Because “coolness” has traditionally been associated with relief from the heat of summer, Japanese haiku on this theme have tended to be somewhat lighthearted. In Western poetry things that feel cool to the senses often convey a more somber or reflective mood. In English, “cool” can also mean chilly, indifferent, detached, or even lifeless. The winning and honorable mention poems for this month’s haiku challenge explored the more serious side of this ancient seasonal theme.
- Susan Polizzotto used a classical haiku technique to capture the mood of a candlelight vigil on a summer night.
- Mariya Gusev woke to find her own reflection superimposed over a sunrise of “cool reds” outside her window.
- Stefanie Bucifal discovered a common destination for every journey in the shadows waiting below cemetery trees.
Congratulations to all! To read additional poems of merit from recent months, visit our Tricycle Haiku Challenge group on Facebook.
You can submit a haiku for the September challenge here.
Summer Season Word: Cool or Coolness
the coolness of a bugle
bringing on the night
— Susan Polizzotto
Most classical haiku work through juxtaposition—the combining of two images that, placed side by side within a single poem, add up to more than the sum of their parts. One image contains the season word, the other amplifies the essential meaning of that word, illuminating some special facet of it. In haiku, the season word is a given. The rest of the poem is not. It is through the secondary image that haiku poets express their deepest feelings or thoughts.
The winning poem alludes to a military tradition that originated during the Civil War. With the help of his bugler, Oliver W. Norton, Union Army General Daniel Butterfield adapted a melody popular in the French Army for use in battlefield funerals. By the end of the war, the new version—a twenty-four note solo called “Taps”—had been adopted by both Union and Confederate Armies. Since then it has been used both at funerals and as a “signal” to troops to douse their lights.
The poet, a former US Coast Guard captain who is now a writer and a haiku teacher, has agreed to share her inspiration for the poem:
The haiku isn’t based on a single event but on my collective memories and impressions of military funerals. The Coast Guard follows the same rituals as the other Armed Services. A bugler always plays “Taps.” Even though I’ve heard it played any number of times (including at the graveside during my grandfather’s burial in the military cemetery in Knoxville) something always stirs me. Those notes from a brass horn, cool and metallic, remind me of the cooling of the body and its return to base elements.
Although the poet was drawing upon her “collective memories” of military funerals, she has not described a funeral in her haiku, but rather a candlelight vigil on the night before the funeral, presumably in the presence of the body. As 10 p.m. arrives, the familiar “lights out” melody is played. Drifting in from a distance, its sound seems to “bring on the night.”
That choice (to use the song during the vigil, rather than at the funeral) allows for a moment of quiet reflection in which to listen so deeply to the bugle that the late summer coolness can be heard in its sound.
my own reflection
a thin sunrise of cool reds
outside the window
— Mariya Gusev
coolness is waiting
at the end of each journey
the shadow of trees
— Stefanie Bucifal
You can find more on August’s season word, as well as relevant haiku tips, in last month’s challenge below:
Summer season word: “cool/coolness”
The light of the sun
the light of the moon—coolness
of a pilgrim’s staff
— Momoko Kuroda (b. 1938) (Adapted from a translation by Janine Beichman.)
Submit as many haiku as you wish that include the summer season word “cool” or “coolness.” Your poems must be written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively, and should focus on a single moment of time happening now.
Be straightforward in your description and try to limit your subject matter. Haiku are nearly always better when they don’t have too many ideas or images. So make your focus the season word and try to stay close to that.
REMEMBER: To qualify for the challenge, your haiku must be written in 5-7-5 syllables and include the word “cool” or “coolness.”
Haiku Tip: Make writing haiku into a daily pilgrimage!
I found this month’s sample haiku, by Momoko Kuroda, listed in two recently published anthologies of Japanese haiku. Both books included several hundred haiku by modern masters, featuring one verse per poet. In each case, the editors must have felt there was something about this poem that summed up her approach to haiku.
In her book Kyo kara hajimeru haiku (“Haiku Begins Today”), Momoko advised: “Compose many haiku and throw many away. In the process you will discover the true state of your mind. If you start writing haiku, compose a lot of them—as many as five a day. Make your first haiku the starting point for the others. Then you can be the first to choose which one comes closest to what you want to express. The rest can be thrown away without reluctance.”
This is good practical advice for any aspiring poet. But it is also an important lesson on following the path of haiku. Writing haiku is a daily pilgrimage to “the heart of the matter.” Our goal is to get at the pith or essence of what we have to say, refusing to abandon the journey until we have reached our goal. Efforts that don’t capture that elusive “something” that makes for a good haiku can be abandoned along the way. A pilgrim can’t carry much if she wants to complete her journey.
As a poet, Momoko is best known for her haiku pilgrimages to famous places across Japan. Her “Cherry Blossom Pilgrimage” took twenty-eight years to complete, and she spent nine years walking to the sites commemorated in the artist Hiroshige’s “One Hundred Views of Edo.” Taking such journeys in search of haiku is an important part of her “haiku philosophy” of directly observing the subjects of her poems.
In his anthology Well-Versed: Exploring Modern Japanese Haiku, the newspaper columnist Minoru Ozawa wrote about Momoko’s poem:
Night and day she is guided on her way by the light in the sky. The words used for that light, “light of the sun” (nikko) and “light of the moon” (gekko), are also the names of the two bodhisattvas that attend Yakushi Nyorai, the Healing Buddha. Thus another meaning is that she is making her pilgrimage under the protection of the sunlight bodhisattva and the moonlight bodhisattva. She walks single-mindedly, supported by her pilgrim’s staff.
Ozawa notes that Momoko’s use of the summer season word “coolness” is meant to suggest not only a feeling of relief from the scorching heat, but also a feeling of comfort. In Japanese Buddhism, a staff is often symbolic of the dharma, he points out. “The staff illuminated by sunlight and moonlight may in fact be an incarnation of the Healing Buddha himself.”
Momoko’s haiku is the title poem for her book Nikko gekko (“Sunlight/Moonlight”), for which she received the Iida Dakotsu Prize, one of Japan’s highest literary awards.
A note on coolness: In haiku poetry, “coolness” is associated with summer, when the relief brought by breezes, shade, or simply touching something cooler than oneself is most welcome. As an alternative, the word “cool” may be substituted, especially in cases where it is used as a noun. One of the most famous examples comes from Basho:
Enjoying the cool
with my feet against the wall
for a midday snooze
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