I’m about seven weeks into my yearlong study of saijiki. While my personal writing practice isn’t centered around food, working with Higginson’s Haiku World, as well as the companion volume The Haiku Seasons, have been invaluable as I also explore the ways in which food and the seasons work in haiku.
As of this writing, I have collected 93 haiku that incorporate food in some way. Taking a cue from Haiku World, I am organizing them by season, as well as maintaining an All-Year category. Based on what I have collected so far, I have observed three broad categories:
Food words that are a definite seasonal referent;
Food words that are not a part of any specific season;
Food words that become seasonal with an additional modifying word
I will focus on the first category in this post, the second category in my May 24th post, and the third category in my June 14th post.
At this point in the project, inherently seasonal food words make up the smallest proportion of haiku that I have collected. Most of the poems in my Scrivener file involve all-year food words, or foods that become seasonal through additional modifiers. The greatest proportion of inherently seasonal food words falls into the summer category. Spring and winter have the lowest proportions. However, I have nothing close to a statistically significant sample size, so I won’t be surprised if the proportions change as I go.
As I’m still early in my journey of collecting haiku, I’m only giving 2-3 examples for each season of food kigo.
As spring is the planting season, seeds are a specific kigo. Even if there is another food referent that might indicate a later season, as in Cherie Hunter Day’s haiku below, the presence of seeds grounds the poem in spring. Seeds speak to the potential food we will eat in the future.
hidden in the seed packet star songs
Stuart Barrow, bottle rockets #46
lockdown starting a lemon tree from seed
Cherie Hunter Day, First Frost #1
The sugar maple is another image of food that is not yet ready for consumption. It also illustrates the challenge of working in two traditions. Sap harvesting season runs 4-6 weeks, and can start as early as February. While that’s still deep winter for those of us working with the Gregorian calendar, in the haiku calendar, it’s spring. There’s also no accounting for climate. You can be well past the spring equinox and still get snow in areas where sugar maples thrive!
sugar maple pressing my tongue against the wood
Genevieve Wynand, Kingfisher #3
The best iced tea is that which has been brewed slowly. Sun tea is a perfect summer beverage, and therefore a summer kigo. The heat of the sun allows for a long, slow infusion of tea leaves. Then, you can pour the tea over ice for a refreshing beverage.
my writing slow as that snail sun tea
John S. Green, First Frost #2
Tomatoes are one of the quintessential summer foods in the Western hemisphere. I remember that some years, my parents struggled to get theirs to thrive, and other years, we had more tomatoes than we could handle!
heirloom tomato the want ads rustle
Aidan Castle, Kingfisher #3
Ice cream is a treat best enjoyed in the summer. It’s cold, rich, and a delightful treat during hot weather. I still remember the ice cream socials held in June and July in the town where I grew up.
maternity dress a scoop of homemade ice cream
Deborah P. Kolodji, Kingfisher #3
Apples are a quintessential autumn fruit. Cultural motifs might include apple picking, pressing cider, making apple pies a Thanksgiving, and bringing an apple for the teacher at the start of the school year.
cut apple slices the star in all of us
Gillen Cox, Haikuniverse, March 27th, 2022
in the old orchard sad apple trees concede their mortality
Phil Huffy, Haikuniverse, April 1st, 2022
apple blushed and ripe I close my eyes with the taste yes, Eve, yes
Ellen Rowland, Kingfisher #3
Kale is one of the last greens to be harvested in the year. One of the hardiest cruciferous vegetables, it grows late into the season, which makes it a fitting fall vegetable.
picking kale— the darkened veins in grandma’s hands
Jacob Salzer, Kingfisher #3
At first I was undecided about whether to consider sweet potatoes a fall kigo or a winter kigo. While they are harvested just when it’s starting to get cold, they’re stored in root cellars, and eaten during the coldest months. I see sweet potatoes as providing nourishment when the gardens and fields are fallow.
sweet potato the peeling away of intimacy
Joanna Ashwell, First Frost #1
Even without a seasonal word such as wind chill, like in Lenard D. Moore’s haiku below, the idea of rich, warm hot chocolate as an antidote to the cold makes it a winter kigo.
wind chill the hot chocolate still too hot
Lenard D. Moore, Kingfisher #3
Tthe gingerbread house, along with other variations of gingerbread, is a winter image, associated with Christmas. (I’m partial to the Kemp’s gingerbread men ice cream sandwiches . . . it’s definitely weird to be eating ice cream in winter, but they are also delicious.)
a gingerbread house in this economy
Aaron Barry, Kingfisher #3
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these first observations in the comments. Also, don’t forget to send me your haiku for the special themed bonus post at the end of May!
All members of the haiku community are invited to submit poems for an upcoming Culinary Saijiki bonus post. I want to showcase haiku that incorporate food and are also focused on the topic of late spring or early summer holidays. Examples of holidays include Labour Day (International), Mother’s Day (International), Memorial Day (United States), or religious holidays. There are plenty of others to pick from as well!
While my writing on this blog is designed to be more analytical, as someone who has worked as an editor for a variety of literary publications, I love providing venues for poets to showcase their work. Since we have an extra Tuesday in May, I thought that would be a good time to do a themed community showcase.
In my April 12th post, I talked about how I came to saijiki study, and how I incorporate both the Gregorian seasons and the lunar seasons into my haiku practice. Through my decision to work with a saijiki for a year, I got inspired to think about how we approach food in haiku. Like many of my ideas, it had probably been building for a while, but it seemed to come in a flash. I to create a large-scale project related to haiku, but didn’t feel I had anything specific to talk about over the long haul.
I decide my saijiki topic or word for the day first thing in the morning. After I brush my teeth, I sit down at my kitchen table with Haiku World and my notebook, skim through the list, and settle on a focal point. Exploring the saijiki right when I get up primes me to pay attention to the world around me as I walk Astrid every morning. Our first stroll of the day lasts around 30 minutes, and usually, I’m able to get at least one haiku related to the theme of the day by the time we come home. I don’t carry a notebook and pen when I write; I have to hold the haiku in my head as we walk, and take care not to let it slip away. Not only does this allow for a fair amount of mental revision before I even sit down at the notebook, but it serves as a sort of meditation. Since I started my saijiki practice over a month ago, I’ve discovered that the amount of time I spend ruminating on the walk has gone down dramatically. My mind is too occupied with haiku to be able to focus on my worries about the day ahead!
I started my saki study on March 20th, 2022. The idea for the Culinary Saijiki project came to me 24 hours later, as I was taking my dog, Astrid, for her morning walk. The topic I’d chosen for March 21st was the word “March,” and the Haiku World example was a poem from Allan Curry:
middle of March the first lemonade stand has a slow day
Alan Curry, Haiku World (ed. Higginson), p. 45
In the “March” entry, Higginson notes that the topic of “lemonade stand” is really a summer kigo in the northern hemisphere (p. 45). Allan Curry creates juxtaposition by contrasting the defined spring season with a summer image. (Even in Austin, March is often not ideal lemonade stand weather!)
Astrid and I had just stepped off the apartment grounds and into Houston Street. I was pondering the concept of “March,” as well as Allen Curry’s poem. Suddenly, I was reminded of the fact that food is seasonal. Yes, in the United States, we are able to get produce year-round, regardless of whether or not it’s actually in season. But fundamentally, food is connected to the changes of spring (planting), summer (growing), autumn (harvesting), and winter (resting). The agricultural year has a rhythm, and food follows it. I wondered what it would be like to create a saijiki entirely around the concept of food.
My mind was so captivated by the idea that I barely managed to find a haiku on that dog walk. By the end of the day, I decided to structure the project as a blog, in hopes of fostering discussion and collaboration with other haiku poets. I had also decided a podcast would be a fun complement. I wanted to be able to not just write about my own perceptions of food and haiku, but have direct discussions with others as well. Before I went to bed, I’d bought the website URL and made a to-do list.
I’ve been slowly building this project for about 5 weeks now. As of this writing, I’ve collected and tagged 65 food-related haiku, just from the print journals I have on-hand, as well as PDF publications in my hard drive. After just one day of struggling to find an organizational system in Microsoft Word that I liked, I jumped ship and bought a copy of Scrivener. I’d attempted to use Scrivener as a budding fiction writer about 12 years ago, but it didn’t resonate with my process. However, I plan to work on the Culinary Saijiki for a while, and the thought of a folder filled with hundreds of Word documents, or one giant Word file of doom, made me feel overwhelmed. I realized that Scrivener’s binder approach would make it easy for me to organize and tag the haiku I collected.
My current Culinary Saijiki project has a folder for each season, plus an All-Year category. I have a template for typing out the entries, and I tag each one with relevant keywords. I can sort by season, by type of food, or some other aspect. Being able to do so will help me structure future commentary on food-related haiku, and eventually compile a print book (though I don’t plan on that happening for at least two years). At the moment, I’m only adding haiku that I find myself, but stay tuned on the blog. Every now and then, I’ll post calls for themed submissions for special bonus posts, and those will end up in my database as well. (Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to get permission if I want to include them in the book, but that’s still far in the future.)
As for the podcast, I’m launching that in June. I’ve had several blogs over the years, so I was able to get started on that right away. Plus, I consider the blog the foundation of the project, so it made sense to start that first. Finally, since I’ve never produced a podcast before, I needed to give myself time to set up an infrastructure and learn the basics.
While I’ll be soliciting a few podcast guests, especially as I try to get things up and running, all haiku poets who want to talk about food are welcome to join in. Please fill out the form at the “Join the Conversation” page so I can get to know you and your work a little more.
In my May 10th post, I’ll be talking about the preliminary ideas I’ve developed in my study of food and haiku so far. If there are other topics you’d like me to cover in the future, please leave a comment!
As I mentioned in last week’s post, The Culinary Saijiki isn’t just going to be a blog. I’ve been wanting to create a podcast since 2015, but I didn’t have any sense of a topic or voice. When I got the idea to do this blog, I quickly realized that a podcast would be an excellent complement to the written work. And I want you to be part of the conversation.
I decided that while I wanted the blog to primarily be my own thoughts on the topic of food and haiku, the podcast should be conversational. I love podcasts, and have an extensive listening queue. Reflecting on what I most enjoy listening to, podcasts that are a dialogue or panel discussion remain my favorite format. I want to hear what other poets have to say about food and haiku, and I want to be able to do that beyond a blog post comment thread.
If you would like to have a conversation about food and haiku on the podcast, please visit the Join the Conversation page and fill out the Google Form. I look forward to hearing from you!
Years ago, at a Poetry at Round Top workshop on Aimee Nezhukumatathil gave us Robert Hass’ definition of haiku: “A three-line, poem, with syllables of 5, 7, and 5, written in Japanese.” She emphasized, “in Japanese” with such gravity that the definition has stuck with me to this day. Obviously, as an American haiku practitioner, I don’t 100% agree with it. Yet the haiku is so embedded in Japanese history and culture that American haiku is not the same. I believe that all poetry forms are culturally malleable (the sonnet did well moving from Italy to England), yet some are more grounded in the place where they emerged. I am an American poet, and so I write American haiku.
This past December, my friend Jenny came over for tea. The conversation turned to haiku, and then we ended up talking about renga. I thought it would be fun for us to write our own; I selected the 20-link nijuin form, since it was just the two of us, and we were both new to writing linked verse. I pulled out my copy of Bruce Ross’ How to Haiku for quick guidance. Jenny was also new to the concept of kigo, so I grabbed my copy of William Higginson’s Haiku World off the shelf to show her the seasonal lists. I’d found a like-new copy at Half Price books a few months earlier, but hadn’t made time to give it my attention. Flipping through the entries, I got inspired. I decided to spend a year working through the saijiki. But I didn’t want to start on January 1st. I was in the home stretch of my third failed attempt at the Buson challenge (where you attempt to write 10 haiku a day for 100 days), and wanted to take a break. So I decided on the spring equinox as my starting date. Though I’m not a particularly spiritual person, I do love the sense of symbolism of the spring equinox as a new beginning.
One of the things I’ve learned as a teacher is that it doesn’t matter how often you present information to someone: it won’t sink in until they are ready to receive it. I’ve seen this play out time and again with students in my technical writing courses, and I mention it here to offer myself a sense of grace. Certainly I didn’t get much, if any, instruction on the lunar seasons when we composed our little three-line poems in elementary school classes. My haiku interest began to develop in 2015; I established a regular haiku practice in 2017; I became serious about deep haiku study during lockdown in 2020. I have every reason to believe that I must have crossed paths with a breakdown of the haiku seasons, which run on the lunar calendar, at some point in those years. Yet somehow, I didn’t figure out that haiku seasons and Gregorian seasons weren’t entirely compatible until January 2022. I know the information was there; I just wasn’t ready for it yet.
I realized that my plans for a haiku year weren’t going to start on the first day of haiku spring; they’d be starting in mid-spring according to the lunar calendar. By the time I realized this, the calendar year was already underway. It was too late to revise my plan and start on January 1st. As a perfectionist who likes to do everything right and have things just so, I was disappointed in myself regarding my lack of proper research and planning. In that time, I also encountered possibility that my focus on saijiki study wasn’t going to be fruitful as an American practitioner. In “Haiku Talk: From Basho to J. D. Salinger,” Sato Hirokai states,
[I] think creating what might be called a seasonal paradigm to the one that exists in Japan is going to be difficult for mainly two reasons that have nothing to do with the size of the country or climactic variations.
“Haiku Talk,” p. 18
Rather, the differences are cultural. Sato goes on to say that,
One difficulty arises from the fact that Japan is culturally uni-centered whereas the United States is multicentered . . . This cultural uni-centralism has allowed the creation and maintenance of things like the seasonal paradigm—not a likely possibility in this country.
“Haiku Talk,” p. 18
I’d heard other people write about the struggles of developing consistent seasonal words, but they had, as Sato noted, related their troubles back to the geographic diversity of the country—not an unreasonable complaint. I’m currently writing this on an April morning in Austin, Texas, which looks quite different from an April morning in Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up. What Sato, argues, though, is that climate differences don’t matter as much; after all, Japan has its own differences as you traverse north to south, and between mountains and coast. Rather, it’s that Americans as a culture are so individualistic that the idea of developing a consistent seasonal framework is impossible.
Sato also points to the lack of a student-teacher relationship in haiku societies as a primary reason why a seasonal paradigm would never work:
American haiku writers also form groups or associations, but they do so mainly for the casual purpose of getting together with other people or having their pieces published. They do not do so to have one ‘teacher’ or ‘master’ and allow themselves to be guided and led by that person. Most American haiku writers would be shocked to learn that the primary task of the head of any haiku society in Japan . . . is to revise his or her students’ haiku at will, automatically, routinely. Americans are too independent to allow that kind of thing to happen.
“Haiku Talk,” p. 19
His statement does reflect some of what I’ve witnessed: while there are some haiku mentorships out there, many of the haiku groups in the United States are more egalitarian in nature. There is one haiku practitioner I know of who offers yearlong haiku intensives as a teacher, but his programs range from $1,100 to $4,500 a year . . . out of range for many of the haiku practitioners I know.
Reading Sato in the COVID world, I agree that Americans, as a whole, are too individualistic. I’ve spent the past two years acutely aware of how rampant individualism has caused the death of 982,000 people (as of this writing), the suffering of thousands more, and has had an unfortunate ripple effect through the rest of the world. However, while American haiku practitioners are enmeshed in an individualist paradigm, I’ve also found them to be serious both about bringing the essential parts of Japanese haiku into American haiku, as well as revising their own poems. Yes, some people are resistant to feedback, but for the most part, I find haiku poets earnestly seek revision advice. Those who refuse any and all constructive criticism are in the minority. It’s true that most of the time, feedback is requested and offered in a more egalitarian way than a formal teacher/student relationship. Even when a more experienced poet gives feedback to a less experienced one, the interaction is less forma and hierarchical. In addition, I do often perceive a resistance to unsolicited feedback. I know many of my haiku peers who would be happy to have their haiku revised at will, but I know just as many who would be annoyed by unrequested revisions. We cannot completely replicate the structure of Japanese haiku societies, but I don’t think that’s the point. American haiku is simply not gong the same as Japanese haiku. What matters to me is the way in which I see American practitioners doing their best to bring the essence of haiku into the time and place in which they live.
Just as I cannot completely replicate the Japanese approach to haiku as an American, I cannot and should not get too hung up on seasonal designations. In his introduction to Haiku World, Higginson notes that that,
[I]t is important to remember that these traditional assignments are simply a convenient way to organize our observations of seasonal phenomena and poems about them. Astronomical seasons may stay the same, but perceived seasons can and do vary considerably from year to year, even in the same place.
Haiku World, p. 28
Seasons have their characteristics, but they also have liminality. Spring may begin in February in the lunar calendar, but when I lived in Ohio, February definitely never felt spring-like (except for that one day of false spring you’d get somewhere in the last third of the month before being plunged back into the cold). Even March felt more like winter, and snow on my April birthday was rare, but not out of the question. Yet the last two weeks of May always felt like full-blown summer, to the point where being stuck in school another two weeks after Memorial Day felt cruel. For most of the time I lived in Texas, January felt like spring (though the past two Februaries have been heavy on the winter side). Meanwhile, in both states where I’ve lived, August never felt quite like fall (due to the heat), but also not quite like summer (due to the shortening days).
Higginson also reminds us that,
Blinding oneself to the actual phenomena of a given place and time because of some loyalty to the saijiki will only interfere both with creating poems and appreciation of the phenomena themselves.
Haiku World, p. 28.
So far, I’ve found my saijiki study useful to my haiku practice; I also know that no collection can be definitive. In my haiku notebook, as well as in the pages of Haiku World, I’ve been making notes of other seasonal terms, both related to Texas and elsewhere, that are useful to have on my own personal list. A saijiki is a starting point; it is a mode of inspiration; it is a guide. It’s not the sole authority of your haiku practice. (Though perhaps that’s just my individualist American nature asserting itself.)
Ultimately, I am a poet focused on a form born from a culture that is not my own. I live according to one calendar, and write from a poetic tradition that uses another. But as I mentioned above, it’s not as though the seasons themselves are clearly-defined entities (especially in the current phase of climate change). What I can do is embrace the conflict. I did start my saijiki study on the spring equinox as originally planned, with the distinction between the calendars at the forefront of my awareness. Rather than limiting what I’ve been able to create, I’ve found that embracing the fact that I am simultaneously in two modes of spring, one Gregorian and one lunar, has created another liminal space: one where I have more room to observe the world as it exists right now, and to write to that current manifestation.
Of course, I’ve written nearly 2,000 words, and have yet to explain how my interest in saijiki study led to my desire to create a blog about food in haiku. My April 26th post will detail the inspiration to compile food-related haiku into a saijiki of its own, and to create a podcast around it. In the meantime, take the opportunity to consider how you relate to the seasons in your own haiku practice. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Higginson, William J. Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac. Tokyo: Kandasha International, 1996.
Ross, Bruce. How to Haiku: A Writer’s Guide to Haiku and Related Forms. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing, 2002.
Sato, Hirokai. “Haiku Talk: From Basho to J.D. Salinger.” On Haiku. New York: New Directions Publishing, 2018. pp. 3-20.