top of page

LEARNING: the heart of a haiku | the cut :: the kire | part three

Written by Kala Ramesh

First published in Pune365, an online newspaper. May 1, 2024

the heart of a haiku

a space for a little poem

to weave its magic!

 the cut :: the kire

 part three


Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.


Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.


Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu - chapter 11

dau de jing

(Tr. by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)


As a Hindustani classical vocal music student, I have spent a lot of time pondering how to effectively use ‘space’ in music, which is very different from how it is shown in dance. In music, we scale up and down the octave to show space and time. But it is equally important to accentuate the spaces between the notes. These full, half or quarter pauses or silences between notes give a fillip to the emotional quotient when a melodic piece is performed. In truth, all art forms demand this way of utilizing space.


This space exists naturally between notes, dance movements, brush strokes or words. An artist only attempts to perfect this technique, to give the dramatic and aesthetic touch needed, to make it visible not only to a connoisseur but also to a layperson.


The Japanese have a very beautiful aesthetic tool called the ‘ma’.


Which means: where there is clutter, even valuable things lose their value. Where there is too much, nothing stands out. The essence of Japanese aesthetic is this concept called ‘ma’ (pronounced “maah”) — the pure, and indeed the essential, void between all things. A total lack of clutter, ma is like a holder within which things can exist, stand out and have a meaning.



The cut: known as the kire in haiku is the most important technique and aesthetic tool we use when writing a haiku. What does it do? It creates that space between the images. In a minimalistic poem, how can one tell a story – where is the place for narration? The cut is known as the ‘kire’ does this magic! It helps the author to link from one image to the next by creating a ‘cut’, which in turn creates a ‘space.’


The kire forms the backbone and can be called the soul in haiku. A kire sometimes can happen more than once in a haiku, but happening once is a must — bringing into focus the images that run parallel and the space between them. Please observe, in the example given below, both the connection between two images and the distance between them; otherwise the poem doesn’t come together as a haiku.


If we look again at Basho’s famous haiku, we see that he has clearly linked the two images — the crow alights on a bare branch against the background of an autumn nightfall.


on a bare branch

a crow has alighted …

autumn nightfall


The connection between the two or more images happens only when the images are close but not too close, nor too far apart. For example, supposing we change the third line to:


on a bare branch

a crow has alighted …

the leafless tree


The first image — a crow alighting on a bare branch — is too close to the second image of a leafless tree, hence there is no twist or surprise and the haiku falls flat.


With this third line:


on a bare branch

a crow has alighted …

science project


The two images — a crow alighting on a bare branch and a science project — have no connection, so the haiku does not work. For a haiku to connect we need the images neither too close (as in example 1), nor too far and disconnected (as in ex. 2.)


This haiku is one of my all-time favourites, and it shows the ‘kire’ most beautifully — with just the right amount of gap for a good leap!


                                                  The thief left it behind:

                                                            the moon

                                                         at my window


                                                           — Ryokan


Here are some examples of contemporary haiku with a very effective ‘cut’. Good impact. The space between the two images shown in each haiku is not too far or too close. Just the right amount of space to create that bridge in the reader’s mind — something like seeing two or three ‘shots’ of a filming unit, help the director and the cinematographer in carrying the storyline further.


temple tank —

near the stone bull

a real bull


— Ajaya Mahala, Pune


A clear cut after L1. Also notice the play on the image: the stone bull (which is worshipped) and a real bull (which is perhaps loitering around in search of food?) The irony, the reality of life, is given here in just nine words.


train whistle

a blackbird hops

along its notes


— Alan Summers, UK


Apart from the ‘kire’ (the cut) also look at the internal rhythm in this haiku. Reading it aloud, do you hear and feel the rhythmic beat of the bird hopping along?


Please note: the kire can occur anywhere in a haiku, and there can be more than one kire in a haiku. This point will be taken up in detail in part II.


Editing & proofreading: Jenny Angyal.

The copyright of the haiku rests with the authors.

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

This essay was first published in Pune365 – an online newspaper in Sep 2016.


Kala Ramesh - Poet, editor, anthologist, 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.

155 views33 comments


Kanji Dev
Kanji Dev
May 09

Thank you for another beautiful and inspiring essay, Kala. I adore Ryokan's haiku!


Again a beautifully summing up essay with beautiful poems in examples. Thank you for sharing this essay Kala. Space is one my most important subjects and Lao Tzu too, so I am completely lost in it.


Nice read. Loved the haiku where the thief couldn't steal the moon. It rings a bell, but cannot recall clearly.

Replying to

Thank you, Alan.

It's nice to see you here.


Thank you very much Kala

Nice examples

Replying to

Thanks, Fatma.


thank you Kala, for making clear what i have been learning by snippets in my ku travels !

Replying to

That's good, Dinah

bottom of page