It is surprising how many haiku occur on thresholds: between waking and dreaming, or reality and imagination, or even between life and death. In 1967, the British cultural anthropologist Victor Turner described liminality as “betwixt and between,” a transitional state in which we have departed from one world but have not yet arrived in another. The winning and honorable mention poems for this month’s haiku challenge used the season word “rake” to explore that mysterious middle ground.
- JoAnn Passalaqua’s drowsy lovers lie suspended in time on a late fall afternoon. Meanwhile, time flows on without them.
- Stefanie Bucifal offers a poignant symbol of loyalty and loss in a rake that waits for the father “who will not return.”
- Gabriel Rosenstock creates a symbol of tenacity in the rake that holds “one last leaf in its teeth” as autumn comes to a close.
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 December challenge here.
Fall Season Word: Rake
dreamy pillow talk
as we fall into slumber
the leaves and a rake
— JoAnn Passalaqua
At its simplest, haiku is the art of juxtaposition: the poetic pairing of two images that add up to more than the sum of their parts. In a formal haiku, one of those images is the season word. With the other, the poet establishes a turn of thought.
The nonseasonal image is where the personality or “haiku philosophy” of the poet comes to the fore. If the haiku is good, the secondary image will establish a satisfying “vector of meaning” that invites the reader to spend some time exploring the poem.
If the vector of meaning in a haiku is too narrow—if, for instance, a single meaning is implied—the reader will quickly lose interest and move on. If the vector is too wide, the poem will feel vague or pointless. The best haiku are like a garden with just the right number of flowers. Not so many that we can’t admire all of them. Nor so few that we wonder why anyone would bother to enclose them.
In our Best of Challenge haiku for November, the poet has placed two images side by side without further commentary. The first depicts a couple lying in bed, presumably after lovemaking, conversing drowsily as they drift off to sleep. The second contains the season word: “the leaves and a rake.”
Are the lovers listening as someone rakes leaves in the yard outside their window? If so, the soft, intermittent quality of that rustling sound extends the liminal mood into the autumn landscape, where the leaves and the rake are engaged in their own version of “dreamy pillow talk.” And yet, I can’t help but think that the words also refer to the poet and her lover.
The word rake derives from the Indo-European root reg, meaning “to guide, direct, or set in a straight line,” as with a hoe or a plow. But the word has other meanings. In the 16th century, it was used to refer to a libertine. Today it describes a man who is dashing but disreputable. There are humorous erotic undertones in all of this, but it is hardly the sum of the poem.
If you read a haiku like this half a dozen times, then set it aside for a day before coming back to it, you will notice a layer below the humor. For the leaves and the rake are also symbols of seasonal transition.
The lovers lie together, briefly sated, seemingly in a world outside of time. But that is only an illusion. For it is the very nature of liminal states that they do not last. The leaves will be bagged or burned. The rake will retire to the shed. After that, the world will go on without them.
a change of season —
the rake waits for my father
who will not return
— Stefanie Bucifal
the rake – facing up –
with one last leaf in its teeth
about to blow off
— Gabriel Rosenstock
You can find more on November’s season word, as well as relevant haiku tips, in last month’s challenge below:
Fall season word: “Rake”
to fix all of it would take
a really big rake
The leaves had fallen after a night of wind. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) was due to convene in Glasgow the following day, but I was pretty sure it would end like the other climate conferences before it.
I made the last line of the haiku deliberately funny by using a ham-fisted rhyme. I wanted readers to smile before the dark truth of the poem set in—that humans are not exempt from the sixth extinction.
Submit as many haiku as you wish that include the fall season word “rake.” 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 “rake.”
Haiku Tip: Be of one mind!
Basho said famously that all great art requires a mind to follow Nature and return to Nature, befriending the four seasons of the year. This is the “Haiku Mind” that Japanese poets sometimes speak of, and there are two things to know about it:
- It is circular, not linear, in its thinking.
- The human mind is contained in it, rather than the reverse.
Most people can grasp the first point. A haiku poet isn’t trying to “get” anywhere by writing haiku. The point is to follow the four seasons throughout our lives. That is why, when asked about her approach to haiku, Tsugawa Eriko (b. 1968), a major figure in modern Japanese poetry, answered that she simply wanted to continue writing them until she died. That was her haiku philosophy.
The second point is more difficult. The Haiku Mind doesn’t just follow the four seasons. It is the four seasons. The human mind has no reality apart from Nature. We exist only insofar as we are intimately related to other beings. Leaf beings. Cricket beings. Wind and water beings. Beings of every kind. The line separating humans from Nature is an illusion. Every haiku is a self-portrait. In following the four seasons, we are a cat chasing its tail.
A note on rakes: “A rake is a gardening or farming implement consisting of a pole with prongs or wide-set spikes at one end. Used to collect leaves or loosen soil, it is believed that the first rakes were human hands. Eventually, tools such as branches from trees were used. The earliest “modern” rake dates from 1,100 BCE. Its basic design has not changed significantly since then.” — Becka Chester, Season Word Editor, 17—Haiku in English
Unless otherwise specified, rakes are associated with fallen leaves in haiku poetry. Leaf raking, which usually occurs in late autumn, is a relaxing, rhythmic activity that keeps the body in motion yet, paradoxically, tends to set the mind at rest.
the simple dance step
one falls into easily—
raking up the leaves