Sunday, January 11, 2015

To the Lighthouse: Ichibutsu Shitate (One-Image/Object/Topic Haiku)

Lee Gurga, former President of the Haiku Society of America, believes that the two-image haiku are the finest ones. He claims that the art of cutting is "the primary technique of haiku." The two images of which the poem is constructed "resonate" with each other to create a mood, atmosphere or impression. The link between the two images is not specified (you do not have logical link-words such as ‘but’ and ‘because’ and ‘like’). The reader is left to make the link, and thus to "step inside" the haiku, sharing it, in some sense, with the author.

-- excerpted from Michael Gunton and George Marsh, Part 6 - The Two-Image Haiku, "In The Moonlight a Worm"

Principally, I agree with the comment above: through the effective juxtaposition of two images, the poet creates an interpretative space that invites the reader to participate in the process of constructing meaning. For example, the following haiku by Basho:

green willow branches
droop into the mud --
the tide gone out

Basho’s disciple, Kyoriku, thinks this combination poem (of two images/objects/topics) is superior because of the “superb intermediary ‘drooping in the mud,” which humorously brings together green willow and low tide, two hitherto unrelated classical topics”) (Shirane, p. 111).  In Correspondence between Kyoriku and  Yaba, Kyoriku puts special emphasis on writing combination poems, and claims that “combining separate topics [is] the central technique of the Basho style.” (Ibid, pp. 110-1).

But, historically and aesthetically speaking, this view of the supremacy of the combination poem has been challenged by Basho’s other disciples through their different interpretations of Basho’s teachings  and hokku (the beginning verse of a haikai, the ancient name for haiku). For example, Kyorai argues that, although combining different topics are important, “it [doesn’t] take precedence over other techniques and that Basho also [composes] ‘single-object’ (ichibutsu shitate) poem, which [focuses] on a single topic and in which the hokku [flows] smoothly from start to finish, without the leap or gap found in the composition poem" (Ibid., p. 111). In Travel Lodging Discussion, Kyorai stresses that the Master (Basho) takes delight in the following haiku, telling Shiko, “This hokku was deliberately composed on a single object” (Ibid., p. 112)

warmly wrapped
in its feathered robe --
feet of the wild duck

In Kyoraisho, Kyorai notes:

The Master said: “A hokku that moves smoothly from the opening five syllables to the end is a superb verse.”
Shado remarked: “The Master once told me, ‘The hokku is not, as you believe, something that brings together two or three different things. Compose the hokku so that it flows like gold being hit and flattened by a hammer …”
Kyorai: “If a poet composes by combining separate things, he can compose many verses and compose them quickly. Beginning poets should know this. But when one becomes an accomplished poet, it is no longer a question of combining or not combining …” (Ibid., p. 111)

Technically speaking, ichibutsu shitate (one-image/object/topic haiku) are more challenging to compose because the poet must employ various rhetorical devices/literary techniques to “create enough internal contrast presented within the image to make it a haiku, rather than a poetic fragment" (Kocher, p.6). For example,

a sparrow alights
on the concrete wall
of the prison

Philomene Kocher

In the haiku above, the third line “holds the surprise and tension of the poem” (Ibid.), creating the type of ambiguity (an interpretative space that invites the reader to participate in the process of constructing meaning) what Philomene Kocher calls “the gap between the words of a haiku and its larger story” (Ibid.)

Below are another haiku examples which, I think, are well crafted ichibutsu shitate (one-image/object/topic haiku)

the brightness
of the full moon
deepens the cold

T. D. Ingram

Comment: Ingram’s effective use of cutting (through the excellent choice of a verb phrase) and synesthesia make a successful shift from the physical/outer world (portrayed in a natural scene) to the mental/inner one (indicating the implied speaker’s state of mood). The contrasts between these two worlds are psychologically effective. The haiku reminds me of one of Basho’s:

over the evening sea
the wild ducks' cry
is faintly white

I drive                          
into a eucharist
of rain

Comment: This visually evocative and religiously rich phrase, "eucharist/of rain" holds the surprise of the poem.

At first, the reader might wonder how the speaker drives into a eucharist, but when combined with "rain," then the reader rethinks "how driving into a downpour might introduce the notion of being immersed in or communing with nature" (Marion Clarke's comment posted in the comment section

Thematically/theologically speaking, read in the context of Pentecostalism (especially, of the Latter Rain Movement), the rain in L3, which signifies the pouring out God's spirit, adds spiritual/religious depth to the poem, gaining added poignancy

Below are another two ichibutsu shitate (one-image/object/topic haiku):

blue heron
standing at the edge
of the falls

Allan Burns

it lifts its head
the woolly bear caterpillar
in autumn wind

Bruce Ross

Comment: The haiku above are visually evocative; however, they fail to create the type of ambiguity (an interpretative space that invites the reader to participate in the process of constructing meaning) what Philomene Kocher calls “the gap between the words of a haiku and its larger story” (Kocher, p. 6)


Haruo Shirane, Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998

Philomene Kocher, “Inviting Connection through the Gap in Haiku,”  Language and Literacy, 11:1, Spring 2009 , pp.1-22

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