The Disjunctive Dragonfly


A World Map: Developments in Haiku

The Disjunctive Dragonfly:
A Study of Disjunctive Methodology in Contemporary English Haiku

Richard Gilbert
Kumamoto University

Published by: Kumamoto Studies in English Language and Literature, 47
(Literary Society of Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan, March 2004)


The goal of this paper is to offer expanded definitions and concepts for what “proper haiku” in English may be. To date, the English haiku tradition has been constrained, due to selective and intransigent interpretations of the Japanese haiku tradition; as well, a lack of critical focus on creative methodologies unique to English-genre evolution has stymied development. By examining the English haiku through its use of disjunction, new analytical and compositional perspectives will be suggested; as well, disjunctions in haiku will be examined semantically and linguistically to show that the aspect of disjunction may provide the intrinsic basis of both fragment/phrase-juxtaposition and the formal kireji (“cutting word”). Given that a haiku may cohere through its disjunctive attributes alone, disjunctive techniques may demonstrably supervene “traditional” notions of juxtaposition and kireji. By presenting a nomenclature of 17 disjunctive types, such as “reversal of semantic expectation, “the impossibly true,” “metaphoric fusion,” “elemental animism,” etc., new perspectives and guidelines regarding haiku composition and analysis will be presented. As an imported literary form, the English haiku has remained on the margins of Anglo-American literature; by viewing haiku through the lens of disjunction, it is hoped that this nascent form may find greater contiguity with other poetic genres, further validating its role as a multicultural literary art.

Pleasure is the pleasure of the powers that create a truth that cannot be arrived at by reason alone, a truth that the poet recognizes by sensation. The morality of the poet’s radiant and productive atmosphere is the morality of the right sensation.

— Wallace Stevens (1958, p. 58)


Over the half-century in which the literary tradition of Japanese haiku has migrated, transformed and burgeoned as an English-language literary form,1 it is surprising to find that only a handful of primers have been published explicating haiku compositional style in any detail. Recently, closer attention has been paid to the worldwide genre, as witnessed by an upsurge in international conferences, websites and haiku anthologies. In order to validate and exemplify haiku as expressed in English, investigations into the language-style and linguistic properties of haiku seem timely. While generalist definitions concerning the what (definitions of the form2) and why (e.g. historical analyses) of haiku3 have become familiar reading, the how of haiku method in English has not yet received much attention. How is it that haiku do what they do, particularly in English: affect the reader in a manner unlike any other poetic form? The following study seeks to address this question by examining modes of disjunction as a means of determining authorial language and creative methodology. By comparing and contrasting modes of disjunction with the prevailing concept of juxtaposition (or superposition), it is hoped that ideas such as “the invalidity of one-image haiku”4 and the limits of “proper haiku”5 may be re-examined.

Existing haiku primers, mainstays of genre definition, are oriented toward beginner-poets, providing introductory overviews of the history of Japanese haiku with examples of classical and late Meiji-era haiku predominating. The (neo)classical Japanese haiku up to Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) has served as the aesthetic basis and standard model for composition—historically, when in doubt, editors have in the main turned to such models for validation.6 A main element of constraint acting on haiku composition has emanated from Shiki’s 19th century western-realist-inspired compositional guidelines. These dicta have been repeatedly spelled out either overtly in definitions and essays or more covertly, through selective editorial sensibility, in terms of rejection of poems, negative book reviews, etc., on the part of a surprisingly small group of pundits, often functioning in multiple roles as major haiku journal editors, reviewers, critics, lead expositors, haiku-society administrators, etc. Consequently, English haiku experimentation has been restricted in terms of access and publication, as Mountain (1980) and others7 have pointed out for some time. The era when the English haiku itself might be considered to provide an effective, autonomous aesthetic basis for critical judgment has yet to arrive. “Gendai, or as we might say in English, contemporary Japanese principles and techniques of haiku, have yet to be properly integrated and valued in English haiku composition and thought.

It is possible to follow the arc of genre evolution, beginning with Henderson’s 1958 Introduction to Haiku, containing translated Japanese haiku,8 to his 1967 Haiku in English, an excellent primer in its day, to Higginson’s Haiku Handbook (1985), which offers the reader a variety of English and other-language haiku and a brief overview of modern Japanese haiku.9While such works have no doubt spurred the popularization of the English-haiku genre over the last few decades, there are to date no major publications focusing on techniques unique to the English haiku as they have evolved over the last half-century. Perhaps because the market for haiku primers is small and more-expert poets comprise an even smaller group, there has been no further evolution of the primer—for example, there is no primer explicating contemporary (gendai) haiku approaches and aesthetics available in English, as can be easily found in Japan, and not just for “experts.”10Haiku techniques involving metaphor, allusion, psychological projection, mytheme, the imaginal, qualities evident in both contemporary and classical Japanese haiku, are rarely discussed as they have been repeatedly critiqued as improper to English haiku form, as Shirane (2000) has pointed out.

Over the years, “official” definitions of haiku have been challenged with little effect,11 but recently, with the old guard moving on, fresh approaches are again being seriously considered, helped by the belated and still limited introduction of contemporary Japanese haiku, as well as aesthetic concepts emanating from postmodern and other poetic sources. Influential journals (there are few), and particularly the editorial approach of perhaps the most influential North American Journal, Modern Haiku, have continued to adopt a conservative view of the limits of haiku form as it relates to seasonal reference, necessity for shasei-realism,12restriction of allusion, psychological interiority, and the surreal (cf. Gurga, 2000); guidelines which are in some respects more restrictive than those found in traditional Japanese haiku. Such critique concerns mainly readership haiku, as these reflect most accurately the relationship between editor, poet and access, in terms of haiku tradition. A preliminary study shows that the HSA journal Frogpond as made recent strides, regarding shasei innovation.13Nonetheless, freshness and experiment in major publications seem to have diminished compared to that of some decades past, a time when the continuum of haiku included notable poets outside the dedicated haiku genre, such as Allen Ginsberg and John Ashbery. The President of the Haiku Society of America (HSA) recently announced to his membership that “for the last few years, we have been consistently seeing a decline in membership numbers” (Forrester, 2003, pp. 1-2). Some new and older voices too are now challenging what has become a static situation, suggesting that definitive definitions of haiku may be impossible,14and overtly arguing that “standard” guidelines, such as those advanced by The HSA and the former editor of Modern Haiku, Robert Spiess, are problematic (Sato, 1999a; Mountain, 1980, 2003). Supporting this new trend is the fact of increasing international communication—international haiku are now shared worldwide through the medium of English, providing alternative ideas as well as images. Additionally, a select group of excellent North American haijin have been evolving new techniques, some of which will be presented here.15

In the spirit of support for this blossoming genre evolution, it seems fitting to re-visit abiding qualities of haiku elucidated by the founders of the mainstream English tradition. Surprise, reversal of habitual expectation, and irruption of linear thought have been noted as primary properties of haiku from its inception, as will next be discussed. Analyzing these properties from the perspective of disjunction allows for an expanded view of what “proper haiku” are, and how they may be crafted.

Approaching Disjunction

Historical Overview
The following brief historic examination focuses on descriptions of haiku made by “two men who may be called pillars of the Western haiku movement . . .” (HSA, p. 2). R. H. Blyth writes in History of Haiku that the hokku16 connotes “’a shock of mild surprise’, a stab of enlightenment” (1963a, p. 2). Arguably, this is the primary aesthetic he assigns to Japanese haiku. Unlike Blyth, Harold Henderson in An Introduction to Haiku emphasizes association and suggestion, indicating that haiku are poems in which “only the outlines or important parts are drawn, and the rest the reader must fill in for himself” (p. 3). Taken together, in their mission of delineating and explicating to the West the nature of haiku as a distinct genre of Japanese literature, three primary functional qualities (out of a variety) can be discerned: shock, surprise and absence. From the inception of the English-language tradition, these stylistic determinants have presented somewhat mysterious (unspecified) properties of disjunction, characterized by either an irruption of habitual consciousness (shock, surprise) and/or reversal of expectation (absence, lack of definite image) in the haiku aesthetic. The sense of disjunction has been subsumed in English under the concept of kireji (the “cutting word” a fundamental concept of Japanese haiku), and juxtaposition, both of which will be discussed shortly.

The idea of disjunction can be equally applied to poetry in general; what is significant for haiku particularly are those types of disjunction used, whether there may be consistent disjunctive styles, and the frequency of occurrence and quality of instances occurring in a single haiku, versus poems in other genres. To what extent terms such as shock, surprise and absence should properly be ascribed to Japanese haiku is beyond the scope of this paper. What seems relevant to the movement in English is that the foundational terminology presented by Blyth, Henderson, and others revealed a new and exciting aesthetic—new ways of thinking about what a poem could be, and also about what a poem could be for: how it could affect the reader, bringing forth fresh experiences of reality into consciousness. Although the above-mentioned progenitive properties of disjunction were shown to be inherent to haiku form, explications of the unique interactions of haiku with the reader’s consciousness, occurring as a result of linguistic aspects of literary technique, have not been a main zone of critical focus.


Disjunction, Juxtaposition and Superposition

Juxtaposition and Superposition as Defined in English
Disjunction is not a term historically applied to haiku. Haiku elements deemed to be semantically or imagistically non-sequential have been conceptually defined by the terms “juxtaposition,” “superposition” or “superposed (section).” The most familiar term, juxtaposition, is illustrated below in the definitions of Lanoue and Spiess:

Though it can be presented on the page in three lines, a haiku structurally consists of two parts with a pause in between. Its power as poetry derives from juxtaposition of the two images and the sense of surprise or revelation that the second image produces (Lanoue, 2003, para. 4, italics added).

A nonideational, breath-length poem aesthetically juxtaposing sensory images, usually including natural existences tinged with humanity or faint humor, that evokes intuition of things’ essentiality (Spiess, quoted in Gurga, 2000, 75, italics added).

The necessity for juxtaposition, as implied in the above definitions, rests on the use of kireji in the Japanese haiku; kireji will be discussed separately later. “Superposition,” a term advanced by Ezra Pound as a motif of Vorticism remains resonant as an influence in haiku (and in poetic thought generally). Rachel Blau Duplessis, commenting on Pound’s well-known “In A Station of the Metro,” debatably accepted as haiku these days, writes:

The apparition….of these faces…in the crowd  :
Petals….on a wet black….bough  .
…………………………………………………(Pound, 1913, p. 6)17

Two discourses—documentary/social (which is abstract or realist) and lyric/poetic (symbolist) are brought into one configuration and are made to interact. “The ‘one-image poem’ is a form of superposition, that is to say, it is one idea set on top of another” (Duplessis, 2001, 89; quoting Pound, 1914, p. 467).

Duplessis suggests that “two discourses” become “one configuration” and “are made to interact”. Does the concept of superposition alone explain why “one configuration” presumably arises in the reader’s mind?  What is the alchemy which welds the dialectic of “two discourses” into a “one-image poem;” what draws the two images into fusible interaction, forcing or forging coherence? It may be that coherence occurs in the above poem through the disjunction of images caused by what is absent. Let us view the above poem as a near-approach to the habitually expected—the prosaic sentence—adding the missing elements needed to create normative sentence structure:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd: [they are (like/as if)] petals on a wet black bough.17

In the “filled in” example, although the connective phrase “they are (like/as if)” has been added to the end of line one, two separate and distinct images remain (apparition of faces / petals on a bough). Juxtaposition occurs between these two images due to the colon (which creates two separate yet dependent clauses). However, the property of disjunction has been practically eliminated through the addition of the personal pronoun and be-verb: adding these grammar parts imparts an identity to the relationship between the two separate images. (The extra addition of the overt simile or metaphoric “like/as if” does not appreciably magnify or diminish this fact.)

The point here is that superposition (or juxtaposition) alone does not intrinsically provide poetic power. The force of disjunction acting on the reader’s consciousness is the primary motif impelling successful juxtaposition (superposition). Notably, most haiku structures mime or deform prosaic sentence structure, as a formal element—allowing for haiku play. As an aspect of this play, the experience of disjunction paradoxically generates or compels coherence. As can be seen in the above “filled in” model, which creates juxtaposition with only very weak disjunction, lacking disjunctive power the sense of poetry is lost. Particularly in haiku, the reader enters the disjunctive “gap” (or gaps) and in a sense re-authors the poem. A useful dictum may be drawn as corollary: haiku that are only weakly disjunctive will often be unsuccessful, due to functional weakness.

“Superposed” as Defined in English
The term “superposed,” synonymous with juxtaposition, is not generally known. This term has been recently introduced in English via Kawamoto’s The Poetics of Japanese Verse, which examines Japanese haiku technique, form and meter in some detail. His illustration of the primary cause for appeal in haiku is detailed in the quotation below, introducing his topic:

The main appeal of a haiku lies in the operation of a dynamic segment, which—while drawing the reader’s interest through powerful stylistic features—remains only a single layer that offers little indication of the poem’s overall significance (or else gives only an ambiguous clue). . . . We will refer to this part as the “base section.” Similarly we will use the term “superposed section” to refer to those evocative phrases which . . . work upon and in conjunction with the base sections in order to furnish the reader with clues to the poem’s overall significance. . . . A segment of the base [may] simultaneously function in the role of the superposed section (Kawamoto, 2000, pp. 73-4).

This is a refinement which takes us further into method—a “dynamic segment,” known as the base section of the haiku, draws interest while paradoxically withholding significance—this relates well with Henderson’s idea: “only the outlines.” Kawamoto incorporates the idea of absence into the dynamic segment, which “offers little indication of the poem’s . . . significance” or imposes ambiguous clues. The “superposed section” 18 is “evocative” (coherence or resolution may be implied); nevertheless, readers must arrive at their own sense of how the haiku coheres. Notably, in describing the superposed section, we find it contains not a single “phrase” but rather “evocative phrases:” the notion of plurality is significant. As well, “a segment of the base may function in the role of the superposed section”—this description invites a conception of superposition as a technique that is motile, nuanced and diverse, when compared with English-language descriptions of juxtaposition, to date.

As Kawamoto indicates, juxtaposition alone is not enough to confer poetic power. Incompleteness, absence and ambiguity are necessary; these are properties of disjunction—in the reader’s mind. Because modern haiku is primarily text-based, the means for creating disjunction involves the application of literary-poetic techniques, some of which will be illustrated later.

Having parsed and contrasted in brief the concepts of disjunction and juxtaposition, it might be asked, if disjunction is in principle more primary than juxtaposition in haiku, then in terms of the action of the haiku on a reader’s consciousness, is it possible for a haiku to possess little or no imagistic juxtaposition (a so-called “one-image” haiku), while having a strong sense of disjunction—and further, to create haiku of excellence in this manner? In the next sections, examples will be provided. First, an exegesis of a “one-image” haiku will be presented, followed by haiku with commentaries presenting a disjunctive nomenclature and typology. “One-image” is a bit of a misnomer, as in most cases the reader can find more than one image in such-termed haiku—“one-image” is used by Spiess and others to imply something rather different than Pound’s sense of image-overlay, as shown above. Applied as conventional haiku critique, “one-image” has been used derogatively to indicate an “improper” haiku, which does not meet the traditional (sic) requirement demanding two, and only two, clearly juxtaposed images (cf. Spiess, 2001).


The Disjunctive Dragonfly

In this section, a single haiku will be considered in detail. Contemplating Jim Kacian’s19

my fingerprints
on the dragonfly
in amber

one finds a selection of elements based on an inward poetic aesthetic; the main images are novel and captivating; in terms of images alone, this is a fine microcosmic shasei, much in the manner Shiki has elucidated: at first glance, the haiku presents a realistic impression. However, this haiku goes beyond shasei and realism, utilizing four modes of disjunction, which may be termed “perceptual disjunction,” “misreading as meaning,” “disjunction of semantic expectation,” and “linguistic oxymoron.” We can find no kireji or clearly defined “traditional” juxtaposition of images in this haiku; in its form, the haiku is strikingly similar to a simple declarative sentence. What makes this short declaration an excellent haiku?

Semantically, any haiku tends to be read as an argument or complete thought;20 the sense of a sentence (including distortions, omissions) is a defining language-feature of most haiku; it may be said as well that a sentence need not be formed only of prose. At the beginning of a sentence, we habitually recognize a noun following a pronoun as subject, and then we look for a verb—last, an object. This structure follows the standard SVO form of English. The above haiku puns upon or irrupts habitual constructions of a sentenced idea (a textual proposition) in several ways. First, “my fingerprints on the dragonfly” is a highly idiosyncratic imagistic collocation; fingerprint-on-dragonfly approaches the surreal, the monstrous, or the taxidermic. In any case, the image is an irruption of naturalism. At the same time, our suspension of disbelief is sorely tested. Perhaps we misread the collocation? Overall, the play between reading and misreading, between the plain existence of nouns as known things, and the strangeness (idiosyncrasy) of collocation creates a perceptually disjunctive tension, resulting in a form of semantic paradox which can be called misreading as meaning, as the process of misreading, in itself, powers the reader’s poetic experience and the poem’s significance. Actually, “misreading as meaning” occurs at a number of levels in the poem, as will be further illustrated.

Next, semantic expectations are overturned. The subject (fingerprints) needs or seeks an object. The second line may (impossibly) take on a verbal quality, due to expectation, or becomes simply a question mark, an unknown, while in the third line we find a definitive preposition and strongly placed “final” object (“in amber”). Semantically then, “fingerprints…in amber” will tend to be what is first cognized as a subject-object pair. This is the implicit semantic expectation. But, how can a fingerprint be in amber, which is often thought of as a kind of rock? Does the poet mean inside, within? We expect that fingerprints, which can only exist in relation to surfaces, be on surfaces, not in them. So, the fingerprints (as subject) carry definitive existence, yet our semantic expectations are overturned, as the relational object (“in amber”) is in doubt. This haiku acts like a set of nested Chinese boxes. There are layers of image-complexes, each created by an active misreading. Experiencing the misreadings is great reading fun, creating a subtle, nuanced humor, which does not diminish over several re-readings—as our habitual language expectations reassert themselves strongly. The world created by the haiku seems to hover between the realistic and fantastic or surreal. The haiku idea gradually congeals much like tree sap into amber; our attention is clarified, caught and fixed within, the poet’s fingerprint upon it, as the dragonfly becomes the subject of “in amber” and we realize that the fingerprints only seem to be on the dragonfly, as the poem’s protagonist gazes acutely through the translucent gold substance, perceiving both fingerprints and dragonfly as an overlaid landscape. Finally, we can picture the poet holding the amber, the amber itself and the dragonfly within. The reader’s experience crystallizes as a metaphor of the geologic processes of deep time to which the poem alludes. Perhaps this reading process takes only a few seconds, yet the disjunctions remain as landmarks or “markers” indicating coherence.

The process of entering and imbibing this haiku is multiple, full of accident, incident and play. As with many of Kacian’s haiku, typical descriptive devices such as fragment/phrase and juxtaposition seem reductive, if applied as formal determinants. In fact, we can locate no precise kireji or juxtaposal fulcrum. A further level of disjunction (of semantic expectation) has to do with the prepositions. “Fingerprints…in amber” would normally collocate with “on” (not in). There is a linguistic oxymoron, in that “on (the)” is ascribed to the dragonfly; likewise this fingerprinted dragonfly (seeming a dead or trapped creature) wants to be “in” something (but “on” is ascribed to it instead). So, there is a dual-disjunctive quality of linguistic oxymoron concerning these two prepositions, which comprise the entirety of the poem’s prepositions. Each of the paired nouns may desire the neighboring preposition more than its own. Needless to say, this disjunctive quality makes the prepositions very active and intriguing in function—something difficult to achieve in English haiku.

There are several varieties of disjunction used in excellent haiku. Perhaps additional modes could be teased from the above example. Importantly, disjunction is not, strictly speaking, paradox or juxtaposition, because the effects are not cognitively dualistic—the alchemy is that of impossibles, not polarities. Disjunction, as intended, serves to indicate a poetic process happening in the reader’s consciousness—disjunction is motile: it has no fixed point of realization. Disjunctions appear and fall away, alternately reveal and hide themselves, depending upon the moment of reading.


A Typology of Disjunction

Space does not permit a lengthy demonstration of disjunctive typology. It is hoped that the manner of discovery presented may be easily enough applied by the sensitive reader—readers are no doubt natively aware of disjunction in haiku, but have not had an available nomenclature to articulate types. In addition to the above four types just described (perceptual disjunction, disjunction of semantic expectation, misreading as meaning, linguistic oxymoron), the following 13 types form additional tentative categories. Each set of examples is preceded by a category “signpost” titling the most prominent disjunctive quality (as haiku contain more than one “moment” and type of disjunction), followed by a comment.

Imagistic Fusion

my head in the clouds in the lake
…………………………………………………….(Ruby Spriggs in Kacian et al, 1998)

the shadow in the folded napkin
…………………………………………………….(Cor van den Heuvel, 1977)

forgotten for today by the one true god autumn mosquitoes

…………………………………………………….(Lee Gurga in Gordon, 2004)

autumn mist oak leaves left to rust
…………………………………………………….(Mountain, 2003)

Imagistic fusion compresses semantic meaning, images, rhythm, and sometimes orthography, irrupting the reader’s habitual means of parsing phrases and images. The disjunctive aspect fuses disparate images into one complex, while at the same time, paradoxically creating separations due to reading/misreading. So, in Spriggs “head-clouds-lake” becomes a multiple reflection of self as experienced in the evoked scene and cross-layering of sky / self-as-mirror-image / water, and consciously remains text, due to the idiosyncratic sense of velocity obtaining in the single short line. It seems van den Heuvel’s “the shadow in the folded napkin” hovers in its own shadow: as though the text shadows its representation—imagistic fusion combines with one-line brevity to create a sense of insubstantiality in the read text. A  unique, collocatively fused image, “one true god autumn mosquito;” and the introjection of “the one true god” as subject is highly disjunctive in Gurga; semantic expectation is artfully reversed as the poem’s object remains unknown until the last word of this longer one-liner. The fusion of the impossible collocation “mist oak” creates a strong disjunction in Mountain—a nuanced sense of misreading quickly evolves, aided by the repeating strong-weak cohesive rhythmic pull of “autumn mist oak leaves.”

Imagistic fusion works quite effectively with the single line and shorter haiku, as the velocity of the eye scanning across the text often enhances the technique.

Metaphoric Fusion

the river
……..the river makes
of the moon
………………………………………………(Jim Kacian in Mainichi News, 1997)

In this unusual example, the (seeming) juxtaposition of the first-line fragment with the following phrase is irrupted as one discovers the first line is not the alpha but rather the omega-point of the poem (reversing semantic expectation). A second reading may yield a sense of three disjunct fragments without juxtaposition (a poem made only of fragments). Considering the last two lines as the phrasal element (the superposed section), out of what seems textually and imagistically to be two rivers and their juxtaposition, a fusion arises as synthesis: the naturalistic river in the second line metaphorically “makes” of the moon a second river (the river of the first line); finally, natural and metaphoric images again combine, resolve and fuse into the traditional image of moon on water: moon river on “river” river. In this way, a poem which at first glance may seem elemental, primitive and static releases a flowing metamorphic power, quite in keeping with its riverine imagery; a highly nuanced haiku, informing our understanding of the relationship between realism and metaphor. Experiencing this haiku it is difficult to understand proscriptions warning against the use of metaphor. Metaphor, though challenging, has given us some of the best English haiku—usually however, metaphor must be given through the sense of disjunction rather than through grammar parts.

Another example of metaphoric fusion occurs in Virgilio’s haiku further below, which uses the disjunctive technique of rhythmic substitution to impel the imposition of an “impossible” metaphoric reality—a haiku which has for some decades been considered among the most influential in the tradition.

Symmetrical Rhythmic Substitution

…….the cat in
…….the fog in
………………………………………..(Vincent Tripi in Ross, 1993)

an empty elevator
………………………………………..(Jack Cain, 1969)

Rhythmic repetition combines with lineation, creating disjunctions yielding a light, humorous effervescence. In the above examples brevity also plays a role. “Substitution” refers to word substitutions occurring in symmetrically repeated rhythmic patterns. Neither of these haiku contain kireji in the traditional sense. Rather, the symmetrical substitution evokes a quality of superposition (image layering) and jump-cut, filmic “snapshot” action, as cat/fog, and opens/closes arise both as identities, and are paradoxically separated by the disjunctive technique. These haiku contain not one but two juxtapositions, of varying intensity.

Concrete Disjunction (orthography, punctuation, placement) – Rhythmic Disjunction

a barking dog
little bits of night
………………………..breaking off
…………………………………………………….(Jane Reichhold in Ross, 1993)

sitting here
without the mountains
…………………………………………………….(Gary Hotham in Kacian et al, 1998)

stuck to the slab
of the frozen f sh
…………………………………………………….(David Steele in Kacian et al, 2002)

There have been numerous orthographic concrete experiments relating to lineation, phrase, word, and letter placement. The above haiku were chosen for ease of reproduction on the page, as well as effectiveness. Reichhold’s haiku extends the idea of kireji past the breaking point, to create a broken-off fragment—the concrete disjunction pulls the image/line fragment back into the poem. Beyond the obvious orthographic pun, the broken-off third line has a sonic dimension as “breaking” has assonant rhyme and similar rhythm to “barking,” so it seems the broken night is, at the same time, the “bark bark” of a dog. This is strongly emphasized by the circularity of the poem, which knits together the broken fragments of both “night” and the third line. Hotham’s haiku seems at first glance to have merely replaced the usual dash or colon signifying kireji with a period. However, the use of a period for kireji in the first line is idiosyncratic and creative. Its use, combined with extreme concision, propositionally yields a one-word, three-letter sentence. Thus the fog, as an image, splits off from the rest of the haiku, returning to settle as elemental weather all about the following phrase. In Steele’s haiku the I (eye) of the fish seems to be misplaced! Each of these haiku has a strong sense of rhythmic disjunction, a natural consequence of concrete disjunction.

The Impossibly True

A spring cliff—
in my cup
tears of a bird
……………………………………………….(Koji Yasui, 2003)

..out of the water . . .
….out of itself.
………………………………………………(Nicholas Virgilio, 1963)21

Sucking in the blue sky
a cicada hole
………………………………………………(Natsuishi Ban’ya, 1999)

The interjection of an “impossible” image may be one of the distinct features separating gendai (contemporary) haiku style from the ­shasei-oriented neo-classical: realism is imploded. Or is it? Realism itself is a form of appearance; the “real” is given not only by objective sensation (hearing, seeing, touching, etc.), but also by the way in which sense data are synthesized in consciousness to create “real” experience. Just as a dream can be sensed as vivid reality, it is not only the “outer” senses alone that dictate “the real.” Internalized judgments (“stances”), subtle though they may be, existentially validate experience. Poetry in its widest sense deforms or irrupts habitual literalism—challenging or irrupting habitual validations of the “real.” In the school of archetypal psychology, James Hillman discusses the ego (the sense of literal “I-ness”) as “the literalizing function” of the psyche—stating that the ground of psychic life is not literal.22 Hillman advances the crucial point that mind is fundamentally poetic and metaphoric in nature.23 This may be very good news for poets, and a partial explanation indicating why haiku seem to impart such a powerful and nearly instantaneous reality-sense in their aesthetic action. As well, what may be taken as literal reality by one culture, or one individual, may not be literal (that is, “real”) to another—haiku “realism” is not ultimate truth, or a best representative of “sincerity” by any means, as some North American critics have implied.24

What the above haiku provide is an imagistic paradox generating a deeply inward psychological, philosophical and/or mythic contemplative sense. The key disjunctive aspect in these haiku is the cutting edge between the reader’s knowledge of the impossibility of the superposed images and the contrary sense, brought by poetry, that the resultant whole is real (true) and believable. Literal and metaphoric sensibilities cannot entirely merge (except mystically or pathologically), yet paradoxically, in these haiku they present as such. Haiku of the impossibly true reveal that real-ism is a subset of reality. It is notable in this regard that “poets such as Wallace Stevens use the word ‘reality’ without shame, acknowledging that ‘its connotations are without limit.’”25Incorporating realism within a larger field, haiku of the “impossibly true” penetrate to the deeper layers of identity and self, providing a glimpse of the ground of poetic being — “poems that create a truth that cannot be arrived at by reason alone.”26

Displaced Mythic Resonance — Misplaced Anthropomorphism

I shall help the dawn
give birth
to its colors
………………………………………………(Alain Kervern in WHA, 2003)

Entering a dream
of that Great Fish of the South
wanting to cry out
………………………………………………(Natsuishi Ban’ya, 1999)

coming to rest
the tossed pebble
takes a shadow
………………………………………………(Bruce Ross in Kacian, 1998

Living in an age of logical positivism we live in an age between myths, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell (1988), who opined that the future holds a return to mythic thinking, which will incorporate science into its wider skein. Poetry easily enters the mythic dimension, as its roots are preternaturally archaic—poets continually return to origins, do “violence” to language (irrupt, deform), in order “to purify the words of the tribe,”27 ideas discussed at length by Octavio Paz (1991). Mythic resonance in haiku is displaced because our cultural concepts of the real tend to determine helping “the dawn give birth” or the “Great Fish of the South” as “only” imagination, yet haiku form and intention gives these motifs something more: a mythic landscape evinces belief, perhaps subconsciously. One of the dynamic properties of haiku is the ability to rapidly, shockingly irrupt habitual thought. Here, this poetic power becomes marvelous, as fundamental cultural assumptions are challenged by a deep, some would say healing, archaism. Helping “the dawn give birth” hints at shamanic reality, while a “tossed pebble” anthropomorphically “takes a shadow” for its own, as if possessing autonomous choice and will. While this image may superficially be attributed to a naïve sense of childlike projection, it is the disjunctive, paradoxical sense of the image being both a kind of fancy and sincere seeming that allows the anthropomorphic metaphor to rise above pathetic fallacy, expressing a deeply elemental poetic sense. The focus of “taking” in Rosses’ haiku provides a stronger anthropomorphic sense than mere animism might allow (see “elemental animism,” below). In such haiku, whenever a natural element possesses an anthropomorphic aspect it will also, intrinsically, exhibit the quality of animism.

Each of these haiku contain both mythic and anthropomorphic qualities, though to differing degrees. Ban’ya’s haiku seems primarily mythic: the protagonist enters a dream of the mythic image itself. This sort of haiku has typically been dismissed as “deficient” due to reliance upon the surreal (i.e. lacking in substantial, believable images to base sensation upon); however, the impact of a realized mytho-archaic reality is undeniable. The haiku succeeds brilliantly, presenting a novel mythic aspect of “the impossibly true.”

The Unsatisfactory Object

Athlete’s foot itches—
still can’t become
………………………………………………(Hoshinaga Fumio, 2003)

leaves blowing into a sentence
………………………………………………(Bob Boldman in van den Heuvel, 1999)

In these haiku, the object cannot possibly satisfy the subject. Beyond the obvious pun, Hitler, an object of “athlete’s foot” and the implicit “I” in Hoshinaga’s haiku stretches the subject-object continuum. The playfully dark, ironic metaphor of “becoming Hitler” remains disjunctive, allowing a sense of depth to enter the haiku, a depth partly created through allusion (a quality heretofore proscribed for haiku). In Boldman, we can see the outer reality of leaves blowing into a shape, say a line, but to become semantic stretches the sense of subject-object agreement. Both of these haiku, through their use of unsatisfactory objects, activate intertextual metaphor, a sense of metaphor which is neither in the text nor psychologically reachable as a firm conclusion.

Pointing to the Missing Subject

he said he could not gather
..peonies in meadows—
….Geraldine does not live
………………………………………………(Shyqri Nimani, WHA Online, 2003)

counting down the goodness of man:
from the sixth

………………………………………..(Hoshinaga Fumio, 2003)

Tfocus-point of these haiku seems to be on a subject that is either indistinct or missing: the subject is not allowed or able to solidify or cohere. A very difficult technique, as an indistinct subject will in general create a haiku lacking in poetic direction—it will be unclear what images to base sensation upon. In the first haiku, a “not” at the top and bottom of the poem frame the peonies with absence. The suddenness of the name of the departed as the first word in line three shocks: the name is both a presence and absence. We cannot image who “he” actually is; as well, the sudden shift from passive/past to active/present voice is irruptive. In this powerful meditation on death, the mentioned yet missing subject reaches us beyond image or name—this haiku is an offering to life attended by deeply felt tragic emotion. Hoshinaga’s haiku, ending with “obscure” seems to echo with multiple dimensions of obscurity—of goodness and its measurement, of finding goodness, and the sense that, in the human realm, such findings may be uncomfortably moot. The obscurity of the subject is instigated from the unusual syntax of the leading phrase “counting down the goodness,” an idiosyncratic collocational phrase combining counting with an uncountable noun, an ironic pun. “Sixth” is significant: it is definite, but to what type of subject does it refer, exactly? Again we see a successful use of allusion in Hoshinaga’s style. The mystery of the subject as well as the content and sense of deep questioning in the haiku keeps the reader involved

Register Shift

in a world of one color
the taste of peaches
………………………………………………(Wendy Smith in Kacian et al, 2002)

in my ordinary clothes
thinking ordinary thoughts —
peach blossoms
………………………………………………(Ayaki Hosomi, in Kacian et al, 1997)

Here the linguistic concept of register shift (register, i.e. when context results in a commonly recognizable speech style) is used to indicate a sudden irruptive shift in the perceptual landscape of the haiku. Haiku normatively have juxtaposition, which also creates a sudden conceptual shift, but in this case, register shift implies something more innovative. In Smith’s haiku, the fragment and first line of the phrase lead to a vast world of white snow (or simply, white) but the last line creates a register shift from seeing to taste, winter to summer, white to peach, external to internal: changes of poetic register. Similarly, the symmetrical rhythmic substitution occurring in the first two lines of Hosomi’s haiku moves from outer garments to psychological interiority, and in the last line irrupts into the unadorned (exterior) blossom. In both haiku, the disjunction of register shift lends resonance to a poetic fusion: there is winter, white, in the taste of peaches; “ordinary mind” clothing peach blossoms.

Elemental Animism

Between two mountains
the wings of a gliding hawk
balancing sunlight
………………………………………………(David Elliott in van den Heuvel, 1999)

last piece
of a jigsaw puzzle …
filling in the sky
………………………………………………(John Stevenson, in Kacian et al, 2001)

blowing off the stars
………………………………………………(Penny Harter in van den Heuvel, 1999)

Elemental animism is somewhat related to displaced mythic resonance and misplaced anthropomorphism, in that natural elements such as clouds, trees, weather, stars, etc., which are habitually taken in western culture to be dead, without soul, inanimate, become animated. The quality of animation may be quite subtle, as in Elliott’s haiku; we can say that the hawk simply does “something” with sunlight, as the poet or reader perceives it subjectively. However, there is a nuance—the verb also ascribes to sunlight an improbable quality, “balancing sunlight” (as a compound noun) which, lying autonomously in the third line, lends a subtle sense of animism. Likewise, the improbability of the sky being “filled in” creates animistic nuance. Last, the more overt pun of “clouds blowing off…stars” carries an anthropomorphic as well as animistic aspect—one “elemental” acting animistically upon another.

Irruptive Collocation

Table 1 lists unusual, idiosyncratic and creative collocations occurring in the above haiku examples:

Table 1. Example Collocations

Word Collocations

Phrasal Collocations

mist oak
fog. sitting
cicada hole
sixth obscure
balancing sunlight

fingerprints on the dragonfly
tears of a bird
out of itself
help the dawn
takes a shadow
sucking in the blue
counting down the goodness

The subject of collocational function in haiku will require a separate study. Tentative results indicate that unusual, creative and idiosyncratic collocations occur at a much higher frequency per total number of words in a given haiku collection than in most other poetic forms. The usage and frequency of collocational types may prove to be a defining feature of the genre. In whatever type of literature, such collocational types, particularly idiosyncratic and creative types, are disjunctively irruptive in function.

Disjunction, Kireji and Haiku Form

“Language-form” Kireji: Dynamism and Intertextuality
As has been shown in the above examples, disjunctions, whether they are semantic, metaphoric, collocational, imagistic, orthographic, rhythmic, mythic, existential, etc., create in the reader’s mind what may be termed language-form kireji—irruptive elements create degrees of dislocation, segment images, pose absences, or delimit mere outlines, thereby impelling juxtapositions (plural as well as singular). Notably, such juxtapositions may rest upon “impossibles” rather than polarities between image-complexes. As Kawamoto suggests, that most important technical aspect, interplay of dynamism and significance, may occur intertextually, a process occurring between reader and poem. As earlier mentioned, when disjunction is effective the reader actively re-authors the poem. Utilizing the above concepts, the following description provides tentative functional guidelines for haiku.

Tentative functional guidelines.
A haiku succeeds through the vehicle of what isn’t stated or expressed; and what isn’t obviously, analogically, causally or metaphorically implied; thereby, through a connection forming in the reader’s mind which is beyond a puzzle, riddle, philosophic sweep, allusion, metaphor, symbol, deduction, induction, parameter of delimited context, because haiku are powerfully disjunctive in indication, whether that be perceptual, literary, imaginative, wordplay, paradoxical, impossible, locational, temporal, etc. In haiku, disjunction affects the action of metaphor and allusion, which generally succeed as disjunctive (intertextual) implication, rather than being overtly evident (the addition of the terms like or as (though/if) are usually unsuccessful). The haiku primarily coheres through disjunction (not though another means as substitute), and does not avoid, temper or support disjunction with conceptual or explicit “handles,” (e.g. overt simile, metaphor, explanation, philosophizing) as commonly found in other poetic forms. As a result, by disjunctively irrupting habitual thought in a highly concise manner, haiku achieve a powerful contextual paradox regarding ground and groundlessness, space and spacelessness, time and the timeless, the real and the imaginal, figure and ground, challenging the literal and engaging an active “re-authoring” of the poem by the reader.

Language-form Kireji: Emulation and Sensibility
Emulation and imitation are dissimilar.28 When Blyth and Henderson translated the Japanese haiku, they usually replaced the kireji, an evocative word, with punctuation: en-dash, colon, semi-colon, comma, ellipsis, and at times utilized lineation alone to indicate the cutting word. Direct imitation of kireji is not linguistically possible for English haiku; however, an application of analogues miming the function of the original is a possibility. By emulation is meant mimesis, literally, the replication of the “animate sense,” sensual life, or activity residing in the original.29 Virgilio’s haiku, above, recognized as one of the best representatives of the genre, uses a colon and stretched ellipsis and a period, creating a secondary pause after the second line, and then ending with a final stop. We can appreciate how well this works in English, yet it has no obvious linguistic counterpart in Japanese.

In a likewise sense, a variety of novel techniques have been applied in English relating to modes of language-form kireji—a sense of kireji which arrives through (multiple) disjunctive qualities. Looking through haiku journals, there are a substantial number of haiku without punctuation—kireji are signaled from within the text. Because the division caused by “traditional” kireji rests upon processes of irruption and disjunction, we can look to these deeper fundaments, in terms of emulation. What is relevant is that a “B-should-equal-A” type of obvious or direct-imitative analogue—the replacement of, say, a (Japanese) ya with a dash, or lineation—may certainly be effective, but this one mode of emulation is not necessarily the “model” emulation, if our concern is to emulate mimetic sense—the spirit of the original, rather than the flesh.

Kireji in English look and act differently from kireji in Japanese; poets have been exploring and experimenting with the plastic sense of kireji-disjunction for some time, and various disjunctive methods have been divined. In English, “cutting” techniques are diverse (though not much discussed); each technique offering its own unique qualities: a singular kireji creating a singular juxtaposition is not a given. It is worth mentioning that contemporary and older “modernist” Japanese haiku also use kireji-analogues such as extended breaks between words, unique rhythms, idiosyncratic collocation, etc., to create effects similar to many of the haiku presented above. Consequently, disjunctive techniques may effectively supervene formalist ideas of juxtaposition and formalistically conservative (direct-imitative) emulations of kireji, which have heretofore been demanded of “proper haiku.”


Disjunction as Literary Dialogue
When considering the wider field of North American literature, as an imported literary form, haiku has remained on the margin, though we find haiku aesthetic by innuendo—as haiku has had a major impact on the arts. Nonetheless, core issues of haiku, such as the manner in which the haiku aesthetic relates with poetic form, are typically discussed using exclusive Japanese terminology with reference to (neo)classical Japanese models. Such practices have created an intellectual chasm, orphaning the genre. Viewing haiku through the lens of disjunction finds contiguity with prevailing literature, without the need to limit comparative poetic models outside the haiku genre to the “near haiku” or haikuesque. For example, a disjunction of unsatisfactory object can be found in the following excerpted examples of poems by two Hispanic poets:

Like wet cornstarch, I slide
past my grandmother’s eyes.
………………………………………………(Lorna Dee Cervantes in Purves, 1993)

in your home
we were cast
as rugs

on walls
………………………………………………(Francisco Alarcón in Purves, 1993)

In the first two lines of Cervantes’ poem “Refugee Ship,” “slide” has several layers of meaning, in terms of who’s doing the sliding (the grandmother or the poet), and of allusion; in the second example, Alarcón’s “Letter to America,” the same disjunctive technique catalyzes poetic power. In both cases, the direct use of simile and metaphor is obvious. These poems are not haiku, yet similar disjunctive techniques are shared with the haiku form—finding such continuities may provide for cross-pollination of genres, aiding exploration and experimentation. As well, further studies of the English haiku may eventually yield unique perspectives illuminating other genres. Technical comparisons can easily be drawn, as disjunctive techniques are a ­sine qua non of modern poetry.

Making it New: Expansive Definitions
Whatever particular aesthetic style one feels is best or most proper, those involved in appreciating and composing haiku have long been dedicated to the haiku spirit, as Basho first exemplified. Ideas of disjunction, particularly as methods that contrast with or supervene “stricter” views of juxtaposition, one-image haiku, kireji, etc., will not appeal to everyone. And, there is a danger in losing poetic power through loose definition, in containers which do not properly support haiku form. Strong or multiple disjunction can certainly produce terrible poetry, as disjunction is not a formula, merely a variety of sensed qualities and techniques. The goal of introducing disjunction is not to supplant traditional concepts, but to add dimension, to allow for variation and experiment—in keeping with the spirit of Shirane’s recent definition of haiku:

Echoing the spirit of Basho’s own poetry . . . haiku in English is a short poem, usually written in one to three lines, that seeks out new and revealing perspectives on the human and physical condition, focusing on the immediate physical world around us, particularly that of nature, and on the workings of the human imagination, memory, literature and history. . . . this definition is intended both to encourage an existing trend and to affirm new space that goes beyond existing definitions of haiku (Shirane, 2000, p. 60).

Looking at the haiku presented in the sections above, it can be seen that they diverge variously from those definitions given by Lanoue, Spiess, and the HSA (see endnote 2), taken as a group. Although, one might argue that Spiess’ definition achieves an overarching inclusivity: he writes that haiku “usually [include] natural existences tinged with humanity or faint humor, that evokes intuition of things’ essentiality,” which could mean nearly anything. Likewise, the HSA definition mentions that the English haiku is a “foreign adaptation” of the Japanese, without hinting at the unresolved imponderables implicit in adaptation, then defines the Japanese haiku rather blithely as “recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived,” an ascription surprising to encounter at this late date, as detailed analyses appeared decades ago in English, contravening the HSA statement—Ueda (1983) being a prime instance. Given that the Japanese haiku is reductively misinterpreted and the English haiku undefined, the HSA definition seems a figment of culturally projective desire. Lanoue’s definition follows the conservative view of juxtaposition as a basis, limiting haiku functionally; his statement, “though it can be presented on the page . . . in three lines,” is confusingly parenthetical, implying something stronger concerning lineation than mere convention—which is all that three-line lineation is. Shirane indicates the concept of range (“usually . . . one to three lines”), which seems preferable, though there seem about as many four-line haiku as two-line; a minority of five-line (etc.) haiku are also evident. Lanoue also defines the necessity for a revelatory “second image;” this conceptually limits experiment and imagination; many exceptions contravene his statement. Certainly, the expansiveness of a “new space that goes beyond existing definitions of haiku” seems welcome and necessary. Added to Shirane’s definition might be additional detail relating to genre-specific functions, such as disjunction.

In closing, an examination of haiku through its use of disjunctive modes provides new perspectives for the analysis and composition of English haiku, particularly given that the focus on form has seemingly settled on topics of fragment/phrase, juxtaposition, syllables, kigo, kireji, shored up by reductive, misleading or vague definitions. Disjunctions cut across fragment/phrase and formal kireji parsing: a haiku may cohere through its disjunctive attributes alone. This fact might seem paradoxical, but if so, it is neither an imagistic nor juxtapositional paradox; rather, the paradox is that a large measure of the poem’s coherence is achieved through disjunction itself. The magnetism and play of disjunction-versus-coherence is a taproot of haiku.

Disjunctive Qualities
In this paper, 17 disjunctive types have been presented. They are shown in Table 2 below, along with a tentative functional definition of disjunction:

Table 2. Disjunction: Functional Definition and Types


Disjunction: In haiku, the root-semantico-linguistic principle impelling juxtaposition, superposition, possessing multiple types, each type relating to specific poetic and formal functions and techniques which irrupt habitual consciousness and/or concept; may supervene more “traditional” functional stylism, such as fragment/phrase, juxtapositional duality and the singular kireji.

Disjunctive Types (in presented order):

1) Perceptual disjunction
2) Semantic expectation
3) Misreading as meaning
4) Linguistic oxymoron
5) Imagistic fusion
6) Metaphoric fusion
7) Symmetrical rhythmic substitution
8) Concrete disjunction
9) Rhythmic disjunction
10) The impossibly true
11) Displaced mythic resonance
12) Misplaced anthropomorphism
13) The unsatisfactory object
14) Pointing to the missing subject
15) Register shift
16) Elemental animism
17) Irruptive collocatio

Disjunction has at least three arresting qualities: centrifugal force (the reader is thrown out of the poem and image, even out of language), gravitational force (the reader is drawn into interior contemplation), and misreading as meaning (a falling out of, and recovery of meaning). Disjunctive method relates to the kireji-concept as “language-form” kireji, helping to catalyze the reader’s aesthetic perception of haiku as an art form; and disjunction also activates the sense of depth. Mistake, breakdown, irruption: these attributes partake of the wound, whether that wound be to habit, form, function, or stable reality. As has been discussed in the field of depth psychology for some time, it is through such wounds that we deepen.


Having the opportunity to discuss relevant issues with inspired minds is no small matter. Without the support of poet, editor and Red Moon Press publisher Jim Kacian, a number of the ideas presented here would not have reached fruition; this research has benefited from his extensive knowledge, literary insight and colloquy. Philip Rowland, Assistant Professor, Tamagawa University, has likewise generously shared his knowledge of the relationship of haiku with wider issues of poetics and aesthetics. I wish to thank Masahiro Hori, Professor, Kumamoto Gakuen University, for introducing me both to his innovative literary corpus-collocational methodologies and Zen studies. Kanemitsu Takeyoshi, in addition to being a partner in Japanese-English haiku translation has willingly shared his deep understanding of Japanese haiku. I wish also to thank haijin Hoshinaga Fumio, founder of the Kumaso-Ha Gendai Haiku Circle of Kumamoto, who has revealed the living heart of contemporary Japanese haiku through his poetry and friendship.


[1] “It was roughly the decade of the 1950s that saw the real beginning of what may be called the haiku in the Western world” (HSA, 1994, p. 5).

[2] The frontispiece of each HSA Frogpond journal gives a definition: “1. An unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which Nature is linked to human nature. It usually consists of seventeen onji [sic]. 2. A foreign adaptation of 1, usually written in three lines totaling fewer than seventeen syllables.”

[3] “Haiku” will henceforth indicate “English haiku” throughout. In keeping with the root-tradition of English haiku, any haiku arriving in English, whether as originally authored or in translation, will be treated on its own merits as an English haiku.

[4] Robert Spiess, quoted in Mountain (1980).

[5] From a lecture by Hiroaki Sato (1999b), in which “proper” is described in broad strokes: “American haiku writers have tended to move in one direction . . . [they] have tended to move with a few guiding principles, while Japanese haiku writers have not. To judge by the HSA definition, one of the principles for American haiku writers is associated with Zen-like enlightenment (‘the essence of a moment keenly perceived’); it is as if the brevity of the form has to be equated with the temporal briefness of the matter to be described” (p. 1). Also in this regard, see Spiess, 2001 and Gurga 2000, for their delimitations of “proper.”

[6] Selected haiku in the influential journal Modern Haiku are mainly of the realist shasei variety. The current editor recently defended a conservative approach based upon shasei realism, advancing the idea of a triune hierarchy of haikai: at the top “haiku,” followed by “senryu,” and at the bottom “zappai,” defined as “seventeen syllable poems that do not have proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku . . . if we look at all of what is presented today as ‘haiku’ a large number of so-called haiku are, like zappai, imaginative or imaginary” (Gurga, 2000, pp. 62-3). As a multitude of haiku penned in contemporary (gendai Japanese) styles often utilize imaginative or imaginary elements (e.g. surreal, psychological, mythic or dream elements) and such specific categories of haiku are left unmentioned, the implication is that they fall into “zappai” at the bottom, a trash bin of what are referred to as “pseudo-haiku . . . lacking formal elements.” If not, than Gurga’s omission of gendaihaiku from his discussion seems provocative, as one assumes he is acquainted with the century-old movement. In the same article, allusion, a technique common to Japanese haiku throughout its history, advocated for use in English by Shirane (2000), is to be limited to “seasonal reference”— a term conflated with kigo. This mention of kigo seems ironic, as an important reason for the abandonment or deformation of kigo by contemporary Japanese haijin is related to the excessive degree of artifice, artificiality and restriction imposed upon “direct experience,” a quality Gurga champions. The terms kigo (as meant in Japanese) and “seasonal reference” (i.e. “kigo” in English) are in reality quite divergent. This conflation of terms has caused much confusion in the English haiku tradition in its development from Japanese haiku, ab initio.

[7] Detailed analyses of this point may be found in Shirane (2000) and Sato (1999).

[8] Cf. “Henderson’s [1958] Introduction to Haiku . . . has remained an excellent beginning source for understanding Japanese haiku and by extension for determining what English haiku might be”(HSA, 1994, p. 6).

[9] In the last two years, the newer primers published by Bruce Ross, Jane Reichhold and Lee Gurga have not yet received wide circulation. None present a cogent analysis of gendai haiku philosophy or technique (that is, contemporary approaches to haiku, related to Japanese-inspired innovation reflected in the modern gendai haiku movement, and how the English tradition might validly relate to these strands of literary reality).

[10] For instance, the book haikukyoushitsu [Haiku classroom], for Elementary School children learning haiku, takes a gendai approach (Natsuishi, 2002).

[11] Mountain writes: “I find it odd . . . that after all these years there are still those who ‘push’ certain Japanese rules and moods. It is one thing to study the various eras of haiku and related genre—they and the poets are different—and quite another to pick-and-choose aspects from the past and expect them to apply to all contemporary writers around the world. While debate can be a great learning experience I will always wonder what Western haiku would be today had it gotten started in other ways—lineation and [syllable] counting only two of the problematic areas (1992a, p. 5). “The later terms ‘political haiku’ and Rod Willmot’s ‘psychological haiku’ did a lot of good for haiku. They were ways of speaking to so-called new content, feelings and attitudes which had begun creeping into pure haiku (of which there are none) . . . Given the complexity of adopting even adapting any foreign art it seems that we would have been better served in haiku had final-sounding definitions come after a larger body of our work”(1992b, p. 99). Swede’s research, indicative rather than definitive, was gathered from two surveys, the first conducted in 1980, the second in 1997, and concerned lineation. He writes, “Despite the efforts of some to promote one-, two-, and four-line haiku as well as visual [concrete] haiku, the combined use of these forms has actually gone down…… to an overall average of 6.6%” (1997, p. 71).

[12] Shasei (commonly translated as “sketch of life”) refers to Masaoka Shiki’s concept of tokyoakkan byousha (objective description). Shiki’s haiku philosophy is indelibly linked to realist‑inspired haiku, which includes the first and second stages of his critical development: shasei and “selective realism.” His third stage, makoto, indicates a potential increase in subjectivity, yet still in relation to realist determinants. Shiki died young and unfortunately his doctrine of makoto was not fully articulated. One wonders what he would have made of Ogawara Seisensui’s free‑style haiku movement, begun in 1909, and the multitude of evolutions of haiku form, content, thought and structure that were to follow throughout the next century. It is worth noting that “Shiki wrote more and more poems based on shasei as he grew older” (Ueda, p. 15). In the English tradition, Shiki’s first two stages are what have been historically adopted as “proper,” with undue emphasis typically placed on his strongly realist first shasei stage, which was only intended for haiku beginners. There is some resonance between Shiki’s tokyoakkan byousha and T. S. Eliot’s term “objective correlative,” which he coined in 1919. Eliot asserted, “the only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is evoked” (Millenium Library, 2003, para. 2). Both Eliot and Shiki later developed more sophisticated and nuanced approaches regarding poetic process and concept. Concerning Eliot, it can be noted, “the objective correlative has been criticised as unduly proscriptive in its conception of the creative process (particularly in its rejection of unconscious influences), although in 1947 Eliot admitted that he was astonished by the success of this somewhat opportunistic formulation” (ibid). A detailed account of Shiki’s critical evolution can be found in Ueda, 1983 (also see Anakiev, 2003).

[13] The following is a preliminary quantitative and qualitative comparative analysis of the two large-circulation North American haiku journals, regarding shasei. Both journals present a majority of shasei haiku. The present results may be considered indicative only. The term used for qualitative analysis, tsukinami, is a Japanese critical term first coined by Shiki. Tsukinami is defined as: stale, mundane, hackneyed, formulaic. Surveying the latest available Modern Haiku (34:3) Autumn 2003, and Frogpond (26:3) Autumn 2003, five categories were determined: 1) total haiku listed in the section(s) “Haiku and Senryu,” 2) shasei, 3) tsukinami shasei, 4) non-tsukinami shasei (non-formulaic shasei; shasei with innovative disjunctive elements), 5) non-shasei. (Note: inferior senryu are included in category 3.) “Translated Haiku” sections were not included, as this study focused on editorial selections from poets writing in the English tradition who submitted haiku for editorial consideration—in order that editorial values might be discerned. (It can be mentioned that the above Modern Haiku journal contains only shasei haiku in the “Translations” section. Frogpond does not have a translation section in their issue, above.) The “non-shasei” category contains formal and/or content elements (psychological, animistic, etc.) putting them outside of the shasei-oriented field. Counts can be considered approximate; numbers are rounded-off to the nearest whole number. Modern Haiku: 1) 146, 2) 139, 3) 133, 4) six, 5) seven. Non-shasei haiku = 3%. Tsukinami shasei = 91%. Non-formulaic shasei = 3%. Total Shasei = 95%. Frogpond: 1) 149, 2) 124, 3) 71, 4) 53, 5) 25. Non-shasei haiku = 17%.  Tsukinami shasei = 48%. Non-formulaic shasei = 36%. Total Shasei = 83%. Considering the excellence Shiki demanded, tsukinami judgments here are likely to be forgiving (cf. Ueda, 1983). The above statistics appear similar over the last few years, anecdotally. It may be seen that both journals contain, overwhelmingly, shasei haiku, but there are significant qualitative differences, with Modern Haiku being excessively formulaic and hackneyed, where Frogpond shows innovation. Frogpond contains approximately 360% more non-shasei haiku (25 versus seven) than Modern Haiku, though the total number remains relatively low. Individual qualitative determinations are, naturally, debatable.

[14] “My current definition of haiku is that haiku can no longer be defined” (Mountain, 1992b, p. 99). “’Today it may be possible to describe haiku but not to define it” (Sato, 1999a, p. 73).

[15] Japanese haiku have transformed themselves and taken root worldwide. While the comments in this paper directly apply to North American haiku literary culture, further study and discussion on the part of this author will be necessary before wider claims can be made. Due to the ever-increasing diversity of the haiku genre, the ability to generalize becomes more doubtful; though haiku is a shared genre, as a global phenomenon the genre arises disjunctively, within many separate and distinct literatures.

[16] Indicating the ostensible first stanza of a classical renga, intended and published as an independent poem.

[17] The lines have no spaced-out words in the 1916 version.

[18] In English, the terms “fragment” and “phrase” are those typically used in haiku nomenclature. Cf. “Fragment & Phrase Theory” (Reichhold, 2003).

[19] Winner, Third-Place prize (nyūsen), 2003 Kusamakura International Haiku Competition.

[20] A sentence may be defined as “a grammatically complete statement, assertion, proposition” (Harper, 2001; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 1999).

[21] “[This haiku] has very possibly had more influence on the direction taken by Western haiku than any other single haiku” (HSA, 1994, p. 9).

[22] “Soul is imagination” (Hillman, 1989, p. 122). “Imaging [means] seeing or hearing by means of an imagining which sees through an event to its image. Imaging means releasing events from their literal understanding . . . in this sense equated with de-literalizing—that psychological attitude which suspiciously disallows the naïve and given level of events in order to search out their shadowy, metaphorical significances for soul” (Hillman, 1983, p. 27). For Hillman, reality is imaginal, that is a “seeing through” the literal to the metaphorical (cf. Hillman, 1975, pp. 113-64). “The most fecund approach to the study of mind is through its highest imaginal responses” (Hillman, 1983, p. 10).

[23] “To study human nature at its most basic level, one must turn to culture (mythology, religion, art, architecture, epic, drama, ritual). . .  . The full implication of this move away from biochemical, socio-historical, and personal-behavioristic bases for human nature and toward the imaginative has been articulated . . . as ‘the poetic basis of mind’” (Hillman, 1983, p. 3).

[24] Recently, Terry Eagleton critiqued realism: “If realism is taken to mean ‘represents the world as it actually is’, then there is plenty of room for wrangling over what counts in this respect. . . . Artistic realism, then cannot mean ‘represents the world as it is’, but rather ‘represents it in accordance with conventional real-life modes of representing it’ . . . the world is itself a matter of representation. . . . To describe something as realist is to acknowledge that it is not the real thing. We call false teeth realistic, but not the Foreign Office. If a representation were to be wholly at one with what it depicts it would not be representation. . . . No representation, one might say, without separation. . . . all realist art is a kind of con trick . . . realism is calculated contingency. . . . representational art is from one viewpoint the least realist of all, since it is strictly speaking impossible. Nobody can tell it like it is without editing and angling as they go along (Eagleton, 2003, pp. -19) Also, for an interesting re-consideration of the relationship between “concrete” and “abstract” in English haiku, see Rowland (2002).

[25] Rian Haight, quoting Wallace Stevens (1958, 24). Personal communication, November 13, 2003.

[26] As found in the Preface quotation (Stevens, 1958, 58).

[27] A phrase of Stéphane Mallarmé (cf. Mallarmé, 1999)

[28] In the English haiku an example of where an imitative idea has failed is syllable-counting. Five-seven-five syllable counting began as an idea of imitation, but was found to be a poor emulation of the original. This discovery was not suddenly brought to light by scholars, or if so, was not promulgated—it was made serendipitously by poets, who began using fewer syllables in their haiku, intuitively. It has now been shown that the use of fewer syllables serendipitously provides a more proper emulatory template of the Japanese haiku then the “traditional” 5-7-5 count (Gilbert and Yoneoka, 2000).

[29] “The essence of mimesis is somatic, visceral, a shared physic element wherein we feel the action, the wounding, the marking of a body, in our own being” (Slattery, 2000, p. 13). “Whalley refuses to translate mimesis as ‘imitation,’ and instead keeps the transliterated Greek because the English noun seems to denote an object of some sort, while Aristotle’s word refers to a process, not a product” (Richter, 1998).


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Richard Gilbert, Ph.D.
December 1, 2003

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