Hassane Zemmouri’s butterfly hunt

butterfly hunt…
the child comes back
with a wounded knee

Hassane Zemmouri (Algeria)
(published previously in Kontinuum, Issue 3, July 2022)

Commentary

I feel that this haiku is possibly written from a memory of the poet’s childhood, as butterfly hunting was much more common in earlier times. It could also be a parent or grandparent teaching the child how to hunt butterflies in this modern day. In any case, this haiku displays innocence and the power of nature. The twist at the end can make the reader believe that the butterfly hit the child on the knee, which is at once humorous and a reminder of nature’s sway over us. Most likely, the child tripped and/or fell while running after a beautiful specimen and scraped their knee. In the child’s attempt to disturb another being, a lesson is learned about how powerless we are in the face of the natural world: even an entity as minuscule as a butterfly can escape our ingenious ways.

I could not help, as an American, thinking about the Wounded Knee Massacre (better known as The Battle of Wounded Knee). Though the poet is from Algeria, I felt the haiku has resonance with this event in that it was an attack on innocence. As History.com states:

“On December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. A brutal massacre followed, in which an estimated 150 Indians were killed (some historians put this number at twice as high), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men. The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred to as a battle—the Army troops involved were later rewarded with Medals of Honor—but in reality it was a tragic and avoidable massacre. Surrounded by heavily armed troops, it’s unlikely that Big Foot’s band would have intentionally started a fight. Some historians speculate that the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876.”

This haiku can also be a general symbol of the consequences of attacking guiltless parties out of ignorance, which can be seen throughout history in almost all regions of the world. 

So, this haiku, from my perspective, has a mix of humor, tragedy, and history. Through its simple language and ending twist, it implies a poignant message. 

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Is it a hunt for a butterfly or something more subtle, invisible, and deep? This was the first thought that came into my mind when I read this haiku. A butterfly hunt is not as easy as it looks, especially when a person is not fully focused. I see it as if a child wants to follow their dreams or is curious about the trail of a butterfly, which is usually mystical or difficult to trace. It shows how a curious mind looks deep into certain realities of life that cannot be easily grasped or comprehended. More specifically, this moment could be about how a child goes on an expedition that is beyond what is unseen but still exists—maybe a pursuit of fantasies or dreams tickled by their imagination. The ending is more dramatic in this case, especially when one strives to go beyond certain realities, or struggles with what path to take to kill a certain curiosity or to understand the subtleties of life.

On the other hand, I see this as a retrospection where a person regresses to their childhood, which was more memorable or contains deep memories. Butterflies may symbolize life, dreams, or happiness here and the child struggled hard to achieve joy or goals from the beginning. It also gives us a lesson about how we cannot achieve anything without struggle, with a physical one manifesting as a wounded knee in this poem. Overall, this haiku illustrates the crux of life: there is no shortcut to achieving something of significance.

Hifsa Ashraf

I feel this haiku speaks of consequences, the limits of human thought patterns/mental programming, and the gentle (and bold) power of Mother Earth.

On first read, the word “hunt” seems to imply wanting to conquer and capture the butterfly. The reasons are unclear, but I feel the child likely has a mix of curiosity and the desire to dominate, perhaps with the intent to put the butterfly in the box of scientific analysis. We don’t know how old the child is in this haiku, which creates a range of interpretations and meanings, as Nick and Hifsa have expressed.

The butterfly could be a summer or spring kigo. Either way, in the end, I feel the butterfly in this haiku got away. 

Butterflies play a vital role in pollination and complex ecosystems. As is stated on the Portland State University website:

“[Butterflies] are also extremely important ecologically. Butterflies pollinate flowering plants and serve as food for other organisms, thus forming an important link in the food chain. Populations have declined in recent decades, owing to increased pesticide use (especially herbicides); loss of fencerows; urbanization and other destruction of habitat; and loss of caterpillar host and nectar plants. Managing your garden for butterflies can help conserve butterfly populations as well as greatly enhance a traditional garden.”

Source: https://extension.psu.edu/gardening-for-butterflies

In terms of sound, the soft and long “o” sounds in the haiku carry gentleness, while, in contrast, the hard “t” and “k” sounds have a bold and immediate emphasis.

In the end, while science has its place, I feel if we only see through its limitations we can become blind to the spiritual power and mystery of Mother Earth. This haiku reminds me that curiosity has its limits and dangers as well. I feel a balance is needed between Science and Spirit, between wonder and logic—otherwise, as a species, if we lack sensitivity and reverence, we may take the consequences. 

An interesting haiku with layers of depth, significance, and meaning.

Jacob D. Salzer

“The butterfly hunt” by Berthe Morisot  (1841–1895)

Kala Ramesh’s wood-deep echo

again the wood-deep echo of a cuckoo’s song

Kala Ramesh (India)

(previously published in Heliosparrow Haiku Journal, March 2021)

Commentary

I appreciate the synesthesia between sound and imagery in this monoku. “wood-deep echo” harbors a deep silence that is beautiful, mysterious, and almost haunting. I also visualize the cuckoo’s song resonating with the rings hidden inside trees. This creates a sense of harmony where the cuckoo and the forest have become one. I can hear the cuckoo’s song and echoes resonating within the poet’s quiet presence as well. I experience this myself as I read this too. I am transported into the scene. I can imagine the cuckoo’s song creating ripples in consciousness itself and perhaps simultaneously extending into past lives and the future.

This is an excellent monoku with depth, meaning, and a strong atmosphere.

Jacob D. Salzer

This monoku has a series of variations that make it dynamic and deep. I read it in many ways to get the layers of various themes that the poet tried to discuss.

It starts with ‘again’ which means there is a repetition of whatever is following it. It also shows the curiosity of the person who is passing through the same experience again and enjoying it fully.

The wood-deep echo may allude to memories, news, imagination, or illusions that a person feels or listens to due to deep silence, meditation, or wind. However, it seems the person has a deep connection where they want to hear what is pleasant to the ears or what is more distinctive than other voices. This also reflects a state of mind that is calm, still, and focused. A cuckoo’s song refers to something special—like in Indian mythology, a cuckoo’s song is related to the beginning of the monsoon season.  

Overall, it is a deeply personal experience of a moment that connects the person with what is going on and what is coming after. It also signifies the relationship between nature and human nature that is tightly woven with the senses. I see it as meditative where a person tries to attune to the cuckoo’s song which brings joy in their life sooner or later. 

Hifsa Ashraf

As Hifsa mentioned, the cuckoo’s song is commonly a harbinger of the monsoon season. Since the poet is from India, this can be said to be a kigo (seasonal reference) local to this country. Traditionally, the cuckoo is a kigo for about every season in Japan and a beloved bird of that country. A famous haiku magazine in Japan is named Hototogisu (cuckoo), which started in 1897.

There is no kireji, or cutting word, in this haiku. However, there is a grammatical pause after “again” which makes the haiku either two parts or one. In the English language, kireji are not commonly used in one-line haiku.

Even though there is only one image at face value, there are two considering the word “again.” The depth and ethereal nature of the cuckoo’s echo is repeated with all of its richness. The echo is wood-deep perhaps because some cuckoos nest inside trees. This richness of sound, when repeated, can bring about a sense of bliss and spirituality. The song is also a union of tree and bird, which makes it even more robust.

Kala Ramesh’s haiku often showcase euphony, and this monoku is no exception. The soothing “o”s and soft “n”s create a melodic reading—as if the cuckoo was singing through the haiku.

This haiku has a timeless feel to it, as I feel it can be read in any era and can resonate. A classic, yet modern work.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Sumi-e by Ogata Gekko

Michael Buckingham Gray’s circling osprey

circling osprey
closing a hole
in the clouds

Michael Buckingham Gray (Australia)
(published previously in Presence, 74, 2022)

Commentary

In my first reading, the imagery spoke of a sense of completeness and union. With the circling osprey in a “hole,” the cloud gains back its full cover over the sky. This could symbolize the uniformity of us all ultimately or that the clouds and the ospreys are the same (and everything else as well).

Knowing that ospreys circle in the air during courtship, this haiku takes on new interpretations. The serendipity of the cloud’s hole being covered by the courting ospreys shows that random acts, and even intentional ones, sometimes change the things that surround it. I don’t know if there is any objective sense of “good” in the imagery, but with the word “hole,” I feel as if something is being resolved. It is a feeling of positivity that is more intuitive. Perhaps, the most favored type of haiku is felt and understood intuitively.

A lovely, succinct haiku that presents exacting imagery and a special feeling.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

An osprey is a fish-eating bird of prey known for its migratory habit. The colour of its feathers and long-range flight makes it one of the most unique birds. A circling osprey is linked with the act of courtship, which is also called a sky dance. There may be other reasons for circling, though i.e. reducing energy for a flight, a balancing act of staying in the sky to stay within the thermals, or a way to prepare for migration. In any case, I can see it as a mode of survival that the bird has by having non-verbal communication with its surroundings and symbolically giving a message to its female partner or prey. This is how birds demonstrate how powerful every move or gesture they make is.

I can also see a whirlpool in the sky that is formed as a result of merging both the white features of the osprey and the clouds. It is a kind of beauty that fills the void in the sky, as the rest of this poem says. “Closing a hole in the clouds” is how powerfully and energetically a bird can fly in the sky so that one cannot see any flaws or blueness of the sky. It’s a beautiful, meditative image of covering what is yet to be completed. Life is full of such voids that need our ways of dealing with them by using our abilities and energies in the right direction.

This haiku seems to give a lesson on how one can turn things in their favour by using the right energies at the right time and by having faith in their unique potential.

Hifsa Ashraf

The clouds in this haiku could depict autumn, winter, or spring. To visualize only one hole makes me think the clouds are thick. I do think kigo (seasonal references) in haiku are not always categorized rigidly by the four seasons but can depict transitions between the seasons throughout the year.

In terms of sound, the letter “c” takes precedence and amplifies the circling motion. Also, the “o” sound brings a sense of wholeness where even the hole is an important part of the bigger picture. A see the hole in the clouds as a kind of portal into another dimension. In that sense, perhaps the Ospreys could be the gatekeepers to another realm. 

The movement of circling also reminds us of the cycles of life, and that even when we have apparent holes in our life, we are never alone. The clouds too are impermanent, as is the temporary hole.

There is no kireji or a hard break in this haiku. The poem can be read without any pauses at all, but the 3-line format allows us to read the haiku at a steady pace. I feel the lack of a hard kireji adds to the feeling of wholeness in this poem.

This is an excellent haiku that symbolizes the cycles of life and death while also leaving room for metaphors.

Jacob D. Salzer

Japanese woodblock print from Pictorial Monograph of Birds (1885) by Numata Kashu (1838-1901).

Florin Golban’s old stories

old stories—
the words grow
by the fireplace

Florin Golban (Romania)
(originally published in Under the Basho, 2022)

Commentary

I appreciate how this haiku demonstrates the power of stories. It reminds me how a story with depth and meaning lives long after the words themselves. Some stories also have so much depth that new meanings and interpretations can be found in them, even after many repeated readings.

This haiku also shows how stories are connected to other stories, and how one story can inspire our imagination to create new ones.

In this haiku, the fireplace setting could bring to mind a grandma or grandpa reading to their grandchild or grandchildren, or it could be a man, woman, or child reading in solitude and deep contemplation. The fireplace provides me with calmness, warmth, and focus.

Regardless of what we imagine, this is a haiku that bridges the past with the present moment, and the future. Perhaps this haiku could inspire us to leave behind new stories for future generations. A beautiful haiku that demonstrates the power of words and stories.

Jacob D. Salzer

Old stories may refer to many things i.e. kinds of stories (fables, anecdotes, folklore, fairy tales, etc., or stories told in the past most probably in childhood that might be shared by elderly members of the family. I see it as a community-based storytelling session that used to take place in villages or towns where storytellers would share their personal experiences, voyages, or long journeys.

The second line in this haiku is impressive. It makes it profound and unique in many ways. The word ‘grow’ is something that is gradually taking shape over years. This is an excellent choice of words that can make a reader think deeper to justify its use. I can see it as an evolution of stories that pass on from generation to generation, growing in minds with changes and improvisations. Accordingly, modifications to these stories that fit well develop in each era. These stories provide lessons that people use to inculcate morality within communities, clans, tribes, and families. This is not something ordinary when there were no proper or modern means of communication.

The ‘fireplace’ could be the center of attraction for all those who gather and listen to those stories. This haiku could be set in winter when people gather around to exchange or share their life experiences or stories. I also see a connection between the fireplace and enlightenment or rekindling the mind to think deeply whilst listening to old stories.

I liked the overall imagery of this haiku that shares the vastness and significance of storytelling, which is missing in our lives now.

Hifsa Ashraf

As Hifsa mentioned, this haiku is probably placed in winter, but it also might be in autumn. The contrast between growth and possible seasons of decay is poignant.

The poet made an interesting choice to use an em dash in the first line to “cut” the two parts of the haiku. With “grow,” I would expect an ellipsis to illustrate the continuation of action. However, an em dash promotes the idea of the eternal fireplace, in my mind.

The contrast between the season and “grow” is present, but also there is a contrast between “old stories” and the constant growth of the words of the stories. This growth could happen through retelling, the cultural context changing, and the resonance the words have in readers.

In terms of pacing, the poem follows mostly the standard line lengths of English-language haiku. It has a short first line, a longer second line, and a third line of the same length. Usually, we vie for a third line that is a bit shorter than the second line, but I do not think the length of the third line in this instance makes a marked difference in the rhythm. I think the somber and introspective mood is captured well.

Euphonically, this poem has a pleasing string of “o” sounds, which brings it charm. Nostalgia may be felt as well through the pleasant “r” sounds in each line.

The pivotal word “grow” in this haiku opens up many interpretations and feelings. And, as we read and reread this haiku, it grows on us.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Painting by Morgan Weistling

Pris Campbell’s small town festival

small town festival
a cherry blossom drifts
into the tuba

Pris Campbell  (USA)
Sakura Award, Vancouver Cherry Festival, 2018

Commentary

Right away, the first line sets the scene. I hear the music and imagine myriad colors at this festival. There is a great deal of humility here as well. I feel the people living in this small town are not seeking attention from mass media outlets. Instead, I feel they host the festival to simply celebrate life in their own small and meaningful ways. 

I also appreciate the contrasts in this haiku between the cherry blossom and the tuba. The cherry blossom is soft, quiet, and small, while the tuba is hard, loud, and relatively large. For me, these contrasts add humor to the haiku and show how the soft, quiet people have their place and are just as valuable as the loud people in this small town. I also like how the cherry blossom drifting into the tuba shows how some things in life cannot be planned but rather happen spontaneously. I also feel the anticipation of the next note of the tuba resulting in the cherry blossom flying out into the wind like a piece of confetti. I feel joy imagining this scene. 

It seems the details of this festival will not make the news outside this town (actually, a lot of positive, uplifting events don’t make headlines in mainstream news). However, I feel the energy of this festival creates invisible ripples that subtly uplift human consciousness as a whole, because everything is connected. In addition, because this haiku won a Sakura Award (and was subsequently read by many people all over the world), this haiku spreads joy and has honored both the festival and the people living in this small town. As a result, this haiku demonstrates how a single haiku can honor and shine a light on people whose lives are rarely seen or noticed. On a personal level, this haiku reminds me to be grateful for this life and the little that I have.

This haiku also reminds me of the Water Village scene in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams movie. Coincidentally, there are flowers and villagers playing tubas toward the end of this scene! Here is a link to watch it for free online: Akira kurosawa | Dreams Film | The village of the Watermills – Bing video.

This haiku speaks volumes about humility, offers a different perspective, and encourages us to be grateful for what we have and to find joy in life. It also reminds me of how small things in life make a difference in ways we will never know. A powerful haiku.

 — Jacob D. Salzer

Small-town festivals are full of life and colours as I have personally experienced. The gathering of people and the cultural blend make such festivals rich in many ways. This richness captures our senses and lets us enjoy every single aspect of a festival, which unites us with the strings of our uniqueness.

A cherry blossom and tuba elude to the kind of festival it is. The festival could be more eastern, where the poet tried to oscillate between two extremes in terms of sight, sound, and touch. One extreme includes cherry blossoms that are soft, delicate, silent, and peaceful while the other extreme is the tuba which reflects loudness, music, and liveliness. This is how a small-town festival blends the variations of life and beautifully presents them.

Living in the present moment is a quality of small-town festivals. They make people focus more on the ‘here and now’ and challenge their threshold levels to register things that people usually don’t notice. The holistic picture of this haiku may include the wind, the movement of petals, and music that sounds more like orchestrating to the ears and allows people to enjoy it together. 

Hifsa Ashraf

The kigo or seasonal reference in this haiku is “cherry blossom,” which marks spring or late spring. It matches the joyous mood associated with small-town festivals and also the playful last line.

There is no kireji or “cutting word” in this haiku, but the grammatical break in the second line works well. If punctuation was to be used, perhaps an ellipsis would illustrate the word “drift.”

The association between the two parts of the haiku is interesting. One interpretation or feeling behind the association could be that being in a small-town festival is like being a cherry blossom petal that drifts into a tuba. As a contrast, it could be that in a tight-knit community event, there is a cherry blossom entering the new, big world of the tuba. Also, the first line could simply be setting the scene and not trying to make a comparison or contrast. But, what interests me most about the image is that there is suspense and that this beautiful thing in the natural world has become a part of a human-made element.

In terms of pacing, this haiku follows the standard rhythm of English-language haiku, which is a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. This approximately matches the traditional rhythm of Japanese haiku.

In looking at euphony, the “l” sound in the first two lines brings a softness to the reading, while the “t” sound presents a more pointed reading. Even more, the “o” sound in the first two lines adds more to the musical quality of the haiku.

Overall, this haiku is highly effective due to its unique imagery, sense of place, and sound.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Evening Cherry Blossoms at Gotenyama – print by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1831.

Deborah A. Bennett’s Linden Trees

cars passing all day 
in between 
the silence of linden trees 

Deborah A. Bennett (USA)
(published previously in Wales Haiku Journal, Spring 2022)

Commentary

The stark comparison between cars and the linden trees in this haiku is a humble reminder of just how loud and fast-paced human life can be. Without notice, trees quietly and efficiently provide oxygen, store carbon, clean the air, and cool down city temperatures with their shade. I see trees as spiritual giants and their resilience is well-portrayed in this haiku. Trees were here long before humans and they do their work, regardless of human beings polluting the Earth on a daily basis. Ultimately, all human beings come and go, but the regenerative power of trees and forests can stand the test of time and has proven to regenerate, even after nuclear power plant disasters and cataclysmic events. This is partly due to the vast mycelium networks underground. Mycelium are master decomposers; they create more depth and nutrient-rich soil, but they also communicate and connect trees and plants in infinitely complex ways that we as humans cannot fathom. 

On the note of interconnectedness, perhaps this haiku can also inspire more people to use alternative ways of transportation that result in less pollution. We are physically made of elements from the Earth. If we see ourselves as not separate from the Earth as isolated individuals, but rather as spiritual beings who are intimately and deeply connected with the Earth and the Great Mystery, then I think more of us will naturally choose to be more mindful and lead better, more meaningful lives.

In short, this is an important haiku that juxtaposes fast-paced human life with the resilient power of Mother Earth and trees. A powerful haiku.

Jacob D. Salzer

Cars passing all day may be symbolic of the rush in our daily lives that revolves around materialism where one is involved in earning money, making a career, and living up to the expectations of the modern fast-paced life. I also see how these cars passing can be linked with pollution. With more carbon emissions and polluted air, we are running after a materialistic life. I can also see how vehicles are defining our social statuses and our routines. This mechanic life where distances become shorter to destinations creates vacuums internally in terms of health, lifestyles, and relationships.

The second line ‘in between’ demonstrates how miserable this life can be. The silence of linden trees might symbolize how we have muted nature, birdsong, and wind, and brought a pause to the natural cycle which is destructive in many ways. The linden tree is a remedial tree that is good for coughs and colds. We have not only destroyed the growth of trees but also ruined the healing process that usually comes from nature. Noise and air pollution have clogged our minds. Sometimes we cannot enjoy the nature around us or see how deeply it has affected us. The destructive aspects of nature can surprise us, as we are not fully attuned to it. So, our real success or progress is not our fast-paced life or technology that facilitates us, but the nature that keeps us moving on naturally and simply. It inspires us to focus more on our genuineness and real potential.

To me, this haiku is about the balance between nature and nurture, which is significant for a healthy and peaceful life.

Hifsa Ashraf

I like how this haiku can be read in various ways due to the pivot in the second line. It can be read as one flowing phrase, or as “cars passing all day” (full stop) and then “in between” (pause) “the silence of linden trees.” Additionally, it can be read as “cars passing all day in between” and then “the silence of linden trees” as a juxtaposition. This allows for multiple interpretations.

With the “silence of linden trees,” I believe this haiku might be placed in autumn. Without leaves, the trees don’t make a sound. The poet could also be speaking of the internal quiet of a tree or that it never speaks.

With a lack of punctuation, the pivot line can work its magic. A lot of haiku use punctuation in place of a kireji, or “cutting word.” However, in this haiku, the lack of punctuation seems to be a benefit.

The length of the lines is not standard for English-language haiku. Usually, it is a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. The poet could have placed the current first line as the third line, but that would do away with the power of the pivot in the original version:

in between 
the silence of linden trees 
cars passing all day 

It seems the poet is not so interested in following the standard format and writes haiku organically. This is commonly a sign of expertise.

Sonically, the L sounds carried throughout create a sense of softness. This reflects the silence well. The assonance of the A and E sounds also makes for a mellow reading.

With a combination of a meditative and melancholic feeling, this haiku brings us into a new state of mind that is once relatable and unfamiliar.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Painting by Philipp Franck, Avenue of Linden Trees

Cristina Rascón’s pueblo remains

peregrine falcons
rising into the blue . . .
pueblo remains



in Spanish:

halcones peregrinos
se elevan hacia el azul . . .
restos de pueblo

Cristina Rascón (Mexico)
(first published in Spanish in the Mexican journal Taller Igitur as a part of a rengay with Michael Dylan Welch called Bandelier)

Commentary

One of the main reasons I am attracted to this haiku is the focus on the term “pueblo.” The term can refer to both “a North American Indian settlement of the southwestern US, especially one consisting of multistoried adobe houses built by the Pueblo people” and “a member of any of various North American peoples, including the Hopi, occupying pueblo settlements chiefly in New Mexico and Arizona. Their prehistoric period is known as the Anasazi culture” (Oxford dictionary). So, this haiku may be speaking of recent remains or ancient ones.

In the context of the rengay the haiku is in, the content could be directly about the Bandelier National Monument. As Wikipedia says, “The monument preserves the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans of a later era in the Southwest. Most of the pueblo structures date to two eras, dating between 1150 and 1600 AD.” Also, this haiku is the last link in the rengay, giving it a poignant finality. In each of the links, birds are mentioned. It is a fine choice to end with such a majestic and grand bird as a peregrine falcon. The preceding link by Michael Dylan Welch is:

a canyon wren
in the pinyon pine

The sound of “pine” from Welch’s link and “remains” from Rascón’s link matches well. The “o” sounds in each link also connect superbly. I also like the lift from the ground (pinyon pine) to the sky (into the blue).

This haiku might also be speaking to remains not only of buildings but also of human bones. According to the Kansas Historical Society’s Migration Magazine, “Many Pueblo peoples were forced to become servants in Spanish homes. Sometimes the Spaniards would cut off one foot of young adult males as a way to control them. The Spanish priests tried to convert the Pueblo peoples to Christianity. They pressured the Pueblo Indians by hanging, whipping, or putting them in prison.” I believe this haiku is speaking about the bleak past of these peoples and the rise of peregrine falcons into the blue sky is a symbol of nature reclaiming the lands. There might be an element of forgiveness or acceptance in this imagery.

I imagine the falcons rising from the remains themselves, akin to a lotus rising from the mud. Europeans have stained the history of these peoples, yet they endure. This haiku bravely provides optimism and beauty in the face of tragedy.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

A peregrine falcon is one of the fastest birds in the world. They hunt small mammals, reptiles, and insects. Symbolically, it has connotations with religion and prestige. I can see how this particular bird could be used to highlight dire situations in countries where there is starvation, war, or some kind of destruction.

I see it more from the perspective of war as peregrine falcons might allude to wrongdoings or a societal crisis due to conflicts and rage. “Rising into the blue” gives me a feeling of danger for people who believe in symbolism or have faith in archaic symbolic meanings and may prepare for the worst. But in this situation, it seems nothing has happened as such. The peregrine falcons rising into the blue may indicate the blue sky or a depressive situation where damage has been done. It shows how we as a society don’t give importance to nature’s sentiments.

In addition, I see the historic element in this haiku as the poet may be referring to something that happened in the past or maybe, a kind of folklore or a fable that revolves around the power and influence of falcons. These falcons could metaphorically depict the power of a clan, a tribe, a political party, or activists who use to influence or rein over the village with autocratic power. “Pueblo remains” is used perhaps to show how historical remains provide lessons to focus on what went wrong in the past and learn something from them—especially in the current era where every country is ready to begin a war without considering the destructive aftermath that may linger for many years and affects many generations.

In terms of punctuation, the ellipsis in the second line lets us imagine the tyranny of the political or societal powers that bring depression and destruction.

Hifsa Ashraf

The peregrine falcons rising into the blue could represent the spirits of the Pueblo people who have passed away and have escaped this world. Thus, this haiku could speak of a spiritual transition into the afterlife.

The rhythm of this haiku has a natural pace that is easy to read or say out loud. The “p” sounds start the first and third lines, which seems to add an echo and more gravity in the poem. Visually, the last line is buried beneath the first two lines, which also is a kind of portal into the remains of Pueblo ancestors whose generations span thousands of years. 

According to one website: “The Pueblo Indians, situated in the Southwestern United States, are one of the oldest cultures in the nation. Their name is Spanish for “stone masonry village dweller.” They are believed to be the descendants of three major cultures, including the MogollonHohokam, and Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi), with their history tracing back for some 7,000 years” (Pueblo Indians – Oldest Culture in the U.S. – Legends of America).

The word peregrine has Latin roots, which adds yet another dimension to the historical meaning of this haiku. 
According to nps.gov: “The peregrine falcon is one of nature’s swiftest and most beautiful birds of prey. Its name comes from the Latin word peregrinus, meaning “foreigner” or “traveler.” This impressive bird has long been noted for its speed, grace, and aerial skills. Now, it is also a symbol of America’s recovering threatened and endangered species” (Peregrine Falcon (U.S. National Park Service)).

Thankfully, this symbolism of hope is based on efficient action that was taken to remove the peregrine falcon from the endangered species list in 1999: “Many people are aware of the population declines of this species due to problems with egg-shell thinning caused by persistent organic pollutants such as DDT. Populations of this species were driven to the brink of extinction and the peregrine falcon was federally listed as an endangered species in 1973. Reducing DDT in our environment provided peregrine falcons with a chance to recover and the population in Alaska has grown rapidly from 1980 to the present. The American peregrine falcon was removed from the endangered species list in 1999” (Peregrine Falcon (U.S. National Park Service)).

The ellipsis in this haiku acts as the break or kireji and provides a pause before the third line. For me, the ellipsis adds mystery as to where the peregrine falcons go and where our spirits go after death into the Great Mystery. 

The poet chose to write pueblo in lowercase. Perhaps this signifies how the pueblo people are deeply unified with their environment versus seeing themselves as ‘above’ the Earth or as conquerors. 

An important haiku with deep historical and spiritual meaning. 

Jacob D. Salzer

“Peregrine Falcon I,” painting, watercolor on paper, by Anisha Heble

Kala Ramesh’s notes

notes trickle
down a riverbed of sand …
the memory of water

Kala Ramesh (India)
 (Highly Commended, Santoka International Haiku and Haiga Contest)

Commentary

This is one of my favourite haiku. It is well crafted with all the necessary flavours of a great haiku that touches all the senses. I loved the way Kala used personification or a hint of surrealism, which lets our minds wander through this imagery and dig deeper into the theme of this haiku.

‘Notes trickle’ is rhythmic and musical to my ears. While reading, I paused for a moment and enjoyed the subtle and soothing sound of water. We all hear the sound of water daily but only a few of us truly listen to it and enjoy the sense of here and now where nothing else matters. It takes us further to the unseen part of this haiku where ‘trickle down’ allows the sound, message, or piece of music to be absorbed into the memory of a riverbed. This is how a haiku connects us to what is ‘beyond seeing’.

A riverbed of sand is the abode of many tiny creatures. It seems its water sings a song or a lullaby for the dwellers of the riverbed. It’s the sound of water that subtly captures the pulse of wind, rain, sunlight, moonlight, or the environment and transforms it into something that only active listeners can feel and hear.

The memory of water could mean a sort of live recording of the true essence of life, where even harsh weather or climate change can’t stop water from singing its songs. There is a lesson here for all of us to see how powerful the language of music is, which nature speaks every day to inspire us to sing along or at least appreciate. It’s a true blessing. Nature never ceases to connect with us through the language of its sound. With memories, we have sound, and it is important to recall the most positive of memories to transform our lives.

I can’t ignore the mystical or meditative side of this haiku. To me, it’s about mindfully focusing and observing every single moment of nature. This helps us to be crystal clear in our thoughts and soothe our minds with music—the most powerful language. If I were there, I would be like a whirling dervish who enjoys every single beat of water and synchronizes my feelings and thoughts with it to show the wholeness of the universe.

Hifsa Ashraf

I appreciate how the first line of the haiku focuses on the sound of water, without saying water outright. The water could be rain, or it could be the slow resurgence of a river that was dried up during a drought. This haiku may be depicting challenges due to climate change or perhaps depict a scene in a desert. If this is a drought and/or in a desert, I feel a sense of desolation and a stark sadness at the sheer lack of water. However, the verb “trickle” has a gentle and natural quality that brings me hope and eases the mind. The first line also leaves room to imagine notes from a musical instrument or perhaps we can hear notes from a bird singing. Even though this is a more abstract interpretation, I appreciate how the musical notes can synchronize with the water’s sound in my mind’s eye.

The second line focuses on the bottom of a river, which we often don’t see, either because of the river’s depth or, unfortunately, due to water pollution. In this haiku, the sand made me visualize a riverbed by the ocean. The riverbed provides a channel for the rain to flow into the sea. As a river loses its shape and merges into the sea, similarly, it seems the individual soul (Jiva) is ultimately on a quest to reunite with universal Divinity (Shiva). 

If this riverbed of sand is in a tropical forest by the ocean, I appreciate how the water in this haiku merges and dissolves into the sand and the unseen depths of the Earth, into unseen roots and fungi networks. There is an infinitely complex matrix that unites a forest and life underground that is nourished and powered by water. Here are two excellent interviews on this subject published in The Sun magazine: Hidden Worlds | By Mark Leviton | Issue 545 | The Sun Magazine and Going Underground | By Derrick Jensen | Issue 386 | The Sun Magazine.

The last line of this haiku has profound depth and universal power. All of life on Earth depends on water. Through the lens of biochemistry, our human bodies are 60-75% water. A person can survive one month without food but wouldn’t survive three days without water (Biological Roles of Water: Why is water necessary for life? – Science in the News). Unfortunately, over 600+ million people on this Earth don’t have access to clean water (Clean Water – Our World in Data). Focusing on the memory of water seems to relate to how water can change forms and disappear throughout eons of time, whether that’s mist evaporating or rain soaking into the Earth. Approximately 71% of the Earth is covered in water. According to one article, “Research funding partly by NASA has confirmed the existence of liquid water on the Earth’s surface more than 4 billion years ago” (NASA – NASA Scientist Confirm Liquid Water on Early Earth). With this in mind, the memory of water reaches far into the ancient past, into the history and birth of this Earth. At the same time, the memory of water in this haiku expresses just how precious and vital it is for our future. 

A powerful haiku with musical overtones that revers and honors the miracle of water.

— Jacob D. Salzer

When I read this haiku, I saw two interpretations: the wind running through a dry riverbed and creating sounds similar to the trickling of water. The second interpretation was that the poet saw the riverbed of sand and projected the music of water onto the scene. This is quite interesting because it illustrates that through our memories, what we perceive is often filtered by our past. It brings a sense of sadness that the only music we hear from the riverbed is from our minds. But on the other hand, it can be positive because it means we can hear beauty through memory even when nature is desolate.

In looking at the pacing of the haiku, we have the standard English-language haiku format of a short first line, a longer second line, and a short last line. This pacing approximately matches the traditional rhythm of Japanese haiku.

The kigo or seasonal reference for this haiku is probably summer due to the dryness of the river. However, the poet resides in India, which has six seasons. It may be in summer (Grishma Ritu), but I am not so knowledgeable about India’s seasons. This haiku might be telling us that even in harsh conditions, our memories can sustain us.

The kire or cut in the haiku happens in the second line with a grammatical shift made in the third line. The poet employed an ellipsis as an approximation of kireji or “cutting word.” The ellipsis seems to show the music being played in the poet’s mind or through the wind. It also symbolizes the continuation of the water’s music being heard despite the dry riverbed.

Since this haiku is about music, it can be expected that the poet has weaved sonic elements into it. The Os, Ts, and Ds stand out the most to me. This creates an interplay of soft and hard sounds, and perhaps this lends to the feeling of the poem being both melancholy and optimistic. When I read the haiku aloud, I hear the softness of the water’s trickle.

Overall, this haiku is a fine example of layered moods and imagery, with musicality in its content and its reading.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Since Kala Ramesh is also a Hindustani classical singer, instead of artwork, here is a video of Hindustani classical music in Raag Puriya Dhanashree sung by Begum Parveen Sultana. I believe it encapsulates the mood of her haiku:

Kashiana Singh’s iris

regal iris
the purple scar
on my breast

Kashiana Singh (USA)

Commentary

This is a moving haiku that I feel is a portal into many challenges we face as a community. 

The juxtaposition between the regal iris and the purple scar speaks volumes about sensitivity, hope, and healing. Like most flowers, the regal iris is delicate with a beautiful yellow/white design on the petals when it blooms. The delicate connection between the iris flower and the poet brings me hope and a feeling of unity between the poet, the flower, and the Earth. 

The purple scar in this haiku could be from many things. It could be from past physical/domestic abuse, breast cancer surgery, or an accident. My first impression is the poet had breast cancer surgery or a biopsy and is now recovering from the procedure. In this interpretation, I feel the regal iris provides hope and comfort while the poet is faced with a cancer diagnosis (or a potential cancer diagnosis if a biopsy was done). Unfortunately, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States (source: FastStats – Leading Causes of Death (cdc.gov)) and according to the WHO (the World Health Organization), “In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer” (source: Breast cancer (who.int)). In my own family, my mother has friends who are breast cancer survivors. A combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and a positive attitude got them through the treatment until they were cancer-free. I truly believe their positive attitudes and support from family and friends made a real difference in their treatment and recovery. The scars remain but they are like the markings of a true warrior. 

When looking up the color purple in relation to cancer, I discovered: “What color is used for cancer awareness? A light purple or lavender ribbon often is used to represent all cancers as a whole.” Furthermore, “The purple ribbon is most commonly used to raise awareness for animal abuse, Alzheimer’s disease, domestic violence, epilepsy, lupus, sarcoidosis, Crohn’s disease and pancreatic cancer” (source: What color is used for cancer awareness? – Know Breast Cancer). This adds another layer of meaning in regard to the color purple in this haiku. I discovered The Mayo Clinic has a good article on breast cancer prevention and lowering the risks: Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk – Mayo Clinic.

Unfortunately, I also learned domestic abuse is surprisingly common in the U.S., according to an article in The Sun magazine: The Most Dangerous Place | By Tracy Frisch & Finn Cohen | Issue 537 | The Sun Magazine.

All this being said, this is a very touching haiku that speaks volumes about physical abuse, breast cancer, breast cancer recovery, sensitivity, hope, and healing. I greatly appreciate the poet’s vulnerability and hope her purple scar will bloom into much better days ahead. 

Jacob Salzer

Breast cancer is one topic that always remains sensitive and delicate like the disease itself. I have seen people sharing their personal experiences through poetry with some hope, light, and resilience and it is much needed to talk about this issue. In my country Pakistan, this issue recently got some attention as awareness programmes have been initiated by the government, which is a ray of hope for many people—especially women who avoid talking about this issue due to shaming, taboos, myths, or cultural barriers that ends up in a point of no return.

The regal iris is juxtaposed with a purple scar on the breast, which may be used in this poem for two reasons: firstly, the colour, structure, and delicacy that can be linked with breast cancer; secondly, the flower is a symbol of faith and courage. I can see more in it like the word ‘iris’ that is cleverly used in this haiku—maybe keeping in mind that it’s also a ring-shaped membrane behind the cornea and responsible for vision and sight. So, it may be how we perceive, interpret, and deal with breast cancer before and after treatment. Like I said earlier, there are many myths or taboos associated with breast cancer in my country. So, it depends on the perceptions of both the patient and the people in their surroundings.

The purple scar may indicate many perspectives but I will focus on three. First, it may indicate the initial or later stage of breast cancer where the breast gets purple due to the spread of the cancer virus. Second, it may indicate the treatment where the purple scar shows some healing—the slow one in this case. Third, it indicates the socio-cultural perspectives that bruise the life of a patient even if they survive it. Whatever the reason, I see hope and faith in this haiku due to the use of a regal iris that persuades us not to focus on other reasons and allows the life of the person to bloom again fully.

Hifsa Ashraf

I feel the poet used “regal” as both an adjective and as a possible term in taxonomy. Sometimes irises are referred to as regal flowers and even have names such as “prince iris, “queen iris,” and “his royal highness iris.” This may also vary across languages. These types of irises are most likely to be seen in the late spring gardens. So, you could place this haiku in late spring. This seems appropriate for the subject matter, where there is a sense of melancholy with the passing of spring.

For this haiku, there is no punctuation to emulate the kireji or cutting letter. However, the cut between the two parts of the haiku is clear. The fragment of the first line and the phrase of the last two lines are obviously delineated.

The comparison between the color of the iris and the poet’s scar has many implications, as Jacob and Hifsa have elucidated. The power of these two images side by side is that they interact, with beauty and tragedy interweaving. The result is a sort of unison.

This haiku is quite economical, being only eight words and 11 syllables. The lengths of the lines follow the standard for English-language haiku of a sort first line, a longer second line, and a short third line to model traditional Japanese haiku rhythm.

Looking at its sound, the Rs, Ss, and Ls stand out. There is a slant rhyme with “iris” and “breast” which brings a musical quality to the reading. The mood from the sound is somber but highly digestible.

With its color, imagery, sound, and societal relevance, this haiku has potent resonance.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Irises, 1889, by Vincent van Gogh

Alan Summers’ nightfall

nightfall the key turns into a blackbird

Alan Summers (England, UK)

Publication credit:

First published: Blithe Spirit 31.4 (November 2021)

Article: 

The Unseen Go-Between in Haiku by Alan Summers
Haiku Society of America Haiku Spotlight (January 2022)

Award Credit

Runner up: Museum of Haiku Literature
Blithe Spirit vol. 32 no. 1 (February 2022)

Commentary

I appreciate the mystery (yugen) in this haiku and the possible interpretations. I initially felt a kind of fantasy-surrealism in this monoku. “The key” could be to a door, and if so, a door to what? Is the key a door that leads inside a physical building or room? Is it a key to a door that leads outside a building? Or, is this a key to a psychological door in the poet’s mind or within someone else’s psyche? In one interpretation, I get the feeling the key is turning and opening a locked door in the poet’s house leading outside. I like how the door does not need to be said in the monoku for me to imagine it.

I think “nightfall” effectively sets the tone and a mysterious atmosphere. I also think the double meaning of “turns” adds more depth to the monoku. Did the key physically turn into a blackbird? Or, did the poet open the locked door and simply saw a blackbird at night? Is the poet dreaming or daydreaming? Is this a monoku about the poet reading a fantasy novel? Did the door release a blackbird from a confined physical and/or mental space? Perhaps a limited physical room could symbolize a confined, limited mind or mental concept. When I see the key turn, I feel a door opening and the blackbird is released and disappears into the night. In that sense, perhaps the spirit of the blackbird is a key that opens the door to the Great Mystery/unseen dimensions of life and simultaneously opens the poet’s mind to a different way of seeing. 

If taken literally, I see the key transforming into a blackbird could symbolize how something that appears to be a concrete image (in this case, the key and the blackbird) is actually full of depth and mystery. It’s interesting how a single key can unlock possibilities and also lock a door and protect us from danger. I also get a sense that the blackbird is being honored and respected in this monoku, especially in relation to the night and the Great Mystery. I appreciate how this interpretation resonates with Indigenous spirituality. There are many Indigenous myths and legends about various birds. I also appreciate how this monoku expresses the beauty and importance of having an open mind. The poem encourages us to have the courage to see the world from different perspectives versus staying in our comfort zone and familiar ways of seeing and labeling. An intriguing and powerful monoku. 

 — Jacob Salzer

Nightfall is a shift in the day which brings mysteries with it. Symbolically, it unfolds a different world that manifests our true state of mind and heart. A time when we rarely see things through the lens of others and try to unfold our own stories. A time when we can fully concentrate on what matters the most in our lives. A time when certain realities are revealed to us through introspection or pondering.

Nightfall in this one-line haiku shows the vastness and significance of time, which motivates us to pause and imagine the scene that may look more inspirational and persuasive in this particular poem. The shift in the poem is the ‘key’ which reveals the mystery or unfolds the story; it can be the cognitive process that productively grasps the whole situation and gives flashbacks; it can be the meditative state of mind that unwinds the day’s fatigue by opening the doors of imagination or mysticism and brings some peace; it can be the solution to a problem when a person finds a creative solution and is able to find a way through critical thinking; or, it can be simply daydreaming when a person seeks solace in imagination and manifests their imagination in the most creative and surprising way, which looks magical in the end.

A blackbird symbolizes mystery, death, and magic but it is also significantly considered a sign of spiritualism or transformation. In this poem, nightfall transforms a person’s life where they can turn the key into something that looks more blissful and peaceful.

Overall, the poet challenges our senses to imagine and capture the vivid image of this poem and lets our creative faculties run wild and find how nightfall can spellbound us to see what we want to see or to see beyond seeing.

Hifsa Ashraf

The blackbird in England can be seen year-round. However, their mating season stretches from March up until July. So, perhaps this is a spring haiku. This relates well to the key possibly turning into a blackbird, as spring is a time of transformation. 

There is no kireji or cutting word in this monoku, which is common in English-language haiku that run as one line. There is a clear grammatical break after “nightfall,” though. 

However, you could say the haiku could be read as one flowing phrase, with “nightfall” being a verb that acts upon “the key.” Then, “turns” would be the second part of the haiku. 

“nightfall” also goes well with transformation as many things change during the night. Because of the darkness, things can be perceived differently. A person might imagine a key turning into a blackbird. A person might also imagine turning a key and going into an apartment or house and seeing a blackbird in the darkness. In this respect, the haiku might be speaking about human perception and its possible manipulation or trickery. I feel that the night, the key, and the blackbird are ultimately the same. 

This haiku is succinct with no word out of place. Also, the lovely soft sounds of the letter L contrasting with the sharp tick of the letter T make this haiku musical and layered.

A haiku that begs to be read over and over, it presents an abstract idea in a concrete sense.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Copyright: © Arte Ivanna