from last week:

the fog finally
lifted, revealing distant

— @HaikuDiem


I’ve really been enjoying the haiku that George O. Hawkins has been posting lately on Facebook and Twitter. Like this one, for instance:

open water
the icy countenance
of a swan

— George O. Hawkins


Speaking of Twitter, CoyoteSings has created a blog featuring some of the best Twitter haiku and tanka, so if you’re wondering what’s going on over there on Twitter but you don’t want to actually get an account, you could check out Jars of Stars. Here’s a ku you might like, for instance:

such heat
then snow

our lives

— @PerlyGates


I liked this Daily Haiku entry last week:

first raindrops
an inaudible voice
on the answering machine
— Robert Epstein

I am so glad to see that Alan Segal, who had been on hiatus from his blog for a while, is back to posting fairly regularly at old pajamas: from the dirt hut. Alan’s poetry is surreal and challenging but I like the interesting things his images do to my brain. Example:

my horse dreams
of tracing the pattern
between stars…
and, ironhooved, shape,
sew his wooden kimono

— Alan Segal

I don’t pay nearly enough attention to haiga (there are only so many hours in the day) but every once in a while one really grabs me, like this illustration of a Ban’ya Natsuishi ku by Kuniharu Shimizu from see haiku here. (Go look at it. It’s a picture, see?)

“Issa’s Sunday Service,” over at Issa’s Untidy Hut keeps on making me happy. Last week there was a Grateful Dead song (“Althea”) that so, so geekily references both “Hamlet” and a 17th-century poem by Richard Lovelace (and, interesting to nobody but me, I just noticed that the version of the song linked to here was recorded in 1981, when I was twelve, at the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, CT, about fifty miles from where I was living at the time).

Then there were several poems and ku on the subject of temple bells, including:

the praying mantis
hangs by one hand…
temple bell

— Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

Really, what’s not to like?


At Haiku Bandit Society the monthly Full Moon Viewing Party is coming right up on the 21st. Go on over there and share your ku on the subject of the full moon. All the cool kids are doing it.


On Michael Dylan Welch’s website, Graceguts, there is a great Lee Gurga interview, from 1991 but still well worth reading. (Michael reminded us of it on Facebook this week.) Here’s an excerpt:

My personal destiny is somehow intertwined with haiku, and has been since the dawning of consciousness in adolescence. I don’t feel this with any other kind of writing, nor with any other activity with the exception of planting trees and wildflowers. But please don’t misunderstand me: this is not to say that I suppose there is anything “special” about my work, or that it is better than the writing of those differently related to haiku. But then, of course, the aim of haiku is “nothing special”—that special “nothing special” that somehow touches us at the core of our being.

— Lee Gurga


Over at extra special bitter, Paul David Mena blew me away with this one this week:

December rain —
the long night

— Paul David Mena


At Tobacco Road Poet, the “Three Questions” this week were answered by Jim Kacian, who is the founder and president of The Haiku Foundation and also one of my favorite living haiku poets. He wrote this, for example (and I had a really hard time choosing this one from among many other favorites), so you see what I mean:

just now
as my life turns crazy

— Jim Kacian

It’s worth reading Jim’s answers to the Three Questions and also worth reading much of the copious other material by and about him that is available out there on the Interwebs. There is this index that can get you started. I love the first essay it links to, “Haiku as Anti-Story”, which starts out this way:

Haiku are not really difficult, once you are willing to take the words at their own valuation. … So why is it so hard? Why does it need explanation? Because the mother, friend, reader is looking for story. “Yes, it’s a lily, but what is it really?” Your audience is looking for story, but you’re giving them — anti-story.

— Jim Kacian, “Haiku as Anti-Story”

Oh — so hard for those of us who love stories so passionately to let go of that narrative pull. This makes me wonder if I am guilty of wanting haiku to do too much — if I want them, too often, to be tiny stories. It also makes me wonder if it’s really impossible for haiku ever to be tiny stories. So much to think about…
But if you really want to be blown away by the comprehensiveness of Jim’s thoughts about and understanding of haiku, you’ll have to set aside a little time to read his magnum opus: First Thoughts: A Haiku Primer. This covers everything about haiku, from history to form to content to technique to language, in exhaustive, sometimes exhausting, but exhilarating detail. (If for some reason you’re a little short on time this week and want to read a short excerpt to get an idea of what the Primer is all about, you could just read “How to Write Haiku.”) Try it, you’ll like it.


Dead Tree News: During the same used-bookstore visit in which I picked up the Johan Huizinga book on play I wrote about the other day, I found a thick tome by Donald Keene entitled World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867. It covers poetry, fiction, and drama. I am making my way through it slowly. Very, very slowly. Okay, so I’ve only read two chapters. But they were great chapters!

These were two of six chapters on the early development of “haikai,” which are what we know today as haiku (in case you weren’t aware, no one called them that until Shiki coined the term in the nineteenth century). Keene doesn’t even get around to Basho until chapter 5, so this is the really early development of haikai.

Some of this story was familiar to me — I knew that haikai originally were the first verses of renga, a linked verse form which at the time was primarily a kind of parlor game or a form of court entertainment, often employing crude humor or at best clever word play. But I didn’t know that no one took them seriously as an independent art form until a guy named Matsunaga Teitoku came along. He wasn’t a great poet or anything and he seems to have been a little OCD-ish in insisting that everyone follow the Official Rules of Haikai, which he kind of made up himself. (Some things never change.)

However, Teitoku did haikai the great favor of saying that it was just as valid a poetic form as renga or the fancier poetry known as waka, and also of saying that it was all right to use a simpler, more ordinary vocabulary — “haigon” — in haikai, compared to the more elevated, literary vocabulary that writers of waka usually employed. Here’s what Keene says about this development:

[Teitoku’s] insistence on haigon not only enriched the vocabulary of poetry but opened up large areas of experience that could not be described except with such words. Haikai was especially popular with the merchant class which, though it retained a lingering admiration for the cherry blossoms and maple leaves of the old poetry, welcomed a variety of poetry that could describe their pleasures in an age of peace and prosperity. … [W]ithout his formal guidance haikai poetry might have remained forever on the level of the limerick.

— Donald Keene, “Matsunaga Teitoku and the Creation of Haikai Poetry” from World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867

So there you have it … the next time you are writing a haiku and striving to keep it simple, stupid, you can thank Teitoku.


Okay, off to brave retail hell in the name of peace on earth. As ever, it was a joy circumnavigating the Haikuverse with you this week. I wish you many silent nights in which to read, and write, haiku, unless you are the kind of person who prefers the company of merry gentlemen this time of year, in which case, by all means, go for it.

18 thoughts on “Across the Haikuverse, No. 7: Please Don’t Make Me Go Christmas Shopping Edition

  1. aloha and way cool Melissa. i had not seen Kuniharu Shimizu’s blog – See Haiku Here. that is a treat – thank you. …among the many thank you’s that should be here for your Haikuverse… and the effort you put into it…

    oh, yeah. i like your silver polish ku. very like. yes.

    i’ve also been oscillating on posting or not posting another place way to play with ku. or may be i’m just still trying to figure out what it is will be. one of the last mentions above connected to part of what i think i’m trying to get at with this play not think ku thing. the words “First Thoughts” – which i think is what i’m trying to explore – or part of what i’m trying to get at – but since it’s not worked out yet… i dont really know. regardless i was thinking of them as RawKu. not always polished (or unpolished) but the essence being closely connected between writing and moment. yeah, sounds like this has been done. …which is the reason why i’m probably wobbling on posting it. or among the reasons. …because i’m probably also constantly refining – or attempting to refine what i write as ku – or rawku too. what am i getting at…?? may be just that reading Haikuverse inspires me to try again. may be even enough to come out of my hibernationing and post something – altho may be not. it’s that kind of time for me. it’s great to read what you are exploring as well as what you have explored. thank you for an astonishing post yet again.

    btw imo – allow Christmas to not get you. imo, it’s a better Christmas that way and as you point out probably a lot closer in spirit to the being that was not about commercial or monetary value.

    have fun. celebrate life. keep on being you. aloha.

    • I go back and forth on what to do with my ku, too, even as I get more and more into sending them out to journals and posting them other places … but it feels a little bit like, oh, I don’t know, letting your kids grow up and go out into the world or something. 🙂 Oh — I guess when you look at it that way it’s harder to feel bad about it. 🙂

      But yeah, when you are thinking about whether or not they will be rejected it is a completely different process writing haiku than when you are just playing around and throwing them gleefully up on the blog and thinking, well, if someone doesn’t like them they can just go look at someone else’s blog then. I have to fight to keep myself loose and unstressed-out when I am getting haiku ready to send out to journals or what have you. I mean … I want my writing to be good of course … but I guess I am still trying to meet my own standards of “good” and keep the attitude that if stuff is rejected it may be because it isn’t any good or it may just be that the editor doesn’t have the same taste as I do. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference though. 🙂

      Oh Christmas. Yeah, I have a love/hate thing with it. It will be OK. I am going to see my sister’s new house and that will be fun. Thanks for all the kind words. 🙂

      • oh, yikes, there he goes again…
        yeah. a life of their own. that’s the way i see it when my work leaves the place where it was created. (for me) it is really fun to walk into some place and see one of my works living there with other people. that is a big beam thrill. even photos which i’ve occasionally gotten can do that – but wow actually seeing how it lives… yeah, let ’em go. they’ll do much better (imo) if i let them go. after all they’ll have to make it on their own after i’m gone – seeing them make it on their own before i go – yeah, thrill.

        i agree too when the reason for making a work – ku or visual becomes “getting in” there is an entirely different mind set involved. that in itself is a challenge. it’s good to do it and experience it, but it’s also good (imo) to listen to your own mind set the way you want it. …for me that means even if i self publish a book. i’m way out of the publishing world. but i can self publish. i know it’s not as prestigious or may be… ?? high up on the scale of achievement – but then i can do it my own way. and it is our world today – publishing on demand. so there is a trade off. one i’m willing to accept. of course i probably wouldnt turn down a publisher but like you say – it’s a different kettle of whistles and bells altogether.

        okay, here: L@@k – put blinders on when you’re submitting your ku and just have fun anyway. when i submit something as soon as it’s in, i try to just let it go. if i hear back or not isnt something i want to watch for. i try to just let it all be gone. that way, if i dont hear back, i never know (altho at some point, if i remember, i might ask if it arrived i suppose). if i’ve really let go of it, and i do hear back – wow, then it’s a treat and a surprise and it all returns to me anyway. letting it go this way makes it a little easier on me – even if it’s not the way it’s supposed to be done. yeah, a rejection has a reason – but the reason can be way off what we think it is about (even if they tell you why, that isnt necessarily the actual reason) – it can even be a great work and still get rejected. often it’s one person rejecting it, or if several, they either have a unified criteria or they battle it out among them selves as to what gets in and what doesnt – and the criteria and battles can be as far off the wall (and sometimes just as far off relevance – not that they are not trying, it’s just human nature to place different values on things and have different criteria placed on panels and judges) and that stuff can be as far off as the human race is wide. we are human beings, not perfect beings – even if we are knowledgeable and well qualified to judge. i have lot’s of stories about this with art from both ends of the process and even the professionals are still only giving their one-person opinion. no matter who it is. …and again.. if your work is so original that it’s never been seen, how can someone make an immediate judgment on it on something they’ve never seen until that moment? for the most part it’s time that shows us what is really good or not. yeah, they are doing the best they can do and i’ll go with that, but i’m going to keep in mind that in or out it’s just part of the process.

        bwahahaha, now i’ve done it. rambled on. again. oops. yeah, i say aim for the high quality of your own standard(s). ku/literature/writing or visual art or any other art too.

        yeah, this Christmas thing. go for the spirit and laugh on everything else. hey. take one of your ku in a presentational way and present it to your sis for her new house – just a thought. it’s good to practice that process. if you make it in an easy to find frame size… or do that and frame it yourself… way fun. 5 x7 8×10 standard photo frame sizes… click. i’m done. …for now.

        • Ok, that’s it, you are now my official Christmas Gift Consultant-slash-therapist. 🙂

          I must pick your brains at greater length about this publication stuff and you must tell me more about the writing you’ve done, but right now I am in the car and the battery is running low on my phone…to be continued. 🙂

          • ha. the consultant is in. sometimes.

            …as for writing you probably already know my limits and strengths. wait, is rambling a strength? to go beyond haiku in a book it’ll most likely have to be as image books. on the other hand if you want to edit for consultation sessions… bwahahahaha, i know, i know. that isnt going to work out well for your part. (sure, if you want more info on self publishing let me know – in 5 minutes you’ll know more than i do, but what i have you’re welcome to…)

            • “is rambling a strength” — oh God I hope so, Wrick, otherwise I’m doomed … 🙂

              do you write anything besides poetry? and lengthy blog comments? 🙂

              I want to put together some kind of (paper or electronic) chapbook of some of the ku from the blog … one of my projects for my winter break is to investigate options for that. But I don’t think I’m really thinking of it in terms of “publishing” in the sense of it being a commercial venture, more just in the sense of it being a piece of art. Also, need to actually sit down and think about what I want it to contain and look like before I start blabbing about it more …

              • ha. if rambling is a strength, i may have potential… your rambling is always with a focus in mind Melissa – at least that’s the way it seems to me. …i write other things at times, but it’s scattered and sometimes no more than a grocery list… while at other times… my problem is it’s better if i write for no reason at all. if i have reason i bog down and it get’s cumbersome. and really… i’m not knowledgeable enough about language to become a writer… altho most likely i’ll keep trying – or at least writing. i do like it.

                a short story:

                or another:

                just to be clear those ARE the better ones. i have plenty of a lesser nature. i also liked 55 word stories at one time. and one sentence stories too. and probably have examples.

                the thing about on demand publishing is that you can do a book just for yourself if you want to and make it available to no other person. or you can buy x number of copies for yourself. or you can do all of the above and make it available to others either at cost (you’d make no money) or with a slight to reasonable to big mark up – depending on what you want to do. you can also make very inexpensive books – or what a lot of mail art artists call “zines” – but not the online zines – a hard copy of paper. it can be in multiples or one of a kind. mail art also does a standard sized book called a chunky book – but that probably isnt what you want so i’ll skip that. these zines can be very simple or quite elaborate. if you want examples. let me know. if you want more depth discussion or other possibilities on any of this… may be emails make sense? i have an idea of what you mean by a chap book – it seems to me that’s a writer’s term tho… still.. a book by any other name… oh. there are online possibilities too. i do have a number of ideas that i want to do as books. whether i get to them in 2011 or not… heck if i know.

                • Wrick…I love that second story especially! There were so many possibilities for scenarios there. That dialogue was amazing.

                  LOL yes my rambling does usually have a focus … it’s just very, very blurry. 🙂 I do get usually get somewhere eventually, I just have a feeling that I lose about three-quarters of my readers before I get there. 🙂

                  Yes, zines, such a great concept which I have always loved … I always end up getting tripped up/discouraged by my complete lack of artistic ability or understanding of graphic design but maybe I just need to let that artistic naivete work for me and be part of who I am. Yeah … that’s it. Incompetence as feature, not bug. 🙂

                  Yeah, chapbooks (these days) are basically a poet’s term for a short/small book of poetry by (usually) a single poet … can be printed or handmade …

                  I still need to think and plan. If I wish to interrogate you further I will email you and pester you mercilessly. 🙂

                  Merry Christmas!

                  • yeah. i like the 2nd story too.

                    i dont think you loose your readers. i think may be people are in a hurry tho. so may be it’s the amount. for me it’s hard to read a lot of words – because i’m a slow reader. you are one of the few people i will read a lot of words from tho. because you make sense and have a point, and it’s personal writing, which i tend to like.

                    yeah, i think in the now world you can do a book page the way you want to do it for the most part. once you start trying to lay pages out, you’ll see and learn about why things are often the way they are, i think. i’m not knowledgeable in that area really either. i think i’ve figured some of it out. i’ll learn a lot on the first one i set up, i’m sure. that’s why i’ve started several and then back off of them. i learn. at least i hope i am. bwahahahahaha.

                    yeah, i have a number of chapbooks – i didnt know that’s what they were when i was buying them necessarily, i just liked them. i also have several really great zines too. so i learn from those as well.

                    yeah, if you want to bounce ideas around and listen to me ramble and think, i’d be glad to help. that helps me learn too, because i think you have knowledge that i dont have. so it might work out on both sides. or may be a collaborative effort if that seems possible too. i’m open to that kind of thing. planning and thinking is good, at some point i know i just have to plunge in and do it.

                    i have some things still ongoing that i want to get done but i’m often thinking and working on several things at one time. so… yeah, if you want to bounce ideas. do so when ever you’re ready.

                    Merry Christmas and cool New Year on you. aloha.

  2. Yes, wow!!! (after Margaret). Each haikuverse leap with you leaves me spinning as when I turn away from pyrotechnics and the blinding shower stays in my eyes. Thanks no end, Melissa!

    I’m learning by bounds. But becoming more aware of what haiku really is often leaves me staring at the wintry screen of my computer! Reading through the sites you’ve discover and share with the authors’ mastery of the craft has rather eroded my boldness at posting my whatever-haiku though I sometimes still do creep in with my lines. I know this spell is a mark of knowing. And I look forward for the next ‘verse.

    Now, how does one haiku the spirit for you? Yet boldly from me…

    Merry Christmas!
    her son shifts language
    from his dad’s to hers

    • Thanks, Alegria. I know what you mean when you say that reading the wonderful work of others can sometimes discourage you a bit from doing your own … but I try to think of it as inspiration instead. 🙂 So many amazing things to learn, so many wonderful ways to improve …

      I love your ku here … thanks for sharing.

  3. Anti-stories! I like that (even as much as I’m compelled to tell stories!)

    And, speaking of the Haikuverse, for my birthday Lucie gave me a book you’ve maybe not encountered. It really seems like a good one but I haven’t had time yet to read much of it:

    Japanese Death Poems – Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death compiled and with an Introduction by Yoel Hoffman

    The bits I have read are pretty poignant. This is the first actual book of haiku I’ve owned and I’m finding there’s something much cooler about haiku in a book vs haiku digital on the screen. The paper and the ink, the smell and sound, give the ku added texture. It makes me want to get a typewriter or, at least, some high quality printer paper!

    • Yeah, I find the idea of letting go of stories really challenging … I have to say that even though I knew the whole drill about haiku being merely an observation of a moment and shying away from interpretation, etc., I really never thought of them as being *anti*story until I read that essay. I am still pondering it. I am still pondering the definition of story.

      Do you know the E.M. Forster example where he says “The king died” is not a story but “The king died and then the queen died of grief” is — the difference being the causality in the second instance. It’s true, haiku tend not to give causes, so if you accept that definition …

      Maybe the thing that gives me pause is that I am such a relentless storyteller that even if the haiku itself doesn’t tell a story, I tend to imagine one anyway. 🙂 Then I’m surprised when other people haven’t told themselves the same story, but of course, it’s because the story was never there in the first place. 🙂

      Your wife gives you cool birthday presents. 🙂 I will have to look that one up. And yeah, actual books of haiku are amazing. They really encourage you to linger over the ku, too, which is harder to do on the screen.

      TYPEWRITERS. Yes. I have an ancient Underwood and I am always planning to type out some of my ku on it. Must actually do it!

  4. So sorry about that line with wrong grammar! I changed from present perfect tense but failed to delete the ‘ve in “you’ve discover and share”…

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