Haiku by Gautam Nadkarni

Happy birthday, Gautam.

To celebrate Cafe Haiku members chose their favorite haiku from the vast number of Gautam’s published work.

clouded sky
in the light of fireflies
this temple path

Simply Haiku, Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3
Chosen by Raamesh.
Raamesh: I love it for the tranquility, and besides there is just that something special about fireflies.

spring cleaning –
this futile search for
my lost youth

Editors choice, WHR April 2014
Chosen by Rohini Gupta

missing . . .
only an anthill marks
the soldier’s grave

Indian Kukai 10 – first
Chosen by Paresh Tiwari.
guests at home
the boy’s chest swells with pride
pronouncing angioplasty


Cattails 2016 (Editor’s Choice)
Chosen by Brijesh Raj.



Separation, an experiment

This beautiful piece, Separation, is by Paresh Tiwari.

In an experiment the group was asked to write a haiku which would both link and shift from it. Here is the original poem and the haiku taking off from it. Enjoy.

You are welcome to leave your own haiku in the comments. Join our experiment.


That day you packed up
all the arguments and quarrels,
folding them neatly
along the crisp creases of guilt,
you stuffed them in a suitcase
and left…
leaving behind rows and rows
of empty hangers,
on which I drape the limp silence
that I peel off my body each night


The haiku in response –

the welcome sounds
of mother-in-law packing
her suitcase


burnt sun
your street lined
with petals


if only if only
it was you


seven hours
to separate them –
conjoint twins


once we were close
now I wonder
are you alive?


K Ramesh – from moment to moment

Haiku by K Ramesh reproduced by permission of the author.

IMG_2296In this post, I interview one of India’s earliest recruits to haiku and tanka, K. Ramesh, who began writing in these genres since 2000. Currently teaching at Pathashaala (an initiative of the J Krishnamurti Foundation), he has balanced teaching and writing, not just Japanese forms but also free verse. He has brought out two anthologies, and his haiku are regularly published in haiku journals of great repute.


Raamesh: How exactly did your journey in haiku begin? You state in your interview with Ramesh Anand that the internet played a role in discovery and adoption. How big was the role, and how has it evolved today?

Ramesh: My interest in literature started when I was in college. I used to read the works of D H Lawrence and existential writers like Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, both in Tamil and English.

It was writer Sujatha who introduced me to haiku. He wrote many articles on haiku in Tamil literary magazines. The poems of the Japanese masters he used in his writing spoke a lot of the significance of the ‘aha moment’ and brevity. It was at the same time that I started writing poetry. I was thrilled when my first poem was selected by Nissim Ezekiel for the magazine Indian Pen. In the year 2000, we got an internet connection in the school where I worked. I started searching for articles on haiku and haiku magazines as well. This search led me to the practice of writing haiku. My first haiku was accepted by Ai Li, editor of Still, a haiku journal published in England. From then onwards, I continued to send my haiku to editors all over the world, and my poems began to appear in journals periodically. I am happy to mention here that some of our (Indian haijin’s) works have appeared in the anthology titled ‘The First Hundred Years of Haiku’ brought out by Norton Publishing Company published in 2013.


carnival over . . .
a little girl’s sandal
among footprints

(The Heron’s Nest, September 2012)


Raamesh: You have written across the many styles of haiku popular today — shasei, gendai and contemporary ELH among others. Do you have a preferred style?

Also, different journals (and their editors) have different sensibilities; you’ve said before that one cannot stick too close to any one journal. So do you write with an aim to submitting a particular haiku or tanka to a particular journal, or do you decide that afterwards?

Ramesh: One doesn’t think of styles while composing a haiku. To me, styles do not matter so much as the recognition of a mild surprise and the urge to jot down the cause of the experience. The writing works if I am really touched by something I witness and I then write. What I do after writing is craftsmanship. It comes through practice.


summer morning…
a garden lizard drinks
the dewdrop on a leaf

(The Heron’s Nest, June 2014)


Raamesh: You have stated many times that the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti have influenced you a great deal — you cite him saying “He considered ‘looking’ an art in itself”.

How difficult or easy was it for you to reconcile JK’s outlook with the haiku sensibility?

Ramesh: J Krishnamurti emphasised on this question: can you go through an experience completely without an experiencer? This manner of looking also works when we are in a state of observation as a haiku poet. I feel haiku moments happen when the mind is open. When we are fully present while we go through an experience. There is a possibility of becoming acutely aware of the moment.


I let the fish
bite my toes

(Soap Bubbles)


Raamesh: Teaching and writing are often in conflict with each other, each requiring complete dedication and different skills. How have you balanced these in your life? Has your writing influenced the way you teach, or vice-versa?

Ramesh: As a teacher, I have begun to believe in facilitating a learning process rather than teaching per se in class (the chalk and board). The teacher creates room for students to engage in exploring, thinking and raising questions. I feel it’s the same when it comes to composing haiku. It is the cause of the experience that stands out, which resonates in the mind of the reader. The poet is not there anymore!


evening calm…
the sound of pencils
sketching on the cliff

(From Pebble To Pebble)


Raamesh: You’ve said in your interviews and essays that you love walking and bicycling, especially around nature, and that that’s where you get your inspiration from. Do tell us some of your most memorable walks or bicycle trips.

For many of us in urban areas, this is a dream at best. So what would you advise us to do?

Ramesh: I do enjoy cycling. But they are not exotic trips. I used to go from my house to the beach and back.

I do not recall any memorable trips. But there were moments in the cycle trips that were memorable, and those have become haiku:

My advice: if you drive a car, often you get to see only other vehicles, new models or old in front of you. If you are on a bicycle, you can pedal by the side of the road, you get to see the bright flame of the forest; on a low branch a golden oriole; or get the scent of fresh loaves as you pass by a bakery. Also, you find a new rhythm in your life. Occasionally at least, leave your car behind, tap your bicycle seat and go pedalling, whistling a familiar tune. I am sorry if it sounds like an advice! 🙂


village in the hills
a monkey looks into
the bike’s mirror

(First Published by Frogpond)


Raamesh: You have published several books of your haiku, and been translated into many languages (including Irish!). How has your experience been? You’ve also said that you don’t send your work to haiku to journals as much nowadays. So for those conflicted between publishing their own anthology and submitting to journals, would you share your experience with both?

Ramesh: My works have appeared in magazines published in India and abroad. Only two of my haiku collections have come out:
1.      Soap Bubbles
2.      From Pebble To Pebble

My first book, Soap Bubbles published by the Red Moon Press, was launched by author Shreekumar Varma, and it was Glory Sasikala Franklin (the moderator of Glorioustimes) who sponsored the event in 2007. I take this opportunity to thank them again for supporting my literary endeavours.

It is necessary to send your works to high standard haiku journals because your poems get rejected. Rejection helps. You learn to write. However, it’s not good spending time reading e-journals to the extent that you miss a beautiful sunset! It’s better to walk around with a small notebook and a pencil.


cool evening –
a fish nudges a pebble
in the aquarium

(First published by Tiny Words)


Raamesh: Apart from haiku, you also dabble in free verse. You’ve mentioned that the two have different idioms – haiku restrains you from expressing emotions directly, while in a free verse you can pour them out, er, freely. Many poets I’ve known have had difficulty with these different mind-sets, sometimes keeping them in separate mental silos. Do you do the same, or do you let them cross-fertilise each other?

Ramesh: The practice of writing haiku has taught me how to write with restraint. I write the same way when I write free verse, preferring imagery to metaphor.


slight breeze . . .
the silent spin of
wooden wind chimes

(The Heron’s Nest, March 2013)


Raamesh: You write both tanka and haiku. Though both are derived from Japanese literature, many writers write either one or the other. How have you managed to write both (and extremely well in both genres at that)? How do you ensure that your tanka is no more than a padded haiku, or that your tanka isn’t a haiku split over 5 lines?

How do you choose whether the subject material is suitable for tanka or haiku? This would be a great help for those early in their writing journey, trying to choose between tanka and haiku.

Ramesh: Tricky question! I am still learning the trade! …and it will always be so.

One thing is clear. In a tanka there is room to express your feelings directly. We can be subjective. In a state of sensitivity and attention, if we get inspired, there is a possibility of the muse visiting us. The poem takes its form; later we can use our tools of craftsmanship.


searching for coins
in my pocket –
red seeds
collected by
my little daughter

(American Tanka issue 11)


Raamesh: Finally, what is your advice for a young writer starting out on haiku? Do you recommend they learn all the rules first, or do you recommend they plunge into writing, learning the rules on the way?

Ramesh: Both. He or she has to become familiar with the genre. Reading the masters will really help us get a perspective on the form. As far as writing is concerned, I believe in the words of the Tamil writer Sundara Ramasami. He says, “Write, that is the secret of writing.”

writing on the porch…
a moth’s wing touches
my hand


Raamesh: And with that our interview comes to an end. My best wishes.

Ramesh: Thank you for your thought-provoking questions, Raamesh! I enjoyed responding to them!

What Is Haiku – essay by Gautam Nadkarni

Here is the first of a series of essays by Gautam Nadkarni on the art of haiku writing.


What Is Haiku

                   Before one sets out to write haiku, one must know what haiku is and how it differs from other genres of poetry. I will not give definitions of haiku, for there are scores of them, but will give a description with examples to give the reader a chance to figure it out for himself .

Traditionally, a haiku is meant to capture a moment in time, and freeze it for eternity; a moment of beauty, sadness and realization experienced by the poet. This moment is referred to as the ‘haiku moment’.


calm and serene

the sound of a cicada

penetrates the rock

~ Matsuo Basho


In this haiku by Basho, the point of time when the ‘sound of a cicada’ penetrates a rock [in a literal or metaphorical sense] and is heard by the poet, making him feel ‘calm and serene’, this point of time, frozen in the poet’s psyche forever, is called the haiku moment or the ‘Aha moment’. The purpose of writing a haiku is to convey this moment to the reader, so that it finds an echo in the reader’s mind, and gives him an insight into the poet’s consciousness. The reader should himself experience what the poet felt. Brevity and precision are attributes of good haiku; the Aha moment would be lost if the poem were cluttered with unnecessary verbiage, so also the profundity and impact. This is what makes haiku different from other genres of poetry, like free verse or mainstream poetry, which are often plagued with detailed descriptions and clever turns of phrase, which would kill a haiku.

Structure-wise, a haiku in English traditionally consists of 3 lines. These 3 lines are broken into 2 parts, one part being the ‘fragment’, and the other part being the ‘phrase’.

The fragment is brief and usually gives the kigo [seasonal word] and the setting or backdrop for the poem. Perhaps it would be judicious to mention here, that most editors insist on a haiku containing a kigo or seasonal reference. This fragment is followed by a long pause which is expressed by an em-dash [kireji – in Japanese]or sometimes a comma, but never by a full stop, semi-colon or exclamation mark. Also, the fragment comes either on line 1 [in which case there is a punctuation following it] or on line 3 [in which case there may be a punctuation preceding it]. Sometimes, when the long pause is obvious, or understood, due to the wording of the haiku, there may be no punctuation at all.

The phrase is the body or soul of the haiku and links two images by way of comparison, contrast, or association. This phrase occupies 2 lines of the poem; the first two, or the last two, depending on the placing of the fragment. For example:


caught in a sudden shower

huddling sparrows

vie to get at the grass leaves

~ Yosa Buson


Here, line 1 [L1] — ‘caught in a sudden shower’, is the fragment, containing the kigo, ‘shower’, which represents the summer when it rains, and also provides a backdrop or setting for the phrase to follow. Obviously then, ‘huddling sparrows / vie to get at the grass leaves’, is the phrase, consisting of the 2 images, ‘sparrows’ and ‘grass leaves’, linked by the verb ‘vie…’. Note that the images are disparate — one usually does not associate sparrows with grass leaves, which makes the haiku all the more interesting.

Another haiku, this time in the original English, a contemporary one, to give the reader a clearer idea of fragment and phrase. The haiku by the Japanese masters sometimes suffer in their translation into English, and the readers must bear this in mind, in order not to be misled one way or the other.


morning prayers —

a rain of champak flowers

on the deity

~ Gautam Nadkarni


Here, ‘morning prayers’ followed by an em-dash, is the fragment, which in this case gives the setting or backdrop for the phrase to follow. Clearly then, ‘a rain of champak flowers / on the deity’, is the phrase which links the two images, champak flowers and the deity. ‘Champak flowers’ here, is the obvious kigo, for summer.

A word about the structure of haiku to clear one of the misconceptions that the layman or beginner has about the poem. Although in Japanese language haiku there are a total of 17 on-jis [sound parts], distributed over 3 lines in the 5-7-5 format, these on-jis are not the same as syllables in the English language. On-jis are typical only to Japanese and MUST NOT be confused with syllables. The word haiku contains 3 on-jis in Japanese, that is, ha-i-ku, but only 2 syllables in English, hai-ku. A few haiku poets still write in the 5-7-5 syllables format even in English, and it is considered as acceptable by editors, as long as the poem does not get over-padded with words and awkward or heavy. The vast majority of haijin, however, have discarded the 17 syllables format altogether and strive merely for brevity well within 17 syllables.

In the next episode, we will learn something about how to read haiku — something which is a necessary prerequisite to writing haiku, and is considered even more difficult than the latter activity.

Haiku review: New Year dawn

In this post we review this haiku by Sonam Chhoki:

New Year dawn-
we cross the old stone bridge
to the new temple

Published in A Hundered Gourds, December 2011


Brijesh Raj:

Over and above a very pretty visual, Sonam leaves a few questions tantalizingly open for the reader to complete.

Who is the other person in ‘we’?  Is it hinting at the dawn of life anew for the Haijin? Or is it a quintessential ‘old’ couple following old habits irrespective?

The words ‘old stone’ hint at hard work and permanence, and ‘bridge’ hints at a continuum or transition. What is the story there?

What has become of the old temple? Has it been destroyed or left behind?

There is a circular rhythm between the words dawn, old and new which completes the ku.

The start of the New Year is invariably associated with new beginnings, resolutions and hope. This ku holds out the excitement of all of these with the promise of blessings and serenity. A traditional note which the South Indian in me resonates strongly with.

All in all a lovely read not just in itself but also for the whisper of things unsaid.


Raamesh Gowri Raghavan:

At first read this is a very banal ku – what is the vertical axis, what’s the horizontal. So what if we cross the old bridge to the new temple?

At second read, it is suddenly a superlative ku. At one level, there is the New Year festivity, the symbolic abandonment of the old for the new, the time to discard (as is the practise in much of South Asia) the old sorrows and hatreds, the old complaints and grudges and move on to new things. As verses 3 &4 from the Dhammapada capture it:

Akkocchi mam avadhi mam ajini mam ahasi me

ye ca tam upanayhanti veram tesam na sammati.

Akkocchi mam avadhi mam ajini mam ahasi me

ye ca tam nupanayhanti veram tesupasammati.

At the second level is the old stone bridge, its very oldness giving us a link to the past that we may not forget the wisdom of our ancestors (and their foolishness too), its stone providing a bulwark against the swift stream of time.

At the third level is the temple, physically new indeed, but as a repository of the practises, rituals and beliefs of our ancestors, very old indeed. Between these three institutions then, Sonam weaves the circle of time, the kalachakra.

In structural terms too, the s/l/s structure is healthily balanced, both the syllables and words themselves counterbalancing each other. A sense of tranquility and calm, (of Sonam’s homeland Bhutan?) emerges between the lines.


Sandra Martyres:

An enigmatic read that is so simple and yet leaves so much to the imagination of the reader. Crossing the old stone bridge with unspecified person/ persons to go to the new temple, resonates with me as well. Always begin the new year with a prayer….

A lovely haiku


Rohini Gupta:

I find this a hopeful and happy haiku. What better way to begin a new year than to cross the old bridge, symbolic of our old selves, to the new temple.

The word ‘stone’ describing the bridge gives it a feel of permanence. The year is new and so is the temple but the way which takes you there is the same old and practically indestructible way, the only one which bridges the gap between the old and new.

On the face of this the haiku is very simple. I can see the colourful picture of brightly clothes pilgrims crossing the old stone and the temple in the distance, perhaps on a mountainside. However it has a deeper level which speaks to all of us with the promise of better things to come and a new dawn if only we have the courage to cross the bridge to the changing promise of a new world.