Sensei, a haiku teacher

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Before you can be teaching haiku,
you must know what a HAIKU is !

You should know the difference between haiku, senryu and zappai and other forms of short free verse.

Since there are so many and various definitions of HAIKU in other languages, it is difficult to teach how to write such a poem in a language other than Japanese.

And yet, HAIKU is NOT short free verse.

Trying to define HAIKU ...


Sensei 先生, a haiku teacher, haiku master

A friend wrote :

You mentioned a haiku sensei,
where does one find such a person?!
I want one!

If I write something good, I need to know why it is good, because I still can't tell. Just because people like something I contribute, doesn't necessarily make it haiku and never mind GOOD haiku. Perhaps it is senryu, perhaps it is just touching a nerve that people associate closely with and falls into no category. I still don't know.

... snip

My dear American Haiku Friend !

Myself, I am not a teacher of haiku, although I write a lot ABOUT kigo ... grin ...
I do not even consider myself a poet in the professional sense, I just write haiku once in a while as a memory of a memorable moment for my diary, so to say, and try to share it with others (that way, I do not have to worry toooo much about it being GOOD or BAD or which category or which "rule" is infringed ..)

Yesterday I watched a TV program about a group of semi-professional poet highschool students of a School haiku club discussing haiku with a gruop of local talento (Tamori and other TV fun personalities with absolutely no haiku experience ) ... and it was really enlightening to see the differences in argumenting when and what the "haiku lay folk" discussed ...
(There is a regular Haiku Competition, almost a "Students Haiku Olympics" in Matsuyama, ‘Haiku Kōshien’ for the students.)
CLICK for more photos of the competition in Matsuyama
Haiku Koshien 。。。俳句甲子園  more English links.

Here in Japan, part of a haiku meeting is the discussion of the poems, without knowing the author, so you are free to criticize, state the good parts, try to work on the one's you think need improvement ... so "discussing haiku" is trained just as much as writing the poem itself.
(We do this even with our local school kids of six years in the first grade and it can be hilarious !)

And I always find the discussion part of a meeting most helpful in improving my knowledge of language and culture.

But that again, can not easily be carried over to America and the rest of the world, I guess.

I am trying to pass on bits and pieces of what I have learned about Japanese haiku in my various postings, forums and BLOGs, but that is the most I can do.
Whether it applies to American haiku ... the more I read about it, the more I think ... maybe NOT ?!

By the way, not every forum moderator or group leader is a sensei, nor is a magazine editor automatically a haiku sensei.

We also have these "loan words" in English

haijin 俳人 person who writes haiku
shijin 詩人 person who writes poetry
shuzai 取材 leader of a haiku meeting (kukai)

. . . . .not to confuse with
haijin 廃人 disabled person
(this is a homonyme of the word, but not connected to in in meaning, only in sound. The Chinese characters for HAI are quite different).

. discussion at WHC .


Among a few other things,
I wrote in a different context:

Definitions of HAIKU are now manyfold outside of Japan, I often find it a rather arbitrary, personal matter of judgement of each poet, each haiku magazine editor and so on ... so be it!

BUT if you have no clear definition of haiku, how are you going to teach how to write this?

If you have a haiku sensei, ask him for his definition and in which way he advises you to write your own haiku.
If you want your haiku published in xyz magazine, write to the taste of the editor ...

Read Larry Bole :

I'm a "pure product of America" (to paraphrase the American poet, William Carlos Wiliams--"The pure products of America / go crazy--") and as such, I am somewhat of an autodidact in my approach to learning, as many Americans are, even those with college degrees!

If I were studying haiku, I might take lessons from a number of established practitioners, but I wouldn't attach myself to any one in particular, and being skeptical of authority, as many Americans are, I would take what any sensei said with a grain of salt. I once long ago took a class taught by Patricia Donegan in Chicago when she had just come back from what I believe was Peace Corps work in Korea, and she talked a lot about lineages, as if that were important.

To me, "sensei" leads to lineages, and I find the concept of lineages rather amusing at best, and stultifying at worst. Haiku lineages, as things of value in and of themselves, is one of the things Shiki was objecting to, was it not?

Just as there is good and not-so-good poetry, there is good taste and not-so-good taste. If you want to use "taste" as your criteria for quality, that's fine, although I think taste is only a part of an assessment of quality. When it comes to poetry and art, I can recognize and acknowledge work of quality even though it may not be to my personal taste. And most importantly, taste can be educated, wouldn't you agree? Isn't good taste in haiku one of the things you are learning from your sensei?

From what available evidence I have in English, critiquing and commenting on Japanese haiku, by Japanese critics and commentators, seems to be a well-established practice in Japan, starting in "modern" times with Shiki. In light of Shiki's example, I think American haiku suffers from a paucity of informed comment and critique. The alleged "spiritual" aspect of haiku that many American haikuists prize has too often exempted American haiku from discerning evaluation as poetry.



It is very important that you feel free to write a haiku your way.
But there are certain basic conditions which you as a haiku poet are supposed to observe.

Read more of the teachings of this Japanese Haiku Sensei:
Inahata Teiko


Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years
Jim Kacian (Editor), Philip Rowland (Editor),
Allan Burns (Editor), Billy Collins (Introduction)

An anthology of haiku in English,
from Ezra Pound’s early experiments to the present-day masters.
Haiku in English is an anthology of more than 800 brilliantly chosen poems that were originally written in English by over 200 poets from around the world. Although haiku originated as a Japanese art form, it has found a welcome home in the English-speaking world.
source : www.amazon.com

Now we have to ask,
WHO are the "present-day masters" ?



haiku teachers
open many doors -
winter morning

photo source : Spirituality & Practice / facebook


As we have a sensei, we also have a DESHI 弟子, a haiku student.

The Haiku Apprentice:
Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan
by Abigail Friedman

Legions of Westerners have pursued idealized notions of “traditional” Japan through enchanted forays into ikebana, martial arts, ink painting, or tea ceremony. The pitfall of such adventures is that they (sometimes willfully) overlook the more complex, ambiguous reality of contemporary Japanese culture and politics. In contrast, Friedman distinguishes herself through depth and rigor of inquiry, which ultimately leads to a revised understanding of both her host country and herself. She quietly earns her place in an all-Japanese haiku study group led by prominent haiku sensei or “master,” Kuroda Momoko.

Haiku, Friedman discovers there, “is not an exclusive club for the spiritually adept few.” Instead, she has the rare fortune to experience poetry in a culture where it still exists as a social activity and “popular art, practiced by a wide range of people, and meant to be understood.” To make such an opportunity accessible to readers outside Japan, Friedman concludes with instructions on writing haiku in English, as well as starting a haiku group.

As Japan scholar William LaFleur has written, the rigorously condensed traditional Japanese forms of poetry are “best opened with care, close attention, and appreciation for the skill of the person who put so much into so small a container.” The practice of haiku, based on this finely tuned attentiveness to both environment and language, helps Friedman gradually locate a sense of belonging for herself in the midst of a diplomat’s nomadic life.

In the process, her book becomes a deft and seamless merging of genres: at once memoir, travel literature, and an unpretentious guide onto the terrain of Japanese poetry. It will appeal not just to poetry lovers, but to all readers who are curious about the world beyond their own borders.

Read the full review here:
Review by: Melanie Drane

Kuroda Momoko 黒田杏子
Advise vor haiku beginners !


Master Basho teaches Kyorai

(from "Sources of Japanese Tradition," by William Theodore De Bary;
Columbia Universit Press, 2001):

Inoshishi no Ne ni yuku kata ya Ake no tsuki

Is that the path
The wild boar travels to his lair?
The moon at dawning.


When I [Kyorai] asked the Master what he thought of this verse, he pondered for a long time without saying whether it was good or bad. I mistakenly thought that master though he was, he didn't know how hunters wait at night for a boar to return to his lair at dawn, and I explained it all to him in great detail. Then he remarked, "The interest of that sight was familiar even to the poets of former times.

(Kyorai then gives a waka that Basho quotes about deer returning home from fields to their mountains at dawn)

"When a subject can be treated even within the elegant framework of a 'waka', there does not seem to be much point in giving within the freer compass of the haiku so prosy a description. The reasons why I stopped to think for a while was that the verse seemed somehow interesting, and I was wondering whether something could be done with it. But I fear it's hopeless."
Compiled by Larry Bole


how to call you?

san さん for any man or woman
sama さま、様 for any man or woman you consider above your social level
kun くん、君 for a man or boy you consider below your social level
chan ちゃん for a woman or girl you consider below your social level

So for my Japanese friends, I have become

Gabi san ガビさん.


Japanese haiku poets tend to see the guidelines (yakusokugoto) as means to improve the way to write haiku.
They find their freedom within the limits of this poetry form.

Many of my foreign friends tend to see the "haiku rules" as infringements of the personal freedom of the writer and resent them. There is even the word "Haiku Police" out there, which would be quite unthinkable of in Japan.

Rules for Haiku ?! A general discussion. Add your opinion !

Haiku Definitions ... Take your pick !


A little detour

. Laozi, Lao-tzu, Rooshi, Roshi【老子】 .
author of the Tao Te Ching

rooshi 老師 Roshi, Zen Master
"old master"

I eat breakfast
and wash the dish -
my old Zen Master

breakfast -
before I finish drinking
my coffee mug empty

25 years ago, during my Sesshin ( a period of intensive meditation) in a Zen Monastery near Jerusalem, the Zen Master was quite old. He was from Kyoto. We called him Roshi.

After breakfast, wash your dish!
- Shared by Freddy Ben-Arroyo -
Haiku Culture Magazine, 2013

. tenzoo 典座 the Zen cook .


***** Haiku Theory Archives





Anonymous said...

Abigail Friedman and Momoko sensei:


But seeing the duck in the moat, she stops thinking about all these things. She writes:

I stopped thinking of North Korea or history or battles and found myself more and more interested in the duck. He seemed uncertain of his direction, as if he too was feeling the cold. Despite the darkness of the water, I could just make out his webbed feet moving rapidly beneath the surface. Then she gives her duck haiku: "A haiku took shape within me..."

Momoko does ask her what she was feeling. Abigail says she described the scene, her mood, and what she was trying to express, but doesn't recount this conversation in detail.

Momoko says, "We need to begin by going over the elements of haiku," which she lists as seasonal words, seventeen sounds, and 'cut-words'. Momoko focuses on seasonal words. She points out that in Abigail's haiku, she has two conflicting seasonal words: "duck," which by itself is a winter kigo, and "fall winds," which is a fall kigo.
Momoko says this confuses the reader. She says it makes the haiku "lack harmony."

Momoko suggests the kigo, "kamo kitaru," "ducks arriving," which is a fall kigo, thus eliminating the need for an overt reference to "fall."

Momoko continues with a lecture on seasonal words. They look in Momoko's 'saijiki' to see what is listed for "duck." There are seasonal words/phrases using ducks for all four seasons. The discussion of seasonal words goes on for seven pages in the book,
until we arrive at Momoko's spur-of-the-moment revision of Abigail's


compiled by Larry Bole

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the details, Larry san!

Makes me remember my days of haiku apprentice in Kamakura.

On top of all the tensaku for the Japanese poets of our group, sensei had to deal with this "gaijin (foreigner)" who was dabbling in a language not quite familiar with ... and then compose haiku .. so my special tensaku were always metered out for this special student and I think I got more of it than a Japanese would have gotten ... makes me smile even now!

There are plenty of books especially about Tensaku available at amazon.com.

It helps me a lot to read the tensaku corners of major haiku magazines, we can really learn a lot from it.

And it seems sooooo different from the "workshopping" I read in many haiku forums, where anyone can give advise (wheather qualified or not ... grin ) and a democratic quote for xyz version usually ends a discussion ... leaving a good starter haiku shredded down to ..
well, sometimes it is really interesting just to read that.


Anonymous said...

quote from Simply Haiku, Summer 2008

Udo Wenzel: In your monograph you called the master-disciple system feudalistic. And, in your acknowledgments you expressed gratitude to your haiku teachers. What is the difference between a teacher and a master? Is this master-disciple system still alive today?

Itô Yûki: Kuwabara Takeo called the master-disciple system of haiku feudalistic, in his essay, "A Second Class Art: The Case of Gendai Haiku" (daini geijutsu ron: gendai haiku ni tsuite). I partly agree with him. I think that the master-disciple system of Japanese haiku hasa feudalistic aspect, but I do not completely deny its value. Japanese haiku has had a long history as a literature of the party (kukai)—a social gathering—and is not limited to (the more contemporary stylism of) individualistic literature. In terms of kukai, the master-disciple system of haiku seems to work well.

In Japan, many master-disciple systems exist, not only in haiku, but also within many “traditional” arts. In the Japanese haiku world, kessha systems (“one’s own literary association”) are quite strong. To be recognized as a leading haiku poet, typically one must found a kessha as a magazine-group, and become its chief editor, hold one’s own kukai (haiku meeting or party), etc. Certainly, most Japanese haiku poets belong to several kessha, whether as members or leaders.

As a “traditional” art, each kessha and its haiku poets are placed in a shikei (the genealogical tree of haiku schools). However, some kessha and haiku poets reject this system. In my case, one of my main haiku teachers, Morisu Ran, said to me some time ago, “Do not call me sensei!” As a result, I do not use or apply the term “master” to my haiku teachers.


Anonymous said...

... WIKI HOW ...
How to Write a Haiku Poem

WIKI sensei
ichi ni san
go shichi go