First published in Notes from the Gean 3:3, December 2011. Written in April of 2011. The following poems are from Hamish Ironside’s Our Sweet Little Time: A Year in Haiku (North Shields, England: Iron Press, 2009), and are quoted with permission of the author. See also “Metaphor in Haiku.”
I shake the snow
off daffodils’ heads
We are sometimes told that haiku should have just one season word, yet here is one with four. While just one season word is usually sufficient, the evidence of Japanese haiku shows that the masters occasionally wrote haiku with two or more season words (for example, in Stephen Addiss’s recent book, Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems, from Shambhala, I counted at least twenty). In such cases, one kigo typically dominates the other, making it function as the season word, while the other reference does not. A specific example is Bashō’s “first day of spring— / I keep thinking about / the end of autumn.” This enabled the masters to write about two seasonal topics that interacted with each other, or to write about topics out of season if they chose to do so, being true to nature as it actually is rather than limiting it to a narrow codification out of a book. In the preceding poem, the moment of perception is the transition between seasons, and we would be impoverished as haiku readers if the poet had not written this poem because of some perceived “rule.”
sun and wind—
the frisbee tilt
of a seagull
If you’re going to use metaphor in haiku, this is how to do it. The metaphor here is fresh, original, and hits the perfect pitch. We see the seagull better because of the metaphor—its sideways slant in a careening wind—whereas many other metaphors attempted in haiku point more to the verbal trick than to the image. We don’t want the finger pointing to the moon to be bejeweled. This same poet, who enjoys jogging, has also deftly written other poems with metaphor, as in “running past / a strip of trees / a strobe of sun,” and poems with simile, as in “at the doctor’s / her heartbeat crackling / like the moon landing.” While it’s another one of those “rules” to avoid metaphor in haiku, it seems useful to remember that there’s a difference between overt metaphor intrinsic to the haiku itself and an implied metaphorical interpretation that takes place in the reader rather than in the poem—in other words, an extrinsic metaphor. While overt metaphor rarely works in haiku, there’s no requirement to avoid it if we can really make it work. As for metaphorical interpretations, they are a source of reverberation for nearly all of the best haiku.
a stunned wren—
as though for her sake
Yes, the masters broke the “rules,” but not often, and so can we, but not often. It’s a good habit to return to the center, to the heart of haiku, where objectively presented image-moments can penetrate us deeply if we handle them with care. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, who is haiku for? It is for sharing with others, of course, and haiku poets have been deeply blessed by the sharing of each others’ haiku. But in the end, each haiku is also for the poet. Haiku enable us to see ourselves more fully, and to experience our surroundings as profoundly as we can. Each haiku poem is a gift to ourselves as well as to others.