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The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A Study of Disjunctive Method and Definitions

in Contemporary English‑language Haiku



Publication history. Kumamoto Studies in English Language and Literature 47,

Kumamoto University, Japan (2004, pp. 27-66); adapted in Modern Haiku 35:2 (2004, pp. 21-44).

Revised and updated, December 2007 for Blithe Spirit 18 (issues 1-3).




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 further 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 form[2]) and why (e.g. historical analyses) of haiku 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 creative method. As well, by comparing and contrasting modes of disjunction with the prevailing concept of juxtaposition (superposition), it is hoped that ideas such as the insufficiency of the “one‑image” haiku, and the limits of “proper haiku,”[3] may be re-examined. (Note that this 2008 essay is updated and revised from 2004.)


1. Genre Definition

The Problem of the Modern

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, such models have been sought for validation. A main element of constraint acting on contemporary haiku composition has emanated from Shiki’s late 19th century compositional guidelines, somewhat ironically, as his dicta were themselves partly inspired by western realism."[4] Although there are various additional influences, nonetheless, Shiki’s realist dicta for the beginner‑poet regarding the composition of shasei (“objective sketch of life”[5]) haiku predominate, and selective editorial sensibility has also played a role in maintaining this orientation. Consequently, English‑language haiku experimentation has been restricted in terms of both access and publication, as Mountain (1980, 1990) and others[6] have pointed out. The last 120 years of the modern Japanese haiku tradition as it might be applied and practiced has been inaccessible to poets writing in English: “gendai that is, contemporary Japanese principles and techniques of haiku, have yet to be integrated and valued in English haiku composition and thought. The era when the English haiku itself might provide an effective, autonomous aesthetic basis for critical judgment has, arguably, yet to arrive.


Genre Evolution

The main arc of North American genre evolution begins with Henderson’s 1958 Introduction to Haiku,[7] followed by his 1967 Haiku in English; arriving in 1985, Higginson’s Haiku Handbook has been a mainstay, offering the reader a variety of English and other-language haiku, and a brief overview of modern Japanese haiku.[8] While such works have spurred the popularization of the genre over the last few decades, there are to date no major publications focusing on newer techniques as they have evolved over the last four decades. Perhaps because the market for haiku primers is small and skillful poets comprise an even smaller group, there has been little further development — for instance, a primer explicating gendai haiku approaches and aesthetics, as can be commonly found in Japan.[9] In fact, haiku techniques involving metaphor, allusion, psychological interiority, surrealism, mytheme (qualities evident in both contemporary and classical Japanese haiku) have been critiqued as improper to English haiku form, as Shirane (2000) has discussed. Over the years, “official” definitions of haiku have been challenged with little effect; through recently, fresh approaches are being considered.[10]

A comparative study[11] shows that the Haiku Society of America (HSA) journal Frogpond and the Modern Haiku journal (the two prominent, longstanding North American haiku print journals), though making recent strides regarding innovation, nonetheless offer less in the way of diversity and experiment compared to some decades past, when the continuum of haiku included notable poets outside the dedicated haiku genre, such as Allen Ginsberg and John Ashbery. Some new as well as established editorial voices have been challenging this situation, suggesting that definitive definitions of haiku may be impossible,[12] and arguing that “standard” guidelines, such as those advanced by the HSA and Modern Haiku are problematic (e.g. Mountain, 1980, 2003; Sato, 1999a; Gilbert, 2005, 2007). Supporting this new trend is the fact of increasing international communication — haiku are now shared worldwide, usually through the medium of English, providing alternative ideas as well as images. A number of skilled haijin have also been evolving new techniques, some of which will be presented below.


2. Approaching Disjunction

Historical Overview

The following brief historic examination focuses on experiential 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 his History of Haiku that the haiku connotes “’a shock of mild surprise’, a stab of enlightenment . . . . what distinguishes haiku from other forms of poetry is [its] physical, material, sensational character” (1963a, pp. 2‑3). In beginning his An Introduction to Haiku, Harold Henderson emphasizes association and suggestion, indicating that the haiku is a poem that “has to depend for its effect on the power of suggestion,” in that “only the outlines or important parts are drawn, and the rest the reader must fill in for himself” (pp. 2‑3). 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 qualities can be discerned: shock, surprise and absence. From the inception of the English-language tradition, these stylistic determinants have presented somewhat mysterious (nonspecific) 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 functional concept in 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 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. The extent to which terms such as shock, surprise and absence should properly be ascribed to Japanese haiku is a topic 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, in a new poetic genre.


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 (who has since updated his definition)[13] 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, p. 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 (as in poetic thought generally). Rachel Blau Duplessis, commenting on Pound’s well-known “In A Station of the Metro,”


The apparition        of these faces         in the crowd  :

Petals      on a wet, black       bough  .                                (Pound, 1913, p. 6)[14]


debatably accepted as haiku these days, writes:


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, p. 89; quoting Pound, 1914, p. 467).


Duplessis suggests that “two discourses” become “one configuration” and “are made to interact.” Does the concept of superposition (more or less synonymous in function with juxtaposition) 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 Pound’s poem through the disjunction of images caused by what is absent. I would like next to view this 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.


 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.’ A juxtaposition between these two images occurs due to the colon, which creates two separate (dependent, juxtaposed) clauses. However, the property of disjunction has now been practically eliminated through the addition of grammar parts: (personal-pronoun+be-verb[+simile]). Adding these parts imparts a clear, overt relational identity to the two separate images.

The point here is that superposition (or juxtaposition) alone does not intrinsically provide poetic power. Rather, it is the force of disjunction acting on the reader’s consciousness which is the primary motif impelling successful juxtaposition. Disjunction is then, a priori. 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” example, which shows 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.



The term “superposition” as used to describe a basis for haiku has been recently presented in English translation, via Kawamoto's The Poetics of Japanese Verse, which examines Japanese haiku technique, form and meter in some detail. He illustrates the primary appeal of haiku:


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 in the detailing of traditional haiku form 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 “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” 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:” there is a notion of plurality. 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 other extant descriptions in English.

As Kawamoto indicates, juxtaposition alone is not enough to confer poetic power. Incompleteness, absence and ambiguity are necessary; these are among the properties impelling disjunction. Because modern haiku is primarily text‑based, the means for creating disjunction involves the application of literary-poetic techniques.

Having parsed and contrasted in brief the concepts of disjunction and juxtaposition, it might be asked, if disjunction is in principle more fundamental than and necessary to coherence than juxtaposition in haiku, therefore in terms of the action of the haiku on reader consciousness, is it possible for a haiku to possess little or no imagistic juxtaposition (for instance, in a so‑called “one‑image” haiku), while retaining a strong sense of disjunction? And further, is it possible to create haiku of excellence in this manner? In the next sections, a number of examples will be provided. First, an exegesis of a “one-image” haiku will follow, presenting four primary disjunctive types; Section 4 will offer a typological nomenclature with haiku examples of 13 additional disjunctive techniques (making a total of 17 types).

The term “one-image” is a bit of a misnomer, as in most cases the reader can find more than one image in such haiku. As applied by Spiess, “single image” (1976, p. 27) or “one‑image” haiku, imply something rather different than Pound’s sense of image-overlay, as discussed by Duplessis. One of the basic requirements for the English‑language haiku, as heretofore editorially determined, is the necessity for the polar “juxtaposition of two [and only two] entities” (Spiess, 2001, p. 60); that is, objects or images in the poem. Single (or one‑) image haiku, and other types as well, do not accede to this juxtapositional requirement. The topic is next considered from the perspective of disjunction.


3. The Disjunctive Dragonfly


In this section, a “one‑image” haiku by Jim Kacian (Kusamakura International Haiku Contest, 2003: Third-place Prize), will be analyzed:


my fingerprints
on the dragonfly
in amber

The ‘dragonfly’ haiku contains 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, as at first glance the haiku presents a realistic impression. However, this haiku goes beyond shasei and realism, utilizing four semantic modes of disjunction: 1) perceptual disjunction; 2) misreading as meaning; 3) overturning semantic expectation; and, 4) linguistic oxymoron. We can find no kireji or clearly defined “traditional” juxtaposition of images; in its form, the haiku is strikingly similar to a simple declarative sentence. What makes this short declaration an excellent haiku?

Semantically, haiku often mime or deform prosaic sentence structure (a proposition or complete thought, as discussed in Section 2; Pinker, 1994). It may be said as well that a sentence (proposition) need not be formed only of prose. At the beginning of a sentence, we habitually recognize a noun following a first‑word pronoun as subject (e.g., “My fingerprints ...”), and then look for a verb; last, an object. This structure follows the SVO grammar of English. ‘Dragonfly’ puns upon or irrupts habitual constructions of the 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, the reader’s 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 (alternativity, 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. As mentioned, at the beginning of a simple declarative sentence, is familiarly a noun following a first‑word pronoun (the subject) then the verb, last an object (e.g. “Her shoes are black.”: pronoun+subject noun+verb+object). So, the subject (fingerprints) of the haiku needs or seeks a verb and an object. The second line (“on the dragonfly”) may (impossibly) take on a verbal quality, due to expectation, or becomes simply a question mark, an unknown, while in the third line there is a definitive preposition and strongly placed object (“in amber”). Semantically then, “ amber” may 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 really mean inside, within? We expect that fingerprints, which can only exist in relation to surfaces, be on and not in them. So, the fingerprints (as subject) carry definitive existence, yet 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‑schemas, 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 habitual language expectations tend to 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, as 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 in an overlaid landscape, with the prehistoric dragonfly within translucent amber. The reader’s semantic process crystallizes as a metaphor of the geologic processes of deep time to which the poem alludes. This reading process may take only a few seconds, yet the disjunctions remain as landmarks or “markers,” indicating coherence.

The process of entering and absorbing this haiku is multiple, full of accident, incident and play. As with many of Kacian's haiku, typical descriptive analytical devices such as the parsing of fragment and phrase, juxtaposition, etc., seem reductive, if applied as formal determinants. In fact, we can locate no precise kireji (cutting word) or juxtaposal polarity. An additional nuance of disjunction has to do with the prepositional grammar, as the relational image “fingerprints...amber” normatively takes the preposition “on” (i.e. “my fingerprints are on the amber”). This is linguistic oxymoron, in the sense that fingerprints are ascribed to being on a dragonfly, and a dragonfly is ascribed to being in a rock — not where they are usually found, in haiku language or the natural world of the outdoors. There is a dual‑disjunctive quality of linguistic oxymoron concerning the neighboring prepositions “in” and “on”: “fingerprints on a dragonfly” is bizarre, while fingerprints in a dragonfly might be a horrorshow. Haiku pun within the haikai tradition, done in a contemporary manner, the ironic humor deepens, as misadventure interweaves with limpid amber and deep time; poetic elements and imagistic layers clash and fuse, impelled by strands of misreading.

There are several varieties of disjunction used in excellent haiku, and 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. Disjunction, as intended, serves to indicate a poetic process happening in the reader’s consciousness — disjunction is motile, having no fixed point of realization. Disjunctions appear and fall away, alternately reveal and hide themselves, depending upon the moment of reading.



4. A Typology of Disjunction


Space does not permit a lengthy demonstration of disjunctive typology. It is hoped that the manner of discovery presented here could be easily enough applied by the sensitive reader or poet — readers are no doubt natively aware of disjunction in haiku, but have not had an available nomenclature to articulate types. In addition to the four types described above, 1) perceptual disjunction; 2) misreading as meaning; 3) overturning semantic expectation; and 4) linguistic oxymoron, the following 13 types propose additional categories. Each set of examples is preceded by a category “signpost” titling the most prominent disjunctive quality (as haiku typically contain more than one “moment” and type of disjunction), followed by a brief comment:


5) 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 mosquito

                                                                                                (Lee Gurga in Gordon, 2003)


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


Imagistic fusion compresses semantic meaning, images, rhythm, and sometimes orthography, irrupting the reader’s habitual means of parsing grammar, 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, “head-clouds-lake” in Spriggs 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 extreme brevity and velocity obtaining in the rapid rhythm and 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; and, what variety of space‑time is “today” for a god? This haiku (as with many here) exhibits disjunct temporality. The fusion of the abrupt and impossible collocation, “mist oak” creates strong disjunction in Mountain — a nuanced sense of misreading rapidly evolves, aided by the repeating strong-weak cohesive rhythmic pull of (to emphasize): “autumn mist oak leaves left to rust.” Imagistic fusion works quite effectively with the single line and shorter haiku, as the velocity of the eye scanning across the text enhances the technique.



6) Metaphoric Fusion


     the river
              the river makes
      of the moon

                                                            (Jim Kacian in Mainichi Shimbun, Anthology, 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 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 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, readers may find it difficult to understand proscriptions which warn against the use of metaphor. Metaphor has created some of the very best English haiku, when evoked through the sense of disjunction rather than through grammar parts.

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



7) 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 (two sides of the same coin), and are paradoxically separated by the disjunctive “jump cut” technique. These haiku contain not one but two juxtapositions, of varying intensity.



8) Concrete Disjunction (orthography, punctuation, placement), and

9) 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

the                  i

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 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 a resonant 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.



10) 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)[15]


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 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 the literal “I”) as the literalizing function of the psyche — stating that the ground of psychic life is non-literal. Hillman advances the intriguing psychological notion that mind is fundamentally poetic and metaphoric in nature.[16]
This may be good news for poets, providing a clue as to why haiku often impart a powerful and nearly instantaneous reality-sense. 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 (makoto) by any means, as some critics have implied.[17]

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 coterminous. 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.’”[18] Incorporating 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 [or realism] alone” (Stevens, 1958, p. 58).



11) Displaced Mythic Resonance, and

12) 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, an idea Joseph Campbell pursued in his last work, Inner Reaches of Outer Space, suggesting that the future holds a return to mythic thinking which will incorporate science within 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 “give purer meaning to the words of the tribe” (Mallarmé, 1999, p. 92), an idea 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 idle fancy, 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 will. While this image may 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. The act of “taking” in the Ross haiku provides a stronger anthropomorphic sense than animism might allow (see “Elemental Animism” below); in such haiku, whenever a natural element possesses an anthropomorphic aspect it will also inherently exhibit the quality of animism.

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


13) 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 both “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, partly created through allusion (a quality heretofore proscribed for haiku). Due to itchy feet, the author cannot smartly click his heels or march in goose‑step: the poem presents a disturbing psychosocial complex indicating the will to power or assumption of dictatorial authority hidden in persons or society (and confessional poet). In Boldman, the naturalistic reality of leaves blowing into a shape, say a line, would be a curiosity; the conversion of matter into pure semantic being 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 implicit in the text nor semantically conclusive.



14) Pointing to the Missing Subject


he said he could not gather
  peonies in meadows –

    Geraldine does not live

                                                                 (Shyqri Nimani in WHA, 2003)


counting down the goodness of man:

from the sixth


                                                                 (Hoshinaga Fumio, 2003)


The focus-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. The subject “he” cannot be imaged (is unknown); as well, the sudden shift from passive/past to active/present voice is irruptive. In this meditation on death, the mentioned yet missing subject reaches us beyond image or name — 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 collocation combining the act of counting with an uncountable noun, an ironic linguistic pun (linguistic oxymoron). “Sixth” is significant: it is “definite,” a whole number, but to what type of subject does it refer, exactly? Again the successful use of allusion is seen in Hoshinaga’s style. The mystery of the subject as well as the sense of profound question in the haiku keeps the reader involved.



15) Semantic 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

                                                                 (Hosomi Ayako, 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 borrowed, 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, semantic register shift implies something more innovative. In Smith’s haiku, the fragment and first line of the phrase (the first and second lines) lead to a vast world of white snow (or simply, white), but the last line creates a semantic/perceptual shift from seeing to taste, winter to summer, white to peach, external to internal: changes of semantic register. Similarly, the symmetrical rhythmic substitution occurring in the first two lines of Hosomi’s haiku moves from the skin (clothes) of the body psychological interiority, and in the last line irrupts into the unadorned, exterior blossom. In both haiku, the disjunction of semantic register shift lends resonance to an exotic poetic fusion: there is winter, white, in the taste of peaches; “ordinary mind” clothing peach blossoms.



16) 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 c

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 as dead, without soul, inanimate, become animated. The quality of animation may be subtle, as in Elliott’s haiku; 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 the improbable quality of being balanced (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 offcstars” carries an anthropomorphic as well as animistic aspect — one “elemental” acting animistically upon another.



17) Irruptive Collocation

Table 1 lists unusual, idiosyncratic and creative collocations occurring in the 26 haiku presented above:


Table 1. Example collocations.

Word Collocations

Phrasal Collocations



mist oak

fog. sitting

cicada hole

sixth obscure

balancing sunlight


fingerprints on the dragonfly

god autumn mosquito

tears of a bird

out of itself

help the dawn

takes a shadow

sucking in the blue

counting down the goodness



Collocational function in haiku is the subject of a separate study; preliminary results indicate that unusual, creative and idiosyncratic collocations occur at a higher frequency per total number of words in the haiku genre than in any other poetic form. The usage and frequency of unusual or idiosyncratic collocational types may be a defining feature. In whatever type of literature, such collocational types, particularly idiosyncratic and creative types, are disjunctively irruptive in function.


Disjunctive Qualities

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


Table 2. Disjunction: Functional definition and types as applied to haiku.


Disjunction: The root-semantico-linguistic principle impelling juxtaposition, superposition, possessing multiple types, each related to specific poetic and formal functions and techniques which irrupt habitual consciousness and concept; may supervene more traditional functional stylism, such as fragment/phrase, juxtapositional dualism, kireji.

      Disjunctive Types:

1) Perceptual disjunction

2) Overturning 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

11) Misplaced anthropomorphism

13) The unsatisfactory object

14) Pointing to the missing subject

15) Semantic register shift

16) Elemental animism

17) Irruptive collocation


5. Disjunction, Semantic Kireji and Haiku Form

 Semantic Kireji: Dynamism and Intertextuality

As has been shown in the above examples, disjunctions, whether they are metaphoric, collocational, imagistic, orthographic, rhythmic, mythic, existential, etc., create in the reader’s mind what may be termed semantic kireji — irruptive elements that 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 in the dynamic space between reader and poem.

The dynamic of disjunction affects the action of metaphor and allusion; these generally succeed as intertextual implications, rather than being overt (in haiku, the addition of the terms like or as (though/if) are usually unsuccessful). Haiku dynamically cohere through disjunction, and generally speaking do not avoid, temper or support disjunction with conceptual “handles” such as overt simile, metaphor, explanation, or philosophizing; techniques 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, challenging the literal and engaging an active re‑authoring of the poem by the reader.


Semantic Kireji: Emulation and Sensibility

Emulation and imitation are dissimilar.[19] When Blyth and Henderson translated the Japanese haiku, they usually replaced the kireji, an evocative Japanese word, with punctuation; or, 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, obviously, possible. By emulation is meant mimesis, literally, the replication of the “animate sense,” sensual life, or psycho-somatic activity residing in the original.[20] Virgilio’s “lily” haiku 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 linguistic counterpart in Japanese: an example of a creative approach to kireji, arriving in a new language.

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


6. Expansive Definitions

Disjunction as Literary Dialogue

Considering the wider field of poetic literature in English, as an imported literary form, haiku has remained on the margin, though the haiku aesthetic is found 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, have often been discussed using exclusionary 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 allows for greater relationship and colloquy with the literary world, without the need to limit comparative poetic models outside the haiku genre to the “near haiku” (a.k.a., haikuesque). For example, a disjunction of “unsatisfactory object” can be found in the following excerpts (1) and (2) of poems by two Hispanic poets:


Like wet cornstarch, I slide

past my grandmother’s eyes.


(1) (Lorna Dee Cervantes in Purves, 1993)



in your home

we were cast

as rugs



on walls


    (2) (Francisco Alarcón in Purves, 1993)





fogged with





                        (3) (Glass, 2007)



brightening after rain —

pale marks

on the grimy whitewashed wall

where rungs were

before the ladder was thrown away    


                       (4) (Rowland, 2007)



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 Alarcón’s “Letter to America,” the same disjunctive technique catalyzes poetic power. In both cases, the direct use of simile and metaphor is evident. Poems (3) and (4) have been recently published in NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, whose editorial landscape extends the haiku form into the short poem, and the converse, anthologizing what may be a new poetic genre; as well, substantiating the influence of haiku principles and techniques in contemporary poetry. In Glass, subject becomes object as “mirror” is sandwiched into the middle distance of the poem, time, and space of the uroboric “stone,” presenting a disjunction of “unsatisfactory object.” In Rowland (4), the missing subject (ladder rungs) appear as a memento mori. The sense of disjunctive gap is heightened through the temporal disjunction between the first and last lines.

These poems are not haiku, yet similar disjunctive techniques are shared with the haiku form. Finding additional examples of continuity may provide for the cross-pollination and hybridization of genres, aiding exploration and experimentation. As well, further studies of the English haiku may yield unique perspectives illuminating other genres.


Making it New

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 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 arbitrary definition, in poetic containers which do not properly support haiku form. Strong or multiple disjunction can certainly produce terrible poetry. Disjunction, a variety of sensed qualities and techniques, only becomes effective via poetic creativity. The goal of introducing the concept of disjunction is not to supplant traditional practice, but add dimension, and allow for a wider range of variation and experiment — in keeping with the spirit of Haruo Shirane’s 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 Sections 4 and 5 above, it can be seen that they diverge in various ways from the prevailing definitions of haiku (illustrated in Section 2). As Shirane indicates, it seems timely to open the form.



Disjunction and the Sense of Depth

While there is much to be garnered from the Japanese tradition, the English‑language tradition has arisen in a separate literary environment, with its unique influences, needs and concerns. This paper has sought to address the problematics of definitional restriction, technique, and validation of the contemporary English‑language haiku through an examination of disjunctive modes, for the purpose of providing new analytical and compositional perspectives. Disjunctions cut across fragment/phrase and formal kireji parsing: a haiku may cohere through its disjunctive attributes alone. Disjunction invites supra‑realist possibilities — the contextual field is as wide as consciousness: disjunctive magnetism and the play of disjunction‑versus‑coherence is a taproot of haiku.

Disjunction has at least three dimensions of velocity: 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 semantic kireji, helping to catalyze the reader’s aesthetic perception of haiku as an artform, and disjunction also evokes a 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 brought to light in the field of depth psychology, it is through such wounds that we deepen.



I wish to thank poet, editor and Red Moon Press publisher Jim Kacian; this research has benefited from his literary insight, poetics, and colloquy. Discussions with Philip Rowland (Tamagawa University) have improved my understanding of the relationship of haiku with wider issues of poetics and aesthetics. Masahiro Hori (Kumamoto Gakuen University) has provided insight into his innovative literary corpus‑collocational methodology, Rinzai Zen practice, and haiku researches. I am also grateful to co‑translator/poets Kanemitsu Takeyoshi (haikaishi), and Itô Yûki (Ph.D. cand., Kumamoto University), comrades in arms. And my profound gratitude to Hoshinaga Fumio, founder and sensei of the HI-HI Gendai Haiku Circle of Kumamoto, who has revealed the living heart of contemporary Japanese haiku through his poetry and personage.




[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). (I am American, so likewise are most of the citations and references in this paper. While fairly familiar with contemporary haiku composed worldwide in English, I am less familiar with the haiku history, small presses, etc., on other continents. Notwithstanding, there is a broad similarity in haiku composed in English, in the west.) In this paper for brevity the term ‘English haiku’ will at times be substituted for ‘English‑language haiku.’


[2] The frontispiece of each HSA Frogpond journal through 2004 gives the pre‑existing definition (1973-2004): “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. 2. A foreign adaptation of 1, usually written in three lines totaling fewer than seventeen syllables.” (It should be noted that “onji” is an archaic linguistic term, being supplanted in Japan by the 1930s, and it has become unknown in Japanese. The most appropriate term is “on” (as: “This haiku has 17-on”). The new (2004, Autumn) HSA definition reads: “A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition”; this definition is problematic and in some ways is a backwards step, as it lacks specificity, and introduces culturally problematic language (Gilbert & Rollingstone, 2005; Gilbert, 2008). As this essay takes a historical approach, The HSA 1973-2004 definition (termed “HSA definition” throughout this essay) is used.


[3] 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 [pre‑2005] 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 see Spiess, 2001 and Gurga 2000, for their delimitations of “proper.”


[4] Selected haiku in the journal Modern Haiku are mainly of the naive‑realist shasei variety. In a recent interview, the nationally known reviewer and haiku critic Hasegawa Kai referred to the problem of naive‑realist haiku, coining the term “garakuta haiku,” i.e. ‘junk haiku,’ stating that this mistaken idea of haiku has “created a nearly stagnant situation” (Hasegawa, 2007). Nearly a decade ago, the shasei approach was defended by an essay in Modern Haiku, advancing the idea of a triune hierarchy or schema of haikai: at the top ’haiku,’ followed by ‘senryu,’ and at the bottom ‘zappai’: “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. 62-63). In the years since Lee Gurga penned his essay, much has changed. In fact, one only need glance at Gurga’s ‘mosquito’ haiku in the disjunctive category, “Imagistic Fusion” of this paper, to observe the poet’s evolution. Gurga concurs (personal communication, August 2007) that ‘imaginative or imaginary,’ applied in a blanket negative sense requires emendation. Usage problems concerning the term ‘zappai’ in English by the HSA (untruly implying verity with Japanese haiku sensibility) are discussed in Gilbert & Rollingstone, 2005. The cross‑culturally appropriate replacement term, adopting Hasegawa’s coinage, is “garakuta haiku.” But, why not just say ‘junk haiku.’ Is a Japanese loan word required for this concept?

Research in English into the modern senryu movement (covering the last 120 years) is nearly nonexistent. Over the last century, gendai (modern) senryu has developed in parallel with gendai haiku in Japan—this includes the banning of its presses, persecution and torture of its poets during the wartime period (cf. Itô, 2007)—obviously, for more than composing ‘mere wit’. Excellent senryu poets such as Onishi Yasuyo are acclaimed as poets per se, not merely as ‘senryu poets.’


[5] Shasei (translated as “objective sketch of life”) refers to Masaoka Shiki’s concept of tokyoakkan byôsha (objective description). Shiki’s haiku philosophy is indelibly linked to naive‑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 remains connected to realist determinants. Shiki died young and unfortunately his doctrine of makoto was not fully articulated. Tsubouchi Nenten, who recently published a book (in Japanese) on Shiki’s life and work, suggests that Shiki did not mean for his shasei stylism to be discerned as one offering intrinsically profound insight, but was articulated more along the lines of skillful language play and consciousness shift. Tsubouchi discusses Shiki‑led speed games whose participants would vie to see who could pen the most ku before a stick of incense burned down, and used the term “automatic writing” to describe the participant experience of these and similar events: all‑nighter writing ‘raves,’ etc. (cf. Tsubouchi, 2007). After Shiki’s death, his ideas were spun in particular by Takahama Kyoshi to accord with ultranationalist perspectives (for further research into this topic an excellent paper on the New Rising Haiku movement by Itô Yûki, 2007, available online). An overview of Shiki’s critical evolution can be found in Ueda, 1983; also see Anakiev, 2003.


[6] Analyses of this point may be found in Shirane, 2000); Sato, 1999. Marlene Mountain has a series of historically illuminating essays on her website, including a record from 1976-77 concerning ‘haiku wars’: “ . . . a lot of people were die-hards. It got pretty bad. People started hating each other. . . . People divided up, chose sides, like children do in a game. But it wasn't a game. War broke out” (Mountain, 1990).


[7] 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). Yasuda (1957) needs to be included here; however, the author’s concept of English haiku compositional form was too idiosyncratic to be of longstanding influence.


[8] Between 2002‑2004, primers were published by Bruce Ross, Jane Reichhold and Lee Gurga. Gendai haiku concepts and technique, and the validation of non‑shasei haiku are not presented in the above volumes. As of 2007, not a whole lot has changed. Jim Kacian is seeking publication for his haiku primer; having read some preliminary segments, it is eagerly anticipated.


[9] A Japanese‑English bilingual primer relating to the history and nature of gendai haiku is available from the Modern Haiku Association of Japan (2001). Gendai approaches are considered part of the haiku literary culture of present‑day Japan, and have been integrated into children’s education, as in the book haikukyôshitsu [Haiku classroom], for Elementary School children learning haiku (Natsuishi, 2002). Recently, the massive five‑volume “Gendai Haiku Saijiki” was published by the Modern Haiku Association (Gendai Haiku Kyôkai; MHA); the fifth volume is a muki kigo or “non-seasonal season word” dictionary. Six collected articles concerning kigo are available (cf. Gilbert et al, 2006).


[10] 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, Section 5, “foreward/foreward/foreward/foreward,” para. 16). “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, Section 99, “unaloud haiku contents,” para. 3). Swede’s indicative research was gathered from two surveys conducted in 1980 and 1997, concerning 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).


[11] The following is a quantitative and qualitative comparative analysis of the two large‑circulation North American haiku journals, regarding shasei‑style haiku published in the journals, in 2003. Both present a majority of shasei haiku. Surveying Modern Haiku (34:3) Autumn, and Frogpond (26:3) Autumn, five categories were determined: 1) total haiku listed in the section(s) “Haiku and Senryû”; 2) shasei; 3) formulaic shasei; 4) non‑formulaic shasei (non‑formulaic shasei; that is, shasei with innovative disjunctive elements—formal and/or content elements, psychological, animistic, etc., placing them outside of the shasei-oriented field; 5) non‑shasei haiku. (Note: inferior senryû are included within category 3) formulaic shasei.). Haiku‑translation sections were not included. Counts can be considered approximate; numbers are rounded‑off to the nearest whole number:


Modern Haiku:

1) 146

2) 139

3) 133

4) 6

5) 7

Non-shasei haiku = 3%

Formulaic shasei = 91%

Non-formulaic shasei = 3%

Total Shasei = 95%


1) 149

2) 124

3) 71

4) 53

5) 25

Non-shasei haiku = 17%

Formulaic shasei = 48%

Non-formulaic shasei = 36%

Total Shasei = 83%


Considering the excellence Shiki demanded, the judgment of ‘formulaic’ here is likely to be forgiving (cf. Ueda, 1983, pp. 19‑28). It may be seen that both journals contain, overwhelmingly, shasei haiku — in the last few years, the scope of these journals has broadened somewhat. As well, journals are reliant on their submissions, and the haiku genre maintains a small following. Nonetheless, editorial restriction has been a major genre‑limiting factor, over the decades.


[12] 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).


[13] Following the publication of the 2004 version of this paper and convivial communication, Professor Lanoue has a new definitions page (Lanoue, 2007). My apologies for the illustration of his historical definition; however, his earlier definition remains relevant, as it reflects the shasei stylism prevalent in published haiku, at present.

[14] The lines have no spaced‑out words in the 1916 version. The most commonly published revision (Pratt, p. 50) of the poem uses a semi-colon. Whether a colon or semi-colon is used, the issues concerning superposition (juxtaposition) and disjunction remain the same.


[15] “[This haiku] has very possibly had more influence on the direction taken by Western haiku than any other single haiku” (Haiku Society of America, 1994, p. 9). An extended analysis of Nick Virgilio’s ‘lily’ haiku is forthcoming in Gilbert, 2008.


[16]Soul is imagination . . . releasing events from their literal understanding” (Hillman, 1983, p. 27; 1989, p. 122); reality is imaginal, a “seeing through: . . . the subject studying itself by means of the fictions and metaphors of objectivity” (ibid, 1989, p. 18); “the most fecund approach to the study of mind is through its highest imaginal responses” (ibid, p. 10); imagination has itself been articulated as “the poetic basis of mind” (ibid, p.  10).


[17] In 2003, Terry Eagleton penned this critique of 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. 17‑19). For a reconsideration of the relationship of the concrete and abstract in English haiku, see Rowland (2002); a paper addressing this topic is in Gilbert, 2008.


[18] Rian Haight (Northwestern University) quoting Wallace Stevens (1958, p. 24). Personal communication, November 13, 2003.


[19] In the English‑language 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 well promulgated — it was made serendipitously by poets, who began using fewer syllables in their haiku as a consequence of discovering a more effective, poetically powerful, means of evocation. It has 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 (Cf. Gilbert and Yoneoka, 2000).


[20] “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, para. 2). For more on mimesis see the landmark 1953 work by Auerbach.




Anakiev, D. (2003). New tools: The dimensions of the line. Frogpond: Journal of the Haiku Society of America, 26:3, pp. 61‑64.

Auerbach, E. (1953). Mimesis: The representation of reality in western literature. Princeton University Press.

Blyth, R. H. (1949‑1952). Haiku, vols. 1-4. Tokyo: Hokuseido.

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Additional Research

1)      The Gendai Haiku Website.
(video interviews with notable Japanese modern‑haiku poets, subtitled in English and German).

2)      Published haiku research papers available from:



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