Haiku Lesson 2 – When Juxtaposition Fails – the Space Between

July 2002 issue

WHCschools – Hibiscus Petals School

 Ferris Gilli, Instructor/Editor (US)

 2 – Hibiscus – When Juxtaposition Fails: The Space Between

Greetings, Hibiscus friends!

new-car scent
an eagle pair perches
atop the cypress

The form is good, and the concrete imagery is excellent; but the haiku is not quite there yet. The thing that keeps it from resonating is an intangible element related to juxtaposition that is hard to describe and sometimes harder to employ in a haiku. Sometimes a haiku just hovers — it is either perfectly fine, or it’s on the cusp between great and just a bit off. I’ll try to explain. I hope you’ll bear with me while I repeat things you already know — I will eventually tie my comments together and get to the point.

First, let’s forget about the eagles for a bit, while we look at these poems by Anna Tambour (see acknowledgements at end of lesson):

faint thunder
a snake sloughs its skin
in the creekbed

power blackout
frogs boom
in the billabong

In each one, as with most effective juxtaposition, the two parts of the haiku are completely independent of each other. That is, the thunder is an independent image that on the surface APPEARS to be totally unrelated to the snake in the creekbed. Neither part of the haiku is dependent on the other part to make sense or have meaning. “Power blackout” and the rest of the verse are two elements that are completely independent of each other. Each element makes perfect sense all by itself, even if pulled away from the other element. This is true of the two parts of each of those verses.

Now HERE is where the added resonance of those verses is created—in the space BETWEEN the two parts. The faint thunder is a nice, traditional image, and the snake sloughing its skin in the creekbed is a great image all by itself — but that is about all you can say about them on their own. BUT when those images are juxtaposed — placed next to each other — if the juxtaposition is successful, a relationship between them will be perceived by the intuitive reader. With a really good haiku, this relationship will exist on more than one level.

So, what does thunder have to do with a snake in a creekbed? For one thing,
the creekbed is dry, which means it hasn’t rained in a long time. But faint thunder implies rain coming, or at least gives hope of rain. As the snake has a new skin, if the blessed rain comes, so it will bring new growth. That is one level of the relationship; there are other levels for the perceptive reader.

A power blackout is a familiar occurrence, but the idea of a blackout by itself is not extraordinary. The sound of frogs is also a familiar thing and a classical topic of haiku. Frog voices by themselves may be lovely or funny or BIG. But unless they are juxtaposed with another element, we have nowhere to look for a deeper meaning of the voices.

What if the first line of that poem were “Australia.” So? Yes, “billabong” is a word from Australia, and it’s good to know that there are frogs in the billabongs; but we have frogs here, in the creeks and ponds and puddles too. What is particularly resonant about those billabong frogs (besides the wonderful alliteration and lovely, round vowel sounds of “boom” and “billabong”? Well . . . let’s imagine ourselves in sudden darkness . . . and now here come the frog voices, not simply calling or singing, but booming! in the billabong. What a delicious, shivery mood is created with this juxtaposition! Imagine that it’s a moonless, pitch-black night, and the author is suddenly without lights in the middle of a good book. Such an inconvenience and quite startling for a human—but not for the frogs. While the author runs around looking for candles, bumping into things, throwing out dead flashlight batteries, those frogs are booming away in their billabong.

Back to the eagles:

new-car scent
an eagle pair perches
atop the cypress

I don’t get a thing from that juxtaposition. I can imagine a new-car scent, and I love the image of the eagle pair. But seeing them together makes me say, “Huh?” The space between the parts is more like a cement wall, for me anyway.

This, however, allows my gaze to follow Harry Gilli’s focus and find the resonance, because he offers a fillable space between the parts:

hole in the fog –
an eagle pair perches
atop the cypress

When put together, the elements become parts of a bigger picture, or parts of a small “story.” The space between the elements, that which is NOT said, allows the reader to become the author’s partner, by filling in the space, to realize the bigger picture and perhaps gain insight. Readers have to fill in the space to experience the discovery that goes BEYOND the immediate imagery; and when they do, they get their own “Aha!”

It is not enough to simply juxtapose two seemingly unrelated images. When we’ve written the main part of a haiku, we have to choose the other part well, or the reader’s response may reflect his or her puzzlement: “Huh?” The two parts of a successful haiku are more meaningful when read as a whole than either of the parts alone. Although the parts are independent and make sense on their own, when juxtaposed in a haiku, they work together to bring insight, discovery, or a sense of completion to the reader.

Happy spring!

Ferris (April 2002)


Anna Tambour, “power blackout” The Heron’s Nest III: 3; “faint thunder” The Heron’s Nest III: 5

Ferris Gilli, “hole in the fog” Haiku Light, 1999

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2 Responses to Haiku Lesson 2 – When Juxtaposition Fails – the Space Between

  1. Pingback: How to Learn Haiku « Word Skies

  2. Pingback: Haiku Demystified – How to Write Haiku – Cafe Haiku

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