September 30th, 2006

Egrets Reading

Kigo as power-packed, subatomic particles

A few days ago I sparked a heavy discussion on the NOBO haiku list about kigo. For the non-haiku poets who read this blog, a kigo is a "season word" which is used to place the haiku in a seasonal context.

I've been a long time participant in the Shiki Monthly Kukai, which has two categories, a "kigo" category and a "free format" category. The way it works is that the topics are announced at the beginning of the month and participants write haiku for the topics given. The collected poems are sent out anonymously, people vote on their favorites, and the vote tallies are announced with the authors' names.

For example, last month's kigo word was "apple." I did some brainstorming on this topic and came up with several haiku.

First I wrote:

gala apples
on hand woven baskets--
harvest festival


and

bushels of apples
at the harvest festival --
cotton candy lips


I decided against both because they have double kigo's - "harvest festival" is also a kigo in both haiku. I also felt there was nothing particularly special or insightful about these images. Then, I wrote a haiku I liked a lot but felt it was too personal to either post or submit at this point in time. So, I left it for awhile and came back to candy apples, writing:

candy apple
the stickiness between
ex-in-laws


Pondering this for a while, I finally decided it was too "cute" and went back to the drawing board. Apples, apples, apples....I started thinking about bobbing for apples and wrote:

floating apple
she crosses her fingers
when it's her turn


I almost submitted this one but then I decided to try for a double meaning with the bobbing apples theme, writing:

floating apple
the brush of his lips
not deep enough


This is what I decided to submit, although it ended up doing poorly in the kukai, garnering only three points. In retrospect, the other bobbing for apples haiku may have worked better because the image is clearer and feels more authentic. The second one may have suffered from an attempt to be too clever with double meanings.

I started the discussion on the NOBO list because I had become frustrated over the last few months because it seemed to me that some of the kukai participants didn't understand how to use a kigo in haiku.

A couple days later, I read this great statement attributed to Kuroda Momoko by Abigail Friedman in The Haiku Apprentice:

Think of kigo as the power-packed, subatomic particles hidden in your haiku. Kigo give extra thrust to your poem because they both represent an object or event and evoke an entire seasonal setting.

- Kuroda Momoko, The Haiku Apprentice by Abigail Friedman