James Kirkup’s Butterfly

A butterfly fans
one buttercup, and then fans
one more buttercup

© James Kirkup (UK) (1918 – 2009)

A tricky one! Maybe it is a reflection on seduction and passionate love.

– Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

Well, I don’t generally like the use of “and” in a haiku. I particularly don’t like the use of the Oxford comma in this. I think it distracts from the language. I am not entirely convinced there is a valid juxtaposition. What do you think?

– Patricia (Switzerland)

Love its visual of dancing from buttercup to buttercup. It is lovely.
At first glance, I thought it gets chopped up by a fan.

– Robert Gillette (USA)

Well, there doesn’t have to be juxtaposition in haiku. Issa didn’t always use juxtaposition. This haiku is playful like Issa’s. I tend to find 5.7.5 syllable haiku quite boring, not always if well written, but this one uses syllables just to fill the quotient. Would this haiku be using the Shasei technique?

– Martha Magenta (UK)

This is an example of a 5-7-5 haiku that really works! It is playful; and although the subject is mundane, it strikes a soft spot in my heart. I would like to imagine the moment as something in slow motion that I wanted to cherish every second of; it is light and colorful as well. In all, a very masterful creation by a modern haijin.

– Willie Bongcaron (Philippines)

A find this haiku meditative, and that it gives readers an opportunity to imagine the scene it describes. It seems we first focus on the butterfly fanning one buttercup, and then our mind moves on to imagine a whole field of buttercups to be fanned. This attention and innocence of the butterfly is admirable.

What is interesting is how the repetition of “butter” in the words “butterfly” and “buttercup” reflect the field full of buttercups (at least that is what I imagine). Another instance of repetition in this haiku is “one” beginning both the second and third line, while the first and second line ends with “fans.”

The buttercup is often a seasonal reference to late spring. Maybe with the coming heat of summer, the butterfly is cooling them down (maybe recreating the mild atmosphere of early spring). The butterfly giving such focused attention humanizes it, and makes us wonder what really separates us from animals.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

What do you think or feel about this haiku? Let us know in the comments.

Lori Ann Minor’s Bland Tea

finding myself
as gray
as the sky
sips of bland tea
in the city winter

© Lori Ann Minor (USA)
Prune Juice, Issue 22, 2017

Ennui. I think at one time or another, we have all felt this way. Not depressed, not euphoric, just kind of blah. As we get older, become physically gray, are in a gray sky environment, those feelings do tend to come upon us. Ironically, as I began to respond to this, my wife asked if I would like some tea—she brought some to me, Earl Grey (decaffeinated). I like this tanka—it captures a human, most likely universal experience.

– Dana Grover (USA)

There’s a state called anhedonia that accompanies major depression and is indicative of that condition; sensations are muted and one can’t find pleasure in music, food, sex, or even the little things like a cup of tea. This tanka captures that muted, empty feeling quite well. In climates with long, dark winters, seasonal-affective disorder can be quite common. Here, the gray winter sky is an effective parallel to the ennui the speaker is confessing and the bland tea gives a vivid feeling of those January blues.

– Clayton Beach (USA)

To me, this feels a bit melancholic. “finding myself” plus “city winter” makes me feel that someone used to country life has to spend winter time in the city, perhaps due to an illness. Some people do develop ash-gray skin. Overall, I find this tanka a bit sad, but not overwhelming.

– Laughing Waters (Italy)

The content of this tanka has been sufficiently elaborated on, so I wanted to discuss the sound and pacing of the poem.

The most striking sound in this tanka to me is the use of “y” in “myself,” “gray,” “sky,” and “city.” The employment of “y” seems to point to the severity of the poet’s bland existence. There is also a heavy use of “i,” which slows the pace down, capturing the melancholic mood.

I feel lines 2-4, from the pacing, is the moment of “finding myself.” The last line appears to be an afterthought, as the poet introspects on her connection to her surroundings.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

What do you think or feel about this tanka? Let us know in the comments.

Eva Limbach’s Evacuation

evacuation —
a little boy waves
into the camera

© Eva Limbach (Germany)
Chrysanthemum, issue 22, 2017

From the onset, line 1 sets the scene.
Eva has left it open as to what the evacuation is about, but immediately the current plight of refugees and other displaced families come to mind.
A harsh, direct, concrete statement.

Then, line 2 is a little boy waving—how resilient children are in adversity!
Here we are shown how the camera creates more excitement for the child on his big adventure…how most children would react!

Now think beyond that…do you see the far-to-near method being used to attain focus?

Consider a big hill of flowers in the distance, then bring yourself closer to a group of flowers in front of you and then a single flower beside you…you have focused in, you can also focus out (this applies to any poetry). So, let’s look at Eva’s haiku again.

evacuation —
a little boy waves
into the camera

A broad scene, “evacuation” then draws you forward to a little boy waving and ending in the eye of a camera…far-to-near focus.
This gives the haiku movement and, when done well, can be very effective. (Remember, this is about evacuation, movement!)

Now the reader can wonder who the camera person is…is it media news? Perhaps it’s the family’s last photo together…many possibilities and lateral interpretations.

This is a powerful haiku/senryu that should evoke emotion in any reader who takes the time to consider its poignant words.

This is why it was accepted and published by Chrysanthemum journal…a wonderful haiku!

– Brendon Kent (UK)

What do you think or feel about this poem? Let us know in the comments.

Jack Kerouac’s Birdbath

in the birdbath
a leaf

© Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) (USA)

I have always had mixed feelings about Jack Kerouac. One the one hand, his novels are almost unparalleled in their ability to create a sense of excitement. On the other, his writing is frequently sloppy and rushed. Perhaps the two work together: a push of madness that propels the reader forward?

Likewise, I do not consistently enjoy his haiku and senryu. He certainly has moments of brilliance such as:

missed a kick
at the icebox door
it closed anyway

However, many of his short poems fall flat for me and, unfortunately, this ku falls into that category. It reads less like a haiku and more like a statement. There is only one image, no juxtaposition, and nothing really for the reader to contemplate or bring her experiences too. Kerouac called his haiku “pops.” There is little in this particular poem that pops for me.

– Dave Read (Canada)

Bitter realities that come one after another. This ku revolves around “a leaf” that may have different colors. The writer would have specified this as well just to make this ku more clear.

The birthbath may indicate a survival place, so it may give an idea of refugees/vagrant/abandoned people, or children besides migratory birds in terms of their shelter, food, security, and protection.

– Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

This haiku seems to have several dimensions to it. A birdbath, where birds usually play around, now is frozen. To highlight the sadness of this happening, a fallen leaf is stuck in there, displaying death and the consequence of seasons—and of simply living.

Yet, there is a sort of beauty in the frozen leaf. The possible colors of the leaf and sign of spring is encapsulated for all to see. It is a mix of melancholy and a sweet reminder.

In terms of sound, the most striking is “f” in “frozen” and “leaf.” It is interesting to note that the haiku begins and ends with the letter “f.” The starkness of the situation seems to be illuminated through this sound.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

What do you think or feel about this haiku? Let us know in the comments.

Sergiy Kurbatov’s Swallows

so easy to say
farewell to the past —
the swallows in the sky

© Sergiy Kurbatov (Ukraine)

Like it a lot. Maybe without “so” and “the” in line three. Or, a two-liner: saying farewell / those swallows ?

– Steve Woodall (USA)

The article “the” intrigues a little bit. It has two aspects: one is about lingering memories that an individual cannot forget easily. The other may be loneliness that is due to the past.

So, the poet is actually passing through an intense experience where he wants to get rid of his past, but it is not very easy. “The swallows” may indicate their murmuration in the sky that takes many shapes and may trigger some painful memories in this context.

– Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I imagine this haiku taking place at sunset, when the day is coming to a close, and many things have happened. This would put the implied forgiveness of the swallows in context.

It seems the poet is looking at the swallows, and is viewing their happy glidings as if nothing bad happened during the day. From this observation, the poet introspects about how easy it can be to let go of one’s mistakes and others’ transgressions. With the swallows being a spring kigo, or seasonal reference, the poem could be speaking of renewal and refreshment in the face of hard circumstances (the winter that has possibly just passed).

I enjoy the sound of the poem on a musical level. “S” sounds inhabit the lines, and give it a wispy resonance, which are similar to the sounds of a swallow’s feathers going through the air.

In addition, I believe the use of the dash is judicious. It marks the “farewell” appropriately. The pacing of the poem also works well with its mood of introspection.

A strong haiku in terms of meaning, sound, punctuation, and pacing. The poet has written about something local, yet universal.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

What are your thoughts or feelings about this haiku? Let us know in the comments.

Nobuko Katsura’s Wind

the first day in spring –
a wind from the ocean
but no ocean in sight

Tr. Makoto Ueda

original Japanese:


© Nobuko Katsura (1914 – 2004) (Japan)

Reminds me of hurricane season… before the storm reaches land, and seagulls flying inland to avoid the storm.

– Robert Gillette (USA)

For me, this translation by Makoto Ueda of this haiku by Nobuko Katsura illustrates the dichotomy between the Japanese and English (or non Japanese) haiku branches and the problems of trying to unify them. The crossing of language, culture, and time.

Ueda is undoubtedly one of the leading translators of Japanese haiku, his English is natural, but I find this translation clunky. As a non-Japanese, I am dependent on the translator for my initial evaluation of the piece. This translation will affect my willingness to reread the haiku, my understanding and my interpretation of it.

I suspect that this translation was done in the early 2000s. It has the feel of a more traditional Japanese haiku rather than a contemporary English one. This raises the question, for me, when translating from a Japanese haiku, do you stay with the cultural style, or adapt to the market for which you are translating, in this case, English Haiku readers?

To illustrate:
“the first day in spring –”
a contemporary English version would possibly pare this down to:
“first day of spring” without the article or the punctuation.

May I recommend a book edited by David Cobb “The British Museum Haiku” in which he has used original translations from the Japanese by renowned translators like R.H. Blyth. He has also collaborated with more contemporary translators to give some of the haiku a more contemporary feel. See what you think?

– Patricia (Switzerland)

In the first line with “立春” the first day in spring”…
It is the season word.

“立春” is still cold in the capital of Japan.

So “the wind from the ocean” is chilly wind.

I imagine that it’s wind that carries the smell of the sea, and the foreign cargo ship’s whistling sound.

– Norie Umeda (Japan)

The first thing I noticed was the clear juxtaposition between the first day of spring, and the “taste” of something to come, or something far away—in this case, the ocean. It shows a dichotomy of being and not-being, and maybe the enigmatic between.

On further introspection, we can understand that whatever we perceive may represent what is to come, or a potential. This is closely aligned with the feeling on the first day of spring. It is a warm and exciting emotion of suspense for what beauty is to appear.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

What do you think or feel about this haiku? Let us know in the comments.