Reinvigorating the Haiku Economy

Robert Hass’s introduction to “The Essential Haiku” includes a short, unfussy description of where haiku came from and a brief explanation of some of what’s going on behind the scenes in these 17-syllable miniatures. Here’s part of what he says:

“The insistence on time and place was crucial for writers of haiku. The seasonal reference was called a kigo and a haiku was thought to be incomplete without it. … For example, the phrase, ‘deep autumn’ or ‘autumn deepens,’ is traditional and accumulated references and associations from earlier poetry as well as from the Japanese way of thinking about time and change. … [In Buson’s poems] the reference to snow–yuki, which can also mean ‘snowfall’– … is always connected to a sense of exposure to the elements, for which there is also a traditional phrase, fuyuzare, which means ‘winter bareness.’ The practice was sufficiently codified and there was even a rule that the seasonal reference should always appear in the first or third unit of the three phrase poem.

“… These references were conventional and widely available. They were the first way readers of the poems had of locating themselves in the haiku. Its traditional themes–deep autumn, a sudden summer shower, the images of rice seedlings and plum blossoms, of spring and summer migrants like the mountain cuckoo and the bush warbler, of the cormorant-fishermen in summer, and the apprentices on holiday in the spring–gave a powerful sense of a human place in the ritual and cyclical movement of the world.”

Reading the several hundred poems Hass chose for the book, you intuit the importance of season and nature. Here’s just one, having opened the book at random:

Mosquito at my ear–
does it think
I’m deaf?

All of which got me thinking that what we very badly need to revivify the American haiku industry is an updated list of seasonal references–urban, rural, whatever works–that evoke season and nature and reflect the way we think about change. This would work best as a group exercise, and I’m just one would-be haiku apprentice. But anyway, I’ll go first:

Slushy shoes
Icy sidewalk
Frozen socks
Stinging snowball
Fingers numb
Grimy snowbank
Deserted luge track
Oil-drum fire
Catchers and pitchers
Spring ahead
March Madness
Smart-ass robin
Ants again
Termites swarm
Yellow Peeps
Tinactin time
Prom queen pimple
Unharvested prune

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