Debatable summer haiku

photo of jar near cinnamon sticks

Just as there isn’t always a clear distinction between one season and the next, sometimes a haiku feels seasonal without having a clear seasonal referent. I’m not talking about haiku that completely lack a kigo. Rather, I’m thinking about haiku that seem to have a kigo, yet are not clearly grounded in an identifiable season.

There are a few reasons why a seasonal referent might not be clear:

  • The word that is ostensibly a kigo could plausibly fit into more than one season;
  • The reader’s interpretation of the potential kigo might be influenced by where they have lived;
  • As a whole, the haiku suggests a different season than a single word might imply

Below, I have some haiku that are currently in my summer collection, but that I’m not entirely sure about. Some of them might belong to spring or autumn, or might be better placed in the All Year category. I welcome your thoughts in the comments!

a person holding orange and red bell pepper
Photo by RODNAE Productions on

farmers’ market
the queen bee
makes her appearance

Victor Ortiz, bottle rockets #46

I initially placed Victor Ortiz’s haiku in the summer category because summer is peak time for farmer’s markets and fresh produce. However, markets can easily last well into the fall, with root vegetables and cruciferous greens making an appearance. When I lived in Austin, farmer’s markets would last year-round, only skipping weekends from the most inclement weather. In addition, some cities in more temperate climates have covered markets year-round.

I’m also not sure how to treat the phrase “queen bee” as a kigo. In Haiku World, “bee” is listed as a spring kigo. Jane Reichold also listed “bee” as a spring kigo in A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods. I cannot find a reference to bees in Yamamoto Kenkichi’s The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words. Honeybee mating season also begins in the spring. In Ortiz’s haiku, I interpret “queen bee” metaphorically, referring to a particular type of woman making an appearance, but taking the word more literally, it could refer to spring. As a result, I’m not 100% certain whether I should keep this poem in summer or move it to spring.

red raspberries
Photo by Wahid Hacene on

a month of Sundays . . .
berries rotting
on the vine

Julie Schrein, First Frost #1

While berries are a summer kigo, in Julie Schrein’s haiku, we see them rotting. In addition, the opening line illustrates the passage of time. That the berries are rotting does not inherently mean that autumn has arrived. Berries that are ready earlier in the summer can rot before autumn arrives. However, autumn is the season of decay, and the clear passage of time suggests that even if autumn hasn’t fully arrived, we’re in a transitional state. I’m tempted to move this haiku to autumn, but the word “berries” is such a classic kigo that I still have it in the summer.

purple petal flowers focus photograph
Photo by Pixabay on

her scent on my fingers
lavender harvest

Robert Piotrowski, First Frost #2

When I think of lavender ready for harvest, I think of Blanco, Texas, which hosts an annual festival where visitors can travel to farms to harvest their own lavender. The festival takes place in May, which is early summer in the Lunar calendar, and late spring in the Gregorian calendar (however, in Texas, it’s definitely feeling like summer already). In addition, different varieties of lavender bloom throughout the year, with some in early spring, and others late in the summer (Gregorian)/early fall (Lunar). I haven’t moved this haiku out of the summer category yet, but I wonder if lavender isn’t best specified by the type it is (True/Common, Spanish/Butterfly, Fringed/French) in order to best place it in a specific season. That being said, given the minimalist tendencies in English-language haiku, poets might not want to add an additional modifying word . . . though if they’re aiming to be as specific as possible, that might be the most pragmatic choice.

slice cake
Photo by Elli on

finishing dessert . . .
one last smear
of sunset

Tony Williams, Failed Haiku #70

“Sunset” is listed as an all-year kigo in Haiku World, but appears as a summer kigo in A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods. (I can’t find reference to it in The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words.) By that logic, I should move Tony Williams’ haiku to the spring section. However, dining outdoors reminds me more of summer than of spring, when the late nights and dry weather are more conducive to outdoor dining. I think this is an example in which the whole of the haiku creates the season, rather than a specific word.

rose wine splashing from a wine glass
Photo by solod_sha on

sunset . . .
uncorking a bottle
of rose wine

Joe Sebastian, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 6

As mentioned above, in the established saijiki I’m working with, “sunset” is either an all-year kigo or a spring kigo. However, I associate rose wine with summer, especially because frose (frozen rose) was a trendy summer millennial drink a few years ago. While “sunset” as a kigo might be ambiguous, to me, “rose” is not . . . However, that might be my own biases and preferences talking.

I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions! Even if you disagree with me, I hope the explanation of my thought process has been interesting.

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