Special Selection of Haiku

Special Selection of Haiku


In Praise of Non-Japanese Haiku
A Special Selection
of WHC Members’ Haiku with
Comments by Susumu Takiguchi

Susumu Takiguchi applies extremely high standards and quality criteria when he selects haiku poems for various purposes such as competitions, kukai or publication in World Haiku Review. In the last case, the number of works selected is only ten per category out of many entries (this could be less than ten if enough works of merit are not found). “In Praise of Non-Japanese Haiku” is no exception. In fact, even higher standards and criteria are used as the series aims at combing through the sea of haiku poems for its rarest gems.

WHChaikuforum was created to become a premier haiku forum in the world with very stringent admission criteria. The three core criteria are excellence as a haiku poet, excellence as a person and excellence in the ability to enjoy haiku writing and discussion at the list. Certain other, usual criteria such as reputation, leadership or length of haiku experience are not of primary importance. It is a small forum and the membership is by invitation only. Members are given much higher latitude and greater privilege by virtue of their excellence.

“In Praise of Non-Japanese Haiku” is a project undertaken by Susumu Takiguchi at WHChaikuforum. It is expected to appear from time to time in the World Haiku Review and to be included in one of his future publications. -World Haiku Review

From the archives of WHChaikuforum
Thursday December 5, 2002:

Some people assert that there is no such thing as American haiku or Japanese haiku and that there could be only one haiku: namely, haiku. They may well be right, though it also sounds like romantic idealism or a refined fundamentalist view in the same sort of sense as when people say, “We are all human”. Either way, from a practical point of view, it is at times convenient to make such broad distinctions, in full recognition that there are similarities as well as differences between them. With that proviso, I wish to pick up some of the haiku poems written by the founding members of WHChaikuforum and present them as good examples of the haiku by non-Japanese poets’ hand, which I think have come off well. This will be part of my modest contribution to this list and “my way” of celebrating and paying tribute to those parts of non-Japanese haiku which have been successful.



In this issue are the first Susumu’s “In Praise of” commentaries on sixteen haiku by the following poets (arranged in alphabetical order of the poet’s surnames or pen-name). Click the author’s name/poem to read them, or scroll down the page.

an’ya: “moonset”

Winona Baker: “moss-hung trees”

DW Bender: “before church”

Naomi Y. Brown: “new year day”

Sylvia Forges-Ryan: “Long ago”

Robert Gibson: “petals”

Kirsty Karkow: “empty shelf”

Kirsty Karkow: “push-ups”

Ferris Gilli: “floodlight”

Christopher Herold: “bird shadow”

Peggy Willis Lyles: “shake the vase—”

Michael McClintock: “I eat alone”

Gabriel Rosenstock: “lone dandelion stalk”

Gabriel Rosenstock: “in time of war”

Alison Williams: “cold rain—”

Paul O. Williams: “a cat watches me”

a sudden vastness
between stars


Once again, a “universal” haiku. Not place-specific or season-specific. The poet is not depicted in so many words in the poem but she IS there. Without using the word “I”, or some action by herself, at least to me she makes her presence so vividly by the absence of putting herself in the poem. “A sudden vastness” may well be a physical fact but to me it comes over very strongly that “she feels it is vast” suddenly by the disappearance of light and something much larger and prominent. This poem probably will stand the test of time. It is also a very good material for students of haiku, ourselves, to learn quite a few things.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Tue Dec 10, 2002  2:34 pm)

moss-hung trees
a deer moves into
the hunter’s silence

Winona Baker

The members of WHC must have read this celebrated haiku a thousand times at least in many prize winning sections of different contests and kukai across the world. Though these glittering accolades are sure evidence of the excellence of the poem and its author, I am not presenting it here for that reason. I am showing it here because my feelings are that no Japanese haiku poets could write a haiku like this and for that reason the poem is a prime example of excellent non-Japanese haiku. It is at least as good in the realm of haiku as The Deer Hunter is in the realm of film!

Apart from the Japanese perspective, Baker’s haiku poems seem to me to be usually different from any other typical examples seen in the West anyway. To my understanding, the environment of her abode must be unique and she must draw
inspiration and materials for haiku from what she sees in nature at her doorstep. The naturalness one feels about this poem may indicate that this haiku was “born” rather than “made”, which is one of those rarest and luckiest things which could ever happen to a haijin.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Wed Dec 11, 2002 5:50 pm)

before church
I wash useless manly parts
once wasted in passion

DW Bender

This fine poet, more known as Debi to us, is a relentless poetic explorer, as we all wish to be. She explores poetry in every possible way—in terms of form, content, poetics, subject matter, musical quality, pictorial language, tragedy and comedy, beauty and human realities, Japanese tradition, Western culture, humour, nature, human conditions etc. etc.

The work under review is one of the highly intense haiku poems which appeared as part of perhaps the most moving essays she has ever written to date. The essay deals with the inner turmoil of Ritsu, Masaoka Shiki’s sister, who together with her mother looked after the brother until, literally, he breathed his last at about 1 o’clock in the morning of 19 September 1902. Bender had a very similar experience as Ritsu, looking after a disabled man, and the experiences of the two women get superimposed on top of each other, giving a rare insight into the views which Ritsu may have held on her dying brother. The essay was read by the author as a conference paper at the Masaoka Shiki Conference, Oxford, England in September 2001 and also at the World Haiku Festival 2002 in Yuwa-Town, Akita, Japan in September 2002, making some audience weep silently on both occasions.

This may be a good opportunity to have this remarkable haiku presented without the context of the essay in question, i.e. in its own right. Can it stand on its own? To me personally, this haiku is one of the few which I feel very proud of as something which has become possible because haiku has migrated from Japan into another culture and language.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Wed Jan 22, 2003 12:34 pm)

new year day
last year in Texas
this year in Arizona

Naomi Y. Brown

Naomi is a beautiful Japanese lady living in USA with her war hero husband, Clayton. This poem was from WHC’s Double-Kukai 2001/2002 New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day and therefore an auspicious and timely poem at the start of the year 2003. Whether to call it a non-Japanese haiku is a moot point, as Naomi is steeped in traditional Japanese haiku. I will leave this point to herself but the kigo of this haiku is kozo-kotoshi (last year-this year). A big picture and a large haiku as America herself. I commented that it has an element of Buson. It is also an interesting example where proper nouns are used.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Sat Jan 4, 2003  6:05 pm)

Long ago
……..I would have picked
……………these violets

Sylvia Forges-Ryan, USA

There will eventually be only a handful of non-Japanese haiku poems which I want to take with me to the grave. This haiku could be one, alongside Nicholas Virgilio’s lily haiku. Why? I have thousands of answers. However, I become speechless when I try to offer the first answer. Forges-Ryan has found her own language and the style in which to use it. This language and style mean that it cannot be written in Japanese, even the sentiment may be shared. Her own explanation mentions in part, “… No need to possess them. May these violets live out their own existence, moment by moment….” (Take a Deep Breath: The Haiku Way to Inner Peace, Sylvia Forges-Ryan & Edward Ryan, Kodansha International, 2002)

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Thu Nov 20, 2003  6:48 pm)

from an unseen cherry tree
………..drift past my window

Robert Gibson

There are many poems I like of Robert’s, especially the ones in Children of the Sparrow. This is definitely one. It could be written by a Japanese or an American or any other nationals. In that sense, it supports the “universality school of thought” and challenges some others’ view that there is absolutely no point for non-Japanese to try to write a Japanese haiku.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Thu Dec 5, 2002  12:33 pm)

empty shelf
dusty outlines of books
my parents read

Kirsty Karkow

A British female sculpture has created a work which is effectively a “reverse” mould of a library room. It has meant a lot of different things to different people. To me it signified something opposite to what books had meant to mankind: anti-intellectualism; anti-logos; anti-words, words, words; anti-knowledge; anti-theory; anti-dogma; anti-printing; anti-symbol; anti-criticism; anti-organised education; anti-logic; anti-academic; anti-snobbism etc. It was a strong protest as well as piquant mockery. What was there in the sculpture was a countless number of rows and rows of the imprint of book spines of all sizes and shapes. However, instead of the spectator standing in the empty space facing four walls (and floor and ceiling) and looking at the spines of books, he/she is looking effectively a huge box with book spines on four sides. So, where did the emptiness belong to?

Karkow’s haiku also deals with emptiness. However, it is emptiness of a different kind, i.e. emptiness created by the absence of something which occupied it. That something could be her parents themselves, the time which had passed (since when), the opportunity lost of not having read these books herself, her having been with her parents, life which was lived in the house etc. (apart from the obvious thing: books themselves) It is too painful to ask the author whether her parents are still with her or not. However, these may be reading too much into the haiku, because only one shelf is talked about here. However, that (i.e. one shelf) would now lead us to imagine many other intriguing things. A moving, wabi-imbued, pathetic and intriguing haiku.

The haiku is included in Karkow’s new haiku booklet called a net of sunlight, something one wants to keep on one’s desktop with one’s haiku notebook.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Fri Feb 7, 2003 6:42pm)
the intermittent tickle
of summer grass

Kirsty Karkow

It was this haiku by Karkow that first made me realise that she had “it”. This something is rather difficult to define. Some call it “haiku spirit”. In Japanese it is referred to as hai-i or haikai-shumi or haiku-no-kokoro.

What, then, are the specific things about this haiku which makes me so convinced? Firstly, the “haiku-like topic”: who would write a conventional poem on push-ups?

Secondly, the “newness of the topic”: I have not seen a haiku on push-ups (maybe you have read one?).

Thirdly, “brevity”, or perhaps more importantly the “feeling of brevity”: each nation should have its own sense of brevity, depending on its language etc. The brevity of Japanese haiku should be made into a corresponding equivalent in a different language. I have believed that there is a corresponding equivalent in English and that it is longer than its Japanese cousin. Therefore, the minimalist approach is probably mistaken from the start as a method. It may be that minimalists may have done an untold damage to Western haiku. Some haiku with a few words of syllables happen to be good or even excellent but that is probably because they just went well on account of its topic or choice of words for which extreme brevity happens to be suitable, and not because it is done according to the minimalist method. Karkow’s haiku under review gives the sense of brevity and simplicity and immediacy but I doubt she was diligently following the minimalist doctrine.

Fourthly, the “sense of humour”: what to me is false distinction in the West between haiku and senryu would classify this haiku as senryu. The indescribable sense of humour contained in this haiku makes the poem truly and properly a haiku.

Fifthly, the “surprise”: push-ups to us would normally be associated with a gym, or military training, or sports person doing the routine training. In this poems, the exercise is done outside in the grass.

Sixthly, the “senses”: summer grass has got smell, colour, touch and movement.

Seventhly, the “movement”: Many good haiku have movement in them. Here, the movements of the one doing the push-ups, the interaction between his/her body and the tips of summer grass etc.

Eighthly, the “haigon” (or haiku-like words): “push-ups” sounds to me to be a haigon, though I have not seen it used in haiku before; “tickle” here is definitely a haigon; “intermittent” is like a technical word but that somehow makes it a humorous use of it.

Ninthly, the “kigo”: obviously the use of the kigo “summer grass” makes the poem haiku-like, I mean haiku itself.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Fri Dec 6, 2002  7:36 pm)

encircled by darkness
the captive moths

Ferris Gilli

The quality of Ferris Gilli’s teaching of haiku at the Hibiscus School of WHC’s WHCschools is now legendary, together with her editorial excellence at the Heron’s Nest. The present author has no hesitation to declare that she as a poet as well as a person and her achievements represent the best which has been attained in American way of haiku. More broadly, she is also a living proof that haiku poems of quality and high-quality discussion or teaching of them are perfectly possible in a civil culture of polite manners and refined intellectual attitude. This rare aspect which is found in her should serve as a silent force to disprove the fallacy held by not a few haijin that altercations, diatribes, misdemeanours, foul-mouth, bad manners and abusive language etc. must be excused in the interest of creativity or artistic privilege (especially when they are found in themselves).

The poem quoted here needs no explanation or comments. I would therefore just add a somewhat similar but different experience I had when the World Cup was held in Japan and Korea. It took place during the rainy season and in one match almost every single drop of rain was caught falling down by the floodlight against the fresh green background of the football pitch.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Sat Feb 1, 2003  11:48 am)

bird shadow
from tree shadow
to fence shadow

Christopher Herold

Praising Christopher’s poems is like trying to write a new hymn book. God has already been amply praised. Why another hymn book? However, I know he knows he is not God, or a god. Proof: he can err.

There are so many mediocre or inferior derivative haiku poems on shadow(s) that one yawns and yawns until falling into unwanted sleep or death! When a wordsmith like Christopher appears, shadows suddenly and miraculously become brilliant, with a touch of God.

If I should give up all my involvement with haiku in English now and return to my own reclusive and exclusive Japanese haiku world, the “shadow” will yet be in my straw satchel along with Virgilio’s “lily”.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Tue Jan 14, 2003  6:57 pm with an addition from a later posting on discussion of the poem)

shake the vase—
a bouquet of red roses
finds its shape

Peggy Willis Lyles

I sometimes take half an hour or so to arrange roses in a vase. Most of the time the results are not completely satisfactory. Sometimes I do exactly the same as Peggy did in this haiku, or worse. For this reason, I like tulips very much as they will look after themselves and change their shape everyday. I wonder if Peggy knows the Japanese flower arrangement method called nage-ire?

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi Sat Dec 7, 2002  11:17 am)

I eat alone
& pass the salt
for myself

Michael McClintock

It would be too tiresome to explain why this haiku is good. To say that it reminds one of Hosai could well be an insult to the author. Suffice it to say that this haiku does indicate how far haiku in English can go and how universal haiku could be.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Mon Dec 9, 2002  5:54 pm)

lone dandelion stalk
all of its seeds blown away
………unsure what it is

Gabriel Rosenstock

In-ei raisan is the title of a book by the celebrated Japanese novelist, Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965). It remains a puzzle why he was not awarded the Nobel prize. The title means “In praise of shadows and shades”.

One of the aspects of Japanese aesthetic which has developed over centuries is to find beauty and value in the negative: lost love, undeclared love or unrequited love rather than love conquered or joy of love; Hogan-biiki (sympathy for the underdog, favouring the vanquished) rather than hero or victor worship; death rather than life; abandoning this world rather than clinging to it; woman’s face under an umbrella rather than the one lit by the sun; what is not rather than what is; what is not there rather than what is there; missing people rather than meeting them; a house in decay rather than a brand new mansion; silence rather than eloquence; self-effacing person rather than self-aggrandising ego, etc.

Haiku poems by Rosenstock have often something similar to this particular Japanese aesthetic aspect and the haiku under review is an example of that, even if the Japanese haiku is slightly different and tends to treat what is there rather than what is not there.

Minimalists’ scissors would snip “lone” and chop “all of its”:

dandelion stalk
seeds blown away
…….unsure what it is

I would quickly put them back.

Anti-anthropomorphism advocates would say a dandelion stalk does not “think”. Some might point out the vagueness of line 3 in that it could be the observer (author) who is not sure. I would reject both of these points as immaterial.

I myself have written many haiku poems about dandelion flowers or their blown away seeds. However, I have never written one, dealing with its stalk without the flower or seeds, nor have I read one.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Thu Jan 30, 2003 6:44 pm)

in time of war
……………..only the innocence of flowers

Gabriel Rosenstock

Though quiet in tone and language, this is one of the most intense verses I have read recently about the futility of war and all its destructiveness. Because it is not shouting, it moves. Wars, violence, tragedy, calamity, sex, ugliness and such have not been deemed to be suitable subjects for traditional Japanese haiku, though there are examples implying them (summer grass – grasshopper under a helmet etc.). The attitude to turn away from such realities of life, the world and humanity has limited the potential and value of traditional haiku. To exclude them is a policy and should be respected. However, it would be a pity if haiku would in fact be capable of dealing with heavy and important subjects but are kept out of them by old guards. Rosenstock has proved that it is not only possible but desired. A most timely reading when the world is once again on the brink of another bout of madness.

The haiku is included in Rosenstock’s new haiku booklet called Forgotten Whispers, which has been published (hot out of press in February 2003) by Anam Press, Ireland with some superb black and while photographs by John Minihan.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Sat Mar 8, 2003 5:15 pm)

cold rain—
a nun’s steps quietened
by leaves

Alison Williams

A magician of the Internet technology and students’ best friend as a university librarian, Williams has demonstrated her “natural” hand in haiku composition. Using plain words and dealing with ordinary things, her haiku poems have something new or different to say, i.e. unusual and extraordinary. Analysed, they may have attributes of good Western haiku, but they are mostly subtle, quiet and subdued. The British have the potential to become a good haiku nation what with their penchant for gardening and talking about weather (except for those who think haiku is a weather forecast), distinct sense of humour, detached manners, moderation in everything, understatement, gift for words, conservative attitude with surprising innovativeness etc. Williams is definitely someone who would be at the frontier of it.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Fri Apr 4, 2003 6:41 pm)

a cat watches me
across the still pond,
across our difference

Paul O. Williams

This has been my favourite for a long time and I am still not tired of it. Non-Japanese haijin may not like the third line which is the line I like best. The lack of kigo does not worry me who has been brought up in the strict Japanese haiku tradition. I feel it is a haiku without asking “the” question. There is not a single difficult word. There is not a single difficult concept. And yet, oh, how much this haiku tells! One, of course, debates the validity of “still” in the second line. Without it, it would become even more “universal” and more of an abstraction (as opposed to minimalist snip, snip and snip). With it, it would give more of haiku feeling, partly from subliminal association with the frog haiku, and partly from our penchant for quietude and stillness.

(Posted by Susumu Takiguchi to WHChaikuforum Sun Dec 8, 2002 1:44 pm)


This entry was posted in Haiku, Vol 3-2 December 2003 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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