Haiga: A Marriage of Image & Haiku #1

my spring Is just this
a single bamboo shoot
a willow branch
~ Issa

Haiga is a mix of image and either haiku or tanka poetry. Its origins are in Japan where poet-artists used a mix of brushstroke painting and calligraphy to compose their images and poetry.

The poetic spark of haiga has to do with four elements:

  • the quality of the image and its type
  • the quality of the haiku (or tanka or short poem)
  • the quality, type and placement of the text
  • the quality of the framing of the image
  • the relationship of the haiku to the image. Do they enhance each other, making the haiga greater than the sum of its two parts?

Types of haiga images and examples:

Contemporary haiga practitioners employ a variety of image types including sumi-e, traditional brushwork, photographic images, digital-art, and all forms of modern fine art. And the placement of the poem can be

  • directly on the image
  • included in the frame
  • somewhere near the image (above, below, to the side)

Here’s framing variation of a haiga utilizing a photograph. Some call this photo-haiku.

haiku: Harriot West, image: Ray Rasmussen
haiku: Harriot West, image: Ray Rasmussen

faint scent of musk
I wonder what he meant
by we

~ Harriot West


Musings about the poem and marrige of image and poem

I like the ambiguity in West’s haiku/senryu. Is she attracted to him, and hopeful? Or irritated that he seems to be speaking for her, assuming she wants what he wants? Or whatever each reader projects into the haiku.

I chose this image of a yellow ladyslipper because it’s an early spring flower and I’m guessing the relationship is in it’s early stage. Also because my take on the haiku is that he’s speaking for both of them and she’s not speaking up for herself. In my mind, that’s him, center stage, in focus, her a bit blurred and behind the leaves, only part of her showing.


Thoughts about the composition.

These variations are only a few ways that a haiku and image might be brought together. There’re not meant to suggest a one way to marry visual work with haiku.

Which of these ways of presenting image and haiku do you prefer? Each viewer will have his or her preferences. Because I’m a photographer, I look for certain qualities in an image. And the framing affects my feel for the image. When their work is hung in galleries, most photographers prefer a simple large white or off-white frame. Most don’t want writing to appear on their images.


Thoughts about the marriage of haiku and image.

Yuasa has said:

Commenting on the relationship between haiku and prose, Nobuyuki Yuasa said:

. . . the interaction between (the prose and haiku) is haibun’s greatest merit. In good haibun, the prose deepens the understanding of the poetry, and the poetry gives greater energy to the prose. The relationship is like that between the moon and the earth: each makes the other more beautiful.

The same might be said about the relationship of image and haiku. Does the image enhance the haiku? or the haiku enhance the image? Is the way they work together something greater or significantly that either image or haiku viewed separately? Does the image interfere with the reader’s feel and thoughts about the haiku? Questions that each reader/viewer will answer for him or herself.

I’m a visual person and like to add images to my writing. But since most journals don’t post image with haibun, I seldom get my way on that one.


Visiting Haiga Websites and Blogs:

Daily Haiga and haigaonline are two websites that present a full variety of haiga/haiku/tanka arts. If you’re interested in viewing or creating haiga, they’re good places to go for ideas. -> Daily Haiga -> haigaonline

There are many WordPress sites that are, in effect, presenting haiga, a mix of artwork or photography and haiku or short poems. I particularly enjoyed Catherine Arcolio’s Leaf and Twig blog. Many of her images have a wabi-sabi feel – the beauty of simple settings and aged objects with low contrast photography. -> Arcolio’s WP site

And if you’re interested, there’s more about wabi-sabi here. -> wabi-sabi

At some point I’ll be posting Haiga: A Marriage of Image & Haiku #2

Comments on this initial presentation are welcome.

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