Simply Haiku: An E-Journal of Haiku and Related Forms
November-December 2004, Volume 2, Number 6

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Reprint: Dhugal J. Lindsay, "Season Words"

The use of kigo is very problematic in Western haiku. It has been proposed by many poets that kigo is not possible over a great geographic range. However, Japan is also spread over a great geographic range and the kigo problem is overcome by having different season word dictionaries ("saijiki") for different climates—e.g., Hokkaido Saijiki, Okinawa Saijiki, Brazil Saijiki, Hawaii Saijiki.

A kigo does not necessarily have to invoke a particular season. Although "air conditioner" and "ant" imply summer, "sweater" implies fall, and "sunglasses" implies a summer noon, most poets I know personally use a kigo for information rather than to imply a specific season. Although a sweater may not always be worn in Winter, it does imply that it is cold. Sunglasses would imply that a Westerner or mafia member were on the scene. (Only in Japan, I expect.) Rape blossoms,although normally a spring kigo, may bloom in Summer in cold areas such as Hokkaido.

The ability to provide "instant access" to a setting is a major plus in using kigo. Just by stating "migrating geese" it invokes in the reader all of the images associated with Autumn, but it also invokes a feeling of loss. Even if I did not know that a rose was a summer season word I would imagine most Westerners would still equate it with love.

Even if the season can not be guessed from the season word it still contains important information. However, this association-conveyed information may differ with people of different cultural backgrounds. How do we know that "rose" in some country does not suggest death? This may be a problem in the internationalization of haiku. Kigo such as "the anniversary of Picasso's death" might catch on relatively easily internationally though.

Some purists would argue that this sort of association should not be considered when making haiku, and that only the association that the author actually experienced themselves should be written of. I agree with this if the haiku in question is simply about the physically existing object before the poet. However, my school of haiku often uses such objects as tools in conveying other truths and, as such, these associations must be taken into account even if not used.

Kaneko Tohta believes that Westerners do not and will not accept kigo as being integral to haiku and that a 6th kigo category should be stressed: "zoh". They are not really season words at all, but rather everyday objects that contain associated meaning. More like a "theme" word. A common zoh category word in Western HAIKU is "grave", another is "clock".

I do not agree with him. I feel that people use zoh already and that it needs no stressing. However, the haiku tradition of kigo does need stressing, as many Westerners believe it is unnecessary. (If it isn't stressed a little it may disappear and a very useful haiku tool with it). Haiku must have kigo. This is a prerequisite of the haiku form. Most haiku poets put one in automatically and in very few cases is a haiku made which upon retrospect has no kigo. (It happens sometimes to me too). I personally believe that these are no less haiku (if the "haiku way of thinking" is present). However the conservative school maintains that anything without one is not a haiku. The addition/reinstatement of zoh as an accepted kigo category would solve this, but I personally feel it unnecessary.

In any situation there will always be more than one kigo present. The challenge in haiku is to pick the right one to use to get your message across. "A skilled choice of words" is very important. However, you must use that which is present at the scene and that which caused your experience/haiku moment. (Looking in retrospect can sometimes cause you to forget what it REALLY was that caused the moment and this is where "intellectualism"--the "making" of haiku--rears its ugly head.)

Part of the fun of haiku is the challenge of inserting a kigo and seeing the unthought of increases in imparted information that suddenly present themselves as a result. Things you might have thought of subconsciously when you experienced the Kigo - Rest of poem bonding moment but may not have been aware of.

Dr. Dhugal J. Lindsay is a Research Scientist, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland.

Reprinted with permission from: The Haiku Universe Website