Haiku is the one poetic form in all of world literature that concerns itself primarily with Nature. We may use haiku to express broad range of thoughts and feelings. But, in a formal haiku, self-expression is always channeled through images drawn from one of the four seasons of the year.
The winning and honorable mention poems for last month’s challenge each used the season word “plum” to demonstrate that the natural world isn’t just the stage on which we play out the moments of our lives. It is the matrix that gives value and meaning to those moments.
- Kelly Shaw embraces the fullness of a summer day like the lips of a lover—in the act of eating a single plum.
- Nancy Winkler captures the gallows humor of summer 2022 with her ripe plum that arrives as the only piece of good news.
- Jill Johnson discovers inside of each soft plum a stone… and a tree patiently waiting to be born.
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 July challenge here.
Summer Season Word: Plum
inside of the plum
the ocean, the horizon
and midsummer’s day
— Kelly Shaw
At first, this month’s winning haiku seems to present a riddle. How can the ocean, the horizon, and a midsummer’s day all fit inside of a plum? The use of three panoramic images in a single haiku suggests that the poet was in an expansive mood. Why put it in a plum?
Season words serve many functions in haiku poetry. First of all, they are writing prompts. That is their principal use in Japanese haiku circles. Beyond that, they can be used to establish a scene or mood, to evoke cultural associations, to allude to historical events, or simply to create what Japanese poets call “seasonal feeling.”
What a season word always does is provide a clear center of interest for the poem. It’s like the spot you tap on your touchscreen when taking a photo with your phone. That tap tells the camera which part of the image you want to have the sharpest focus. Even when a haiku contains other images, the season word tells us where the poet wants us to look.
Standing on the shore at midsummer, gazing out across the ocean at the horizon, the poet bites into a plum. People don’t usually close their eyes to savor the taste of an apple or an orange. Even when eating a peach, they are likely to keep their eyes open. But a plum?
When the teeth pierce the skin of a plum, the mouth is filled with such sudden sweetness that the other senses naturally retreat into the background as taste comes to the fore. Plums are small, round, and over with before we know it—like the open lips of a lover in a kiss. We close our eyes to focus in such moments, so that not one second is lost.
A friend recently asked me how to write a haiku. “First, you have to learn how to read the Earth as a love letter,” I said. “After that, it’s just learning to write back in 5-7-5.” How can the ocean, the horizon, and a midsummer’s day all fit inside of a plum? The answer is simple. Love can do things with space and time that the mind can scarcely conceive of. The plum was a love letter from the Earth. The haiku is the poet’s reply.
As a further point of interest: Note that the poet has used two season words—“plum” and “midsummer’s day.” As a rule, haiku poets avoid including more than one season word per poem, but there are exceptions. When a secondary season word can be used to enhance the significance of the primary word, a second word may be used. The last line, which places summer at its peak, contributes to the feeling of ripe fullness that lies at the heart of the poem.
Well, it’s about time
I sure needed some good news
perfectly ripe plum
— Nancy Winkler
Inside each soft plum,
a stone, and inside that stone
your tree is waiting.
— Jill Johnson
You can find more on June’s season word, as well as relevant haiku tips, in last month’s challenge below:
Summer season word: “plum” (the fruit)
This is just to say
those plums that you were saving
they had it coming
First published in 1934, William Carlos Williams’ Imagist poem “This Is Just to Say” has been the subject of countless parodies. As far as I knew, however, no one had tried the obvious: paring it down to a haiku.
Here is the original:
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
Submit as many haiku as you wish that include the season word “plum.” 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 “plum.”
HAIKU TIP: ACCEPT THE INVITATION!
At its most basic, a haiku is a 17-syllable invitation to poetic play. No one finishes The Odyssey and thinks, “Oh, cool! Maybe I’ll write an epic.” But a haiku? When properly executed, a haiku looks so simple it’s natural for the reader to want to give it a try.
In a 2013 article for Jezebel, pop culture critic Katie Dries tried to account for the fact that, almost eighty years after it was first published, Williams’ haiku-like refrigerator note about the plums was experiencing a second life on social media. There was an almost magical quality about it, she claimed, that made it perfect for Twitter, “where people have endlessly broken the poem down and repurposed it for their own jokes and commentary.”
In a segment of This American Life, poet and producer Sean Cole explained that it has become a game among poets to write a version of “This Is Just To Say”—even beginning poets. His favorite version was written by sixth-grader Andrew Vecchione:
This is just to say
sorry I took your money
and burned it.
But it looked
like the world falling apart
when it crackled and burned.
So I think it was worth it.
you can’t see the world fall apart every day.
Haiku have inspired parody as well—Basho’s poem about the frog jumping into the pond being the natural target. The most famous spoof was composed by the Zen painter Sengai Gibon (1750-1837):
There was an old pond
and Basho jumped into it
the sound of water
It would be no exaggeration to say that haiku is, and always has been, a form of mimesis—a term from Greek philosophy that meant “to imitate” or “mimic.” Haiku originated as the opening verse of a haikai-no-renga, a “linked poem” of multiple authorship in which participants took turns adding haiku-like stanzas to the verses that came before them. Since then, haiku poets have perpetually played off one another’s verses—echoing them, improving upon them, or simply giving them that decisive little “twist” that makes for a new poem.
A note on plums: Plums were among the first fruits domesticated by humans. Round or oval in shape, they range in size from 2 to 7 centimeters, varying in color from gold to red, purple to deep blue. Plums are drupes: fruits with a soft, fleshy outer layer surrounding a hard pit that encases a seed. Depending on climate, a plum tree may blossom from late winter through spring. From blossoming, it takes three to four months before plums are ripe for harvest, which means they are classified as a summer fruit in haiku. The word plum derives from the Old English plume and the Latin prunus. In colloquial usage, the word is used to describe something highly desirable—as in “a plum job.”
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