Haiku: The Art of Implication
by Alan Summers
Haiku (plural and singular spelling) are the shortest of short verses, with an intentional rearrangement of words from language to tempt the reader’s reaction beyond that of the words laid down. It’s where the sum of the poem’s physical count of words goes beyond what lies in plain sight. So how is that, and what where and why does it happen?
The three-line haiku is often obtained by making a two part poem of words you can see and read, with an invisible bridge between, where faith is placed on the reader to cross successfully.
Here is a simple straightforward three-line haiku:
a crow cleans its beak
on a rooftop aerial
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There is a clear one line section starting the poem followed by a two line section that moves onto something particular out in the mist.
Conversely, here is a haiku starting with two lines as the opening section:
of mismatched gloves
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This is a literal haiku, as it occurred, and akin to shasei haiku perhaps. But I see it as allegorical, as couples can appear mismatched in temperate, outlook on life, even size, and of course tastes. The magic of that ‘first snow’ that always astounds me ever since my first times struggling thigh deep to get to school. The magic of first real love too.
Now I will touch on an aspect of haiku I’ve witnessed over a quarter of a century, mostly on the three line version of haiku in the West and other countries, as Japanese haiku are in fact traditionally a one line poem. This haiku moves on slightly from the preceding examples. The reader can jump from a picture of white sails, a boat maybe, or even laundry, to the shape of the wind in a tree over many years:
a wind has also shaped
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There is just a gentle jump cut in story, as we cross that invisible bridge, so often used in movies as a symbol of self-belief and trust. Why is the invisible non-text aspect so important to haiku, at least on some occasions? Well, for a start, haiku is incredibly brief, even shorter than a tweet message from Twitter, yet it conveys so much more whether we have a common pool of experience or not, perhaps as a commuter…
each house passes
along the train
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We slide in and out of many things: Career; love; health; friendships; and slide between words and phrases of waking hours, and sometimes enter reveries of childhood…
horses in the dusk. . .
of a rail journey
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…Into something jointly literal and allegorical:
the flickering of humans
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A poem that Asahi Shimbun Haiku in English feature editor David McMurray accepted in minutes! It is a very specific seasonal reference, the blood moon eclipses of 2015: NASA confirmed a 'Tetrad' - four successive 'blood-red' lunar eclipses each followed by six full moons - ending on September 28th 2015.
Birdsong is an indirect link to the First World War (1914-1918), and the eye of a storm before the rush of troops into machine gun fire: When things hush, time slows, birdsong is noticed by some. It’s also my symbol of the daily routine of very early morning workers who make it possible for our later morning commute to start with a coffee, perhaps with a fresh sandwich; bagel; or sushi.
It also implies the unexpected when the “pre-day” or even early morning turns out to be partnered with an unforseen danger, or perception of risk. I remember feeling dive-bombed by a fighter-bomber in a small Wiltshire town, beaten down by the concusive effect of its engines, as it was flying so close to the ground.
Have you ever had to get up around dawn to start a vacation, or an early work shift and birdsong feels especially intense?
This non-verbal bridge that cannot be spoken, a no-text land of white space/negative space where omissions and low key suggestion are equally important makes a haiku reverberate. Is it a feature that makes haiku different?
It’s certainly a discipline not to spell everything out like a newspaper column, with all the slants, biases, and hidden, blunt-open agendas that burrow into newscopy.
And yet a haiku is never quite neutral once a reader engages: It can fly along, or power, the reader’s imagination. The famous children's book Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce has a line: "When Tom hears old Mrs Bartholomew's grandfather clock in the hall striking thirteen, he goes to investigate.”
An engaged reader always looks for that extra chime of 13 o’clock.
we learn to adjust
the clocks of our hands
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Enjoy the first episode of the definitive television adaptation, and how the opening credits spin and pivot around the year, just like haiku: Remember, it’s all about time, and space(s):
Composing in white space seems impossible to a poet where words mean everything, but don’t discount all those little white spaces; it’s part of the poem you don’t see immediately. A photographer, a painter, and a journalist all use white space, but does a tiny poetic verse require it? Yes, haiku revolves and evolves around its white echoes.
To my mind it’s vital we apply brushes to “paint in the white space” for the furniture of words to reside. There is more than meets the eye when we stare down that blank physicality of a page of paper or a computer screen: There is the untouched author’s thought and writing process right through to the finishing touches of the poem; where the visible and invisible meet and bleed into each other.
And remember, regardless of the medium, be it a novel or a haiku, there is always a large percentage of backstory left out that still acts as a catalyst. White space is the foundation of haiku, not its adversary. It’s our ladder from the first rung to the ones beyond the top one:
a boy makes a ladder
out of his telescope
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Guest poets include this poem that set ripples around my mind.
half glass full
of apple cider
Hifsa Ashraf 9
I asked her about the poem, if she might have written it thinking it was a haiku where only one meaning and reading is possible, when I could see more.
Cider is an Autumn seasonal suggestion in the U.K.
Half glass full means someone has a positive attitude in stead of a glass being half empty.
Had she realised she was implying so much?
The idea behind this haiku was interesting. I actually visualized winter dawn through a glass of cider, especially the horizon.
Half empty glass of cider shows mist/light fog that usually lingers on above the horizon/glass and makes the dawn hazy, the negative side.
On the contrary, half glass full indicates the positive energy of dawn that breaks through all the obstacles.
We use cider to keep ourselves warm in the extreme cold weather, a remedy shared by grandma, to use it in a glass of lukewarm water (diluted) early in the morning. So, the yellowish brown colour of dawn (in winter) and cider both symbolizes some positive energy that refreshes the morning, the positive side.
So you see, on one level the haiku makes for a wonderful reading, but it also has more to say. The reader is rewarded twice over!
Another guest poet is my wife Karen Hoy who often employs implication in her haiku.
the cathedral visible
only as windows
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As the nights draw in and we lose the day sooner during Autumn, and in particular Winter. Sometimes a building dissolves into the absorbing background of darkness. Sometimes we can see its ‘soul’ despite the night.
I don't move the vase
for the orange asters
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A fascinating haiku! Many of us find television viewing as comfort, strewn across a sofa eating bags of candy or fast food. We are at peace, and to move even an inch would be to disrupt that peace. But also sometimes there is something in the room that can compete with the fast food of most TV programs.
Do please check out footnote 11 for a link to another fascinating possibility as sometimes we live between the leaves of a book called War and Peace.
the rice lid rocks
from side to side
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Sometimes trying to cook after a long and emotional day it seems that the cooking sounds as agitated as us. As the Fifth Line shows, this is written by a woman, and women are often/sometimes expected to work twice as much as their male counterparts.
The rice suggests a group meal to me, perhaps for her partner, perhaps a larger family group. She may be exhausted but she is what keeps the family together. Or she could be on her own, deserted by work, and bouncing around the walls of her small apartment. But we continue to hear that lid to a pan of boiling rice none the less, even against any background of street noise.
On a cheerier note, and perhaps a romantic one?
after the kiss
her white lilies
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With a deliberate removal of visual punctuation does it read:
after the kiss––
her white lilies
after the kiss
her white lilies
or perhaps there's a hinge line:
after the kiss
after the kiss
her white lilies
I will have to ask her what she implied!
And finally it's time to hand the night over to the owls and go to sleep:
|photo©Alan Summers and his childhood at St Brides Major near Bridgend, Glamorgan, Wales|
the sheep gather quietly
into their own bones
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Counting sheep can get us asleep, sometimes.
Well there you have it, both a fun and serious way to bring suggestion into haiku. To make it more than one layer.
- mist haze Publication credits: Azami #38 (Japan 1996); Cornell University, Mann Library, U.S.A. "Daily Haiku" poet (October 2001); The Haiku Calendar 2003 (Snapshot Press); Watermark: A Poet’s Notebook - Crows (2004); Haiku Sansaar (2013) Anthology credits: First Australian Online Anthology (1999); Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2008) Award credit: Runner-up, The Haiku Calendar Competition 2002 (Snapshot Press)
- the warmth Publication Credit: The Heron's Nest Volume XVII, Number 3: September 2015
- white sails...Publications credits: Azami #21 (Japan, 1994); reprinted Azami #22 & #27 (Japan, 1995); Micropress Yates (Australia 1995); Mainichi Shimbun (Japan, 2005); a procession of ripples, an anthology of selected haiku ed. laryalee fraser (2006); tinywords (2006); Aesthetics (Bath Spa University, Summer 2007) Anthology credit: Faces and Place ed. Don Baird (The Little Buddha Press 2015)
- sunlit brick Publication Credit: Frozen Butterfly issue 3 October 2015
- horses in the dusk. . .Publication Credit: European Haiku Society journal Makoto, A New Haiku Perpective issue 1:1 January 2, 2016
- war moon Publication Credit: Asahi Shimbun (Japan 2015) the blood moon issue, Oct 2 for the eclipse of 9/28
- we learn to adjust Publication Credit: From the Ticking Moon sequence: Bones - journal for contemporary haiku no. 7 July 15th 2015
- northern lights Publication Credit: Blithe Spirit 24.3 (Journal of the British Haiku Society, August 2014); Scope, magazine of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Queensland (April 2015 volume 61 no 3)
- Haikuniverse - daily haiku or micro-poem February 2nd, 2018
- early dark Publication credit: Blithe Spirit Vol. 13 No. 1 (March 2003), ISSN 1353-3320 Anthology credit: Another Country: Haiku Poetry from Wales ed. Lynne Rees; Nigel Jenkins; Ken Jones (Gomer Press 2011, ISBN: 9781848513068) http://www.gomer.co.uk/index.php/another-country-haiku-poetry-from-wales.html Feature: Haiku from Wales feature: Per Diem, Wales, The Haiku Foundation (May 24th 2015)
- comfort television Published: Multiverses 1.1 (2012) Feature: More than one fold in the paper: Kire, kigo, and the vertical axis of meaning in haiku by Alan Summers http://area17.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/more-than-one-fold-in-paper-kire-kigo.html
- difficult day Publication credit: Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts Vol.1, No.2 August 2013
- autumn street Publication credit: Blithe Spirit 27.1 (2017)
- empirical owls Publication credit: Wales Haiku Journal issue one (Spring 2018)
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Karen and Alan regularly offer online courses to be part of, covering haiku; senryu; haibun; tanka story (aka tanka prose); and other related genres:
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