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LEARNING - Haiku Blossoms by Neena Singh

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Haiku Blossoms—a column for the appreciation of haiku. My third piece in Rhyvers--a digital multimedia platform published. This week showcases excerpts from the haiku teachings of Kala Ramesh, celebrated haiku poet & mentor who created Triveni Haikai India—a platform for haiku poets of the world to enjoy and promote haikai literature. Grateful to Kala, The Haiku Foundation & the British Haiku Society for their kind permission to republish. Neena Singh

Find the link here


In the previous column, I shared some excerpts from Jim Kacian’s book, “How to Haiku” and hope that readers found it useful. The Haiku Foundation is a repository and an indispensable resource for English-language haiku.

Kala Ramesh, a notable Indian poet, editor, anthologist, and festival director has been the foremost advocate and practitioner of haiku and allied Japanese poetry forms in India. In her interview with Julie Bloss Kelsey of The Haiku Foundation in “New to Haiku” her advice for beginners of haiku poetry is shared below:

I feel the one thing that is most essential when writing haiku and allied genres is emotional austerity. In haiku, we don’t overstate things. We leave it as we see it, not padding it to make an impression. We use the approach known as show, don’t tell. Adjectives are hardly used. James W. Hackett said in his 1969 anthology: “Remember that haiku is a finger pointing at the moon, and if the hand is bejeweled, we no longer see that to which it points.” In short, this means restraining our desire to embellish our work.

The cut, known as the kire in haiku, is the most important technique and aesthetic nuance we use when writing a haiku.

What does the kire do? It creates space between images. In a minimalistic poem, how can one tell a story – where is the place for narration? The cut or kire does this magic! It helps the poet link one image to the next. The bridge between the juxtaposed images creates a feeling of narrative.

in a grain of sand

the lashing of waves

on rocks

Bottle Rockets #26, 2012

the next Olympics

a firefly

wheels into the night

A Hundred Gourds 3.3, 2014

We can also skillfully fold the kire inside the haiku:

I dip my feet

in a river the river

joins the sea

Moongarlic #4, 2016

There are three places where kire (cut) can be read in the ku above:

I dip my feet in a river

in a river the river

the river joins the sea

Kigo, or seasonal reference, creates a backdrop against which an action takes place.

Kigo can be the name of a season (autumn, spring) or it can be a word specific to a season, such as blanket, suggesting winter, or blossom, suggesting spring. By tradition, the moon refers to autumn. A book of seasonal references is called a “saijiki.”

For example, kigo can be simple and clear:

spring breeze

I catch the tune

she leaves behind

The Heron’s Nest, Vol. VIII, No. 3, 2006

Or kigo can be folded into the haiku (honeybee refers to spring):

morning raga …

a honeybee attempts

to waken the bud

Shreve Memorial Library, July 2010

Instead of using a kigo, a keyword can be used effectively too. A keyword situates your poem in a particular place. A muki haiku, non-seasonal poem, is one where the keywords are not connected to seasonal aspects:

deep in raga

sudden applause

startles the singer

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, 2013

Kala advises poets to use imagination:


the darkening sky splits

into liquid night

Presence #37, 2008

an eagle shadows a wheat field’s yellow whisper

Sonic Boom, Issue 11, 2019

mountain shadow robs the tree of its

Roadrunner Haiku Journal 9.3, August 2009

Haiku defies attempts to define or ‘box’ it. To say this is what haiku is or is not would be simply foolish, yet we still keep attempting to define it!

Master Bashō, near the end of his life, told his students, that to him “karumi” is the most important aesthetic nuance to incorporate in what he called “haiku writing”. He compared karumi to “seeing a shallow stream rippling lightly on a sandy bed”. Karumi is a combination of characteristics including being natural, effortless, smooth, simple, and clear.

A final Statutory Warning: Haiku is addictive!

kite contest …

the rise and fall

of oos and aahs

Moonset, the newspaper, Spring 2010

Kala Ramesh has been teaching haikai poetry to undergraduates at the Symbiosis International University Pune and to school children at the Katha Creative Writers’ Workshop since 2012. In her essay on haiku teaching “The Heart of Haiku” on the British Haiku Society website she shares her impressions about Matsuo Basho’s famous crow haiku:

Let’s read a haiku that I love even after repeated readings. Take special care to notice the use of concrete words and specific images. It may surprise you to learn that the use of adjectives is kept to a minimum but the imagery is strong.

I quote a haiku written by the Japanese master Matsuo Basho. Can you immediately picture this in your mind or draw it on a piece of paper?

on a bare branch

a crow has alighted …

autumn nightfall

Matsuo Basho

(Translated by Makoto Ueda)

Now, look at your drawing. Is it a picture of autumn nightfall? Is there another diagram of a bare tree and a crow landing on a branch?

So you have two striking images … right?

One image — autumn nightfall — forms a backdrop, as in your school play, while the other image, in the foreground, shows a bird landing on a bare branch. Keep this in your memory! When two images are juxtaposed [put together side by side] a poem becomes a haiku. Otherwise, it would just be a three-line poem.

In this translation (there are many other versions too), what struck me most were the images that arise from within the poem which have not been mentioned in words. One such strong presence is the moon – I see a full moon and that to me creates the glow which helps differentiate the branch, the crow, and the night.

As Kala says, hope you will mull over, ruminate, and perhaps meditate over these images.

Next week, I will share some more insights from celebrated haijin on this interesting little poem called haiku.

Wishing all readers a bright and blissful new year 2023.


141 views3 comments


Thank you for this interesting article


Kala Ramesh
Kala Ramesh
Jan 01, 2023

Thank you so much, Neena. _()_


Reid Hepworth
Reid Hepworth
Dec 30, 2022

This is so fantastic! An engaging, thought provoking article.

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