Call for Submissions – Dreams

It’s that time again – we are looking for submissions.

The topic is Dreams

Deadline – until the end of November

Dreams are the most personal, vivid yet elusive byproducts of our minds. They are life’s greatest gifts and motivators.

Cafe Haiku would like to invite all you wonderful haijin to share your ‘Dreams’ with us. Shapes, sizes, colour…haiku, senryu, haibun, haiga… anything that show-cases your haikai aesthetic.

Upto 5 haiku, haiga or haibun or other forms. Please read the detailed guidelines on the About page before submitting.

Dream big, put it in words or art and send it in.

Haiku Demystified – Kigo and Kire

After Geethanjali Rajan’s series simplifying kigo, here is another excellent article on kigo and kire by Alan Summers. Essential reading.

More than one fold in the paper  

Kire, kigo, and the vertical axis of meaning in haiku

By Alan Summers

Are kire and kigo the warp and weft of haiku?  Are they still the key ingredients in contemporary haiku?

At a time when haiku writers both inside and outside Japan are reconsidering kigo as a worthy and pertinent device for haiku in the 21st Century I wonder why it might be seen as cliché, or mistakenly relegated to an amusing, if not a perfunctory weather report. Am I missing out on something if I decide to include; exclude kigo; make attempts at kigo; or even make any seasonal reference in my haiku? 

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Haiku Demystified – Kigo Explained, part 3

Kigo – the beauty of nature in haiku

Kigo – Some more points to consider (in conclusion)

Geethanjali Rajan

There are a few points to consider when one uses kigo in a poem. As a poet, make sure you know what you are talking about. Many haiku fail because it starts with one season and goes on to mention another season by the third line (kichigai). Using season words from two different seasons can confuse readers – especially those who really do know their kigo or just live life close to nature. Another thing that traditional Japanese haiku doesn’t encourage is the use of two kigo in one haiku (kigasanari). We do work with very few sounds – do we need more than one kigo? Once you think that over, if the answer is still yes, then go ahead (only) if it is absolutely essential. There are many poets in English who use the same word twice in one haiku and I am not talking about a season word here (words like drop, water or river). They do it with purpose and for emphasis. But not all get away with it. It is the same with season words. If you say summer heat and then again, say something about the summer – it may just get too hot for 9 -12 sounds/syllables of English. If you still need to use two season words, then perhaps, one could be the ‘leading’ season word.

How do we know which words mean seasons and which don’t? I would like to point you back to the first part of the kigo discussion. At the self-editing stage of the haiku, search a database of kigo to see if the haiku have two confusing season words. It may be prudent to do this before you send out the haiku to a journal that knows and respects their season words. (There are competitions that weed out poems with two kigo at the preliminary stage itself (‘disqualify’ is the word they use) before haiku are read by the final judges. And I am referring to International English Language Haiku Competitions – not just Japanese.)

In English language haiku (ELH), the distinction between haiku and senryu is also confusing in many parts of the globe. The definition is easy but the actual division is difficult. Not so in Japanese. The tone of the senryu sets it apart as a different genre. There’s humour, irony, even irreverence – most of which make it easier to distinguish. (The popular ‘sarariman’ (working man) senryu genre is an example.) In English, the only thing that’s clear about the divisions between haiku and senryu for the most part is the grey in-between. What could be a gut-wrenching haiku for me may be a senryu for you, only because it is about the nature of the (hu)man and not about the (hu)man in nature. Some poems are clearer to categorise but many are not. Then, does that mean that if there is a season word, it becomes haiku? Again, the answer to that is a question – is it meant to be a haiku or a senryu? What is the focus? Just because the name of a month is included in a poem, it doesn’t become a haiku. Most often, the essence or the core of the poem, the sensibility, decides whether it is a haiku or a senryu and not just the form or the words relating to seasons used.

I have been talking about season words for a bit now. I would like to add what it has meant to me and in what situations I find it really useful. I may or may not be using season words in my own haiku but I find the saijiki really handy when I am reading haiku. This is absolutely true for Japanese haiku and surprise! It is the same with ELH as well. To really go deep into a verse and see the beauty of the season, sometimes we need to know more about the place that a person lives in or the season they are referring to. Many years ago, when I read a scarecrow haiku, it was only just that for me. When I later learnt about it as a symbol of Autumn in that country and its significance, more layers evolved from the same haiku. Another area where the knowledge of kigo is absolutely essential is traditional renku. Without seasons and its symbols, renku would never be possible.

To make this short, for the many hours of haiku enjoyment, I have kigo to thank. To read and delve deeper, works for me. I wouldn’t trade that joy for anything. When I read about Groundhog Day, or July the 4th, it helps me understand that bit of culture better. However, there are no saijiki that is exhaustive for any part of the globe (except its birthplace). Even in Japan, the older saijiki were edited to make the newer ones correspond to newer calendar years (not the earlier calendar). This has caused some entries to be redundant/double entered. Read here: Calender systems

The point I wish to make is that kigo isn’t simple – not even in Japan. However, it can be enjoyable to read about it, use what makes sense to you in your part of the globe (and in your life) while writing haiku. While reading haiku, I take a more expansive view – I take haiku to be a window to another’s life and culture. Therefore, I must take the effort to understand the haiku better, especially if the poem has references to nature and seasons that I don’t understand. By reading up a bit after I have read and enjoyed the haiku, layers and meanings have opened up.

I end this with a request – if you read a haiku with a nature reference, or even better, with kigo – don’t move on. Read it, soak it in. Tarry a while. If the haiku has a season word from another part of the globe, there’s an opportunity! Read it, read about it, and enjoy the diversity that is us. After all, it’s us – the readers – who make the other half of the haiku.

For your reading pleasure, here are a few examples from the Café haiku team that are rooted in the season and the region:

dawn over Dal lake
emerging from the mist
the flower boat

Rohini Gupta
Heron’s Nest, March 2008

mustard fields –
a thimbleful of sun
in each blossom

Paresh Tiwari
First Place – Indian Kukai # 2, Nov 2013

summer hols
— the jamun tree
ripe with boys

Raamesh Gowri Raghavan
Whispers . . . May 18, 2015

a single diya
lights up the widow’s home-

Sandra Martyres
Café haiku – Diwali, the festival of lights

Onam swing –
the rhythm of grandma’s songs
life after life

Vidya Venkatramani
Café haiku – Festive haiku

the colours run down
a devotee’s face

Brijesh Raj
Café haiku – Bappaku

harvest season —
the tinkle of bells
from a decorated ox

Geethanjali Rajan
brass bell: a haiku journal, June 2021

Kigo – Further reading and resources on the web – I have only picked 5 personal favourites:

  1. – Gabi Greve – database of articles for reading and search function.
  2. – Dr. Richard Gilbert – definitely recommended reading on seasons and kigo.
  3.,january2010 – Susumu Takiguchi – examples and short explanations of haiku with kigo, apart from perspective on other aspects of haiku.
  4. – Yuki teikei haiku society’s kigo list and a short explanation of saijiki.
  5. – Ferris Gilli – again, essential reading and yes, please read till the end of this article. 

Haiku Demystified – Kigo Explained, part 2

Kigo – the beauty of nature in haiku

Kigo – Some Perspectives and Difficulties (part 2)

Geethanjali Rajan

Let’s take a look at what happens with season words outside of Japan. When we write in a language that is not Japanese and we happen to live in a place other than Japan, it does not make much sense to write about the seasons in Japan. That would amount to making the most ‘deskest’ of desk-ku because we would not be writing from experience nor from a place of authenticity. However, as many experienced haijin have suggested before me, when we use a season word that is particular to the country (or area) we live in, it is still possible to rise up to the occasion of a ‘seasoned’ traditional haiku. Then the discussion moves to whether it would be too narrow a reference or whether people will ‘get it’ even without extra help from the internet.

Adding to this, is the issue of the haiku community mainly being an internet- based one now. Net-based journals or printed books that reach readers across the world, add to the diversity in the experience of season. For instance, an Australian reader of a Christmas verse written by a poet in the USA does not experience the whiteness of snow at that time of the year, but can appreciate the haiku nonetheless. If we articulate the season and the emotion well enough, the haiku works for all. If the reader gets the verse but not altogether, and decides to read a bit more about the season word, no harm done! If it leads to a little more of cross-cultural understanding, it wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Haiku is not about writing what everyone knows and understands, but about bringing in that bit of wonder from your life onto paper and then, maybe to readers elsewhere.

The cliched repetition of seasonal images is something most people find boring. Yet, there is a beauty in the moon that hasn’t dimmed in centuries. And I definitely love the moon (and the stars and the fading light). Then, what exactly is cliched in a moon verse? It isn’t the moon that is cliched, it is the rest of the haiku that makes it trite. Putting in nature elements just to call it haiku does not work. Similarly, avoiding all elements of nature and seasonal references, just because it has been said “so many times before”, is something I find lazy. I am sure there are moments that are inspiring wherever we live. Again, I am not suggesting that haiku outside of Japan should have the kigo of Japan. Nothing can be more worrying a trend than that! Perhaps, writing about cherry blossoms without understanding the deeper philosophy that the Sakura stands for, is what makes a haiku contrived. Writing about one’s own journeys and geographical spaces, bringing in the seasonal references that one can to make a poem interesting enough, is a skill I admire in many poets. And I am not suggesting that every poem ‘must’ have a seasonal reference (but I do admire poets who are able to do this).

When poets start writing haiku, kigo may seem a little difficult; for some others, it is a natural process. If you live in the buzz of an urban jungle, your haiku probably resonate with that life and not sunsets at the beach or summer strolls in the woods. That’s fine – haiku is only as restrictive as you make it. However, seasons too are a great way of expressing the life that we go through – our lives are a part of a greater cycle in nature, aren’t they? Do what comes naturally to you. Force a season word into a haiku and it won’t work.

Every individual lives a unique life and to find resonance in nature is a gift. I am always grateful when a poet lets me be part of his/her life experience. There is a connection that can’t be ignored. When I read about the festivals in Europe, agrarian Asia, Brazil, the harmattan in Africa, the snow and biting winter in Russia, I am not lost just because I haven’t been there or experienced the season. In fact, I am able to see the significance of the changing seasons even more, when I am made part of the haiku as a reader. Reading haiku by Canadian /American, African, Australian/New Zealand, European, South American poets has taught me much, in a most enjoyable way, about the flora and the fauna in continents that I am yet to visit. Of course, this is not to say that a haiku is written so that readers can learn about flora and fauna (but if that happens, why not?)

Seasons and motifs

Many haiku have the name of the season as part of the kigo – spring, summer, autumn, winter. At this stage, the reader understands very well what the season is. They have been told it is a ‘summer evening’ or a ‘winter noon’. There is no ambiguity. The stage has been set for the reader. But when other season words start finding their way into the poem (as it should), the poet and the reader are not so sure that it works. For instance, hazy moon, dragonfly, azalea, wisteria, butterfly, mango flowers… what time of the year is it and where?

Here are some questions that I had when I started reading and writing haiku almost two decades ago and to which I found some answers somewhere along the way.

What is the traditional classification of kigo in Japan?

The four seasons and a set of words based on the activities of New Year are the basis of the categorization in most saijiki now. That adds up to 5 main categories. Of course, each season may be further divided into 3 sections – for example, early, mid and end-summer kigo. This depends on the saijiki being used. Some saijiki (older) have only 4 seasons.

What words are apt as kigo in each season?

Under each season, there are categories of words – season and weather, flora, fauna, heavenly occurrences (sky, elements), geography (landscape), life and events (human activities).
Let us look at the example of Autumn in Japan. Here are some words from the classification:

season and weather – departing autumn
flora – falling leaves, pumpkin
fauna – dragonfly
heavenly occurrences – autumn sky, harvest moon
geographical occurrences – autumn woods
life and events – harvest activities or any specific festival in autumn

(Note: English translations of the categories may differ depending on the translator.)

What is the point of using the kigo of Japan while writing haiku in another country (Ex. India)?

No point at all. Use the season reference words in your own country or area. There are many festivals, harvest traditions, flora and fauna related to the land and the season that might lend itself to haiku. Again, the tradition and customs of every country / region have not been put together in an almanac. It is an onerous task that will need a lot of effort. But use the word and see where it takes you – that’s what I have been doing.
Note: It doesn’t work when I add a kigo only to dress up the haiku.

What do I do if I don’t want to use kigo or season in haiku? Does it cease to be a haiku?

This is the most difficult to answer. Let me just give you my take (for what it’s worth.) Just because a ku does not have a season reference, it does not cease to be haiku. Like I mentioned in part 1, even the Masters have written ‘Muki’ verses. Haiku is poetry. Poetry is meant to bring people together, not divide. (There are plenty of other things that can divide people – let’s not go there.) There may be folks who believe that it is not haiku if there isn’t a season word. There will be others who say that it is haiku, nonetheless. Write from your experience – if the season word is relevant, it will fit in. Strict classifications should not deter you from writing what you want. There are readers who will connect and not everyone has to connect with the same type of verse. Please write – season or not. But if you do use a season word, it should be to show the passing of time, the transience of nature, the relevance is important. Let’s not trivialise it.

More, later! See you again, soon in part 3.

CH Haiga – all the colors

We received so many good quality submissions to the call for haiga that we have decided to extend the deadline till the end of September. You still have time to send in your submissions. If you sent earlier and after we either accepted your work or not, you can submit again. Submission guidelines are HERE.

Send us your best work for readers all over the world to enjoy!

Haiku by Valentina Ranaldi-Adams. Photo by A D Adams