General Information


General Information

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 Seasons and Categories for haiku

The use of kigo in worldwide haiku



Bill Higginson

For haiku composition, on a superficial level whether a season word refers to early, middle, or late in a given season--or to the whole season--means little; presumably a single haiku reflects the events and emotional values of a particular time. But as we connect more and more with the depths of the haiku tradition, we begin to understand that a great haiku makes use of seasonal themes in a deeper way.

Each of the more important seasonal themes has a long history of not just physical associations, but emotional tone as well. The more skilled the haiku poet, the more the poem works with or plays against these associations.

A good haikai saijiki (almanac of seasonal topics and season words used in haiku and linked-poetry composition) explains these traditional associations. For the haiku poet, this list simply represents those few seasonal topics that have deeply engaged Japanese poets for centuries, and, in some cases, for a millennium or more.

Such a list can also help poets to know what to look for when they want to write a seasonal poem. In a saijiki, the systematic seasonal ordering of topics serves mainly to collect related phenomena together, and to arrange finished poems in a rational and aesthetically pleasing order.

The seasons of traditional Japanese poetry are not the same as our common notion of each season today. Rather, as in earlier times in Europe, each season centers on its solstice or equinox. We know that the European view used to accord with the Japanese tradition because even in English today "midsummer" and "midwinter" refer to times near the solstices of their respective seasons. (The same is true of "Mittsommer" in German and its cognates in other Germanic languages; the Feast of Saint John [le Saint-Jean in French, il San Giovanni in Italian, 26 June] is understood as comparable to Midsummer's Day in England.)

If we abandon the traditional view and insist on understanding "spring" as running from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, one-third to one-half the items in the traditional seasonal arrangement will be out of place. Since the progress of a renku normally involves not only the seasons, but movement within the seasons, I believe renku poets will be best served if we adhere to the traditional arrangement, which will keep our renku in accord with all the linked poems of hundreds of years past as well as others being written today.

Bill Higginson
(Posted with permission)


Comments of members of the WHCworldkigo Discussion Forum
on an article about KIGO in the Wikipedia

By Michael Baribeau

There is much debate as to what is haiku, most of which is due to the divergent Western style from the Japanese style and the confusion of which style is being defined. Except for a few exceptions (muki), JAPANESE haiku have kigo. The Japanese culture has a much greater affinity and emphasis on the seasons than the West does. When the West adopted haiku, their
interpretation of Japanese translated haiku was that they were about nature in general instead of about seasons in specific.

Being that many Japanese kigo are too subtle by Western standards, Western readings of JAPANESE haiku usually missed the seasonal association. So WESTERN haiku are free form in that they don't require kigo and although the WESTERN haiku were once required to be about nature instead (which often had kigo incidentally) they don't anymore and now the focus is placed on the topics being chaste.

However, if you intend to use a definition that WESTERN haiku require a kigo then may I suggest labeling the haiku a style of haiku such as neo-classical haiku. I wouldn't recommend the terms classical or traditional which might also suggest the 5-7-5 form. Although Western haiku originally had a syllabic form of 5-7-5 most are now written in free verse.

The article speaks that kigo are culture/region specific and uses pumpkins for an example but than goes to describe Japanese seasons in detail. I don't sense a clear distinction between Japanese and other region's kigo.

In the West the 'harvest' moon or 'autumn' moon is an autumn kigo but not the moon in general, while depending on adjectives and phrasing it is actually a kigo used in all four seasons by the Japanese.

Although the article is very informative and clear for the most part, I would like to see it clarify when it is speaking of Japanese kigo or some other region's.

Michael Baribeau


"Kigo - go or no go"

by Dennis Holmes

I was a student of the late Fujita Akegarasu (1934 - 2004).
Akegarasu sensei believed kigo is essential to the art of haiku. Kigo to the Japanese writer of haiku is part of the foundation of the poem. From my (non-Japanese studying Japanese haiku) view, what this means is a melding of feeling using the kigo as an anchor.

I am not sure if "anchor" is the right word, perhaps, "catalyst" is better, in that, kigo, does not itself change, but, rather acts to help the reader feel the depth of the verse. That is, the "heart" of the haiku. As has been mentioned earlier in previous discussions on haiku being from the beginning of a "renga" sequence, then, more stand-alone as Shiki sensei believed, it became haiku from the hokku. The hokku gives a strong hint as to what haiku should be.

Hokku was the "greeting" to get the linked verse started. In this, hokku set the framework, season and setting for the group to continue. These aspects were retained in what became haiku. In fact, if you take the hokku by itself, you essentially have haiku.
This is still very valid in haiku of Japan today. If you want to confirm that assessment, just look at any collection of haiku from the proliferation of haiku circles (haiku writer groups) in Japan today. I would like to see the rest of the world adhere as closely as possible to this Japanese spirit when writing poems that represent the haiku art.

Retain both kigo and kireji in spirit and practice as essential components of any haiku. The techniques I currently feel sound are: developing a world seijiki; and using equivalent punctuation for the Japanese kireji. Also, there are many more reusable components such as kakekotoba (word play) that may cross the translation bridge between English and Japanese.

As with any literary congress between two diverse cultures... something will inevitably be lost in translation, but, the essential spirit of the haiku art supported by "ARTifacts" such as kigo and kireji (to mention just two) will limit that loss to a minimum, I do so hope.

"chibi" (pen-name for Dennis M. Holmes)


By Carlos Fleitas

I read the Wilkipedia article and i liked it, especially when it raised the issue: Must haiku include a kigo? In my view that question leads to a more general one, at least if one observes what is going on today, particularly in the international internet haiku community: This question could be What is haiku?

This shouldn't be so suprising to us. In the 20th. century in the West due to the amazing revolution in the arts, the question was: What is Art? All the aesthetics, technical and traditional rules were just tossed away. Let's take for example music. Beginning with Schoenberg, Berg, Von Webern, Varese, later with Pierre Schaffer, John Cage, Ligetti etc. Many musicians, even now, think that modern and contemporary music is not "music" at all. Some go a little bit furhter saying that they are just "noises".

But this has happened age after age in music. Bach's early pieces where sometimes doomed because they accused him of introducing "shocking variations (viele wunderliche Variationen) and strange notes (viele fremde Tone)", in the church hymns (Malcolm Boyd) and finally he lost his job! (Arnstad period). Music of the Middle Ages, which is so extraordinarily rich, went through periods of intense confrontation. "Romantics" where suspicious of "destroying" the meaning and quality of music. Therefore, in the entire history of arts debate of opposing argument was normal, and often very passionate.

At some point, elder generations thought popular music such as rock was not music and that it was just "noise". Therefore we have two sets of opinions: traditional and contemporary in music and art in general.

Back to haiku. Let me point out some ideas. Some are obvious, but that helps me express my thoughts.

1) Haiku was born in Japan.

2) Ancient or traditional or classical haiku (Basho, Issa, Buson) was a fixed form that included kigo and kireji, except for some few exceptions.

3) As time went by, frontiers were pushed, for example by Santoka, Ogiwara Seisensui, Ozaki Hosai, Nakatsuka Ippekiro and many others. Even metaphor was widely used in classic (Haruo Shirane) and "free haiku" in Japan .

4) Shiki restored haiku to it's origins as you well know. He kept kigo and 5.7.5 and also freshend it up. He gave new life to it.

Bottom line:
From its Japanese origins, haiku has gone a long way and some haijin write a totally different kind of haiku compared with the classical or neo-classical ones. I.e. with no kigo, no 5.7.5. They also explore new subjects unknown to classic haiku

5) Haiku was introduced to the West.

6) In the West something very similar happened, although some Spanish and LAm haijin started directly writing a very diferent kind of haiku. Even religious nuns and monks wrote what they called "religious haiku" (Ty Hadman) The first haiku written in Spanish was by Tablada. This great poet surprisingly called them haikai. It was because he felt they where closeer to the "spirit of haikai" (he meant some humorous detail in the poems), but they where as Octavio Paz stated haiku in themselves.

Other great Latin American writers such as Borges wrote haiku which he identified as such, with no kigo but for few exceptions (i recall one), or kireji, although he mantained the 5.7.5 syllable issue. And other writers did this also. But it is true that they did not consider themselves as haijin, i mean, they wrote haiku as an exception.

7) If we observe what is going on in the Haiku International Community nowadays, there are haijin who write neo-classical haiku, and think that not keeping to the 'rules' makes a composition unworthy of being called haiku.

8) On the other side, there are haijin who claim they are writing true haiku, but do not use kigo or any fixed form at all.

9) Things are going so far that we nowadays can read "urban haiku" and even "sci-fi haiku". No kigo at all, no 5-7-5. And sci-fi haiku!!! This influence has come from the USA as far as i know.

10) So now in the West we have the same division of opinions - traditional and contemporary.

My opinion these days is that both of them are right. It is just that they are different styles of haiku. My main concern is trying to express rationally what is the essence of haiku, the so called "spirit of haiku" that is present in neo-classical, free, urban, sci-fi, vanguard haiku, and others to come. Haiku today is a polysemic term, it has multiple meanings.

This sort of "crisis" from my point of view is healthy, because it fosters diversity.I do not know what Japanese haijin think of Western haiku, but sometimes i have found that Western haijin are more "japanese" than Japan's haijin. There is an extraordinary article by Serge Tome (Belgian editor and haijin) who compares contemporary japanese haiku with western haiku. One issue is the use of the personal pronoun "I" in haiku. In the West, the great majority of haijin have banned it, (at first i did also) and if you submit a haiku with it, they decline to consider it a haiku. Maybe this comes from the influence of zen in the West, particularly in the States, but this is a guess.

In his article Tome finds out that in Japan nowadays the use of "I" in a haiku is not banned at all if i remember well.

The difference between Western Haiku is cultural, not a poetic or a literary one. (See below paragraphs of Haruo's Shirane.)

Maybe we should call it "Western haiku" instead of haiku in this part of the world. I think this would be more accurate.
Spanish and LAm haijin are getting used to calling their work: "haiku written in spanish" to emphazise the cultural environment where it began.
I do remember Kerouac fostering what he called "American haiku".

Bottom line:
I think we should face the questions: Must haiku include a kigo? What is haiku? with an open-mind reminding ourthelves that haiku has an extraordinary reach in the world today. The diversity of haiku now is something that enriches it and maybe a new idea is wating to be born in haiku. Also i think we should keep close to what is happennig at the present time. I mean, a new kind of haiku, that may be developing throughout the world, even sci-fi haiku. Maybe we are living in an age of transition. I can't tell, but it would not be impossible if we look to history.

Here are several magnificent paragraphs excerpted from a paper by Haruo Shirane :
"Beyond the haiku moment" but although it focus on the USA, i think it could be applied to all international haiku communities.

I was once told that Ezra Pound's famous metro poem first published in 1913, was not haiku.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd: Petals on a wet, black bough .

If I remember correctly, the reason for disqualification was that the metro poem was not about nature as we know it and that the poem was fictional or imaginary. Pound's poem may also have been ruled out since it uses an obvious metaphor: the petals are a metaphor for the apparition of the faces, or vice versa. This view of the metro poem was based on the three key definitions of haiku - haiku is about direct observation, haiku eschews metaphor, and haiku is about nature - which poets such as Basho and Buson would have seriously disputed."

"One of the widespread beliefs in North America is that haiku should be based upon one's own direct experience, that it must derive from one's own observations, particularly of nature. But it is important to remember that this is basically a modern view of haiku, the result, in part, of nineteenth century European realism, which had an impact on modern Japanese haiku and then was re-imported back to the West as something very Japanese. Basho, who wrote in the seventeenth century, would have not made such a distinction between direct personal experience and the imaginary, nor would he have placed higher value on fact over fiction."

"In short, while haiku in English is inspired by Japanese haiku, it can not and should not try to duplicate the rules of Japanese haiku because of significant differences in language, culture and history. A definition of Engish-language haiku will thus, by nature, differ from that of Japanese haiku. If pressed to give a definition of English-language haiku that would encompass the points that I have made here, I would say, echoing the spirit of Basho's own poetry, that 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. There are already a number of fine North American haiku poets working within this frame so this definition is intended both to encourage an existing trend and to affirm new space that goes beyond existing definitions of haiku."

"One consequence of a narrower definition of haiku is that English-language anthologies of haiku are overwhelmingly set in country or natural settings even though ninety percent of the haiku poets actually live in urban environments. To exaggerate the situation, North American haiku poets are given the alternative of either writing serious poetry on nature (defined as haiku) or of writing humorous poetry on non-nature topics (defined as senryu). This would seem to discourage haiku poets from writing serious poetry on the immediate urban environment or broader social issues. Topics such as subways, commuter driving, movie theaters, shopping malls, etc., while falling outside of the traditional notion of nature, in fact provide some of the richest sources for modern haiku, as much recent English-language haiku has revealed, and should be considered part of nature in the broadest sense."

"However, if haiku is to rise to the level of serious poetry, literature that is widely respected and admired, that is taught and studied, commentated on, that can have impact on other non-haiku poets, then it must have a complexity that gives it depth and that allows it to both focus on and rise above the specific moment or time. Basho, Buson and other masters achieved this through various forms of textual density, including metaphor, allegory, symbolism and allusion, as well as through the constant search for new topics. For North American poets, for whom the seasonal word cannot function in the fashion that it did for these Japanese masters, this becomes a more pressing issue, with the need to explore not only metaphorical and symbolic possibilities but new areas - such as history, urban life, social ills, death and war, cyberspace, Haiku need not and should not be confined to a narrow definition of nature poetry, particularly since the ground rules are completely different from those in Japan."

In Basho's day, haikai was two things:
1) performance and social act, and
2) literary text.

As a social act, as an elegant form of conversation, haikai had to be easily accessible; it had to be spontaneous; it had to perform social and religious functions. Thus, half of Basho's haiku were greetings, parting poems, poetic prayers. They served very specific functions and were anchored in a specific place and time, in a dialogic exchange with other individuals. For Basho, however, haikai was also a literary text that had to transcend time and place, and be understood by those who were not at the place of composition.

To achieve this goal, Basho repeatedly rewrote his poetry, made it fictional, gave it new settings, added layers of meaning, emphasized the vertical axis (linking it to history and other literary texts), so that the poem would have an impact beyond its original circumstances. One hopes that more North American haiku poets can take inspiration from this complex work."

Post Scriptum:
Two or three years ago, some haiku concerning Windows failures spread all over the Net. They were 5-7-5 and awesome!

Carlos Fleitas


Chibi answers:

Dear Carlos san

Kigo is essential to the art of haiku. Also, I disagree with Shirane sensei, respectively. I have to take a strong stance in this because I see transfering the art form to another language can retain artifacts such as kigo and kireji. These are at least two essential components to retain haiku form, fit, and function. If there is divergence, then, I contend, the result is not haiku.

We should take advantage of the amount of direct communication that the internet allows. The internet is a tremendous connectivity tool and can afords us with a tigher (closer cultural proxsimity) understanding and association with teachers and practisioners of Japanese haiku. Given our modern technology, perhaps, this will facsilitate a deeper understanding. Regional kigo can be allowed and readily understood as we become aware of more of the world.

I fully support the idea of the "World Saijiki". Though, historically, as is my understanding, the saijiki was sanctified by a sensei or group.

Kireji, the cut, the pause, is essential to the form of haiku. I look at it as one of the touthstones. I also feel if you allow any errosion of this... you are not writing haiku.
I feel I am not skilled to explain deeper, but, the cut is very much Japanese and intrinsically "natural".



CARLOS answering

Dear friend:

I appreciate your sincerity. Diversity of opinions from my point of view enrich us and make us feel we are an active part of this wonderful kigo project lead by our dear Gabi-san, and also as members of the worldwide haiku community.

There maybe a misunderstanding.

*) I just uploaded parts of Shirane's article because i thought it was a different, diverse approach to haiku and kigo issue that may interest gk, and also i wanted to share with all the members of this list.

*) I am not a Shirane's partisan, although i admire his work.

*) What i like most about Shirane's paper is that it "shook my ideas", but that is something concerning my personal style. The core of what i learned reading his paper is this: haiku is more subtle than i thoughr it was. And that encourages me to perfect, if i am able to, my haiku in the future.

*) I understand your point of view in fact i am a "neoclassical haijin (or at least i hope i am a haijin), therefore i foster the use of kigo and kireji. (Kireji is different in spanish haiku than in japanese haiku. We do not have the cutting syllable "ya", so we use another kind of caesura, mainly the natural pauses in language). I have written many essays in Spanish and English and they are full of my great concern and support for kigo in haiku.

*) I have been writting since a a sort of haibun, in Spanish for a couple of years in Spanish, titled Cuaderno de Haiku (Haiku Notebook). All the haiku there have kigo and kireji (as we use it in Spanish) My haiku in Spanish and the ones in English (except some few exception) also contain kigo and kireji. There are other reasons why i am very fond of kigo in haiku, but this would go beyond the limits of our subject.

*) I support strongly the idea that there are regional kigo, and that is why i joined WHCkigo.

*) Now i am open to explore new frontiers in haiku, such as vanguard haiku. Recently i wrote a mandala "haiku" and send it to WHCvanguard.
Maybe it is not haiku, i can not claim it is. If it is not, at least i think haiku has inspired it. Furthermore, nowadays i have changed my previous opinion and consider "urban haiku" which is evolving rapidly in Spain and LAm community, genuine haiku, although many of them do not have kigo. Some of them maybe are senryu, that is true also.

*) The issue whether this is or is not haiku, depends in my view, on what one considers haiku to be. I.e. if one considers that haiku has to have its essential axis on kigo and kireji. Of course everything that is out of the definition will not be considered haiku. I understand it. And i find it is not only a good point, but that everyone has the right to have his/her opinion, and no doubt yours is very well-founded. I was very impressed when you wrote:
"I see transfering the art form to another language can retain artifacts such as kigo and kireji."
It is a very strong and good point indeed.

I think Basho or Buson would not have considered sci-fi "haiku" as haiku at all.
Or the computer generated one's or many other similar "haiku" varieties. Yesterday i conducted a web search and i found strange kinds of "haiku" I had not time to read them all but there is a web dedicated to Harry Potter's "haiku" and Frida Kahlo "haiku"!!.
Amazing this Internet of ours!

*) I also think that all this diversity of opinions makes me feel we are alive and moving on, and exploring with passion, because passion in our case means enthusiasm, which is the major drive humans have to explore, and could help me produce better haiku, i think.

*) And last but not least, i think that haiku is a tiny yet powerful ambassador that extraordinarily, has made it possible for people from all over the world to come toghether and know each other. Personally it has enrichened my life very much. I also foster the idea that folks should communicate as much as possible, freely and without restrictions. And haiku makes it possible. I have made an enormous number of friends from all over the world, which pleases me very much.

I am proud and delighted to be a member of the worldwide haiku community, and of this WHCworldkigo project.

Carlos Fleitas

End of the Comments. May 6, 2005


Further Reading

* Kigo Versus Seasonal Reference in Haiku:
Observations, Anecdotes and a Translation

... By Richard Gilbert (quoted from Simply Haiku, Autumn 2005)

* Kigo and Seasonal Reference, by Richard Gilbert March 2006

* The Importance of Season Words, by Kametaro Yagi

* Beyond Kigo, by Jim Kacian

* Season words, keywords, and others. by Ban'ya Natsuishi

The ideas presented in the further reading essays mentioned above do not all correspond to the promotion of kigo as pursued with this WKD database.

Seasons and Categories, used by the World Kigo Database


Launching WHC worldkigo 2004

Back to the Worldkigo Index


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