November 2003, Volume 1, Number 5


Zolo: Essay

"Haiku" is a Japanese word which means, "playful phrase". "Haiga" is haiku painting. Historically, haiga combined a haiku poem in calligraphy with a simple brush painting . . . but has evolved in modern times to include illustrations which could be photographic, collage, computer generated, or produced by mixing any number of other available mediums.

There has been growing discussion as to whether or not these modern day spin off haiga should even still be called haiga at all, since they are, at least in a technical sense, so far removed from the form's ancient oriental roots. Of course, the first haiku paintings were "true" paintings, achieved solely with ink and brush, and were very much in keeping with the essential character of haiku poetry: unpretentious expressions, unlabored images and intuitive responses to perception, utilizing few strokes and relying heavily upon suggestion to achieve a kind of co-creation between the artist and the audience.

Still, these modern day versions do combine haiku poetry and illustration, albeit electronic, photographic, or otherwise; and even if some new name for haiku poetry in combination with new era graphics should find its way into our vocabulary, that defining combination and its genesis will always be the basis and the launching site of haiga.

Of course, too, there are some in the modern western haiku community who now wonder if the term "haiku" itself hasn't become obsolete and should be revamped to something more in line with the evolution of the idiomatic poetry we've come to accept as contemporary English-language "haiku" . . . for it too has emerged with an aesthetic of its own centered around the unique requirements of our language, and full of prescribed "do's and don'ts" that frequently appear contradictory to what we see in the modern Japanese genre. This eventuality, the possible assignment of new names for the expanding art forms of haiku and haiga, remains to be seen.

But what is for certain, is that new experimentation and inevitable change will relentlessly continue in both English-language haiku and haiga . . . just as our language itself has grown and adapted over the long journey through centuries of progress from its ancient Indo-European roots through the Germanic tongues and into Old and Middle English to our present day tongue. Language is not a static thing, flowing like a river, it constantly changes and reflects the new world around it. The genre of haiku, and the art form of haiga, will certainly follow that irresistible flow to the beat of the times.

In my own haiga paintings, I follow one of two paths. Either my paintings will be almost directly illustrative of the verse, with an aim at clarification and enhancement . . . or the illustration will seem at first glance to be unrelated to the verse entirely, requiring deeper contemplation to grasp a connection. Lately, my preference tends to lean toward the latter. This type of seemingly nonrepresentational painting hopefully produces a leap of intuition to another level of understanding for the attentive viewer. It creates through its enigmatic connection, a synergistic message not found in either verse or painting alone, but only through the symbiosis and synthesis of the two.


Zolo (John Polozzolo) born in 1949, graduated from the University of Georgia, and received a Bachelor's Degree in English and a Master's Degree in Education. As the director of a national seminar company specializing in adult education, he lectured throughout the nation from 1985 through 2000.

He started painting and putting words to paintings long before kindergarten, and began incorporating haiku into his artwork about thirty years ago. His haiku and haiga have appeared in magazines, newspapers, galleries, books, and even corporate newsletters. His personal online gallery has been linked to numerous websites.

Zolo's haiga and haiku have received a number of awards and honors, including an online show published by Brooks Books; a Poet Profile documenting his work through the years in the online poetry magazine, Aha, as well as the 2001 cover of the yearly publication, American Haibun and Haiga, the cover of the premier issue of the haiku e-zine haijinx, and the cover of the premier issue of Reeds, the first hard copy magazine in North America dedicated entirely to contemporary haiga. His work has been featured in Haiga Online, the first online magazine dedicated to the oriental art form.

Zolo conducts haiga workshops in New York State prisons, and is the only American artist ever to be contracted by a state rehabilitation program to teach the art form on a regular basis.

A former guest editor of Modern Haiku, he was the recipient of the Dragonfly Award from the Western World Haiku Society, and the Cicada Award from the Haiku Society of Canada.

He is co-founder and moderator of the online haiku group, Raku Teapot, which has recently released a groundbreaking project: the first ever anthology of a group of haiku poets from around the globe with accompanying compact disc of the participants reading their original verses in their own voices.

His personal website:

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