One hundred days

Onitsura (previously) sez:

The haiku masters of old said, "Better a single day joining in than a hundred days of practice"; attendance at haiku circles was what they deemed important. The words of substance and action for mountains, shores and dwellings; the working and fixing of phrases; the clashing and overlap of themes; the difficulties of these and other issues of criticism mean that a single day's participation can indeed be most important.

There is a lot of renga/haiku jargon in this. I'm not hip to the precise details, and would no doubt have gotten myself stabbed at a medieval renga party, but here are a few notes: "Words of substance and action" is an ad hoc translation of taiyū 体用, which literally means "body and effect", a scheme for dividing words on a certain topic. For example, when considering the ocean, "sea," "shore," and so on are "body" words, while "wave" and "roar" would be "effect" words. (This word/concept is not used in traditional waka criticism, raising the interesting question of who thought it up, and why.)

"Clashing" corresponds to sashiai 指合, also known as sarikirai 去り嫌い which refers to when too-similar words appear too close to each other (or, by extension, the rules to prevent this happening). "Overlap" corresponds to 輪廻, which means saṃsāra; in the context of renga/haiku it originally had a very precise definition which I am a bit fuzzy on but later evolved to mean ugly repetition in general (a subset of sashiai, I think).

The point of all this is that there are so many detailed rules for renga and haiku, rules dependent on context, that it becomes an intensely social activity. There is room for practice on your own, but if you can find a group to join and meet with regularly, you can save yourself 99 days. And this is quantitatively different from just having a circle of friends who also write poetry with whom you can exchange sonnets in progress and discuss the latest outrages of Lord Byron. (Although it's a bit more like the modern sort of workshop where people are encouraged to criticize everything down to the whitespace.)

I doubt I'm the first to make this analogy, but I guess you can liken renga to jazz in this respect. Alone, you can work on your technique, listen to and play along with classic records, read books on what scales and modes sound best over the diminished sixth and so on — but none of it will be that helpful unless you also find a way to get on the bandstand regularly. You can't get good at collaborating with others without, well, collaborating with others.

Popularity factor: 11


Bad American haiku will spur recognition of these rules almost immediately:

“twilight • always forgets • to turn on the light” - @CoyoteSings

You've only got 8 words, why are 2 of them almost the same? I must be in saṃsāra just to be exposed to verse like this. Nothing against free verse, of course, one of my favorite haiku is


which is such a simple lament, and yet complex.

Let's let the Internet be our renga circle.

Leonardo Boiko:

Well repetition can be good too. It can work for haiku if it echoes the repetition of things, or the repetition of perception:


one inch of white

By contrast, in the case of Twilight guy, you don’t perceive twilight twice, nor does twilight repeats; the two lights are purely an artifical artifact of expression.

Sgt Tanuki:

In true haikai-circle fashion, then, let's improve the twilight poem. How would you do it?

I don't think it's a total loss - I like the observation that there often comes a time in the evening when one realizes that it's gotten too dark to do anything, and that one should have turned on a light about a half hour ago.

But I do agree that, linguistic artifact or not, the repetition of "light" weakens the poem considerably. But would changing the phrase to "to flip the switch" be clear enough?

Maybe the problem is not with the second "light" but the first. Personifying twilight like this may be too cute by half anyway. But "evening" doesn't seem specific enough.

Any suggestions? In the spirit of jazz, how about "crepuscule"?

Leonardo Boiko:

I arbitrarily decided to try to keep the repetition in:

forgot the lights on—

Now I don’t think this is a great haiku, but I propose it’s truer to haiku form. It changes the language from an abstract generalized statement to a specific moment in time. It gets rid of the cutesy obvious personifying, and of the cutesy obvious end-verse rhyme—but they’re still there, only subtler. The haiku is ambiguous and there a number of different possible interpretations (which I find appropriate given the theme):

1. The subject notices that someone left the lights on; outside, it’s twilight. The simplest, most concrete and “haiku” reading; a plain juxtaposition of images that ressonate with each other.
2. The subject thinks someone left the lights on, but on second look realizes it was just twilight. This one is not about twilight but about the “little surprise”, about that sudden change in perception.
3. Like 2, but the subject goes on and anthropomorphizes—“Hey, who was it who left the lights on? Oh, twilight did (wink wink).” Same meaning as the original haiku, but now the repetition of language expresses a reconfiguration of perception.

(I wonder if haijin would argue like this at all? I’m more of a music theorist than a sax player…)

Leonardo Boiko:

<del>4. I want to watch the newest Twilight flick and these goddamn philistines left the lights on, runing the ambiance</del>


>>I don't think it's a total loss - I like the observation that there often comes a time in the evening when one realizes that it's gotten too dark to do anything, and that one should have turned on a light about a half hour ago.

I like that. I wonder if more could be made of the original along those lines?

Twilight--could it be
on purpose? Or do I always
just forget the lamp?

Suggestions from the circle?


How's this?:

Twilight - azure glow.
Reaching to it I stub a toe.
Where's the damn light switch?



More dead bugs!
Forgot to turn off the lights
when she got home.

I don't think that's very good, but I would like to have a poem about how some mornings I go out my front door and notice that the light is still on because I forgot to turn it off when my wife got home and as a result the big black blob collecting inside the light fixture from all the little flies that come in and die during the night has gotten a little bit bigger.

It's a very particular feeling which I have had many mornings, and it probably deserves a poem. (One problem with this poem is that it's clearly focused on how her return so distracted me that I forgot about the light. That's a good feeling too, but not the one I want in a poem.)


Maybe this is a waka?

Left the house this morning
Cursing my forgetfulness.
"How many more died last night
Because I left the porch light on
When she got home?"

No. Even if I did all the syllable count stuff, this is a haiku—it's a moment in time which is also all moments in time. Waka are either abstract or specific. Haiku is both abstract and specific.

Leonardo Boiko:

I think the sentiment is an Issa haiku.

I’m so sorry, flies,
that I left the lights on
autumn chill.

L.N. Hammer:

Leonardo, I'd edit that first one to:

forgot the lights again—


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