Haiku Lessons part 3

May 2001

Hibiscus Petals

WHCschools Traditional Western Haiku School
Ferris Gilli, Instructor

Part III  Kukai Lesson: Allusion in Haiku

Mark Brooks, an accomplished haiku poet and an editor of the new on-line journal, haijinx, was the Hibiscus School’s first guest speaker (March 30, 2001).  Mark’s lesson, titled Allusion Fields, discusses the reasons for the use of allusion and other cultural references in Western haiku.  Mark explains how to use these devices, and his inclusion of illustrative haiku enriches the lesson.

A kukai following the lesson allowed school members to submit up to two poems.  Well-known and respected judges Peggy Willis Lyles and Tom Clausen rated the entries on fulfillment of the criteria for Mark’s lesson within the context of the Hibiscus School.

The judges commended five of the thirty-six entries, offering concise and informative comments on those five.  Two other entries also received comments.  The seven haiku, accompanied by the judges’ comments:

late for tea ~
my daughter stares down a hole
in the grass bank

paul t conneally

Even without the allusion to Alice in Wonderland, this haiku captures some of the charm of a curious and imaginative child.  That her dawdling has made her late for tea is particularly British, of course, and that cultural reference alone would surely connect within the UK and some countries of the former British Empire to rich associations of childhood tea times and later ones with children present.  For the rest of the world, the reference signals a particular culture.

The allusion to the white rabbit and the entrance to Wonderland compounds the pleasure for fans of Alice’s Adventures and establishes a bond between them and the parent and child of the haiku.

moonlit bookcase –
her toy broomstick leans
against Harry Potter

Maria Steyn

While too new to meet directly Shirane’s goal of connection to the past, Harry Potter is one of the most recognizable references to the broader cultural landscape among the kukai entries. The toy broomstick is a prop for imaginative play.  That this broomstick is leaning against the exact book unconsciously or not conveys the embrace that this child has for her treasured book.  There is a sense that this young reader is quite touched by the imagination and wonder brought out by this book.  The vivid moonlit still life documents a particular child’s fascination with Harry Potter’s world of magic and adventure, and connects her to other enthusiastic readers of the J.K. Rowling stories.

foggy Waimea Canyon–
from the overlook
only an occasional bleat

Maleti (Mary Lee McClure)

Here the reference is to what Mark Twain called the Grand Canyon of Hawaii, a goal of tourists and sight-seers.  How disappointing  to arrive on a foggy day and miss the awe-inspiring view.  Instead of appreciative Ahs, viewers would let escape little bleats of disappointment, not unlike the occasional sounds from animals below.

We are pleasantly reminded of this well-known haiku by Lee Gurga:

scenic overlook —
the whole Mississippi valley

from  In and Out of Fog (Press Here 1997)
co-winner of  First Place, HSA Merit Book Awards 1997

While foggy Waimea Canyon meets Mark’s guidelines for the kukai by referring to a well-known place, the reminder, deliberate or fortuitous, of a fine contemporary haiku adds another layer of appeal.

still in their box
the flowers start to wilt
Mother’s Day

Victor P. Gendrano

Holidays take on a complex patina of shared associations. Expectations, often colored by overt and subliminal salesmanship, are likely to be very different from actual experience.  Mother-child relationships are complex, too.  The mood of still in the box is one of disappointment.  Are the flowers from the child who can never do anything quite right, no matter how hard he tries?  Or has the mother for some reason failed to transfer them immediately from the florist’s box to water.  Whatever the details, this is far from the ideal Mother’s Day experience, and there is something very telling and perhaps sad about the wilting flowers.

last light
strawberry fields stretch
on and on . . .

Kat (Kathy Cobb)

On a strictly horizontal plane, this is an appealing poem.  As darkness nears the seemingly endless strawberry fields, full of the promise of luscious fruit, are especially appealing and poignant.  The poem suggests that there can never be enough of the good sensory experiences of this earth and that this particular one stretches on indefinitely.  The allusion to Strawberry Fields Forever deepens the experience to include a full range of association with the Beatles’ and their era.

yellow dump truck
collecting playground rain
yesterday’s blue light special


Although we feel the poem would benefit from some rearranging, we appreciate the reference to K-Mart salesmanship.  Advertising is a powerful contributor to our throw-away society.  It is all too easy to imagine a child crying yesterday for a toy that is already abandoned — or an adult purchasing a bargain gift that doesn’t suit the recipient.

dark museum–
the guard spellbound by light
from Andrew Wyeth

Billie Wilson

Again, we feel some revision is in order.  The word spellbound brings to mind the Ingrid Bergman film and gets in the way of the reference to the luminosity of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings.  The author can probably improve, too, upon the use of “dark” in the first line and “light” in the second.  We do like the chance to identify with the museum guard and having our attention called to a master of American art.  Would after hours work as a first line in a gentle revision?

If you would like to subscribe to the Hibiscus School of Western Traditional Haiku, you can find instructions at the World Haiku Club web site:


or directly at our YahooGroups WHCschools homepage:


Once you have become a school member, you will be able to visit the archives and read all the lessons that you have missed.  I hope you will join us!

 Part 1

Part 2


This entry was posted in Article Series, Haiku, Lessons, Vol 1-1 May 2001 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Haiku Lessons part 3

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