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LEARNING: the heart of a haiku | the cut marker :: the kireji | part four

Updated: May 7

Written by Kala Ramesh

It was first published in Pune365, an online newspaper.

See this page on your laptop to see the punctuation and indents as intended! Read the previous essay # 3 on KIRE :: the cut, before reading this essay!! May 6 , 2024

the heart of a haiku

the space for a little poem

to weave its magic!


Part - 4

 cut marker :: the kireji



I explained the importance of the ‘cut’, the kire, in my last post. The Japanese language has certain specific words like ya, kana, keri or nari to show this cut in haiku. When writing in English or in any of our regional languages, we need to use punctuation called the ‘cut-marker’ in place of such words.


Why the punctuation is called the ‘cut-marker’ and why is the kireji so widely used in haiku:


Punctuation shows the reader where the ‘cut’ occurs … and the cut (as was explained earlier) is important for the juxtaposition, for marking the parts of the haiku resonate with one another to produce a new whole, a new meaning that gives completeness to the poem.


The cut-marker is known as kireji, and people sometimes feel it’s just punctuation – but no, it’s much more than that – if kire can be considered the soul in a haiku, then the kireji, which so closely abets the kire, can be considered the heart that encloses the soul … if I can be a bit dramatic!


Without the punctuation, some readers would create their own pause. But many don’t, especially new swimmers in the haiku stream. So to make things clear for all, including punctuation is a valuable tool.


To explain kireji more technically, we can say it’s actually a sound (and word) in Japanese, as indicated by the ending “-ji” which means letter, mark, or word. A sounded grapheme in Japanese, the “-ji” is indicated by punctuation in English and other languages.


It might surprise you to know that punctuation is kept to a minimum in haiku, and is used as a highly nuanced tool. Haiku needs clarity, so if an idea or an image has to be conveyed to your reader in a few words, then that pause you show by adding punctuation should help the reader to get the meaning instantaneously. Nothing in haiku is cosmetic!


The various kinds of punctuation most often used in haiku are: … (ellipsis); - (en dash); — (emdash); : (colon); and in rare cases :: (double colon.) And of course some haiku are written without punctuation!


The ellipsis indicates a quiet pause and also suggests the passage of time.


starlit sky …

I touch a turtle before

it enters the sea


— K. Ramesh


                            the fallen

                            and the falling leaves …

                            ten years of war


                            — Karma Tenzing Wangchuk


ancient banyan …

an owl shakes the night

off its feathers


— Anitha Varma



An en-dash ‘–’ is just there to show your reader the cut and actually does little beyond that! In some cases it shows a clear pause as in Lary’s ku below.


spring equinox – the toilet paper roll



— Laryalee (Lary) Fraser



An em-dash ‘—’ is an emphatic dash and shows an effective pause, and this stronger break helps in creating the juxtaposition which is so important in haiku.


turbulent mist —

all that is to become

lost in becoming


— Hansha Teki



                       campfire sparks —

                       someone outside the circle

                       starts another song


                       — Billie Wilson



waiting for me

to give it life —

my death poem


— Karma Tenzing Wangchuk



                      thunderclap —

                      the sleeping newborn

                      throws up her arms


                      — Chitra Rajappa



Please note: the kireji (cut-marker) is only a marker to indicate the cut, which should be intrinsic to the haiku. Without the cut (the kire), if you just add the kireji, it is merely cosmetic – something superficial, adding no value to your haiku. The colon is not as popular as it was a decade back. What does it do? It gives the reader a peep into what comes next.


winter loneliness:

the sofa she vacates

holds her shape


— Kala Ramesh



Exclamation points are rarely used, but there are exceptions to all rules. Here is a beauty from Michael McClintock.


                   a poppy …

             a field of poppies!

     the hills blowing with poppies!


    — Michael McClintock



Some poets have mastered the art of ‘no punctuation;’ the mind can still read the pause because the kire is strong.


temple path

the dust i kick up

sticks to me


— ed markowski



          a barking dog

          little bits of night

                                           breaking off


          — Jane Reichhold



passport check

my shadow waits

across the border


— George Swede



And in some instances a weak kire allows the reader to create a break in different places, leading to interesting interpretations.



by moonlight

an old regret


— Bill Kenney



the river

the river makes

of the moon


— jim kacian



                    I dip my feet

                    in a river the river

                    joins the sea


                    — Kala Ramesh



between the sky

and the spin of the earth

this falling leaf


— Laryalee (Lary) Fraser



A mid-line caesura: This is done using the same juxtaposition between images, as explained before — not too close or too far. Line 3 gives the reader a surprise!


wading through

leaves … with each step

the thoughts


— Kala Ramesh


Then there is an interesting form of punctuation, rarely used — but after I encountered it I was hooked!


Grant Hackett writes: (in Roadrunner Feb 2009) I began writing the one line poem about a year and a half ago—the day I found the double colon. The double colon is there to create an unweighted pause. A pause in the breath, a pause in thought. A pause that is different than the weighted or directional relationship our standard punctuation indicates. And that is also different than a hard line break. The two sides of the thought-pause may exist in harmony or in ambiguity. At the moment of the pause there may be peace or there may be tension. The thought-pause is a poetic tool, a poetic device, used poetically.


to the terrace

whistling :: breathless

the milky way


— Kala Ramesh



a breathtaking view now a dot :: on the map

— Kala Ramesh



We use punctuation very sparingly in haiku . . . why?


My contention is that it detracts from how the reader can interpret the poem. It becomes a recipe demanding that the reader should pause here or there, show surprise when an exclamation is given, and so on. I could be wrong.


Punctuation, like many things in life, is very personal, and as we read more and more haiku we come to understand that it’s a poet’s preference more than a rule. Read your ku out aloud and see where you pause and how you carry it forward – then decide whether you want punctuation or not. I go through phases when I use no punctuation.


My special thanks to Jenny Angyal for editing and proofreading this essay.

The copyright of the haiku rests with the authors.

Copyrights of the title and the page rest with Kala Ramesh.



Publishing Credits:

starlit sky The Heron’s Nest VI.5 

the fallen: poem card 2010

ancient banyan: The Haiku Foundation Per Diem 2015

spring equinox – Simply Haiku 4:3, 2006

turbulent mist: An Autumn Testament

campfire sparks: The Heron’s Nest XII:2

waiting for me: Parnassus Literary Journal Spring 1999

winter loneliness: Bottle Rockets #15 Autumn 2006 

a poppy: Haiku Magazine 5.1

barking dog: From the Dipper. . . Drops, Humidity Productions 1983

passport check: Cicada 1978

awakened: The Heron’s Nest V.15

the river: Ant Ant Ant Ant Ant 5

I dip my feet: Moongarlic # 4. May 2016

between the sky: Mainichi Daily News, November 2006

wading through leaves: Simply Haiku - Autumn 2009, vol 7 no 3 

to the terrace: Presence Haiku Journal – Issue # 42 - September 2010

a breathtaking view: Frogpond 32.2 Summer issue, 2009

Kala Ramesh - Poet, editor, anthologist, and festival director, Kala’s initiatives culminated in founding INhaiku' in 2013 and in 2021 she founded the Triveni Haikai India to bring Indian haiku poets under one umbrella. A foremost practitioner and pioneer in the field of haikai literature in India, her book ‘Beyond the Horizon Beyond’ Haiku & Haibun, was awarded a Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize Certificate for ‘excellent contribution to literature’ in 2019. In July 2021, HarperCollins is publishing her book of tanka, tanka prose and tanka doha.


Just for practice, can you post a haiku using any of the cut markers given here? 1. Tell us clearly the punctuation you have used in your haiku and why! 2. Then share your unpublished poem here!!

3. Only two haiku per week, just as we do in all our other forums, please! 4. The best, most original will be picked up for haikuKATHA # 32, June 2024

*** I would like all who have posted to give feedback to two other poems posted here.

I forgot to add: that is part of the deal!!! 😄

Have fun!


375 views144 comments


Kanji Dev
Kanji Dev
May 12

Thank you for these lessons, Kala. I rarely use punctuation, and now I see the value of it. I shall be returning to this lesson in particular, again and again.




to daydream among you

… banksia roses

Keiko Izawa, Japan

Replying to

Beautiful, the ellipsis allowing the roses to grow through your lines - lovely.


mona bedi
mona bedi
May 08

Post #1


Revised thanks to Kala:

incessant rain —

we argue over the name

of our unborn


incessant rain —

the unending controversies

of our marriage

Feedback appreciated:)

Mona Bedi


Replying to

Mona, do you feel Ls 2 is telly? Difficult many time, but can you show it?

I like your jux.


#1, 8/5, edited, but feedback please

Just trying a new way to revise or can keep the original.


life(less) :: the groggy drunkards' organ transplant


the drunkards' organ transplant :: lifeline lifeless

Lakshmi Iyer, India

Feedback please


the groggy drunkards' organ transplant

:: lifeless

Lakshmi Iyer, India

Feedback welcome

Just tried.

Its a never-ending phenomenon of the drunkards and this is a continuation whatsoever. The emotional and physical conditions are threatening.

Replying to

Keep the original.

lifeless at the end was a surprise.

the groggy drunkards' organ transplant :: lifeless


#2 May 8

last breaths...

the air heavy

with unshed rain

Anju Kishore, India

(Feedback most welcome)

Replying to

I also had what you said in mind when i wrote it. The last few breaths over a short period of time, not the very last one. But i haven't come across 'last breaths'. We usually say 'last breath'. Will think it over. Thanks much, Rupa.

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