Across the Haikuverse, No. 8: The Aftermath Edition

So. Christmas is over. Did everyone make it through okay? I’m always interested to hear how other people celebrate Christmas, or don’t celebrate it as the case may be, so if you want to leave me a comment about that or write me a descriptive haiku or something, that would be awesome. No pressure, though.

(Although you do know I am giving away a book to a random commenter this week, though, right? And not even a book by me, but a good book. So you might want to rethink your “nah, who has time to comment?” philosophy just for this week.)

We visited my sister on the East Coast for Christmas. This involved a lot of driving — I mean, a LOT — which I kind of hate, but it was all worthwhile because my sister basically spoiled us rotten. My husband and I slept in till eleven on Christmas Day — I know, I know, but we don’t have little kids jumping on us any more to force us to get up. (Although around ten-thirty my sister and my son started playing Christmas music really loudly to encourage us to keep them company.)

My sister, who is an amazing cook, refused all offers of assistance in making Christmas dinner, so instead of slaving in the kitchen my son and I went for a run around my sister’s insanely beautiful neighborhood and then we all watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Hulu and then it was time to eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (which turned out really well, unlike every Yorkshire pudding I have ever made) and red velvet cake with peppermint frosting. Red. Velvet. Cake. With. Peppermint. Frosting. Um, YEAH.

Then we played “Clue” and my son won and gave his evil overlord laugh, which I totally love, and then we all sat down and started cozily reading (my husband) and memorizing lines for a play (my son) and knitting (my sister) and writing haiku (me). And drinking lots of tea and eating red and green M&Ms and cookies with red and green M&Ms in them, trying to stay awake until midnight when my mother arrived in town on a Greyhound bus, bearing in a plastic bag a large ham and five small apple pies. We are still not sure why. But it all tasted really good.

So that was my Christmas. I don’t know why I think you care, but I like to tell long pointless stories like that and it’s my blog, so that’s how it’s going down.

Now on to why you’re actually here, which is to find out what went down in the Haikuverse this week. I am writing this while wearing the dragonfly earrings my mother gave me for Christmas, so I am totally in the Red Dragonfly spirit and am ready to fill your life with haiku-y goodness. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.


So a week or so ago Google introduced its famous/infamous “Ngram viewer,” which is a database of, like, a jillion or so words culled from the gazillions of books it has been scanning for the last several years, which allows you to create graphs showing how the use of word has changed over the years. Best. Thing. Ever. I mean, if you have pet words, you can have so much fun seeing what they have been doing over the centuries.

Here’s the graph I made showing how “haiku,” “tanka,” and “senryu” have fluctuated between 1900 and 2000 (I discovered that all of these words were sufficiently rare in English before 1900 that it was hardly worth graphing them). And here’s the Basho/Issa/Buson/Shiki smackdown, once again 1900-2000. Mostly Basho has been winning, but it looks like Issa has been on the upswing lately, which I am feeling smug about.

Play around with it. And if you come up with interesting haiku-related graphs, feel free to share.


On Twitter last week, M. Kei (kujakupoet), who is compiling an apparently voluminous tanka bibliography in his spare time, started entertaining and educating us with tweets recounting the history of English-language tanka. Well worth checking out if you are interested in tanka at all.


I’ve been spending a lot more time lately over at see haiku here, which features amazing haiga of amazing haiku by Kuniharu Shimizu. Recently Shimizu wrote a very interesting commentary on “focus” in both painting and haiku, featuring Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting “Christina.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“There is a painting of a snow covered forest. Everything, trees, snow on leaves, ground, is skillfully painted. I like the quietness emanating from the whole canvas. Then I notice. Something is lacking. Something that enhances the mood already present there, is missing. I tentatively name that something a focal point.

Haiku is a very small poetry, yet it is powerful. The reason resides in its structure, juxtaposition of two things. Basho called it “Toriawase”. Placement of two unexpected but somehow related things seems to evoke new awareness, pleasant surprise, and the switch of your imagination goes on, enabling you to appreciate it to a great extent.”

— Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

Here’s a haiku from Blue Willow Haiku World that I am including as a little late Christmas gift to my son, who is a robot fan:

robotto ga robotto tsukuru fuyu-mayonaka
robots manufacture
winter midnight
— Noburo Yasui, translated by Fay Aoyagi


I was very impressed by a piece in Haiku News last week that references the headline “Child bride horrors last a lifetime”:

torn kite
in the red sea
her pieces
— Maya Idriss


I have not even come close to examining a tiny fraction of what is in the archive of David Giacalone’s defunct blog f/k/a, but it’s a big one, and one of the things in it was that amazing long dissection of haiku by Jim Kacian that I discussed in the last Haikuverse edition, so I’m suspecting there is a lot of other great stuff in there too. Report back to me on what you find.


You knew I was going to post this entry from Fiona Robyn’s wonderful little online semi-journal a handful of stones last week, didn’t you? If you didn’t, you should have.

(And for some reason I just now noticed that the author is one Christina Nguyen, whom I follow on Twitter under the name of TinaNguyen, and who writes a lot of wonderful haiku and gogyoghka — just Google it if you don’t know what that is, I don’t have time to explain right now. Her blog is linked below.)

ragged hip-hop
I read Issa

— Christina Nguyen

This haiga by George O. Hawkins blew me away when he posted it on Facebook last week. If you can’t see the picture, basically it’s a fancy picture of a butterfly, but the haiku … I rarely read any haiku that so perfectly and delicately combines the spirit (and content) of classical Japanese haiku with the spirit (and content) of contemporary American life. Nice work, George.

winter morning
I retouch
a butterfly
— George O. Hawkins

And Vincent Hoarau continues to stun me with so many of the French haiku he posts on Facebook, like this one from last week’s astronomical event:

solstice d’hiver –
il allume la lumière
de sa mappemonde

— vincent hoarau


Gillena Cox is having a “12 Days of Christmas” celebration at her blog Lunch Break, to which anyone can contribute haiku either by emailing them to Gillena or by posting comments on one of the 12 days. She’s up to Day Four today (theme: Four Calling Birds, or the four gospels). The first three days featured haiku by yours truly. (Never before seen! Act now!) Why don’t you head over there and see what you can come up with?


This will be the last Haikuverse of 2010, so naturally I need to discuss the last “Issa’s Sunday Service” of 2010 from last Sunday’s Issa’s Untidy Hut. The featured song is “Turn, Turn, Turn,” that sixties folk-rock standby on which I have a guilty crush. There are links to versions by both the Byrds and Judy Collins and Pete Seeger. There is also a great, thematically appropriate Issa haiku, which I would cut my right arm off with a dull penknife to have written:

a new year–
the same nonsense
piled on nonsense
— Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue


Dead Tree News: I left you with a cliffhanger last time when I discussed the first two of six chapters about the development of haikai poetry in Donald Keene’s World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era 1600-1867. I know you’ll be thrilled to hear that I have just finished chapter 3 and so you can find out what happened to haikai after it was given the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by Matsunaga Teitoku in the seventeenth century.

Well, naturally what happened is that haikai became divided into competing schools, because that is what human beings do as soon as they invent something cool — they start to argue about what it really is and who should be in charge of it. On the plus side, this led to a lot more creative haikai as poets tried to carve out their own little niches in the haikai world:

Look at that! and that!
Is all I can say of the blossoms
At Yoshino Mountain.
— Teishitsu

Hey there, wait a moment!
Before you strike the temple bell
At the cherry blossoms.
— Shigeyori (This one references a No play, which his school of haikai did a lot)

Thanks to my gazing
I got a pain from the blossoms
In the bone of my neck.
— Nishiyama Soin, founder of the Danrin school of haikai. (This one is making fun of an old waka that waxes sentimental about cherry blossoms.)

There are some amazing stories about how fast these guys could compose haikai — Saikaku wrote a thousand in a day once, which everyone was impressed by until he wrote 1600 in a day and a night, which seemed amazing until he dictated 4000 in the same amount of time, which no one thought he could top until he composed 23,500 verses in a day and a night — “too fast for the scribes to do more than tally,” says Keene. Naturally, most of them weren’t much good, but that apparently wasn’t his goal: “His poetry delighted in the present, in the rapidly shifting patterns of the ‘floating world’ where the waves formed only to break.”

Despite all the quarrels between the competing schools, Soin wrote a really interesting statement of his haikai philosophy, which I can get completely behind:

Whether in the old style, the current style, or the in-between style, a good poet is a good poet, and a bad one a bad one; there is no such thing as distinguishing which style is the correct one; the best thing is to amuse oneself by writing what one likes; it is a joke within a fantasy.

Soin did not hesitate to express this philosophy with irreverent and humorous poems that took aim at the pieties of other schools and past generations, such as:

At Toribeno
The smoke never ceases
Over the funeral pyre.

Doesn’t it make the kites and
Crows sneeze?
— Soin

And that brings us almost to Basho, who was indebted to both schools of haikai for his masterpieces. Keene says, “From Teitoku he learned the importance of craftsmanship, from Soin the importance of spontaneity and of describing the present moment. Both elements were to be essential in developing the mature haikai.”

I’m feeling inspired already. On to the next chapter! Oh, and to the writing of more haiku. I hope your own work is going well in this week between holidays. It’s been a pleasure circulating the Haikuverse with you. I’ll see you again after the earth begins another trip around the sun.

9 thoughts on “Across the Haikuverse, No. 8: The Aftermath Edition

  1. I am mowed down by your output. I found your travel east most interesting. I have 3 sisters in Jersey so I know the route well to the east coast. My mother travelled with food also, we tell foul stories of the meatloaf stored in the overhead compartment of an airplane.

    I second the comment of the weird and useful blog f/k/a. I am stilling rereading the 1st and 2nd chapter of Jim Kacian’s haiku primer. It is the bible. On another topic, I have a hard time with the true Japanese haiku writers. I think my zen is buried deep.

    I had a good haiku moment when I saw my 32 year old son’s teddy bear airing on the family room floor. My wife had retrieved it from a long rest in an attic trunk in preparation for our son’s first child. But I am at a loss to fit this all into a few polished words.

    Happy new year,


    • The classical poets I tend to like the most are the ones who seem very modern (or maybe timeless) in spirit. Basho and Issa are both usually like that but there are plenty of others.

      Here’s my version of a ku for your Teddy bear situation but of course I’m not feeling it the way you do so it won’t be the same:

      winter cleaning
      an old teddy bear
      for a new child

      Thanks for your comments, hope you had a great Christmas!

  2. well i can understand why Basho peaks when the others do but what got Basho so high in 1970? hmmm….

    juicy stuff Melissa. it’s fascinating to listen to your words. almost as fascinating as the haiku you select. but then… those are some of the best of the best, yes. yes.

    you tell a great story. i liked listening to your Christmas.

    now if any of this haikuverse could help me in writing ku… way cool. i like “the importance of spontaneity and of describing the present moment” wow. that resonates. okay, okay so that means i really need to work on the other one. sheesh.

    it’s seven A M
    the night is too short
    i need sleep

    • Thanks, Wrick. I wish I had juicier stories to tell, but we are pretty tame around here…

      On the other hand … “What got Basho so high in 1970?” — ah, a loaded question. 😉 There was a lot of that going around in 1970, I’ve heard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s