Those familiar with the history of haiku know that the style emerged from the longer, collaborative form called renga. Renga were typically written at social gatherings, which often involved tea or sake. In my podcast episode with Jennifer Hambrick, we spoke a bit about alcohol in the haiku tradition, and acknowledged the challenges of celebrating what is a genuinely toxic substance that can lead to serious health issues, including addiction. I believe it’s important to acknowledge these complexities, and recognize the fact that, whether we like it or not, people have written, and are going to continue writing, libation haiku and senryu. I think it helps that these poems also are complex, and address sensuality, taste, pleasure, and problems.
So far in my research, I haven’t come across many alcohol terms that are clearly seasonally specific. Certainly, they exist; I’ve referenced Oktoberfest beer before, and that is certainly a fall term. Eggnog and hot toddies could correspond with winter, and if I find any of those, I’ll add them to my database. At this point, though, much of my collection includes drinking words that could best be described as all-year; all of the seasonal poems in this post include kigo not specifically related to drinking.
a friendship—Franjo Ordanić, Failed Haiku 70
the whole universe drowned
in a wineglass
The loss of a friendship can be at least as devastating (if not more) than the end of a romantic relationship. I interpret this senryu as one in which drinking leads to a friendship’s tragic demise. Certainly if you know the pain of losing a close friend, it really can feel like drowning. In my interpretation of the poem, resentment has been building for some time, and one night after a drink too many, things blow up. As with many senryu, there’s no explicit seasonal referent. We would either need a standard kigo, or perhaps the name of a specific wine, to place this at a particular time of year.
ramen and beer . . .Joshua Gage, First Frost #1
the self-checkout lets me
Going out for ramen and beer can be a social activity, but in the second line of Joshua Gage’s haiku, we see it turned into a solitary venture. The second and third lines indicate that this solitude is a choice; the self-checkout lets him avoid speaking. The speaker of the haiku doesn’t just want to eat and drink alone; he wants to avoid conversation with the cashier as well. Ramen can be eaten any time of year, and I maintain that beer is an all-season word (more on that in the summer section of this post), so I consider this an all-season piece.
Holy WaferEve Castle, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 10
all sins forgiven—
I still get drunk
Communion is an all-year act (more on that in the winter section of this post), so without a further seasonal word, this is an all-year senryu. Written in homage to Jack Kerouac, Eve Castle’s poem speaks to the desire for transcendence and the limits of human fallibility. Even with the rituals that absolve us, we turn around and go back to our bad habits.
beer with a bourbon chaserKristen Lindquist, bottle rockets #46
a wasp disappears
under a shingle
While William J. Higginson lists beer as a summer kigo in Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac, as I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t inherently agree with that assessment. Beer and bourbon are consumed year-round; it’s the presence of the wasp that makes this clearly a summer haiku. I’m also intrigued by the first image, because it inverts what I understand to be the usual drinking lineup. I admittedly have never had a chaser, and it was my understanding that people drank liquor first, and chased it with a beer. In my interpretation of Kirsten Lindquist’s haiku, the inversion of the standard order (beer coming before bourbon) mirrors the wasp as it goes upside-down beneath a shingle. (If you disagree with my interpretation, please let me know in the comments! Maybe I’m just seriously ignorant in the ways of drinking.)
will you, too, sinkJoshua Gage, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 4
into tonight’s last whiskey?
tequila dreamsMark E. Brager, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.
the half-moon floating
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (and as is mentioned in a number of saijiki), the moon is an autumn kigo. Neither whiskey nor tequila have their specific seasons (though aficionados should leave a comment correcting me if I’m wrong!), but the presence of the moon means I interpret these two haiku as taking place in autumn. What interests me about both of them is the way the moon appears to be immersed in liquor. In Joshua Gage’s poem, the full moon might sink. In Mark E. Brager’s poem, the half-moon floats suspended in the glass. Perhaps the drinkers are holding their glasses up to the sky. Perhaps they are slumped across tables, so the perspective of the moon appears low. I think Joshua’s poem is a little more morose, while Mark’s poem is a little more mystical, so in the first poem, I see someone slumped, but in the second, I see someone holding a glass.
crunch of snowJennifer Hambrick, Kingfisher 3
in the crosswalk
A dirty martini is one one which a splash of olive brine is added to the cocktail. The end result is a martini that is cloudy with a tinge of green. There’s nothing inherently seasonal about this particular cocktail; it’s the first image in Jennifer Hambrick’s haiku that places this poem in winter. When I read this poem, I picture a late winter snow, one that is icier, and a little gray from foot traffic and tires. Unlike fresh, early snow, this snow has been adulterated, and is less visually appealing. Of course, those who enjoy dirty martinis might not agree with the comparison, but I nonetheless think it’s a striking image.
his bartending storyDan Scherwin, bottle rockets #46
while I set up the cups
While a child’s first communion typically takes place in the spring in Western countries, the general act of communion happens year-round. Dan Scherwin specifically names the season here, which in my reading, enhances the sense of intimacy. The speaker of the senryu is setting up cups for the formal ritual, while someone keeping them company tells a story. The speaker of the poem and the teller of the story are in their own form of communion, being present with each other, keeping the bleakness of winter at bay with each other’s company.
As always, I look forward to your comments and questions! Feel free to also suggest post topics of you have them. While I do keep a list, I’m also curious about what people want to read on this site!
One thought on “Boozeku”
Well done 👍 I appreciate your insightful thoughts and the haikus!! 💖