Random Haiku…..

Marsh Grass 3

A reader just raised the issue of why these haiku below seemed to be rather bitten with surrealism.  That was a great question!  There is a commonality between surrealists and haiku in many ways:  both (or should or do) delve beneath the surface of a thought, sentiment, etc…trying to get to a deeper level of explanation or reveal.  I believe it’s this concept of ‘yugen’ so prevalent in Japanese literature, especially poetry:  of course it depends upon context, but yugen means to me a distance, a deeper concept, something not proclaimed but hidden.  So many ways to go about this.  Pulling out something different and new and startling perhaps in your haiku.  I also think it is an ‘off-handed’ way of expression, and that can become difficult, but I believe it makes for better haiku.

But I think it also depends upon the measure and duration of study of Japanese culture and literature.  I’ve only done some serious study of this for the past 8 years, and this doesn’t do much more than scratch the surface.  I believe to really get comfortable with these forms, you have to study and immerse yourself for a lifetime.  And that is a great pleasure! 

But anyone who reads Basho/Issa/Buson will immediately see each poet’s ‘place’ in their work.  And the Buddhist influence is strong in their writings:  Nature is transitory, contingent and of course, suffers.  (we are part of that nature).The pure mysteriousness of Life!

I have (as of a week ago) finished “Song of the Nightingale” and Nick Nicholson will be formatting this book in late June for publication.  This question of surrealism comes up again and again in this new book in the form of ‘moon babies’, Tengus, etc.  There is much of surrealism  and magic in this book.  Sometimes we forget the deep influences in what we write and it takes a good question like this reader (in the comments of these poems) to draw you back to where you have been.

Lady Nyo….and thank you, Staviolatte!

One of my favorite poems of Issa  that seems to  be a bit surreal:

“The snow is melting

and the village is flooded

with children.”


I’ve written very few haiku.  I find the form harder than tanka, though shorter. Of course there are ‘rules’ concerning haiku, as there are with tanka, but modern poets tend to ignore or dismiss these rules.  They are not short free verse, but I think in the beginning without study, most of us fall to this. 

There are haiku writers who have set standards centuries ago:  Basho, Issa, Bucan, to note some masters of the form.  My dear friend, Steve Isaak in California, does a good job on this form.

This spring I intend to do some study of these masters, and hopefully get my head around this poetry form correctly.

Lady Nyo

Sultry air disturbs

The sleep of husband and wife.

They pant without lust.

Dogwoods are blooming
The crucifixion appears
White moths in the night.

(Dogwoods are a Southern tree here in the South.  White blooms
having the form of the Christian Cross, with nail heads.  They bloom in the spring  right before Easter. They are a symbol of Christianity in Nature.)

Under the dark moon

I awaited your return

Only shadows came.

The moon, a ghostly

Sliver, sails on a jet sea

Wild dogs howl beneath.

A pale half moon drifts

Across a wintry sky.

Trees become monsters.

Fall’s crispness compels

Apples to tumble from trees.

Worms make the journey.

Ice blocks the rivers.

Look! A duck is frozen there.

Nature, no mercy.

Skeleton-trees wave

While the wind whips dead leaves

Wood smoke scents the air.

The moon, a ghostly

Sliver, sails on a jet sea

While dogs howl beneath.

A swirl of blossoms

Caught in the water’s current

Begins the season.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

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10 Responses to “Random Haiku…..”

  1. staviolatte Says:

    visually impressive! is there a reason why the writings seems to dive into surrealism? 🙂


  2. ladynyo Says:


    Good question! From my research over the years into haiku (and I am no way comfortable with haiku….it’s a very different breed of a horse than tanka..) there is a bit of a bend towards surrealism in older haiku….It’s this yugen, mono a aware stuff, that seems to form the heart of Japanese poetry….at least some of the earliest works….Basho is rather surreal in some works to my eyes….Issa isn’t, but I love Issa the best and find great humor and compassion in his works. I guess it’s a roll of the dice here…but I will have to take another look at what I have written….

    There IS this ….distanced, nuanced part very much with haiku…something that most modern haikuists don’t understand. I am still struggling with this myself.

    So much to include in 17 syllables!~ Perhaps the shortness of the form lends itself to a more surrealist outcome? I don’t know, but I think the clues are in the general ‘issues’ of Japanese approach to life and literature.

    More later because I think I am on the right track, but it’s been years since I have written much haiku (went to tanka) and I think your question is an excellent one. I do remember a few years back on this blog writing about this very issue. I’ll see if I can find it.

    Thanks so much for an intelligent and intriguing question!



  3. staviolatte Says:

    Gladly if you would add the information, just poke me anytime 😀

    Well actually… this verses captivated the most:
    A pale half moon drifts
    Across a wintry sky.
    Trees become monsters.

    Do you happen to know and realize there are stages of souls before they are becoming lifeforms? And the Nabateans, the trees… does symbolize an obedient human, or a tamed human bestiality (whew! what a naughty word). And so the use of TREE in ficitional characters are presented with wisdom or controversies.

    You are very welcome, Jane. This place is an enjoyable reading. Keep on inspiring and… intriguing 😀 !


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Oh! you intrigue even more! I just wrote on the face of that blog post a little more about this issue of surrealism that you so well raised. I believe it’s tied into the Japanese concept of “Yugen”…something distant, mysterious, not on the surface. This seems to dovetail in my mind with surrealism!

    And yes, I would have to say that this haiku of mine is very surreal. LOL! It’s purpose I believe, in haiku is to place the reader in the poem…commonality of existence perhaps but also, and more importantly, to make the reader think deeper about the haiku. What can he/she pull out new from those words? The haiku about the dogwoods is also rather surreal….at least to me. If you have ever seen a dogwood at night, in the black of night, it seems to be inhabited with white moths! LOL! Perhaps surrealism also holds a form of eerie stuff!

    And yes, to your second part: the different lifeforms. This is part of the Celtic belief system….the anima-loci. Have you read the Cad Caddeau? that is quite a trip of animated trees with a purpose! Heavy in Welsh mythology.

    Thank you so much, Staviolatte!~ It’s rare that I find another reader that intrigues with their own knowledge and wisdom and adds so much to mine.

    Jane…oh, read The Essential Haiku by Robert Haas if you haven’t already. Those three haikuists of such fame.


  5. staviolatte Says:

    Hi Jane 😀

    Wahh, did some homework reading Cad Cadeau… the first half portion of reading it invited me in a smile :), the next half portion however…you’re right… heavieehhhhhhh -_-!

    It’s like the tension is adding heavier and heavier until the last sentences (how can that be?! me being hypnotized…)
    Also read on Robert Haas and Issa’s work, it really gives a light & joyful feel. I would like to thank you, since I’ve long forgotten teh haiku of Issa (the last time I read it was when diligently followed a Japanese Manga, The Vagabond), and the haike had left me with a unique impression.

    And, OH my goodness… you mentioned my name in this blogpost intro… this is too much of an unexpected publicity for a shy lil’ one like me XD, thank you so much Jane, it’s truly an honor.
    I noticed you’ll have a book publication in the late June, of Tengus? WOW, then I definitely should read it. The dimension of Tengus – the Yamabushi – The Sun’s Era is one of my favorite inspirational story. As mysterious as it is, once, there’s a wise saying about life that told of…”when entering the Shinto dimension, rise then your super-personal warrior”.

    If you have a reference article of Tengu, would you please poke me as well? 🙂

    Again Jane, many thank you

    Cheers, eye-laugh and tingling belly,
    Ayu (staviolatte)


  6. ladynyo Says:

    What a JOYFUL comment to read this grey, dull day. LOL!

    Ayu, your comment brought to mind so much. and much I have forgotten.

    First….the Cad Cadeau. LOL! Quite a riot! And yes, I think it is supposed to mesmerize you and all readers. It did me. It is quite a jaunt into the mystical but who knows? there is such an element of ‘rational’ to it…??? At least the imagination is stretched and all things seem possible about that poem.

    Secondly, I DEEPLY appreciate your intriguing question or juxtaposition of haiku and surrealism. It opened my mind to something that I have just not acknowledged on a conscious front. Though I think that surrealism is something that is deep in my general books….Kimono, Devil’s Revenge, Song of the Nightingale, The Shibari Series, etc. Thank you for bringing this to the surface consciousness to me.

    In June…end of it…..”Song of the Nightingale” will be published. It’s a story, saga in 13 parts, and involved a Tengu….briefly.

    However, I too, am a fan of the Yamabushi, Tengus, etc….and all this figures deeply in my novel that I hope to publish next spring: “The Kimono”. I started it 8 (??) years ago, and what we write then and how isn’t what we write now. Hopefully. Hopefully we get…better. LOL!

    The Yamabushi is a fascinating cult. And still very active today. I centered Kimono around Kyoto, a magic kimono (I have that kimono I wrote the book from…it’
    s not more than 70 years or so old, but the 5 crests are Maruni Daki Myouga (ginger leaves) and belonged to a small daimyo family in Nagano Ken. I just discovered this a few days ago after years of researching the crests! This was so exciting.

    I have a couple of references in my own work which I compiled over the years of research and writing: The Shibari Series is somewhere on my blog (archives???) and features a Tengu beginning around chapter 8? Since this reference and the issue of Shibari is not well known (and viewed with great suspicion) it didn’t get very well read on my blog. Ugh. But few readers raise the questions and have the interest you have. Chapter 13 of the Kimono I posted last week sometime, and should be still not far from the top. This tengu….also a Yamabushi priest…(naturally…LOL!) Lord Yori….is quite a character. He figures in this novel pretty strongly…and he exhibits the well known abilities of a shapeshifter. LOL! He’s quite a troublemaker, but then aren’t Tengus supposed to be?

    Robert Haas and Issa. Issa is probably my favorite of the classical haikuists. Something about his humanity, humor and compassion reminds me of my other favorite, Saigyo….who wrote such incredible tanka.

    Thank you, Ayu, for all the synapse snapping this morning!

    Cheers! Jane


  7. Caliban's Sister Says:

    I so love these poems. The previous comment about “all the synapse snapping” is spot on. Your poems always do that:

    “Ice blocks the rivers.

    Look! A duck is frozen there.

    Nature, no mercy.”

    How compact that is and yet it says EVERYTHING. that one exclamation point, its sudden call–then the response. Nature, no mercy. Brilliant. Been off the blogs for the last week due to work. Saw your comments. Sorry for your frustration, it was me not looking, not your inability to post. love you. CS


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Sweetie!

    Work. Ugh. Sorry. Ugh again. LOL!

    Haiku is a tricky medium. I violate the form, but try to at least get something of them right, but still….there is a lot of issues with haiku. A good reading of Robert Haas, with his wonderful book of Issa/Bucan/Basho would help, but I haven’t put aside the time lately. But still….haiku beckons for numerous reasons….correctly done or not.

    I will be back to your blog, dear friend. I get a lot of substance from your writing.

    PS: it’s the damn recapture thing…..finally I get a # and it thumbs its nose at me and doesn’t do anything….except lose my post. Makes me do this repeatedly and then nothing. Damn technology.

    Love, Jane


  9. Caliban's Sister Says:

    Gosh, that’s awful that you keep getting the recapture. The Google blog isn’t the best format. It was just the easiest for me to start with. I promise to check more regularly for comments! xo


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Sweetheart! Don’t worry. It’s all in the damn technology. Mysterious workings beyond my few brain cells.

    Started to write a poem called “Sirocco”, and my husband is outside skinning a cat fish. Our neighbor called this evening, and said he had a catfish for us, and Fred went down there and brought up a huge catfish. I saw the glazed eyes, but the gapping mouth and the Fu Manchu mustache was too much for me, and I wanted to put it in our fish pond (where if he survived, would eat our remaining 6 gold fish). Of course, these fish can hold their breath and I’ve revived one or two with my young son….but this cat fish wiggled when we put him on the grass and neither one of us could stand to watch him die. We went in for dinner, but I couldn’t eat, knowing now the way you skin a catfish (by striking a nail through the head on a board to hold it firm while you pull the skin off with pliers) and all evening I was thinking ‘why didn’t we give it mouth to fish resuscitation?? But if this has done anything, it’s made me realize that I really need to become a vegetarian….and M.Catfish deserves a poem not a hot wind.

    I suggested we just bury him in the garden, but Fred insisted that he couldn’t live with a lie (to the neighbor, who brings us venison (thank God it’s not on the hoof!) so he’s out there attempting to skin a catfish…something new and undone before. We both hope it’s dead by now, because we ain’t going to skin a live fish.

    I don’t know where all this is relevant, but I think we both are in shock and perhaps we need to stay away from flesh for a while until this wears off.

    And we already found out earlier this week, that the fish guts (from the same neighbor)….well, our dogs and cats turned up their noses at the offerings…so I guess they are going to become vegetarians, too.

    Love, Jane


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