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What is a Haiga?

Updated on May 17, 2014
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Definition of Haiga

A haiga is a Haiku with Graphics, traditionally a brush painting, but now often a photograph or other form of art, like the one to the right.

While the haiku is a well-known form, though often misunderstood, far fewer people know about the haiga, which exists in many traditional and modern forms.

On the other hand, as you will see below, the idea of combining a haiku with a picture, particularly a beautiful photograph, has occurred to many people independently. Many of these poets and artists have never heard of "haiga" or consider the term too specific and technical to describe their work. By today's defintion, however, any combinination of haiku and graphic is a haiga.

Here, I'll briefly recount the history of the haiga, introduce a modern master of the form, and show you where to see haiga on Twitter, Hubpages, and in two excellent on-line haiga journals. At the end, you will find The Haiga Gallery, a superb video on haiga from The Haiku Chronicles website.

Chinese Painting and Calligraphy

Source

Basho's Haiga Collaboration

On a withered branch ~~ a crow has settled ~~ autumn evening (trans. Barnhill)
On a withered branch ~~ a crow has settled ~~ autumn evening (trans. Barnhill) | Source

The Origins of the Haiga

In her fascinating hub, "When two World's Collide: Poetry and the Visual Arts," poet Shelly Bryant emphasizes that whenever visual art and poetry are combined well, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. When speaking of poems that respond to visual art, for example, she writes, "The best works . . . go beyond merely describing, helping to illuminate the object viewed in the verse," so that the reader sees the art from a new perspective. For haiga, the illumination is mutual, with each element, haiku and picture, enhancing the other.

For an astute technical discussion of how haiga relates to other ways of combining words and pictures, from comics to modern art, I recommend "Looking and Seeing: How Haiga Works," by Jim Kacian, first published in Simply Haiku 2:5 in 2004. While I disagree with him that photo haiga are rarely successful, I am inspired by his many fine examples and analysis of what makes each one work.

In the Far East, the combination of painting, poetry and calligraphy has a long history, particularly in China, where it was known as the Three Perfections. Legend has it that this was first practiced as an acknowledged art form by poets of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD)

The traditional Japanese haiga, as befits the immediacy and informality of haiku, is often a more spontaneous and even -- apparently -- sketchy creation than the more polished art produced in the "Three Perfections" tradition. Compare, for example, the Chinese painting of bamboo on the right with Buson's haiga below.

In The The Art of Haiku: Its History through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters , Stephen Addiss explains how classic haiku poets, like the poet-artists of China, painted haiga with the same tools, brush and ink, that they used to write haiku. The difference is that some were great painters, others not so much -- but that was not problem. As Addiss says in an interview, I'm "very fond of Issa, and Issa was not a very good painter. But he had a very simple, childlike, direct, personal quality that I like very much."

As Addiss writes, "True haiga does not invite comments like 'What a great painting!' as much as 'How delightfully the painting and poem interact!'"

In a more specialized work, Haiga: Takebe Sōchō and the Haiku-painting Tradition, Addiss goes into the history of haiga in more depth.

The early haiku master, Nonoguchi Ryūho (1595-1669), is often said to have invented the haiga because he frequently combined painting and haiku. He did not yet, however, fully integrate the poetry and painting, often including an introduction to the haiku at the top of the scroll. Nonetheless, his "deft paintings add to his poems an element of unpretentious visual delight that fully expresses the haiga spirit."

Basho (1644-1694), as well as being an superb haiku poet and innovator in the form, changed the art of the haiga as well. From his time on, the finest haiga were considered among the best of Japanese art. Toward the end of Basho's life, he worked with a painter, Morikawa Kyoriku, who studied poetry with him, and both of them created their best haiga in response to this creative cross-fertilization. At times—as in the example on the right—they also collaborated on a single haiga, combining Basho's poem and the painter's art.

Chiyo-ni (1703-1775) the woman haiku master who is the topic of one of my hubs, was among many great haijin who also composed haiga. Although unfortunately I was not able to find any public domain images acceptable for posting on Hubpages, searching "Chiyo-ni" in Google images will reveal a few examples of her work (as well as many modern haiga created with her haiku).

The unsurpassed eighteenth century master of the haiga was Yosa Buson (1716-1784) who was an excellent painter as well as haijin. The haiga below is the only one of his available in public domain on the web. With its simple picture and abundant white space, at first sight it may not seem memorable, but it grows on the viewer who can give it time. On second look I am struck by the subtle use of color in the flower, and the contrast between the neat brushwork on the bird and the free-flowing calligraphy of the haiku. Furthermore, I'm sure the poem is much better in the original Japanese!

"A little cuckoo ~ across ~ a hydrangea"

Haiga by a classic Japanese haiku poet, Yosa Buson (1716 - 1784)
Haiga by a classic Japanese haiku poet, Yosa Buson (1716 - 1784) | Source

"a locked door opens"

Haiku by Nobel Prize winning poet Tomas Tranströmer; art by Kuniharu Shimizu
Haiku by Nobel Prize winning poet Tomas Tranströmer; art by Kuniharu Shimizu | Source

A Modern Master of Haiga

Kuniharu Shimizu born in Japan, is a master of modern haiga. According to the Haiku Foundation, he was born in 1949, and lived in Hawaii from fifteen to twenty-three, returning to Japan after getting a BFA from the University of Hawaii, so he is comfortable in English as well as Japanese. His wonderful website, See Haiku Here, has haiga in English and Japanese, and often both. The haiga include his own haiku, those by modern haijin, and also the Japanese classics, especially Basho.

Kuniharu Shimizu is a kind of artist I admire deeply . . . the one for whom creation is a way of life. He has supported himself as a graphic artist, an editor, and exhibition planner. For the joy of it, he has created countless haiga as well as writing haiku and haibun (haiku with prose or narrative), and also bilingual short stories. He is an advisor to The World Haiku Association and finds time to judge of the WHA Monthly Haiga Contest as well.

A print-out of the haiga on the upper right hangs in my office. The mysterious forms, part bird, part angel, beckon me into contemplation in the middle of a busy day because their restrained black and white graphics make room for the imagination to soar.

An entirely different haiga, with a photograph, is based on a haiku by John Wills, a recently deceased American poet. I think it exemplifies how a haiga can be exponentially more than the sum of its parts. If you click on Wills's name, you'll see he wrote other haiku that may be more striking, but with Kuniharu's excellent photograph, something new and wonderful comes into being.

When I browse through See Haiku Here, which I highly recommend that you all do, I am always amazed by the variety of Kuni-san's haiga. Beauty seems to flow from his mind to its graphic realization like water from a spring.


Haiga by Alexis Rotella

Little spider ~ I too play ~ with lines
Little spider ~ I too play ~ with lines | Source

September Dusk

By Sandi Pray, used with permission
By Sandi Pray, used with permission | Source
Haiga by "Dutch," used with permission
Haiga by "Dutch," used with permission | Source

Haiga on Twitter

As most of you will know, when you go to people's Twitter profile pages on a computer (I'm not sure about smaller devices), you can page through the graphics which they have posted. For haiga poets, as well as artists and photographers, this can get addictive!

Alexis Rotella, one of the best and most prolific poets in the haiku and tanka world, is also on Twitter @tankaqueen. She has served as president of the Haiku Society of America and edited a number of haiku journals.

Since getting her ipad, she has posted a number of wonderful haiga on Twitter, and I daily hope for more. One of them, based on a photo, begins this hub, and another, drawn free-hand is on your right. She also posts pictures without words, and many many fine poems. The "spider" haiga on the right reminds me a bit of Issa in her direct address to the spider, but it also whimsically picks up the woman-spider connection that goes back to the Greek myth of Arachne.

Two of the most prolific haiga artists working on Twitter in 2012 are Sandi Pray (@bigmax) and "Dutch" (@haikuverse).

Sandi posts haiga made with photographs, modified photographs, computer art like the one to the right, and even brush painting. From month to month, sometimes from week to week, her followers can see her experimenting with new art, and new ways of relating the haiku to the artwork, often with stunning results.

Dutch's haiga are based on his (or her!) beautiful photographs of nature in the Netherlands. Many of them, like the one to the right, are beach scenes.

In most of Dutch and Sandi's best haiga, as in many of the best haiga anywhere, the haiku does much more than describe the graphic. Sometimes it describes something not even in the picture (like Alexis's spider or Sandi's concerto),and sometimes, as in Dutch's stunning haiga, it makes us see the picture in a whole new way.

There are many other haiga artists worth following on twitter, but here I'll mention only three more

  • Paul David Mena sometimes posts marvelous collaborative photo-haiga with photographs by his wife (I presume) @MaryMelodeeMena. Here are two wonderful and very different examples:
    "ready to party" which is hilarious and faintly surreal, and
    "the silence" a haiga with a four word haiku whose overall effect is quietly meditative or perhaps, depending on your interpretation, very sad.
  • Beth @moonflowernco creates lovely haiga with her photos of the natural world around her. You can follow her on twitter or go to her haiga blog, listening to the wind, in which she describes herself as "a little obsessed with the moon but otherwise okay..."
  • Following Ed Bremson is like following several haiga artists rolled into one. Fascinated with the form, he generously retweets haiga by many others.
    I also like a lot of his own work, which he posts on tumblr:
    Here's "a gathering of old men"

Haiga on HubPages

  • Docmo has a wonderful hub "Haiga: Haiku with Imagery." Its best feature is a striking haiga slide show, with music, created by the author. It also has some interesting facts on haiga in general.
  • Sheila Wilson has a number of fine hubs about haiku and haiga, including her own work. "Autumn Rain" is one of my favorites.
  • MMDelrosario is one of the people I mentioned who does haiga without knowing the word. In her hub, "Haiku Meaning and Examples," she puts lovely pictures together with classic haiku by haijin such as Basho and Buson. Be sure the click on the thumbnails to see them all.


"haiga & tanga" - illustrated tanka - by Allison Millcock

My Published Haiga

Bare feet cold ~ on this sandy rutted road ~ walking to the moon
Bare feet cold ~ on this sandy rutted road ~ walking to the moon | Source

Haiga Journals

Wonderful as haiga on Twitter and Hubpages can be, edited haiga journals take the art to a higher level. One can read them to learn more about the art, to get new ideas, and simply for pure enjoyment.

I normally approach Daily Haiga by browsing the archives, so I can explore sets of haiga by a particular artist, seeing how they differ and what they have in common. Of course, you can also subscribe, and get your haiga hit truly daily.

These photo haiga by Allison Millcock have an appealing color sense . . . and sense of humor.

I was curious whether Steven Addiss, author of the books on haiga quoted at the start, had published any haiga himself, and found these fine brush painting haiga on Daily Haiga too.

Reeds: Contemporary Haiga, is the on-line companon to an annual hardcopy anthology. It shines in its well-illustrated interviews with contemporary haiga masters. I recommend "Starlit Mountain—How White Space and Imagination Work in Haiga," an interview with Jeanne Emrich by Linda Papanicolaou, and The Sand in the Corners of Her Smile: Creative Uses of Photography and Typography in Contemporary Haiga" an interview with Gary LeBel, a haiga artist who combines drawing, photography, and collage. [Note: Google listed this site as containing possible violations; it looked fine to me, but perhaps it has been infected with malware of some kind. I removed the links, but you can still search for and see the site.]

Haigaonline is a twice-yearly e-journal entirely dedicated to the art. It has a section of haiga submitted by indvidual poets, and also guest contributers who have a group of haiga. The structure of the site is unique: When you go to the main page, you click to enter the current issue. Once you are in an issue, you can use the menu on the left to explore that issue, and also past issues.

In addition to the haiga themselves, each issue contains a "haiga workshop" section by a different expert. Volume 13.1, June 2012, has a particularly helpful workshop by Ray Rasmussen on making a haiga's text add to the aesthetic whole. Focusing on photo haiga, he discusses "choices about font type, size, color, tonality and placement" for both color and monchrome haiga.

Every issue of Haigaonlilne is dedicated to a different theme. I am proud to have published the haiga on the right in volume 12.2, 2011, which was dedicated to black and white work. The wonderful photograph is by Russian photographer Alexey Bakhtiozin. His work inspired my haiku, so I found his email and got his permission to use his picture with my words.

Bare feet cold
on this sandy rutted road
walking to the moon.

Haiga Gallery

Haiku Chronicles on Haiga

Haiku Chronicles is a wonderful website created by haiku poets Donna Beaver and Alan Pizzarelli. They host a series of podcasts on haiku and related forms, inviting many of the most famous names in English-language and international haiku.

Episode 22, "Haiga Gallery" is a stunningly produced vimeo video,combining great haiga with memorable narration. Click on the link and prepare to be amazed by its beauty, and also to gain a deeper understanding of the art form.

In the words of guest Anita Virgil, the essence of haiga is "art or photography that adds a new dimension to the poem, creates a new entitiy of the two components," so that "they resonate off one another to the enhancement of both." She goes on to quote Blythe, the renowned early twentieth century translator of haiku, saying that the subject of the poem may be the same, different, or "distantly connected," to the picture, and that "the third is the best."


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    • KrisL profile image
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      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Hi Rosemay,

      I'm so glad you liked the hub. I hope you had a chance to check out HaigaOnLine too.

      Please feel free to link to my hub.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      An excellent informative article from which I have learned a great deal.

      I will soon be publishing a hub on Haiga and would like to place a link to here.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, Sid!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thank you for the new crow. The cuckoo is less lonely now. I tweeted these birds.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Livingsta - thanks for your kind words, and for sharing the hub! I hope you'll have a chance to enjoy more haiga in the future, or even create some yourself.

      Stephanie -- thank you for your kind words. I do think that haiga might be fun to do with high school students: in English, or Art, or maybe a crossover. Good luck with your teaching!

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Useful, interesting, and beautiful. I have seen a couple of hubs listed talking about this subject. But this is the first time I stopped to read an actual article. And I am glad I did. This is a very interesting and inspiring art form. I wish I was still teaching at the high school level so I could incorporate this into lessons on how different art forms impact and inspire one another. Thanks for the detailed information.

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Very interesting KrisL, thank you for this hub. I have heard about Haikus and this is the first time, I am reading about Haiga. I am pleased I have learned something new today!

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I liked your Haiku!

      Votes up, sharing and tweeting!

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, Derdriu.

      It is great that this ancient art is still alive, well, and developing in new directions.

    • profile image

      Derdriu 4 years ago

      KrisL, It's a happy turn when something that is an old goodie/good oldie does not get lost, such as in the "three perfections" of the image, the thought, and the words interacting "delightfully" in haiga!

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 4 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      I think of that all the time, KrisL! I remember doing research without the internet too. It would have been so much harder to put a post like this together, wouldn't it?

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      I'm glad you are enjoying this to the fullest. Imagine trying to research this 20 years ago without the internet (when I was 30 already)! I am grateful for the opportunity today.

    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 4 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      I have been exploring the links. Great stuff!

      I like Jim Kacian's work. He's always got something good to add to any discussion on haiku and related forms.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks for commenting, Shelly.

      I hope you had a chance to click on the links: there are some great ones there too.

      I'm about to add one more link, to an essay, "Looking and Seeing: How Haiga Works," by Jim Kacian, that I think will appeal to you.

    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 4 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      This is a wonderful hub, KrisL. I love the way you explore the haiga form. And the examples you display are truly stunning! Thank you for putting this together.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      .Hi Brett - thanks so much for commenting and sharing!

      I love the idea of twitter haiga as some day "traditional" or even "ancient"!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 4 years ago from Thailand

      It makes sense to combine this artistic written form with art, I just hadn't heard of the term Haiga. However, it is great to see that old traditions are evolving with technology ... weird to think that Twitter Haiga may become an 'ancient art form' one day lol.

      Shared, up, interesting, pinned and tweeted.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, AvianVoice Yes, most of the amateur haiga, whether called that or not, are pretty much captions describing the picture. Ideally, the haiku and picture are more equal, or the words are most important.

      Some haiga can even have abstract illustrations.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You know, Kris, I had no idea about this art form. It seems to be that good material will actually be worded in such a way that the meaning can be taken in more than one way. It isn't necessarily apparent, it can be more subtle. I LIKE it, now that I am getting a better understanding.

    • KrisL profile image
      Author

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Docmo, thank you very much for stopping by and commenting. I'm honored you're linking to my hub. There's a great haiku/haiga community on Facebook, which you may want to join, if you have not already. Kathy Nguyen http://www.facebook.com/alotuspoetry does a lot with it. I'm not a member -- HubPages and Twitter keep me busy enough!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      Very authoritative information on this art form,KrisL. The presentation and information are excellent and you have appropriately included many relevant and useful links. I am delighted to be included here .. I have three hubs on the Haiga born out of daily Facebook posts when the haiku bug strikes me. Thank you very much- I will reciprocate the links in mine too. Voted up!